Case Studies

Here's some examples of the kind of work we do


Driven to Distraction

In February 2012 our client, Mr P, paid £1500 to a company offering him a Class 2 licence course. Needless to say, this was a great deal of money, but Mr P felt he was investing in his future and that it was money well spent. The payment was made by direct debit over the phone and he was told that he would receive confirmation of the training and exam dates within three days. And so Mr P anxiously waited for their letter.

And he kept on waiting.

In early March he called the company to express his concern. They promised to call him back, but the call never came. A week later he received an invoice, but still no details of the course, so he called again. This time he was told the date of the training, and that he should expect confirmation in writing very soon.

Mr P booked some time off work to go on the course, although at this point he still had not received written confirmation. He made more calls and eventually found out that he hadn't been booked on the course at all. No further date was offered, although he was told that he could get a refund, but only if he applied in writing.

To date, Mr P has still not received his refund, and the company will not respond to him. Mr P has reported the company to Trading Standards and the CAB are advising him regarding his options, including taking court action. However, our research revealed that this is not an isolated case and that it has previously been difficult to enforce judgements against the company. With the ongoing involvement of the CAB and Trading Standards it is to be hoped that we can get Mr P's money refunded, but in the meantime it demonstrates the value of researching a company's reputation before you hand over your money.

Save our Sofas

Our client, Mrs S, having reached retirement age, decided to treat herself to a new sofa and armchair from which to enjoy her well-earned new life of leisure. And so she ordered her furniture from a store in Nottingham on a 'buy now, pay next year' arrangement.

The sofa didn't arrive for some weeks, but at least Mrs S had the armchair in which to sit and await its delivery in comfort. Or so she hoped. In fact, the armchair was extremely uncomfortable because the foam in the seat pad kept 'bunching up'. Significantly, it was not at all like the one that she had viewed in store.

When the sofa finally arrived things didn't get much better. One of its legs kept falling off, which made sitting on it a considerably more traumatic experience than the client was expecting. This was not an ideal situation. Sofas are not particularly complex mechanisms, and are required to do very little apart from be comfortable, hard-wearing and retain the same number of legs that they started out with.

The company have sent out staff on several occasions to replace the legs, but insist that there is nothing they can do about the armchair. They have ignored our client's request for a replacement suite, and have suggested that she 'pounds the foam pad with her arms'. Quite apart from the fact that Mrs S, being disabled, would find this extremely difficult, it seems bizarre that this retailer should be selling furniture which its customers subsequently have to beat into submission.

We are helping this client to exercise her right to reject goods which are not fit for purpose. In this particular case Mrs S can argue that the products differed substantially from the goods she viewed in store.

Slammed!

Mr J bought a mobile phone for his girlfriend, which he believed would cost him £20 per month. So when the first payment came out he was surprised to find that he had been stung for £40. Naturally, he contacted the phone company who were adamant that the contract was for £40 a month, and always had been. Now he is faced with paying for a service that costs twice as much as he initially agreed, or ending the contract and incurring cancellation fees of over £500.

Mr J believes he has been the victim of 'slamming' - this is an illegal practice where a user's phone service is changed without their consent. Like Mr J, the first time most people find out about this is when they receive the bill. After having had no luck using the company's complaints procedure, we are helping the client to escalate the complaint to the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme.

Ofcom has some very clear guidance on slamming. You can visit their site for more information or to make a complaint by following this link.

Debt Mismanagement

With so many people experiencing debt issues at present, it's no wonder that the debt management industry is flourishing. When our client, Mr K, found himself out of work with mounting debts - including rent arrears - he didn't have to look far before he found a company that was prepared to set up a payment plan with his creditors. But after he had made three monthly payments of £150 each, he realised that a rather important detail had been overlooked - namely that his creditors had not been paid.

Has Mr K been the victim of a scam? It certainly looks that way, but even the customers of legitimate Debt Management companies can get a raw deal, ending up paying huge fees and charges that would be put to better use in servicing their debts. And although the Office of Fair Trading publishes guidance to Debt Management companies, they are not as tightly regulated as other financial services. Like any other service it pays to shop around when it comes to Debt Management companies. How much is it going to cost? Can they successfully negotiate an interest freeze or reduced payments?

