Bright ideas for complaining about Brighthouse (& avoiding them in the first place!)

Sara Williams Debt camel guest post on The Complaining CowThis is a guest post by Sara Williams, an adviser at Citizens Advice who has her own website Debt Camel where she blogs about everything to do with debt and credit ratings. She also guest posted Everything you need to know about Payday loans The only person so far who has written two guest posts on my blog ‘cos she’s sooo good at her stuff!

BrightHouse is a “pay weekly” chain of shops which is loathed by almost all debt advisers.

What’s so wrong with BrightHouse?
Their interest rates are high, but that isn’t the only reason. BrightHouse goods are often much more expensive than a similar TV or washing machine would be from another retailer. In addition they make most people add on expensive insurance.

The result is that you could spend more than £750 paid over three years on a Hoover washing machine, when you could get a very similar model from AO.com at £230.

So far so bad… but these rip off prices are made worse by the fact that BrightHouse has often failed to check properly that its customers can afford the items they are buying. The quoted weekly amounts may sound manageable but most BrightHouse customers are on low income or just benefits.

And BrightHouse goods are sold on Hire Purchase agreements. So customers in the last year of their contract who have financial problems will often be desperate to make the last few BrightHouse payments, rather than lose the item they have already paid so much for. They may get behind with rent, council tax and utility bills or take out expensive credit such as payday loans as a result.electrical items can you get a refund - more than likelyBrightHouse refunds
In October the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), BrightHouse’s regulator, told them to refund a bit under £15 million to two groups of customers:

  1. People who had cancelled a purchase within the 14 day cooling off period but still made 1 payment. These refunds will be small as it’s only 1 week’s payment to be refunded.
  2. 81,000 people who bought something between 1 April 2014 and 30 September 2016 where BrightHouse think they should have done more affordability checks – average refund £125.

If you want to know if you will be getting a refund, call their free helpline: 0800 30 40 80. £15 million sounds good, but in practice not many people are getting them considering the amount of stress and misery BrightHouse has caused.

The FCA took over as BrightHouse’s regulator in 2014, but before then the regulator was the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the OFT had the same rules about checking affordability as the FCA has. So I think people with older purchases should also get refunds. And if you had a purchase after 2014 which they aren’t refunding, you can make a complaint that it was unaffordable.

See How to make an affordability complaint to BrightHouse for a template letter and more information about complaining to Brighthouse.

If your purchase was “unaffordable” then you should get a refund of all the interest you paid, plus 8% simple interest and have any negative marks on your credit record deleted.

Other BrightHouse complaints
BrightHouse also have a poor reputation for customer service when something goes wrong – an item doesn’t match its description, or it is faulty.

If you have one of these “consumer complaints”, you have the same legal rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 as if you bought the goods from a normal shop. See the article on this website that looks at these rights and how to complain – it’s got some useful videos.

Alternatives to BrightHouse
Many people with little money go to BrightHouse because they are desperate. But here are some better alternatives, so check if one might work for you:

  1. Local Welfare Assistance Scheme (used to be called Crisis Loans). These are harder to get now than they used to be, but it’s worth asking your council if they help families to replace things like white goods and essential furniture.
  2. Budgeting loans If you have been on JSA, ESA, Income Support or Universal Credit for more than 6 months, you may be able to get an interest-free budgeting loan.
  3. Credit Union You may be able to join a local one or one linked with your job, eg NHS staff.
  4. Fair For You – this is an online alternative to BrightHouse, offering weekly payments but without the markup on the original prices and their interest rates are lower. Check them out!

Quick guide for all you need to know about PPI claims

Today, 29/08/17 despite pressure from consumer groups, the Financial Conduct Authority confirmed that it will introduce a deadline for making new payment protection insurance (PPI) complaints. It is quite ridiculous that this deadline should be introduced, the only benefit is for the financial institutions! Although the FCA has told them to contact customers regarding PPI, many have failed to do so and the onus is on the consumer to contact the company.

Millions of us are contacted on a daily basis from Claims Management Companies trying to get their hands on a large percentage of what we may or may not be owed. But despite this, it is estimated that there are billions more to be claimed. In fact the FCA says that over half have yet to claim but has imposed this deadline. Claims have been made since 2011, that’s 6 years and yet they expect more than 6 years of claims to be made in two years? Plus the additional claims which have already been dealt with due to the Plevin case. That issue of 2 versus 6 years alone begs many questions! See the FCA figures for amounts claimed in each of the last 6 years.

What exactly is PPI?
Payment Protection Insurance. When you took out a loan or a mortgage or similar you may have been sold it alongside the agreement. It would, in theory pay out if you were unable to make the payments.

