Warning about insurance procedures

Don’t be afraid to challenge insurance company procedures! If you feel someone has made a mistake they probably have. Xmas 2013 we sort of forgot a candle was burning! Luckily before it burnt the house down it only burnt through the table burning a couple of holes and scorching it in other places. I telephoned the insurance company to request a claim form and was told that I would have to pay the £150 excess to the loss adjustor when he arrived. I don’t think so! As this was a customer service representative I decided to write to the CEO of the insurance company. So the correspondence went as follows:

23/01/14 emailed CEO informed him that we had been told that an Assessor would come and we would have to pay a cheque for £150 and this would be deducted from the amount paid out. Said what an appalling, outrageous and unfair system it appeared to be. We offered to send photos but this was declined. How on earth is anyone meant to make a decision about whether it is worth paying the excess and an increase in future premiums? You could look at the photos and give some indication, but this had been refused. Mentioned the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 as believed this to be an unfair commercial practice, misleading the consumer as to what they can expect. I attached the photos that were deemed unnecessary. “You may send an Assessor and deduct the excess from the settlement should we choose to take it” said I. Threatened the ombudsman and Small Claims Court. Did the trick.

24/01/14 response from someone in the CEO’s team stating that he would like to arrange an inspection of the table by their contractor’s Independent Inspections to see if the table can be restored. Offered us opportunity to arrange a report ourselves for which they would pay. Apologised that I was told I would need to pay the excess in the first instance, this should only be applied to a settlement.

28/01/14 emailed to say I had contacted restorers who said that just by looking at the photos they can see that the table is beyond repair and the quote for providing a report with details of how much it would cost to replace will be £35 plus VAT. I reiterated that I was categorically told that the cheque had to be paid before we agreed to settle. This was queried several times because it sounded so ludicrous. The customer services representative was adamant that the cheque had to be paid to the assessor and asked why this was. He clearly thought that this was the correct procedure so I was quite sure that this was not the first time it has been done and saw no reason why I should not take the matter further and expected redress for the inconvenience caused.


28/01/14 response to say go ahead with quote and that he would listen to the call and get back to me.

29/01/14 further email to say that I was correct and I had been advised as I said I had been! Oh whoopee do! Should I be pleased that they decided I wasn’t a liar?! He had discussed the matter with the handler and apparently there was some confusion. With building repairs, they would expect their contractors to arrange to collect an excess before carrying out repairs but this would usually be after they had inspected damage and assessed the approximate costs. The handler was informed of the error and a significant misunderstanding about the claims process was put right. How you confuse a building with a table I am unsure. The report was accepted I settled and took the £25 goodwill gesture for the inconvenience.

Insurance can be a minefield, whether house, vehicles or health! Most people have a story to tell. Don’t forget to use the tips on here for complaining and insurance is well covered in the book!

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Government hushes up critical consumer and trading standards reports

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has recently released two reports: “Consumer Empowerment Survey Report” and “The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times“. Neither report was given any press announcement or further comment from BIS ministers or other staff.

Consumer Empowerment Survey Report
This 95 page research study, carried out by GfK NOP Social Research, was designed to gain a better understanding of the attitudes of groups of consumers, and to build a stronger picture about their characteristics and engagement levels: particularly those consumers in vulnerable situations and/or on low incomes.

This report was finalised on the 15th March but not released by government until the 18th March. This was Budget Day. The report was given no press release or other coverage.

The report states that “…the market also requires empowered, active and informed consumers in order to flourish. Only then will the full benefits of competition – which include lower prices, greater innovation, efficiency and growth – be unlocked.

There is strong evidence that many consumers do not engage fully in their transactions;….. Whatever the barrier, it is the least engaged groups of consumers that are likely to miss out on the best deals, overpay for basic services, or even get ripped off”.

The report found that 57% of those surveyed said they felt very confident about making complaints post-purchase, but that only 32% were confident that the law would protect them.

A recent survey showed that fewer than 45% of people in the UK use their consumer rights and that only 7% said they know their legal rights well and use them regularly.

I’m not surprised by these findings of course, People frequently ask me about their legal rights, sometimes having heard of the Sale and Supply of Goods Act and may even know that items have to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time. But they have no idea how long “a reasonable length of time” is, or if they are entitled to a full refund or just a repair for example.

All these surveys and evidence show that a minority of the public know and assert their legal rights. People also cite time and effort as factors too. It takes more time and effort than it should, often because companies fob off the customer, so even the customers who have a passing knowledge of the Law don’t get the redress they are legally owed. Evidenced last week, when someone on Twitter was having trouble with a certain electrical goods retailer and their line on refund, repairs and replacement policy. When I joined in the conversation to help, the retailer blocked me! But Go to AO.com that’s what I say. Price match and if something goes wrong they deal with it properly and don’t try and fob you off. High praise indeed from me, yes!

