Energy ombudsman shows how to keep heat on your supplier

radiator

I often hear from people how they think an ombudsman hasn’t been fair or impartial in their case. Most frequently I hear the criticism that the ombudsman always sees in favour of the trader because the trader pays for membership. What people don’t realise is that’s the only way an ombudsman can be funded! But more importantly what people don’t realise is that they pay for yearly membership but also pay per case when the customer pays nothing. So it is in the company’s interest for a case not to go to the ombudsman.

Sometimes, people approach the ombudsman with issues outside of their remit. Typically:

  • The complaint has been made too late – complainants have 12 months from the date the supplier issues its final response (known as a deadlock letter) to raise the issue with the ombudsman.
  • The complaint has been made prematurely (less than 8 weeks from the initial complaint or no deadlock letter received) – complainants need to raise the issue with the supplier and give them an opportunity to put things right before the ombudsman can become involved.
  • The trader does not participate in the ombudsman’s scheme.
  • The complaint is about a product or service which does not fall inside the ombudsman’s jurisdiction.

So, you have your issue, it falls within the remit and you still don’t get the decision you wanted so what do you do? I’ve asked Lewis Shand Smith the Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services to share the traps people fall into and how to make a stronger case when submitting their issue. He looks at energy in particular but the points are valid for all sectors.

Head shot Lewis Shand SmithLewis Shand Smith Biography

Lewis Shand Smith was appointed Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman of Ombudsman Services in 2009. Ombudsman Services is a not for profit organisation which resolves disputes in the energy, communications, property, and copyright licensing sectors, amongst others. Lewis was also the Chair of the Ombudsman Association. Previously he was the Crown appointed Deputy Ombudsman and a member of the Executive Board at the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). He is a priest in the Scottish Episcopal church and has served several congregations in Motherwell, Shetland and Dumfries. He was a Canon of St Andrew’s cathedral in Aberdeen. From 1990 to 1999 Lewis was a member of Shetland Islands Council, becoming Convener/Leader in 1994. He has served as a non-executive director or trustee with a number of companies and charities. He is a former Vice President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, was a member of the Executive of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, and represented the UK on the European Committee of the Regions.

Submitting cases to an Ombudsman service

Ombudsman Services receives complaints in a variety of forms. There are complaints the energy supplier would have resolved if the right person had picked it up. There are complaints where the parties agree on the facts – but disagree on an appropriate remedy. There are complaints where the parties fundamentally disagree on the facts. And there are complaints where neither party has yet been able to understand what happened.

In the period November 2016 to October 2017, Ombudsman Services closed 49,117 energy complaints. Of those, it helped resolve 8% without investigating because the energy company was willing to provide the consumer with their desired resolution.

Of the complaints that Ombudsman Services investigated, it:

  • upheld 66% (finding that the energy supplier had done something wrong and had not done enough to put it right).
  • maintained 26% (finding that although the energy supplier had done something wrong, it had already offered a fair resolution to the customer).
  • did not uphold 8% of complaints, (concluding that there was no substance to the original complaint and the energy supplier had treated the customer fairly).

These figures suggest that the majority of complaints needed Ombudsman Services intervention to ensure a fair remedy for the consumer. But many could have been resolved without Ombudsman Services’ help. In most cases, the complaints reached Ombudsman Services because of a failure in the energy supplier’s complaint handling; but some could have benefited from better complaining from the consumer – or the consumer accepting a resolution that was already fair.

So, below are some common reasons why consumer actions mean a complaint is not resolved with the energy company – along with some advice on how not to fall into the traps.

5 top tips for ensuring you have the best case if you need the ombudsman on picture of electricity pylon

 

  1. Focusing on the problem, not the solution

It is very easy to focus on what went wrong and how it should never have happened. But a complaint normally only ends successfully when the wronged party focusses on what needs to be done to put things right. So, before you complain, think about what you would like your supplier to do to resolve your complaint – and let the supplier know.

 

  1. Disbelieving accurate responses

When things go wrong, people lose trust. So people often lack confidence in energy company’s answers. It can be worth seeking advice online or from friends and family. This can sometimes provide the reassurance consumers desire without the need for an ombudsman investigation.  See All you need to know to make a complaint about energy for advice, tips, information and consumer rights regarding energy complaints and  the Ombudsman website for Energy complaint advice and cases. 