And always remember that your local CAB will provide you with free, independent and impartial debt advice, and can signpost you to free debt management services.

Money for Nothing

Mr W is an extremely fortunate gentleman. He doesn't have an ordinary bank account; he has a Premier bank account. This account comes with a host of 'extras' including European RAC Breakdown cover, access to airport lounges, worldwide family travel insurance, mobile phone insurance and SIM card replacement. If Mr W were a globe-trotting playboy or travel-weary foreign correspondent, these things might come in very handy, but as he is neither of these things he is paying £25 per month for services he never uses.

What makes the situation worse is that Mr W is disabled, has to subsist on benefits and is struggling to manage a number of debts. The fee he is paying for his bank account could make a big difference to his monthly budget. Unfortunately, banks are sometimes a little too keen when it comes to selling inappropriate products, products which can contribute to the debt issues of vulnerable people. Always check that you're getting the best value from your bank account and that you're not paying for services that you're not likely to use.

The Wrong Tariff

Energy costs represent one of our largest household expenses. They certainly did for Mr B, who in the space of a few short months found his bills increasing by 300%, despite the fact that his usage was no greater. His energy company told him that this was because his tariff had changed, but were unwilling to explain why. Mr B came to the CAB and asked if we could get to the bottom of the issue, and after a few frustrating phone calls we eventually found out the reason - Mr B's energy company had got it wrong.
Mr B is over pension age and is in receipt of Attendance Allowance, which entitles him to help with his energy bills. In this case his supplier admitted that they had put him on the wrong tariff and have now corrected the error. He may also receive compensation.

Energy companies offer a bewildering number of tariffs and it's not unusual for people to be on an inappropriate rate. Even if you're not a vulnerable customer, you may still be able to get a better deal from your supplier, or by shopping around. Check out our Energy page for more ideas.

Nobody Wins

Mrs L came to us in an emotional state, scared for her 87-year- old widowed mother, who has become addicted to entering prize draws. She has spent all her money either buying items she neither wants nor needs in order to be entered into draws, or sending off money to release non-existent cash prizes. She is now in serious debt.

The problem started quite gradually. Initially Mrs L's mother began entering competitions in legitimate publications, but she soon started to receive an increasing volume of unsolicited mail, inviting her to enter similar competitions and draws. Some of these competitions were obvious scams, asking for an up-front fee which the consumer would never see again. Some just managed to tread on the right side of legal, but they still preyed on the vulnerable and desperate with their promises of 'prizes waiting for collection' and 'guaranteed winners'.

Free-to-enter competitions are a common promotional tool used by the media, and there's often little harm in taking part, although the odds of winning are slight. But be aware, many organisations sell your details on and your name might end up on the mailing list of a scammer. Be extremely cautious of competitions that require you to make a purchase, and avoid those that charge a 'release fee' or an 'admin fee'.

Meanwhile, Mrs L is making herself ill with worry and her mother is scared of the consequences of an addiction she is powerless to overcome. It's difficult to help people when they become this dependant, but if you or someone you know has a similar problem, you may be able to find help at www.thinkjessica.com.

Bathroom Dispute

Mrs B had a consumer issue with a bathroom company. She placed an order for a seated bath unit which she understood to be costing £498. Mrs B was unwell at the time she placed the order and was unaware that she had given a deposit for an order valued at £4995. She was afraid to challenge the company herself and the bathroom was fitted and all outstanding monies were paid. This took the majority of her savings. She was extremely upset that she seemed to have been talked into something that she normally would not have and she eventually spoke to her GP about the issue who referred her to us.

Mrs B was happy with the goods provided but not the price and asked if there was anything she could do about it. She was also concerned that other elderly people could also be confused into a similar issue.

We contacted the company on the client's behalf, stating that she was unwell at the time of the order, queried the amount charged and that she had been unaware of the total cost. The company responded by saying that the order was signed, that the customer had plenty of opportunity to consider the cost and that the goods were good value for money.

We contacted Trading Standards on the customer's behalf. Trading Standards were already aware of the company concerned and were carrying out investigations in Derbyshire and another county. The company were contacted by Trading Standards with regard to irregularities within the contracts they were using. They were invited by Trading Standards to discuss the irregularities, the company declined and the investigation is ongoing.