Foreign Office in epic fail on passport validity information

My long journey of confusion – Foreign Office provides conflicting information

Here’s a story about why it’s important to check passport expiry dates before you book travel. And why you can’t always trust the Foreign Office advice because it’s a mess!

Have you checked your passport? Beware conflicting information from various agencies!

A traveller wanted to surprise her husband with a holiday to Cape Verde. Their 10 year old son had kept it secret too, not telling his father until 6 months later when they were on the way to the airport. They went through check-in no problem, they bought stuff from the duty free shops and went through passport control. All of them were looking forward to their week away. Her story is on Trip Advisor

Imagine the disappointment when staff at the gate told them they couldn’t travel! Their son only had three weeks left on his passport. What is the issue? Well, the family were travelling with Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook’s documents advised them that they should follow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidelines for travel to Cape Verde. The FCO website stated only that passports must last the duration of the stay.

Then The Complaining Cow realised she was in exactly the same situation! Yup! My family and I were due to travel to Cape Verde less than a couple of weeks’ later. My son’s passport also had fewer than 6 months left on his passport, so I began to panic a bit!

We couldn’t even get a FastTrack passport (at exorbitant cost) because for children you have to allow at least 7 days for processing. With the Easter bank holiday included it meant we simply didn’t have enough time. So, I set about trying to get some clarity. That was less straightforward than you would think! We were flying with TUI UK (formerly Thomson) so I started with them and asked if we were okay to fly…

Organisation Advice provided Agree with Cape Verde Embassy?
TUI customer services ‘phone Fine with them, if I can get letter from Passport Office to say acceptable. Yes
TUI customer services email Yes, you can travel. Yes
TUI Twitter team We recommend all passengers have at least six months remaining on their passport prior to travel as it covers all destinations we offer however, each destination has different requirements which can be found on the GOV UK website. As per the GOV.UK website, passports must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of entry into Cape Verde. No
Thomas Cook Yes, you can travel for the remaining Summer flights (not ceased until Winter). Yes
Passport Office Do not do this, not their role, advised contacting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Couldn’t give advice
FCO website “The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry.”

“Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Cape Verde.”

Yes

 

 

No

FCO on phone Contact the Honorary Consul to Cabo Verde in London. Don’t know
Consul to Cabo Verde in London Incorrectly advised to contact him, contact the nearest Cape Verde Embassy in Rotterdam or Brussels. Couldn’t give advice
FCO email Our travel advice is updated whenever we become aware of new information. The authorities in the country you are travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry.  Contact the Cape Verde Embassy in either Brussels or Rotterdam and seek their advice. Yes but advice on website is contradictory
FCO Consular Contact Centre The Travel Advice team updates their pages as soon as they have official confirmation of a change. Whilst we understand that this change does not allow much time for a potential passport application, the British Consulate cannot confirm entry to Cape Verde contrary to our own current travel advice. Refers to website info which is Yes… and No
CV consulate in Brussels email Passport for entry and exit from the territory, valid for a period superior to the authorized stay duration. Yes
CV consulate Brussels website Passport for entry and exit from the territory, valid for a period superior to the authorized stay duration. Yes
International Air Transport Association In general, airlines follow the regulations set by each country in terms of the requirements for entry into or transit through the appropriate country. Yes
IATA website Passports need to be valid for six months from arrival. No

Ridiculous. So, TUI customer services on the phone, the TUI social media team and customer services email teams all said something different. The FCO has shown itself to be utterly useless in providing basic information to travellers!

There seems to be no reason for any change in advice. According to Thomas Cook the FCO changed its advice in line with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website Timaticweb (https://www.timaticweb.com). This states that passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde. There has been no change in the advice from authorities in the country being visited whatsoever. So, the FCO says “Our travel advice is updated whenever we become aware of new information.” But no-one can tell me what the new information was!!! Maybe it was the IATA. The IATA said to me:

“It is the responsibility of the air traveller to ensure that they have sufficient travel documents for their destination and any transit points.  In general, airlines follow the regulations set by each country in terms of the requirements for entry into or transit through the appropriate country, however in certain circumstances airlines may make exceptions in the case where the immigration authorities do not or rarely enforce applicable regulations.”

But that contradicts what they appear to be saying to airlines.

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said:

“We recognise there is inconsistent information around entry requirements for Cape Verde and we appreciate the confusion this causes for our customers. The FCO has recently changed its advice to align with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) website Timatic, which states that passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde. Due to the conflicting information and change in advice, we have advised all our UK departure airports to allow customers to travel whose passports are valid for less than six months, but valid for the duration of their stay, for the remainder of this season. For the Winter 18/19 season, we will ensure all our customers are aware that their passports need to be valid for six months from arrival in Cape Verde.”