  1. Unreasonable expectations / asking for bills or balances to be wiped

Energy suppliers do offer financial awards – but they are normally goodwill gestures to acknowledge what went wrong. Energy suppliers rarely relate awards to the size of a consumer’s outstanding balance.

Ombudsman Services applies similar principles in our complaint handling. Customers should pay the correct amount for the energy they have consumed. If something has gone wrong and a financial award is due – the amount will be proportionate to the trouble the consumer experienced – not the outstanding account balance.

  1. Failing to engage with an energy supplier

Poor energy supplier responses can leave consumers feeling that the problem won’t be resolved without help. But Ombudsman Services can only help after a consumer has tried to resolve the problem with the energy supplier direct for several weeks. As frustrating as it is, consumers should plug away with the energy company. Be clear about what the problem is and what needs to be done to put it right. Check out 20 Top Tips for complaining effectively to increase your chances before needing the Ombudsman. Hopefully someone at the energy company will understand the complaint and correct the problem. This will mean a far quicker resolution than if you go to the Ombudsman.

  1. Becoming too invested in the complaint

If a consumer feels they’ve been wronged, they’re likely to tell people about it. Sometimes it turns out that the consumer is at fault, and in such circumstances, it can be difficult for consumers to admit their error to other people on the complaint journey. They can reach for excuses and/or change the substance of their complaint so as not to lose face. This rarely leads to success and escalating to Ombudsman Services can sometimes prolong and increase the disappointment. If a consumer realises that they are wrong, there is sometimes value in not continuing the complaint.

If consumers feel wronged they should always complain; but they should do so in a focused way and seek a proportionate outcome.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!For tips on writing that initial complaint see Top 20 Tips How to Complain!

 

For information, advice, consumer law and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

Don’t get blue this Monday, get away from it all…

Don’t get blue this Monday, get away from it all…

Holiday companies use Blue Monday for marketing – here’s how to turn the tables and make it sunny for you and for your wallet!

couple on beach sunset

Blue Monday is the third Monday in the first month of the year, falling this year on 15 January… It is claimed by some to be the most depressing day of the year. The term was coined by Cardiff University lecturer, Dr Cliff Arnall, in 2005, when he “scientifically calculated” a formula for a press release for Sky Travel. (See this Guardian article for more information)

Why depressing? Well, it’s cold, we’ve had a nice few days off over Christmas but we haven’t been paid yet and the credit card bills are starting to come in now. Our New Year resolutions are already failing… What can we do? How about getting away from it all or at least thinking about a future holiday?

Holiday companies will clamour to use this “special” day once again to boost their “deals”. So, for the 15th January, some expert money bloggers and I have joined forces to give you 15 tips on saving money when booking that holiday! We look at turning the tables and playing the travel companies at their own game, so you can save money when you book your trip away. Good huh?

sun setting over water consumer rights, ways to shop around, discounts, alternatives, thinking beyond and searching

Rights

1) I’ll kick off, as you would expect, with your consumer rights. “You have numerous consumer rights to cover you when booking your holiday and for when you are on holiday.  Be aware of them when booking. For example, if you feel that you have made a purchasing decision that you wouldn’t have made had you been given accurate information (such as a misleading price) you may be able to claim a refund under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008”.  There is also the Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tour Regulations 1992 of which you should be aware. These give you lots of rights regarding any changes that the company may make, amongst other things!”

Dates and shopping around

2) The Money Whisperer, Emma Maslin says “If you are looking for popular times e.g. school holidays for package holidays, it maybe best to book ahead but if you can be more flexible, wait until closer to the date for the best last-minute deals. We’re going to the same island we went to last year but booked ahead this time. We booked just 7 days before last year and it was over £200 cheaper per person. This year, it might not be a last minute option – that’s the risk you take. But if you are flexible and can go elsewhere or fly a different day to save money, then it pays to look around.”

3) Fiona Hawkes from Savvy in Somerset has found that booking accommodation and flights separately has always been cheaper than a package. She also advises looking round at all the various websites that do this for you, as some will also offer free cancellation or low cost cancellation cover for accommodation.

4) “Haggle!” implores blogger Emma Drew.  “We have haggled between Disney and Virgin Holidays for a cruise. Virgin Holidays were selling it for more than Disney, so we went armed with the info and got them to match Disney and throw some on board credit in! Add that to shopping around for flights with sites like SkySkanner where you can find flights cheaper than going direct.”