The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times
The second report, “The Impact of Local Authority Trading Standards in Challenging Times” is dated February 2015, is 145 pages long has 6 recommendations and was released on the 20th March, again with little to no coverage.

The report explored the impact of budget cuts to local trading standards and tested the efficiency of services across the country. It said that changes had led to “a relatively weak, and probably diminishing, profile of trading standards, both within the public eye and within the local authority context.”

The loss of skills, knowledge expertise and the diminishing of these services in protecting consumers can only mean one thing. Increase in bad practice and decrease in protection for the consumer. The report even talks about staff who, in their own time carry out investigations because they feel it so important. Yet again the government relying on people’s good well to provide good services because decent people feel they have to do the extra. If they were treated better perhaps they would do more because they wanted rather than felt they had to. Bet that sounds familiar to NHS staff.

Timings 
It is incredible that the government commissions, at great expense these two reports and then appears to ignore them. One shows how little people know about their consumer rights and the other discusses the impact of cuts in Trading Standards, the reduction in inspections and support for the consumer with increasing bad practices in companies as Trading Standards struggles to undertake the necessary proactive work.

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World Consumer Rights Day 15th March 2015

Did you know? No, nor did I ’til recently and if it was news to me then hey there aren’t going to be many more people that know. How much press coverage is it getting? Not much? So far that I’ve seen not any, unless anyone would like to tell me differently?

Update – Which? sent a press release regarding healthy food in line with this year’s theme and the story was covered in the Daily Mail, Mirror and the Times but WCRD gets only a passing mention in the articles.

Background So where did this day come from? On 15 March 1962, President John F Kennedy gave an address to the US congress in which he formally addressed the issue of consumer rights. He was the first world leader to do so, and the consumer movement now marks 15 March every year as a means of raising global awareness about consumer rights. Hard to believe that a politician would be interested and support consumer rights huh? Yep, especially when you consider that this year the theme is healthy, affordable diets.

Healthy affordable diets Well let’s start with 1962 and John F Kennedy promoting consumer rights, internationally. Fast forward to 20teen years and the use of foodbanks (you may recall I challenged Iain Duncan Smith on these and he didn’t even know there was one in his own constituency). The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2013) GBD 2010 says that poor diets contribute to more than 11 million deaths annually and are now the number one global risk factor for death. Premature illness and disability from diet-related diseases impoverishes families, hurts productivity and bankrupts health systems.

To be fair, The Consumer Council in Northen Ireland is promoting the day  and is undertaking a survey to consumers’ thoughts on the affordability of a healthy, balanced diet. The results from this snapshot survey will inform research we’re undertaking in partnership with Food Standards Agency, Safefood, Ulster University and Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice. But can you find anything in England, Scotland or Wales? If so please can you comment below so that  can put in the link! In the meantime government agencies and the media can be shown up as wanting to do little help in this area!

Changes needed Reducing salt consumption Reducing sugar consumption  Nutrition labelling on pre-packaged foods  Healthy food in schools

What we can do Well given my ongoing relationship with Tesco perhaps I shall keep on about this to them as well!

For more information on WCRD and the theme please go to Consumers International

Consumer Rights generally A recent survey showed that fewer than 45% of people in the UK use their consumer rights. Only 7% said that they know their legal rights well  and use them regularly. 5% know the basics of the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.  But there are of course many other laws protecting consumers, including EU laws of which very people are aware.

To keep up to date with changes in consumer law (Consumer Bill coming late in the year, which amongst other things will replace the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982) and other consumer info sign up to the newsletter:

and of course if you need help in asserting your legal rights there are many tips here for complaining effectively and the up to date book on complaining effectively to always gain redress providing you with information, laws, advice, tips and templates can be found here.

 

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Court fees rise up to 600%

opinions on small claims court risesRises of up to 600% on court fees for claims over £10,000 to 5% of the value of the claim, capped at £10,000 for claims of £200,000 and over come into force today. Yesterday taking someone to court for £200,000 would have cost you £1,315. From today it will cost you £10,000. A value of £20,000 yesterday incurred a court fee of £610, but from today the fee will be £1,000. Claims from the Ministry of Justice say that the changes will bring in an estimated £120 million.

The justice minister, Shailesh Vara, said: “Our courts play a critical role and it is vital that the principle of access to justice is preserved by a properly funded service. It is only fair that wealthy businesses and individuals fighting legal battles should pay more in fees to ease the burden on taxpayers.

