Small Claims Court Fees Rise

I love going to court. Odd as it may sound. If it has got to that stage because the other party has annoyed me that much it is a pleasure to carry out that threat “If I am not fully satisfied with your response I will seek redress in the Small Claims Court.” Companies think you won’t bother or in the case of Tesco just ignore you. I go to court when I’m pretty certain I’m going to win because a Law has clearly been broken and in the case of Tesco the other party has simply not done what it said in black and white it would do. You can’t get much nearer to being 100% sure you are going to win! But people are using this process less and less and this number is expected to fall given the changes.

The Observer Wot I was In
Small Claims Court Fees to RiseOn Sunday I was in The Observer in an article about Small Claims Court fees going up. (If you are here having read the article then you might be looking for the Tesco court story. You’ll find that here, the update here the end here,  my first post about Tesco here some fun with Tesco here and here, another story here and reasons why you should not let companies to get away with even tiny amounts of money here with another Tesco story to come in the next couple of weeks! 🙂 )

Online readable version here.

Not sure what I think of all this media coverage for just carrying out my mantra “It’s the principle of the thing”. BBC did hair and make up and the radio no-one sees me so that has a preference over the paper I think! Although you never know what the paper will actually say of course so in a way just as nerve racking as live stuff! Harriet Meyer was lovely and the photographer Antonio Olmos, well considering I can’t have been nearly as interesting or quite as frightening as most of the stuff he does he was very nice to me. Well other than refusing to Photoshop my picture because he is a professional and my son being disappointed when he went to the door knowing that “Antonio” was coming that he wasn’t actually Gold Power Ranger. The Bull and I were quite pleased with how the kitchen looked!

So, the fees?
In yet another blow to consumers, the Government after having slashed legal aid has now increased the costs for the Small Claims Court. Find them here. (I’ve noticed that many money websites have not been ahead of the game and although the fees go up today (22nd April) have not updated their sites. So be warned follow that link for accurate information as it is the Court site! Update court fees went up again in 2015.

What will this mean for consumers?
The (in my opinion) wrong decision has been made as is often typical on short sighted thinking. Costs of running the court go up so lets put fees up. But, as The Observer reported cases going to court “…slumped by more than 50% in the past five years, with 29,577 hearings in 2013, compared to 53,248 in 2007. So just watch the cases going to court continue to drop as people don’t risk the higher fees. It’s false economy. Increasing fees does not encourage anyone to use the services so it is bad news for consumers and probably staff because watch the redundancies follow as not as many staff are needed.

For cases over £1000 the costs are rising significantly. It is a sliding scale depending on how much you are claiming and for claims ranging from £3,000 to £5,000, there is a near doubling of the fee to £205. It is obvious, at least to me that this will put people off going to court.

There is help for people on low incomes etc. But get through a 32 page document first!

Alternatives
Not a lot. With Trading Standards budgets slashed consumers are left more vulnerable and that is a postcode lottery again. Contacting them is a possibility. Citizen’s Advice, again budgets slashed so they are limited in what they can do. Mediation is a cheaper alternative worth considering.

You have the Financial Ombudsman for financial products, free service but still takes time and CISAS for member telecom companies. I have used both (as you would expect). Won both times with FO and with CISAS against Virgin. The second time with Virgin and CISAS the complaint was partially upheld. I believe that the mot recent one (judgement in last few weeks) was only partially upheld due to appalling administration. I may write up a post about this. But for now be warned make sure you have everything as you want it when you send it through. Despite forms saying that you CAN add to evidence and directing staff to that form and quoting it you may get refused, like I did even though it was sent just five minutes after the ‘phone call saying it was ready. The adjudication is probably fair and timely but getting it there can be stressful. I found it far more stressful than taking Tesco to court due to the inefficiency. There are other ombudsman services covering various sectors.