Discounts 

5) “Try it on!” Catherine Morgan Financial Money Coach cheekily encourages. “Say you are on your honeymoon or it’s a wedding anniversary, sometimes it works!  Be a bit savvy too. We saved a mint last year when we booked a TUI week away to Kos. We contacted the hotel directly and paid them £100 and got an upgrade with a swim up room. Thomson wanted to charge us £700 extra for the same!”

6) Mrs Mummy Penny, Lynn James, suggests thinking of your friends and family who work for a travel company or hotel. Maybe they have a friends and family offer code they can give you? One of her friends is a concierge at Aria in Las Vegas and can always find her a deal. Often it makes it cheaper than package deals.

7) “Use cashback!” exclaims Emma Bradley of Mums Savvy Savings “Look for discount codes and then use sites like Topcashback* which will give you money straight back into your account too. I saved about £150 from doing this last year.” (I got about £70 from Thomson last Summer too. You can also use Zeek* to see if there are any discounted gift cards which you will be able to use with discounts to reduce the cost still further. (*Refer a friend links. So if you sign up you’ll get a bonus and so will I 🙂 ))

Thinking ahead

8) Faith Archer from Much More with Less cuts food costs while away by booking somewhere to stay with self-catering facilities. “Even the odd breakfast in your room or packed lunch can save cash compared to eating out for every meal!”, she says.

9) Andy Webb from Be Clever With Your Cash advises booking car hire far in advance for the lowest prices “AND make sure the car is big enough! It will only cost a few quid more to get a bigger car when booking, but can be hundreds if you have to upgrade at the check-in desk! Shop around for the car hire, looking direct as well various comparison sites. Plus, if the excess waiver isn’t included don’t buy it from the car rental company. You can get policies for a few quid elsewhere that’ll cover you for damage to the car. Make sure you are comparing like for like inclusive totals.”

10) Buy your travel insurance the day you buy your holiday in case you need it before you go! “But also think about how you are going to buy it. Shop around as it will nearly always be cheaper than the one you get offered with a package. And look at all the group (e.g. group, couple, family) options however your group is made up” says William Pointing from Great Deals Made Easy.

Alternatives to the usual booking routes

11) Hollie Gregersen from ThriftyMum recommends house sitting or pet sitting! “There are a number of websites that provide details of homes you can stay at providing affordable options for holidays in the UK and abroad, including house swaps”.

Getting there

12) Pete Chatfield from Household Money Saving suggests taking a coach if travelling in Europe and saving a fortune.

13) A Thrifty Fox blogger Emily Rowley considers stopover flights; if flying long haul you could save hundreds by planning a break in your journey (tie in with meals if it makes it more bearable!)

14) Joseph Seager of A Thrifty Chap tries to be flexible when booking. Midweek is nearly always cheaper than a weekend. So are less sociable hour flight times. You can save by flying from other airports too, but make sure to factor in different travel to airport/parking/stay costs for your final comparison.

Everytime you search!

15) Above all, if you go back to a website, clear your cookies first. The travel website will put that price up if it knows you’ve looked at that holiday before!

For everything you need to know about your rights when booking, during and after, your holiday see All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights for lots of different rights and what you should do when and how.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For even more information, advice, tips, your consumer rights and template letters for most sectors GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

 

 

 

Credit card fee changes: The hidden impact on small businesses & consumers

Press release

Companies will no longer be able to charge fees for using credit cards, following the implementation of a new EU directive.

credit card twiddlytwaddlytwoo.co.uk

Since April 2013 traders have not been able to charge consumers fees that exceed the cost for using a particular method of payment. However, from 13 January 2018 companies will no longer be able to charge any fees for the use of credit or debit cards. This includes payment methods such as Apple Pay and PayPal, too. The change also applies to Government departments and local councils. So, for example, DVLA will no longer charge you a fee for paying by credit card when you renew your road tax.

Is this good news for consumers? Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow and author of How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! thinks so. (That’s me that is).

She asks “Who isn’t annoyed when they have to pay a fee for paying for their car tax or to Ryanair for booking their flight?” Dewdney is emphatic that traders have had long enough to know this change has been coming to be able to plan and not pass increases in costs to consumers. “That goes for those Government departments, too, so there should certainly not be an increase in council tax fees and road tax to cover the supposed ‘loss’, thank you very much!”

She adds “Used wisely, many people pay by credit cards to defer payment and also to get cashback rewards!”