IATA said:

“The regulation that passports must be valid for a minimum of 6 months from the arrival date has been published in Timatic since December 2016.  We have verified this several times since with both the immigration departments and airlines, and it has not changed since then.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it updates information when it becomes aware of it. Aside from the fact that it actually has contradictory information on its website, is it possible it only became aware of the IATA change 15 months later?!

Whatever way you look at it, the safest thing to do whether travelling to Cape Verde or anywhere else is to ensure that your passport has at least 6 months left to run!

For links to various articles about pre, during and after holiday advice about rights etc see All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights.

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How to make sure your wedding goes royally well…

The Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle takes place on Saturday 19th May.

We can be sure that there will be no shortage of people involved in the planning and that there will be no scrimping and saving to put on the wedding of the year. The wedding planning website Bridebook.co.uk puts the cost (without security and the honeymoon) at some £1,969,873. By comparison, the national average spend on a wedding is still a staggering £17,913.

What if you are planning to get married and you don’t have these resources but still want to reduce the risk of things going wrong, as well as ensuring you can get the best of what you can afford? Four  money bloggers and I take a look at how you can save money and make sure the big day still goes well.

You could take a leaf out of the royal couple’s book and invite people and tell them to bring their own food! (Those members of the public with a golden ticket). But perhaps more useful ideas are shared below.

Venue

Harry and Meghan will tie the knot on a Saturday at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which is out of reach of the average bride and groom But Fiona Elizabeth Hawkes from the blog Savvy in Somerset provides some great tips on how you can still get married somewhere special.

 

  1. Try going for midweek or a Sunday service for a cheaper deal. Most weddings are booked for Saturdays and reserved over a year in advance, so family members shouldn’t get have trouble booking time off work that far ahead.church pews
  2. Alternatively, if you’re feeling brave, leave it right up until the last minute – venues often have massive discounts if you book 6-8 weeks in advance.
  3. Look for smaller quirky venues that don’t normally host weddings – there will be less of a premium than a regular venue.
  4. Have a celebrant or friend marry you on the day, rather than a vicar or registrar and do a cheap 2+2 ceremony at registry office before or after the big day.

Flowers 
photo of Emma Maslin

If your budget doesn’t quite bloom to involving floral bouquet creations from The Crown Estate and Windsor Great Park, Emma Maslin from The Money Whisperer has some suggestions:

 

  1. Ask your florist and venue about moving arrangements between the ceremony and the reception. For example, ceremony aisle ends can be tied to back of top table chairs, signing the register flowers can be used on the top table, etc.
  2. Consider where you want the most impact and focus the money there. If people are looking at the brides amazing bouquet they won’t care that the flower girls have wands wrapped in ribbon instead of their own bouquets.pink background strip 3 boxes variety of flowers boquets
  3. Seasonal flowers will be cheaper, so ask what is going to be in season for the date of your wedding, rather than going with your first choice of flowers.

The dress The name of Meghan’s dress designer is still under wraps, but Kaya La Roche from Earning by the Sea dismisses the need for you to fork out a huge sum of money for a dress you will only wear once. Here she suggests some ways you canbe stylish without the designer price tag:

 

  1. Buy a second-hand dress, you can get dresses that have never actually been worn if a wedding has been cancelled, and even if they have been worn it’s usually only once!)
  2. Ask family if there is one that can be handed down to you and add personal touches to make it your own.
  3. Buy a dress that wasn’t designed to be a traditional wedding dress from a boutique, as some beautiful designs are available at a fraction of the cost.

Catering
Harry, Meghan and guests will be tucking into something that most of us probably won’t even be able to pronounce, even less be able to afford. (Their cake is being made by Claire Ptak at Violet Bakery and prices on her website show a wedding cake for 150 people is £784.80. The royal wedding guest list is 4,040 people, tasty work if you can get it).

photo Faith Archer

 

But Faith Archer from the aptly named blog Much More With Less cooks up some ideas:

 

  1. Food and drink can be a massive part of your wedding budget. Think about what’s really important to you:fabulous food, in which case you might
    want to invite few guests to a more intimate wedding, or feeding hordes of friends and family in a lower cost way, with perhaps a buffet or hog roast.
  2. Get married late afternoon 3pm and focus funds on just one meal late afternoon rather than catering for lunch and early evening.
  3. If you aren’t bothered about a fancy wedding cake, get a local bakery to whip up a delicious cake and use fresh flowers to decorate it.
  4. Check with the venue if you can bring your own booze, as even if you pay corkage, it could work out cheaper.Tables of plates and glasses big plate in middle with salmon and dressing

Honeymoon
Save on any holiday! See Don’t get blue this Monday, get away from it all… 

Lots of other  money bloggers and I  joined forces to give you 15 tips on saving money when choosing and booking holidays! 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 whether here or abroad. Good huh?