Do everything you can to avoid going to court. Don’t physically or verbally threaten. Write following these Top 20 Tips. Do some Internet searching on the individual or company and see what other people have done, any CCJs against them already to help you make a decision. (Small charge)

What to consider if thinking of going to court
1) It takes ages. From start to court hearing was 6 months. The process is relatively simple but not always completely clear and changes, so don’t be caught out if you have been through the process before.
2) If, like me you are thinking of taking a large organisation like Tesco to court the chances of you being paid when you win are of course high. I really wanted to not be paid in time so I could send the bailiffs in and I didn’t get paid but it was just the usual poor internal communication. 🙁 But seriously, if you take a rip off builder to court for example, consider the chances of being paid, the potential further costs of enforcing the judgement, and the builder going bankrupt.
3) Whether you can take on further stress knowing that the whole process will take 6 months and a fair bit of your time putting evidence together and undertaking the court paperwork. (I did not find the court paperwork cumbersome but putting evidence together can be).
4) The likelihood of winning.

Tips for going to court
You have looked through all the Small Claims Court information and have decided to proceed. So how best to do it?

1) Be objective don’t use any emotive language.
2) Be polite and precise.
3) When using appendices (I had numerous!) number them and refer to each piece by the number in the explanation in order. Make it easy for the judge.
4) Clearly demonstrate how the Law has been broken e.g. “The photo of item in appendix x shows described fault..”
5) Use good English!
6) Check deadlines for court processes.
7) Check and double check through your paperwork and unless you are absolutely sure it makes perfect sense, get someone to check through for you.
8) Make sure you use the online process, it is cheaper.
9) When at court be respectful and allow for them running late!
10) Don’t forget to claim for court fees and any out of pocket expenses for going to court.

Small Claims Genie gives lots of information, tips and advice you should look at too.

Update – story got picked up by BBC Breakfast.

BBC Breakfast Small Claims Court Feature Plus a Bit

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More details about how to complain and hopefully avoid legal action in the book.

So, have you been to court? How did you find it and what advice would you give?

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The Complaining Cow Meets The CEO With Common Sense at AO

A little while ago someone tweeted me to say that ao.com’s customer service was really good. Me being me tweeted something like “I bet I could find fault!!!!” Next thing I knew I was being invited up to Bolton from London to see round the place for myself.  All my train tickets and accommodation were sorted and off I went. In the meantime the Post Office didn’t pick up the tickets to send me. Quick as a flash I was telling them what to do to get some money back but I don’t think they needed me to tell them! James, the Customer Services Manager gave me a tour round and have to say I was impressed. One of my Top Ten Tips for companies about preventing complaints in the first place is about ensuring that staff are well trained, equipped and looked after. Look after your staff and they will look after your business. It’s common sense and appears to be the CEO’s ethos.

How does AO look after staff?

Now, frankly, free chocolate always available has got to be a winner in my book. They keep it in the fridge though which is the wrong temperature for chocolate and I wouldn’t want to wait for the chocolate to reach room temperature. (Told you I would find a fault, took me ten minutes.) But actually they do do more than that. Days out, subsidised cafe, a Starbucks, with hairdressers and therapies and a bar to come….! The days after I went a member of staff tweeted that they had a massage at their desk. Not happy about that either, they could have done that when I was up there! There’s even a team dedicated to organise this stuff! “Creator of Happiness” is the job title of one member of staff. The Daily Fail would call that a Mickey Mouse job title.  She and her team spend all day cooking up ways to make staff happy and enjoy working at AO. I’m sorry, but this is not rocket science. It is obvious that if staff are looked after they look after your customers which means they pay money and stay loyal and spread the word. Yeah well common sense is seriously lacking. As you may have seen on the picture on my Facebook page “Common sense is not a flower that grows in everyone’s garden”. Many companies could learn from the continuing success of AO.

They train staff for 8 weeks before they are really let loose on customers. That’s more than most customer call centres methinks. Nice that the call centre is in Bolton and not India too. Staff are supported if it is felt that they could do something better and staff turnover is minimal, again saving costs! Interestingly, their HR department is small, another saving.

Staff are put on a Performance Improvement Plan if their customer service needs support. This focuses on call quality, effectiveness and feedback levels, key areas in customer service. I met one member of staff who had been on this and spoke highly of it. Rather than seeing it as a method of getting rid of poor staff he said he had learnt a lot from it and was really glad he had gone on it. That’s the theory behind such schemes in the Public Sector but they don’t work as well funny enough…

AO is the 4th (second year running) best place to work in the UK according to The Sunday Times. But although I could be tempted to work there if I actually liked people, I couldn’t. Too many happy smiley people. Before going freelance I worked in the public sector, all this smiling felt a bit alien to me. That and having to be nice to people complaining, being idiotic and the like. *shudders.