Scrapping the credit card payment charge on picture of card reader

However, not everyone welcomes the changes. David Taylor, who blogs at Thinking Thrifty and runs a café, fears that with no charge it’ll encourage card payments even further for really small amounts. He is considering not taking credit card payments any more, admitting that he will lose some custom “but if that custom is making me a loss, ironically, I can’t afford the custom anyway.”

Not all small businesses agree though:

Richard Allen of Reflections Detailing – a car restorer – has never charged a fee for using credit cards. He says “It’s just a cost of doing business and in the grand scheme of things, it’s a pretty small cost. I didn’t know it was coming though. But actually it costs me more to handle cash in any case!” He notes that credit card transactions incur a fee of 2.389%, debit card transactions 0.495% and cash 2%. Every card transaction also has a 5p authorisation fee. No company ever charged for handling cash!”

Then there’s places like Just Each which had a 50p credit card  charge. They have had to scrap that and have introduced a 50p service charge for all transactions. Keep and eye out for those and come back here and tell us so we can have a rogue’s gallery!

The Taxman cometh
The HMRC has received criticism for abolishing credit card payments. A spokesperson for the HMRC said “We will no longer be accepting personal credit card payments from 13 January as new rules mean that we can no longer pass on what our bank charge for processing a credit card payment. It would be unfair to expect other taxpayers to pick up this cost. There are a range of ways for people to pay us depending on the type of tax being paid, including debit cards, Direct Debit, Faster Payment and BACS.”

Dewdney believes that people should put money aside as they earn it to pay their tax. “However”, she argues, “for some people less able to plan financially, or who suddenly find themselves in a difficult financial situation, the short notice (announced a few weeks before Christmas and nowhere on the HMRC website) will be very unhelpful.”

If you are struggling to pay your tax see Debt Camel’s 10 things you should know if you can’t pay your tax bill

Open banking changes
The arguments for and against the banning of charges are only part of the bigger picture. The ban comes in on the same day as the introduction of Open Banking which could potentially bring greater benefits for consumers.

Sara Williams is a Citizen’s Advice advisor and UK Money Blogger of the Year 2017 for Debt Camel, covering debt and credit ratings. She says that large retailers may try to bypass the current payment mechanisms and provide payment apps directly to customers. “Getting rid of charges for using cards will be generally good for consumers.” But she warns consumers to “Look out for side-effects. Card companies may reduce their charges to business and cash back credit cards may disappear as a result.”

Bite back at Apple

 iPhone maker caught slowing older devices – how to get redress

Apple caught slowing older iPhones
Apple has been caught slowing down older iPhones. Whilst customers might suspect that this was done to encourage them to upgrade their devices, the company said in a statement, quoted on the BBC website, that it “wanted to prolong the life” of those devices.

The BBC News article says that “Apple has now confirmed that it made changes to IOS to manage ageing lithium-ion batteries in some devices, since the batteries’ performance diminishes over time.” The company is further quoted as saying that “Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, [when they] have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.”

The company’s statement continues “Last year, we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future. Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers.”

In the US some 15 class actions have been started against Apple and the comments on that article are interesting too.

In an attempt to regain favour, Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by £54 — from £79 to £25 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later. Apple’s statement on the 28th December 2017 A Message to Our Customers about iPhone Batteries and Performance

cables Apple caught slowing down batteriesCan you beat Apple? Yup
On 15 January 2013 I bought an IPhone 4s. The Terms and Conditions told me that I had a one year warranty in addition to my consumer rights. Readers of this blog and followers of me on Facebook and Twitter know what I think of warranties. If you are new here you need to know that I am yet to find a warranty that gives you more than your statutory rights. Often this “Look at us giving you a free warranty for however many years” is to throw you off the scent. Most people would think that after their free warranty of a year or two that’s it they can’t get anything if things go wrong. WRONG.

What the Apple warranty does do is say you can claim using the warranty or your consumer rights. Where this may be helpful is that consumer rights would mean your contract is with the seller which may not always be Apple. The warranty is with the manufacturer Apple in this instance. Although cynically I know that most people would go into an Apple store and be told that the phone is out of warranty and then be out of pocket. Now, that isn’t right. I know it isn’t right and said so when my phone battery was cutting out at 40%.