Preventing Problems
I see a lot of people who have some bad memories of what should have been the best day of their lives. Whilst you may want to save money, be careful of how you do it:

  1. It may be tempting to ask a friend to take your wedding photos or make your cake but that could quickly give rise to problems. Will you get your money back if something goes wrong with the cake? What will happen to the friendship if the photos are shaky and blurred?
  2. Don’t rely on review sites, including those on social media sites, they could all be false. Try and get personal recommendations of services where you can.
  3. Discuss in detail what you want and what can be provided with service/product providers. Put ALL agreements in writing. Deadlines, costs, detailed descriptions and even a picture (such as for a cake), if appropriate.

wedding cake groom and bride with white frill round them flower either side

  1. Your rights
    What if you have done absolutely everything possible to prepare for the big day but something still goes wrong? I’m on hand to ensure that you don’t get fobbed off!
  1. Under the Consumer Rights Act you are entitled to services carried out with reasonable skill and care. So, if your hairdresser cancels or the cars are motorbikes, you can claim redress and, if applicable, any consequential loss. (e.g. having to pay extra for another caterer, etc).
  2. Under this Act, all products must be as described, of satisfactory quality and free from faults. So, if your cake was burnt or half the flowers were dead you can claim a partial or full refund, depending on whether you still used them.
  3. Collate your evidence. Take photos or video, and include this with details of what was agreed compared to what happened. Put your complaint in writing, being assertive but polite.
  4. Be objective, set a deadline for when you expect a response and what you will do if you not receive an acceptable response, such as going to the Small Claims Court.

Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

If you do have any issues with good or services see Top 20 Tips on how to complain effectively.

Get the book How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!

 

I’m taking part in the Monday Money linky with Lynn from Mrs Mummy PennyFaith from Much More With Less and Emma from EmmaDrew.Info go see them for more money saving ideas!

 

 

Whirlpool – The tumble dryer story without the spin

On 23 November 2015 Whirlpool issued a warning regarding 113 different models of tumble dryer due to risk of fire. Since then there have been fires, injuries, possible deaths, product recall research and working party, court cases, questions in Parliament, widespread criticism of Whirlpool and the Government by individuals and consumer groups.

So what has actually happened in nearly 3 years? This report outlines the whole story. It includes contradictions, results of Freedom of Information Requests to Government departments and Peterborough Trading Standards, London Fire Brigade statistics and recommendations, research and investigations. All in one place.

The tumble dryer story without the spin.

Download Whirlpool – the tumble dryer story without the spin

Fire Whirlpool The tumble dryer story without the spin

Ten ways GDPR will help consumers

Sara Williams Debt camel guest post on The Complaining Cow

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

In a month’s time, On 25th May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in Britain and the rest of the EU. This a major change to the rules governing how organisations manage personal data about their customers and employees.

I think it’s all good for consumers. Your existing rights under the Data Protection Act are being clarified and extended, not restricted or watered down, and some dubious marketing practices will now be clearly banned.

What personal information is covered?

The EU GDPR website says this:

“Any information related to a natural person or ‘Data Subject’, that can be used to directly or indirectly identify the person. It can be anything from a name, a photo, an email address, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, or a computer IP address.”

Lot of coloured @ buttons

What organisations are covered?

The new regulations apply to all organisations that process or hold data for people living in the UK. This isn’t just companies, it also includes government departments, your local authority, charities, schools, hospitals and GPs. And the organisations don’t have to be based in the UK – it also applies to Google, Amazon, Facebook etc.

Coloured files in cabinet with name labels text "What the new GDPRs mean for consumers

Ten ways GDPR will help consumers

1) The GDPR Right of Access means that organisations will no longer be able to charge £10 when you ask them to provide some or all the personal information they hold about you. This is also called making a Subject Access Request. People don’t like paying £10 if they are unsure what they will get, so no fee is good news.

2) You can also access information about your children or someone for whom you have a Lasting Power of Attorney.

3) Before GDPR, credit data was treated differently with the three Credit Reference Agencies (CRA), Experian, Equifax and Call Credit. They are currently allowed to charge you £2 for a copy of your statutory credit report – but GDPR will apply to them to so this will become free. If you have been having a dispute with a lender, say about a default date that they have added, being able to check all three CRA reports without a charge will be very helpful.

4) Organisations will now have to get your explicit consent to adding you to a mailing list. This means you making a positive decision e.g. by ticking a box. The box can’t be pre-ticked online so you may not spot it. And it can’t be misleadingly worded in the negative “Tick here if you do not want to receive information”.