The CEO

Met the CEO. I liked him. (I know, it’s a rarity but it happens). Why? Well firstly anyone that says publically that they would rather stick pins in their eyes when asked to meet David Cameron because he has no interest in meeting a politician who does not care about making things better for everyone and not just the rich, is of course onto a winner with me! I bet Phillip Clarke from Tesco has/would. But then Clarke doesn’t respond to customers because he doesn’t care about them, only profits. A foolish short sighted approach but then you know my thoughts on Tesco! The CEO of Currys of course is one of Cameron’s mates. See how happy their staff are! (just Google “Unhappy Currys staff” you don’t need links from me!) Compare that ignorance and contempt for staff with John Roberts who invited me up to Bolton, paid for the travel and hotel (I reviewed on Trip Advisor!) and spent over an hour with me. Could have chatted for ages especially about the foolishness of this Government in not putting money into preventative services for children and young people which costs dearly later but that’s another post…! Compare Clarke ignoring his customers so much that they end up taking Tesco to court with John’s approach. When I went into John’s office there was a pile of letters that he was signing, personally. A couple of apologies following up complaints and loads saying thank you to people, staff and customers. He certainly feels it is important to treat each customer individually.   The company empowers staff to make decisions regarding how to resolve complaints and believes that the customer is always right. Not in that trite ridiculous way but they do do what the customer wants to have any issues resolved. Dedicated staff in all areas with good internal communications (yep that other thing I keep banging on about) means that they get good comments on their Facebook page. Unlike certain other retailers….

The cost of ignoring customers

Quite a fresh approach. Like I said, it’s not flipping rocket science but it is rare in my experience of being a customer…. It’s obvious and common sense to me. Why? Simple. When I complain and don’t get results I escalate. Now when that escalates it has cost the company far more than if they had just dealt with me properly in the first place. Let’s take Tesco as an example (Surprise!) In my case which led to taking Tesco to court, the first few emails were responded to but then they didn’t honour their promise. I involved the Twitter team. Nice people, they tried but poor internal communication lack of training and empowering them meant that they made the situation worse. I only wanted my money back that they had promised to give me! Off to court. Their legal people got involved, made an offer, I refused more legal people time. I won. I wrote up the post it’s there to stay. How much did that cost Tesco? In real terms far more than if they had just paid up in the first place. Look around the blog and you will see lots of examples of my contacting a CEO, sometimes this gets passed down to the Executive team (happens in Tesco sometimes if it isn’t ignored) sometimes as often with Sainsbury’s, the CEO responds. Isn’t it obvious to a company that that costs them more than if staff at the frontline were equipped to deal with complaints properly?  I’m loathe to say this at risk of people trying it on with AO, but they even pay out when it is doubtful that then customer is telling the truth. This would irk me I have to say, “IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING” I would yell! But you can see the reasoning behind it. A low percentage of people are dishonest so therefore a low percentage of paying out. Very few complaints get escalated leaving the more senior people to get on with other things.

Then what?

(Well, currently putting together a few questions about irons sent from someone with a different name and I’ll be testing knowledge, with any luck I’ll be able to complain about something). So far it would appear that in the North “pants” are ironed…

View from Bolton Whites Hotel
View from Bolton Whites Hotel

Back at the nearby hotel I had a lovely meal thanks for asking. The view was wasted on me though but the food and drink wasn’t!

Enjoyed the meal even if view was wasted on me!
Enjoyed the meal even if view was wasted on me!

 

CEO With Common Sense. 

Look after your staff and they will look after your business. It’s common sense and appears to be the CEO’s ethos.

I emailed James and asked for the emails of everyone I had met so I could thank them for their time. He wouldn’t give me John’s email. Some things are still the same whatever company you look at. It was of course no matter that I didn’t get the email address from James. I sent my email directly to John later that day. Obviously. I am The Complaining Cow after all.

The Complaining Cow logo complaints, consultancy, speaker and more

 

There’s always room for improvement in any business and if you are interested in looking at creative ways to do so, check out The Complaining Cow services.

 

 

 

 

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