Well, in March 2016 I’d had enough of the situation and went to the Apple store. The conversation went something like this:

bite back at Apple & get a free battery on picture of mobile phone with The Complaining Cow logo on itMe: My phone’s battery is cutting out at roughly 40% charge. I’d like a replacement battery for free.

Member of staff: Is your phone under warranty?

Me: No, it is over 3 years old.

Member of staff: We can’t replace it for free then.

Me: Under the Sale of Goods Act 1994 goods are expected to last a reasonable length of time. I expect a battery for a phone to last more than 3 years.

Member of staff: Oh, your consumer rights, let me take the phone for you and change the battery over.

They changed the battery successfully, easily and for free.

So, Apple, you can be pretty damn sure if you’ve slowed down my battery on my iPhone 5s I’ll be after a free battery.

What does this mean for the current situation?
You could try what I did. Say that under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (or Sale of Goods Act 1994 if you bought it before 1st October 2015) you are entitled to products that last a reasonable length of time.

The iPhone was released in September 2014 so you are looking at the same length of time for the battery as mine, or indeed less.

In this instance of Apple slowing the battery down I would argue that it hasn’t lasted a reasonable length of time and therefore is a breach of consumer law. Even if they argue they have slowed it down to lengthen its life, there shouldn’t have been a need to slow it down.

If they say no, put your complaint in writing following these tips. Threaten to take them to the Small Claims Court if they do not provide you with a new battery. If they still don’t, do it. I’m not a lawyer and it hasn’t been tested in court but it sure would be fun to try and set a precedent. This is another reason why Apple is likely to give you a free battery as a goodwill gesture. Imagine risking the influx of cases for the sake of £25?!

Do it, and then come back and tell me how you got on!

I asked Apple for a comment on what it would do if anyone quoted their Consumer Rights to get a new battery. There hasn’t been a response to this question. Draw your own conclusions.

Here are my Top 20 tips for complaining effectively

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For masses more information, consumer rights, advice and template letters GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

 

11/01/2018 The Guardian reports Apple questioned by US Senate over practice of slowing down iPhones saying “The French fraud watchdog, which is part of the finance ministry, opened an investigation last week over alleged “deception and planned obsolescence”, following a complaint by a consumer rights group.

A 2015 French law makes intentionally shortening the lifespan of a product in order to encourage consumers to replace it illegal, with possible fines of up to 5% of annual turnover and jail terms of up to two years.”

Jolly good.

Don’t gobble rancid Tesco turkey. Know your rights

So, to another Tesco story. Tesco History with The Complaining Cow. But this time it isn’t involving me! This Christmas people appear to have bought gone off and rancid turkeys. Costing up to £59, the Tesco finest range is coming under fire. The Telegraph, The Guardian and others reported numerous people complaining on social media having bought a turkey that they either threw away or cooked and had their meal ruined and were ill. On Twitter there were claims of people being sick but some people didn’t believe that everyone would be il from one mouthful, or that one wouldn’t smell it was off before cooking. Tesco has said that it would provide full refunds for affected turkeys. But what are your rights? Are you entitled to more?

1) First and foremost under The Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods of satisfactory quality. Clearly this is not the case if you bought a rotten turkey, so are entitled to a full refund. You will need to evidence then purchase with any proof of purchase e.g. receipt, Clubcard record, statement etc. Evidence could be a photograph, report from your local council Environmental Services etc.

2) By breaching a contract (The Consumer Rights Act 2015) it should be considered that Tesco is liable for consequential loss. This means that if it ruined the rest of your meal you are entitled to the cost of the other food. So for instance, in the example regarding giblets used to make the gravy and poured over the food, Tesco is responsible for that too.

3) You are also entitled to loss of enjoyment of the meal. Harder to fight for, but if you were to argue in the Small Claims Court for loss of enjoyment on the big day you’d probably win and frankly trust me on this, although I have taken Tesco to court and won it is unlikely that they would let it go to court. Don’t forget photos of all the untouched turkey.

4) Been made ill? Prove it. Easily done. If you really have had food poisoning you would go to the doctor (each and everyone of you that has the sickness) and provide this evidence. You should also keep part of the turkey. Send some to Tesco for analysis and some to your local Environmental Health department.

5) Tesco has now said it is offering £75 as a goodwill gesture on top of the refund. You could go more if you feel that your loss was more and outline reasons using the Top 20 Tips for how to complain effectively.

How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

For substantial information, advice, consumer law and templates for complaining effectively get the book! How to Complain Effectively: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!