These rises come on top of the fees increase on 22nd April last year. There has to my knowledge not been any research as to whether the number of people going to the Small Claims Court has been affected by this rise, it has not even been a year and yet this change has been rushed through. It is ludicrous to say that wealthy businesses and individuals should pay more in legal battles! This government also reduced legal aid so how does a not “wealthy” individual go to court? Of course this new measure will put people off going to court and the wealthy individuals and businesses either ‘get away with it’ or employ top notch solicitors.

Should the claimant win then s/he can claim the fees back but with cases taking 6 months on average to get to court the rise could mean that court is out of reach for some people to take te risk. Those on low pay or benefits can get help with fees, but as well all know, it is those just above that threshold that get stung. And of course the small businesses.

Lord Faulks, who proposed the motion in the House of Lords said “’litigation is very much an optional activity’. “Tell that to the small business owner who goes under due to an individual or company not paying a debt. Tell that to the individual who can’t get their insurance company to pay up for an accident.

Absolutely typical of this government bringing in changes to  penalise the non wealthy people in society. Getting one more  austerity measure through that it thought wouldn’t really bother the majority. But for the few it does affect it will bother them greatly.The Law Society asked to see the raw data and evidence used by the government to formulate its decision. I don’t think it was forthcoming. It challenged the changes and sadly failed.

 

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How to end 3 problems with your mobile ‘phone (& get your money back)

 

I get so many requests for advice about mobile ‘phone contracts and communication companies generally. I do seriously believe that the communication companies are the worst for communication. So because of this, I thought it would be helpful to write a post about your rights when it comes to mobile ‘phones. You’re welcome.

 

 

Problem number 1 – ‘phone develops a fault
Your consumer rights are the same for when your mobile ‘phone develops a fault as any other product, but in my experience people are frequently getting fobbed off with lines such as “Send it back for repair” and “Contact manufacturer”.

If your ‘phone forms part of your mobile ‘phone contract, your claim would be against your mobile ‘phone service provider and you may be entitled to a free repair or replacement as part of your contract. Check the terms and conditions in your contract for what you are entitled. However, regardless of the contract you retain your rights under the Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994 to goods that are satisfactory, fit for purpose and as described. Most companies in my experience will fight this and certainly after a year will say “tough” one way or another. Personally I believe that a ‘phone should last more than a year and I would be prepared to test this in court and set a precedent but unfortunately my phone of over two years hasn’t broken! But I’m ready and waiting to help if anyone wants to try it!

If you bought your ‘phone without any contract then your complaint is always against the retailer and not the manufacturer. You may have a guarantee with the ‘phone and after 6 months you might want to claim on this with the manufacturer, but go to the retailer first who might also contact the manufacturer directly for you.

Problem number 2 – network coverage
There are currently no rules regarding poor network coverage. Even if you move house, you are unlikely to be successful in cancelling a contract for poor network coverage if in the provider’s terms and conditions it allows for breaks in coverage. However under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 a service provider must provide the contracted service with reasonable care and skill. I would argue that the service was not being carried out with reasonable skill and care if they can’t give you any service! It was reported in the media that in 2009 Tom Prescott took Orange to the Small Claims Court and gained £500 plus free cancellation of his contract when he couldn’t get coverage on his 18 month contract. So threaten it and quote this case.

Problem number 3 – mis-sold contracts
It is extremely difficult to successfully complain about mis-sold contracts. That doesn’t mean you should not do it however! It is just that in my experience dealing with mis-selling of a contract was one of the most annoying and tedious complaints to deal with. The fob offs come thick and fast and I’m sure put many people off. I undertook a case for someone regarding this and it was a lot of work and a lot of emails to CEOs and in the end I won and got Ben out of the contract but I’m sure most people would have given up which is of course what the companies want.

Keep records of everything. If the company rings you around the time of the end of your contract make sure anything that they offer for a new one they also put in writing. Although you can request transcript of conversations, (under the Data Protection Act 1998) they will charge for this and again it is time consuming.  If you agree a contract over the ‘phone remember that you have the 14 day cooling off period (Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013) in which you can cancel.

You also have other Acts of law at your disposal. The Misrepresentation Act 1967 and also the more recent Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. For a practice to be unfair under these rules, they must harm, or be likely to harm, the economic interests of the average consumer.

Complaining and taking matters further
1) Use these tips and especially using www.ceoemail.com to get to the top, you’ll probably need it
2) Use the links to the Acts above and quote your rights from them
3) Threaten legal action if necessary and be prepared to see it through
4) The ombudsmen only cover mobile ‘phone services and not issues with the actual ‘phones. CISAS and Ombudsman Services Communications depending on which service your company is registered with.

More information to come on broadband etc. in the following weeks. More tips, advice, details of law and template letters can also be found in the book How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress, and Results!

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