What makes a mis-sold PPI?
1) If you were told that you had to have it (you didn’t) to take out the loan
2) It has been added without your knowledge
3) Sold the wrong cover, e.g. something to which you didn’t agree, single policy instead of joint, you already had cover with another product/through work etc
4) If you were self, employed, retired or unemployed and were sold unemployment cover which would have been useless to you
5) You had pre existing medical conditions and the cover made you exempt
6) If your provider has already been fined for not acting fairly it is likely that you will have a case.

Supreme Court judgment in Plevin v Paragon Personal Finance Ltd (Plevin)
The Plevin decision means that consumers may have new grounds to complain about PPI regarding the amount of money that the providers received for the sale if the commission was undisclosed and made the relationship unfair.

Failure to disclose commission gave rise to an unfair relationship. Over 50% and firms should calculate redress as the excess commission over this 50%.

The FCA requires all firms to write to previously rejected complainants who are eligible to complain in light of Plevin in order to explain the new basis for complaining to them. Consumers with live PPI policies will now be able to complain after the deadline if they have a future claim on their policy rejected for reasons related to the sale. The complaint must be related to the reason the claim was rejected, for example, eligibility, exclusions or limitations.

Finding out if you had PPI
Look at all your loan agreements. See if there is any mention of PPI. Insurance, benefits, protection plan, etc. If so, look through and see if you think you were mis sold.  Although there are calls to make finance companies inform all customers of their PPI agreements, they aren’t doing so. If you can’t find the paperwork and don’t know if you had PPI, don’t despair! Write to the company and ask for a copy of your agreement. Ask for the terms and conditions which were relevant at the time as these may have changed and it’s what they were at the time of agreement that matters. You may have to pay £1 for existing accounts and £10 for closed accounts.

You can also check your credit history which will tell you of any accounts which were live in the last 6 years.

How to claim
Don’t use a Claims Management Company there really isn’t a need and they can’t do anything more than you but will take a hefty chunk of what you are owed. Write to the finance company giving the account details, and any other information such as when it was taken out, different address etc.

Explain how you believe you have been mis sold with as much evidence as possible to strengthen your case.

Should you not be satisfied with the decision you can take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman which is currently overturning 54% of cases in favour of the consumer.

More on the FCA website regarding claiming for PPI refunds

For help in most complaint scenarios see How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS! for guidance, tips, advice, laws and template letters for all you need to know in getting redress!

All You Need To Know About Comparison Websites

What
These are a must for finding the cheapest deal. Try to use more than one comparison site as they do not all list every company. It may seem like tedious work but it can save you hundreds of pounds. You can use these for insurance, broadband, TV, energy and banking.

Check the terms and conditions of the site and tick the box that says you don’t want to be contacted by anyone! It could be considered an Unfair Contract if the site states that it is not responsible for the information it provides. Check how the results are presented from one site to another and that the actual service provided is the same.

Ofgem Accreditation
Ofgem is currently changing its voluntary code of practice for price comparison websites to prevent them from displaying products on which it earns commission more prominently than those on which it doesn’t. The new Code requirements came into effect from the 1st April 2015 with the exception of those relating to supplier ratings and the Warm Home Discount (1st May 2015) and Personal Projection requirements for energy companies (1st June 2015).

Comparison websites ‘accredited’ by Ofgem must prominently list the energy companies from which they receive commission on sales, as well as clearly stating that they earn commission on certain tariffs. The websites will no longer be allowed to limit by default the tariffs that a consumer sees when making a search. Websites need to display all tariffs available to a consumer regardless of supplier. Sites that comply with the code are listed as ‘accredited’ by Ofgem and can display related logos on their sites.

Ofcom Accreditation 
Ofcom also has an accreditation scheme and members of this are listed on their website. The key requirements of the Ofcom Price Accreditation Scheme are that information presented to consumers must be comprehensive, accurate and transparent. Accredited price comparison websites must show a good selection of providers (covering at least 90% of the market) and enable consumers to rank according to price. There isn’t a requirement to show absolutely all deals in the market. Given the large number of small providers in some markets, it may not be practical for a price comparison website to list all providers and options.

The guidance states that commercial arrangements must be transparent. Ofcom accredited price comparison websites must not discriminate against particular providers and, where a selection of packages is included, this should not result in an unfair or unbiased representation of an operator. Accredited price comparison websites are prevented from filtering results by commission payments.

Financial Conduct Authority
The FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) authorises and regulates some price comparison websites but it does not make recommendations. It undertook a review of comparison websites earlier this year and followed them up to ensure that they had addressed the specific issues identified. It will use the full range of regulatory tools available as appropriate if any of them have not done so. The FCA uses a wide range of enforcement powers – criminal, civil and regulatory – to protect consumers and to take action against firms or individuals that do not meet its standards. You can search for companies regulated by the FCA on the register on its website.