The ICO summary of 2015 is both reassuring and disturbing in equal measure

Since the law changed in April 2015, the ICO has found it much easier to prosecute and fine companies for cold calling and nuisance calls, as the burden of proof has been reduced from causing “serious damage and distress” to causing a “nuisance”.

As a result, the total amount of fines imposed has trebled to over £1.1m.

There are a further £1m-worth of fines in the pipeline in existing, ongoing investigations.

The BBC article is, as always, here, and includes the naming and shaming of the biggest culprits towards the end of the article.

Mind you, how long does it take to even MAKE six million nuisance calls. And they’re only a nuisance if they’re answered, we would have thought, so how many more were they making that went unanswered?!

The irony of a firm being fined for making nuisance calls advertising call blocking services, however, may be too much for us to bear…

Hopefully this will lead to us all having a Happy (and quieter) New Year.

All the best from Consumer, Fight Back!

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Your cancellation rights have changed

This is what happens when people fight back.

After the ash cloud, some passengers were stranded by their airline, in this case, Ryanair. They sued and they won!

Ryanair loses EU ash cloud case

According to the BBC report, Ryanair should have fully compensated a passenger whose flight was cancelled because of the volcanic ash cloud in 2010, the EU’s top court has said.

On such occasions there is no limit – in time or money – to the airline’s duty to look after its passengers, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled.

Denise McDonagh had a seven-day wait for a Faro-Dublin flight on Ryanair and said she spent nearly 1,130 euros (£968) on a hotel, food and transport.

Remember, the Courts have decided that there is no limit to the amount you can claim if you are left stranded by your airline. No limit in time or money. You obviously can’t claim for a 5-star hotel if your holiday was a 3-star, and you can’t claim for a private jet to get you home, but as long as your expenses are reasonable, the airline HAS to recompense you.

Cold Calling – Good News and Bad News

Firstly, the Bad News.

According to a BBC Panorama investigation broadcast in July of this year, the Telephone Preference Service is being ignored.

Now, for the unfamiliar, the Telephone Preference Service (and its lesser known sisters, the Fax Preference Service and the Mail Preference Service) are one of the longest standing, but coolest, bits of consumer protection legislation in the UK.

By registering your telephone number (or fax number or postal address) on a website, you are added to a list of numbers that cold calling marketing companies are NOT ALLOWED TO CALL.

See? How cool is that?

Sadly, if they lie, and say you asked them to call, or if they say they are not selling, but just conducting a survey, they can circumvent the rules. Naughty.

Or just pretend they have no idea what the TPS is.

The answer is, if you get a cold call, and you’ve put your number on the website (which takes all of thirty seconds, you’re a fool if you don’t), you just interrupt the blah and tell them:

“This number is registered with the Telephone Preference Service and you are therefore breaking the law by telephoning it. Please give me your name and company name so that I can report this to the Information Commissioner”.

You’ll hear a dialling tone by about “and”. Ideally, the first ‘and’, but at worst, definitely by the second.

The Telephone Preference Service can be found here:

http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps/number_type.html

The left hand column contains links to the Fax and Mail Preference Service and also to the Baby Mail Preference Service.  It is sad that this is needed, but this is a truly wonderful and thoughtful service. It blocks people from sending you (or someone you care about) baby-related junk mail and adverts if your child has died.  It must be hard enough to deal with such a thing, without Pampers putting vouchers for nappies through your door every morning. What a wonderful idea.

A bit of the recent Panorama programme can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18670314.

Further advice on how to deal with cold callers can be found here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/skillswise/learners/rip-off-britain/rip-off-britain-cold-calls

And now for The Good News: if you’re able to record your telephone calls, you can fight back.  The legal precedent has been set.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20068927

This man said “I am going to charge you £10 a minute for my time  if you keep talking to me”.  And then he sent them a bill. And when they didn’t pay, he sued them.

And he won.

So there is now no reason to put up with cold callers, unsolicited faxes or even unsolicited junk mail through your letterbox. You have the power. Take control. Consumer, Fight Back!

The real scandal at Comet

This is a short rant about Comet.

For the non-UK bods, Comet is a large electrical goods chain that has been in financial trouble for YEARS.  Last year, it was sold for just two pounds sterling.  This week, it finally kicked its legs in the air and went into administration.

Okay, fair enough. Although perhaps not for the seven and a half thousand employees who may be unemployed by Christmas, obviously.

The trouble is that, when people buy white goods or large ticket items, they save up over time (or get into debt with payday loan companies and weekly payment schemes, but that’s another story).  They often gather gift vouchers and cards to put towards their major purchase for a considerable period of time.

Before the weekend, the television pundits advised anyone with vouchers lying in a drawer to get out and spend them before the administrators moved in this week.

This was a problem because the first thing the administrators did was refuse to accept all vouchers and gift cards.

Now, I don’t consider myself a MASSIVE expert on retail economics, but I’m pretty sure that when you buy a gift card for someone, you have ALREADY PAID THE MONEY to the retailer.

