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!

Everything you need to know about financing your car purchase

Rob Sams is a contributor to Legal Beagles, a forum for people who require assistance or an understanding of their legal rights. He particularly answers questions on the Consumer Rights Act as well as queries on voluntary termination rights under car finance agreements. He has kindly agreed to produce this post on different ways of financing a car and what to do if it all goes wrong!

Everything you need to know about financing your car purchase
Over the last few years, reports have shown that a large proportion of cars are mainly financed as opposed to buying outright.  With a number of finance options available depending on the buyer’s needs, this article provides a short explanation of the various finance deals as well as your rights if something goes wrong.

What finance options are available?
Hire Purchase: a HP agreement is a type of agreement which the car is hired to you over a fixed period of time. At the end of that fixed period you have the option to purchase the car (though you are not under an obligation to do so) or return it back to the lender.

Conditional sale: a conditional sale is almost identical to a hire purchase agreement except for one difference. under a hire purchase, you have the option to purchase the car at the end of the agreement whereas a conditional sale obliges you to purchase the car and make the final payment.

Personal contract purchase (PCP): similar to conditional sale and hire purchase agreements,  PCP agreements tend to have lower monthly instalments because they only cover the depreciation over the term of the agreement, leaving a much larger balloon payment at the end.  PCP agreements are becoming increasingly popular with consumers.

Personal Contract Hire (PCH): a PCH agreement is essentially a hire agreement over a long period of time, returning it at the end of the agreed term.  One thing to note is that there are strict limits on the mileage you can do, and if you go over, you may get stung. Be sure you estimate your annual mileage correctly but as a guide, the average number of miles is around 10-12k per year.

Fixed Sum Loan: Fixed sum loan agreements are simply personal loans that you would usually obtain from your bank however the loan can only be used for the purchase of the car.  Ownership of the car will immediately pass to you on entering into the agreement and you repay the monthly instalments in accordance with the terms.  Some finance companies such as Santander and FCA Automotive Services (a subsidiary of Fiat who offer loans) offer fixed sum loan of agreements.

There’s a problem with my car, what can I do about it?
Contrary to popular belief, whenever something is wrong with your car, it is not the responsibility of the dealership but the lender because there are two transactions that take place.  First, the lender will purchase the car from the dealership and second, the lender will then enter into an agreement with you to hire or purchase the car.  Whilst it may seem practical to approach the dealership first, they are not under any obligation to repair the car on your request, though there is no harm in speaking to the dealer first.

If you notice a fault, defect or the car was not described then you may have certain rights against the lender under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA).   The lender must ensure that the car is of:
Satisfactory quality: the lender is obliged to make sure that the car is in a roadworthy condition at the time of entering into the agreement and is
Fit for purpose: If you made it known to the dealer that you wanted to use the car for a specific purpose or that it must be able to do specific things, and the dealer confirms that it is suitable for those needs, but subsequently turns out to be false, the car would not be fit for its intended purpose.

Wherever possible it is always best to get things in writing so that you create a paper trail of what has been discussed in the event you need to escalate the matter.  It may also be helpful to bring another person with you who can back up your story at a later date.

Complaining to the lender
If you haven’t been able to resolve the matter informally, then your next step is to write a formal complaint to the lender, setting out the problems you have experienced, why it is still not resolved and what needs to be done to resolve the issue.  There are several options you have under the CRA:

Short term rejection: If the car is faulty within the first 30 days then you have the right to reject the car and immediately terminate the agreement, although you need to prove that the fault existed on the first day.  This can be done by obtaining an independent report confirming the faults.  Where you exercise the short-term rejection, the agreement is terminated and you are entitled to the total sums paid to date.

Repair or replace: You may choose the option of having the car repaired or replaced, but if one is disproportionate to the other then the lender can opt for the alternative.  The lender must repair or replace within a reasonable time without causing significant inconvenience as well as covering any costs incurred.

Final right to reject: This remedy is only available after 30 days if the repair or replacement fails to resolve the issue or it was not carried out within a reasonable time.  The difference between this option and the short-term rejection is that the lender can deduct a sum of costs for usage where the final right to reject is exercised.  An alternative remedy is to keep the car but require a price reduction either by future payments or a proportionate refund of what has been paid already.

Complaining to the Financial Ombudsman
Most complaints tend to be resolved with lenders without any further action.  However, if it is still not resolved, then you can bring the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).  The FOS will investigate your complaint and review the evidence from both sides, taking into account any relevant law but also what is fair and reasonable (they are not obliged to follow the law).  Once the adjudicator has reviewed all evidence, they will contact you with an initial decision and explain their reasons.

If you do not agree with initial decision, you can ask an Ombudsman to review the matter and provide a final decision.  If the Ombudsman does not find in favour of you, the decision is not legally binding and you do not have to accept it (you could take further action by bringing legal proceedings in the Small Claims Court).  However, if you accept their decision then it becomes legally binding on both parties and there is no further recourse.

Other rights: voluntary termination
Another common right for consumers who enter into car finance agreements is voluntary termination.  If you have a HP, PCP or Conditional Sale Agreement and you are struggling to keep up with the repayments, the Consumer Credit Act 1974 allows you to terminate the agreement which limits your liability to 50% of the total amount payable.  It goes without saying that, before entering into an agreement you should always make sure you can afford the monthly repayments.  Provided you have taken reasonable care of the goods and paid any overdue instalments then you will have nothing more to pay.

You do not necessarily need to have paid 50% of the total amount payable as you can terminate at any time by giving notice in writing.  However, if you have underpaid, the lender is entitled to the remaining balance which makes up the 50% and this option is not available where the lender has terminated the agreement first.  You should note however, that once you have given notice to terminate the agreement, the notice cannot be revoked.

More on Voluntary Termination

Car buyers alert: how not to get fobbed off

How not to get fobbed off by a garage (and what to do if you have been!)

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