Organisations also have to be clear why they are gathering information from you and what they will use it for. So if they offer a free information booklet or are giving away money off coupons, this doesn’t mean that they can automatically add you to their mailing list – you have to clearly agree to that.

5) Organisations can’t share or sell your personal information unless you explicitly consent to this. No longer can this buried away in the Terms & Conditions. I can’t think why anyone would ever actually want to consent!

6) The GDPR Right To Object means you have to be given an easy to way to change your mind and opt out of marketing communications in future, both by email and by post.

7) The GDPR Right to Rectification means that an organisation must correct inaccurate data without delay.

8) The GDPR Right to Erasure means you may have a right to get your personal data deleted. This depends on why that data is being held. If it is just for marketing, it should be deleted when you ask for this. But a bank which has given you a loan or a shop that sold you a washing machine will have legitimate reasons to retain this information for a period.

9) Personal data breaches have to be notified to the supervisory authority (typically the ICO) within 72 hours unless they are minor, in which case they have to be documented, including the reason for not reporting them. This would include when personal information is sent to the wrong person, if a laptop containing personal data is left on a train or stolen, or if a hacker managed to download or alter personal data. High risk breaches have to be notified to the persons whose data has been affected without undue delay.

10) An organisation can face fines of up to €20million (£17million in the UK) or 4% of their annual global turnover, whichever is larger. Ouch! That is a huge amount more than the current maximum fine of £500,000 under the old Data Protection Act.

I have only highlighted some points here. The ICO site has lots of information about personal data situations. If you want to know how your personal information should be handled and how to raise a concern, look at the ICO’s “For The Public” page. That has lots of details, including how to make a Subject Access Request and links to specific situations from criminal records to the use of drones. Where necessary, those pages will all be updated when GDPR goes live on May 25th.

Will this really make a difference?

The ICO says:

“…it’s scaremongering to suggest that we’ll be making early examples of organisations for minor infringements or that maximum fines will become the norm.”

But the fact that huge penalties will be possible is causing many organisations to take GDPR very seriously.

If this means that firms are more careful with our information, they only hold what is actually needed, the nuisance of unwanted marketing is reduced and it’s easier to get problems resolved then GDPR will be a positive help to British consumers.

 

How to prevent problems when booking a holiday let (plus what to do when things go wrong)

I was on ITV Anglia on the 20th April talking about a bad experience someone had with using an online holiday letting website and how you can protect yourself. So thought a post providing more information would be useful.sofa in ground floor property with open stairs and text Holiday lets, problems, prevention and your rightsWith the increase in sites such as AirBNB, HomeAway.co.uk and HolidayCottages.co.uk more and more people are letting their homes and holidaymakers are taking advantage of the additional competition and range of places to stay. However, with an increase of availability comes of course an increase in problems.

I’ve been hearing a growing number of complaints from people who have booked through these type of sites. So how can you protect yourself when looking for somewhere to stay?

    • Only book through a third party site which has a clear refund policy and which takes secure payments by credit card. Don’t book directly if the owner tries to get you to do this, as you will have less protection. Airbnb, for example, will ban a host who tries to get a guest to book directly.
    • You wouldn’t buy a high-priced item from an unknown shop or person without reservations or putting some checks in place, so be careful of doing it online.
    • The site should display a valid postal address, a working customer service email address and phone number and have a good “About us” page.
    • Check out reviews about the property on the booking and on other sites. Google the place to get a good feel of what is being said about it. If there are not many reviews, ignore the very best and the very worst. There are such things as fake reviews, both from competitors and friends and family of the property owners!
    • When you arrive, if there are any problems, take pictures or film with running commentary, ensuring that they are all dated and timed. This will make for good evidence should you need to complain.
    • If possible, ask the landlord to be present at time of you taking over the property to makes notes of any damage or breakages and sign a document to this effect.
    • Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to services that are carried out with reasonable skill and care. The property and its facilities must also be as described. So, if the property does not match the description, you’ve been misled or the site or owner has provided you with services not carried out with reasonable skill and care then you can use this law to gain redress. This may be a partial or full refund, for example.

 

To complain effectively see Top 20 Tips.

See also

How to complain when booking a service based in the EU – covers two stories one of them for Rip Off Britain) I dealt with regarding Booking.com where EU law was used to gain redress.

What to do when ripped off by a hotel – more information regarding complaining about hotels

All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights – links to various posts regarding stories, advice, tips and your rights for various aspects of booking and taking your holiday/flights.

Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS! for more information, tips, advice, consumer rights, stories and template letters for complaining about most issues in most sectors!