To then turn around to the holder of, what essentially amounts to a receipt for funds already paid, and tell them they cannot take the goods that have already been paid for, is just not on.

In fact, strictly speaking, I think it’s theft, as defined by the Theft Act 1969 (as amended), because it is the taking of payment for goods or services you have no intention of supplying.  That’s the definition of theft. Or to put it another way, that the Bill fans might find more familiar, it is the taking away with the intent to permanently deprive.

Now, conveniently, as at 19:16 today, 6 November 2012, the BBC News website says that Comet vouchers have now been reinstated, so this little boy can now redeem his voucher.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-20191490

If you normally skip the links, read this one.

The refusal of this little boy’s voucher caused public ire on a scale I have rarely seen. We get annoyed, we sigh, we mutter amongst ourselves, when large companies misbehave, but we rarely see fury on the scale that this generated. The fact that they have now backed down is, frankly, the safest thing they could have done.

There were those who tried to explain the concept of creditors and the rules of administration, but no one was listening.

And on this occasion, I think the “people” were right. People who have purchased vouchers should not be treated as creditors, and if the law needs to be changed in this area, then so be it. Sort it out, legislators, because this cannot be allowed to happen again. Ever. Even for three days.

Once payment has been made, consumers should always have the right to claim their goods. Anything else is a shameful state of affairs that needs remedying forthwith.

This piece also appears on Mpinion.

Easyjet

In September 2010, I was booked on a flight to Toulouse in France with easyjet. There was an air traffic controllers strike but it didn’t seem to be causing many problems. It’s a sort of work to rule, more than a strike, and they do it every year.

Easyjet cancelled my flight with 36 hours warning – I got a text message Tuesday afternoon about a flight on Thursday. Not even an email, just a text.

I telephoned the call centre, as instructed, and a young man named Peter changed me onto a flight on Wednesday 22 September. This meant I would arrive in France a day earlier, so I had to book somewhere to stay in a hurry.
I therefore took the Gatwick Express on 22 September, buying a return ticket  at a cost of £28.70.  I also needed accommodation for an extra day in France, so I booked into Le Grand Balcon Hotel in Toulouse, at a cost of €175 or £153, as my gite would not be available until the next day.
At Gatwick, I checked in and went through security and waited to board. An hour after the scheduled departure time, they cancelled the flight.
We were forced to march all the way through arrivals, baggage reclaim (where our bags had just been dumped on the floor, rather than on a carousel) and passport control.  We then had to walk the length of the terminal back to Departures and queue at the information desk, which was manned by only three people, two of whom clocked off while the queue still stretched right across the hall.
By the time I got to the front, the only woman left serving (Selina) really wasn’t interested in helping me. She said there were no flights until Sunday or Monday at the earliest and when I said that I was going on an eight-day holiday, I couldn’t possibly wait four days for a flight, she said that I should make my own arrangements to get to Toulouse and send the bills to Easyjet, who would reimburse me in full.
When I telephoned Le Grand Balcon Hotel in Toulouse to tell them the flight was cancelled and I would not be arriving, I was informed that, due to the short notice of cancellation, the room had to be paid for in full and I would not be entitled to a refund.
I found a flight on Brussels Airlines from Heathrow at 0630 on Thursday 23rd.  The return flight cost £495.87.
So I had to take a registered minicab from Gatwick to Heathrow at a cost of £90.50.  I then had to find a hotel room, which at midnight in the World’s busiest airport isn’t easy.  After trying six hotels, I managed to find a room at the Park Inn at a cost of £258.50.
In the morning, I paid £4 to take the shuttle bus to terminal 1 and boarded the Brussels Airlines flight, which enabled me to final arrive in Toulouse on Thursday 23 September.
Essentially, it took me 24 hours to get to my destination. I had to go via Brussels and change and there was a delay, so I actually arrived in Toulouse at exactly the same time as I was originally supposed to have done!
When I got home and complained, I was repeatedly told to go away by easyjet, unsurprisingly.  Well, to be fair, I was offered one night’s accommodation at Gatwick (£80) (no use if there are no flights for four days!) and £120 for alternative transport (apparently the cost of another low cost airline flight,although the only other low cost flight to Toulouse was bmi baby from Manchester, and they didn’t offer enough for the train fare to manchester, let alone the cost of the flight!). I was claiming over £1,000 in total.
After being repeatedly fobbed off, I issued proceedings in the County Court Small Claims Track using Money Claim Online.  This got their attention. 😉
After much argument, during which they tried to drown me in paperwork by sending me screen prints of every page of information about that days’ flights, there was a moment of humour when he offered me £153 of the settlement in easyjet vouchers.  Like I would fly easyjet ever again! Eventually it was converted into cash and included in the final figures.
In the end, I ended up only £74 out of pocket – the price of the original flight!  The whole argument took almost exactly a year from the date of cancellation to my signing the settlement agreement.
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