Consumer Rights: A helping hand foiled by 'data protection'
Why a utility firm blocked an effort to assist a sick relative ... The curse of being 'blacklisted' for credit ... The pursuit of compensation for a cancelled flight
Sunday 08 February 2009
My elderly aunt has been taken ill and is likely to spend the next few months in hospital. I am her next of kin but do not have power of attorney, and I have been trying to ensure her utility providers understand the situation and do not chase her for payment in the short term.
However, I keep rubbing up against the Data Protection Act. For example, Thames Water initially refused to deal with me at all, saying that because of "data protection" it could only deal with the account holder (even though I explained she was unconscious in hospital). Does the Act really forbid people from sorting out bills on behalf of someone else?
No. And this is ridiculous as you were trying to give information to Thames Water rather than extract information about your aunt. Data protection regulation is supposed to work in the consumer's favour, but seldom does so. More often than not, it appears to be used by retailers and utility providers as an excuse for inaction. That said, Thames Water has now apologised, admitted it was at fault and is dealing with you on behalf of your aunt.
Georgina Godfray, in-house lawyer for consumer group Which?, says: "Companies often interpret the general principles of the Act to read that they cannot disclose any personal details about an account holder to another person. This is because of the obvious risks of fraud. However, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has given guidance on the subject as there are clearly instances, like this one, where it is not so clear-cut. The ICO asks for companies to show common sense in such cases."
Providers can still take precautions, checking, for instance, that the person who claims to represent the account holder knows a sufficient amount about their account details or personal details. In your case, you were clearly in possession of all the relevant data, and "common sense" has been sadly lacking.
We keep getting mail for other people at our home. We send the letters back to the senders, saying there are no such people at the address, but this has proved completely ineffective in stopping the mail.
Until recently this was just an inconvenience, but two weeks ago we went to apply for a mobile phone and the retailer refused to give us an account, saying the address was blacklisted. How could it be so? And how do I go about getting my property off that list?
Just as "data protection" has become a catch-all reason to be unhelpful, this retailer is hiding behind the myth of blacklisting to stop you getting a mobile phone.
James Jones, consumer education manager at credit reference agency Experian, says: "The phone retailer gave you woeful advice. When you apply for credit, lenders can only look at someone else's credit report if you share a financial link. You might be linked to your partner or another family member – if, for example, you have taken out a loan together – but you won't be linked to anyone else recorded at your address, past or present. As a result, addresses can't be blacklisted. There really is no such thing."
Mr Jones adds that obtaining a copy of your credit report should either put your mind at rest that it was the retailer's mistake, or help you work out the real reason for the refusal. He adds: "Many lenders have tightened up their criteria in recent months, and if you don't fit the type of customer they're after, they may refuse your application even if your record is squeaky clean."
You can get a copy of the report, for a couple of pounds, from Experian, Equifax or Callcredit.
I bought a return ticket to New Zealand through Southall Travel. I was due to fly with Virgin to Shanghai and Air China to Auckland, and the same on the way back.
A month before I was due to fly, Southall Travel called to say Air China had unexpectedly cancelled all its flights between Auckland and Shanghai. I asked it to pursue other options but after checking with different airlines, it said this was impossible. I also called the airlines directly but they didn't want to speak to me as the ticket was bought through an agency. Southall Travel said the only solution it had for me was to get a full refund from Air China, for which I'm still waiting.
Buying another flight at short notice and close to Christmas was very hard, but eventually I got a return with Emirates for £1,200. My original ticket was £800 and I told Southall Travel I wanted it to pay the £400 difference. It refused, saying the fault was Air China's.
Who does have responsibility here? Should the agency not offer an alternative route?
You have three potential targets: the airline, the travel agent and the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta). EU regulations state that cancellation, other than in "exceptional circumstances", is the airline's responsibility. However, as the cancellation occurred outside the EU, these rules are unlikely to apply. Ingrid Gubbay, consumer law consultant at solicitor Cohen Milstein, says: "In this situation the Montreal Convention is the only international agreement that applies, and it has no specific language which allows for compensation when flights are cancelled. This does not mean you could not refer to it in a letter to Air China, because increasingly the convention is including more passenger rights. Reimbursement would depend upon the Air China policy for cancelled flights, which should appear on your ticket."
In practice, given that the change in arrangements came 27 days before your flight, the airline is unlikely to accept any obligation to compensate you for the £400 difference.
When I talked to Southall Travel's head of customer services, he reiterated that the company could only supply flights that were available and did not feel obliged to offer any compensation. That said, the group has hurried along the refund from Air China, which should now be in your bank account.
Southall Travel is a member of Abta and so is bound by its code of practice. Abta should be prepared to step in where an agent is unable to supply the flights booked, so if this happens again, that may be your best course of action.
Bargain Hunter: Comparethemarket.com launches two-for-one cinema tickets offer
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
You'll need £220,000 for a minimum wage in your retirement
Pension freedom: Steve Webb answers your questions on the big shake-up
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
- 1 Germanwings crash: Police make 'significant discovery' at home of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz
- 2 JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
- 3 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 4 #FreeTheNipple: Women in Iceland bare breasts in solidarity with trolled student
- 5 Jeremy Clarkson calls on trolls to leave producer Oisin Tymon alone: 'None of this is his fault'
Nigel Farage brands LGBT activists 'filth' and 'scum' and accuses them of scaring away his children after they invade his local pub
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Russia threatens Denmark with nuclear weapons if it tries to join Nato defence shield
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
Germanwings plane crash live: Andreas Guenter Lubitz intentionally crashed flight 9525 into the Alps in act of mass murder and suicide – latest
iJobs Money & Business
£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has arisen within th...
£50000 - £63000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / D...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Applicants must hold a valid SIA Door Su...
Day In a Page
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms
A two-bedroom detached house with ensuite bathrooms and a sun-drenched decked terrace, £750,000
A modern and spacious two-bedroom, penthouse flat with two bathrooms in a prestigious development
A beautifully renovated five-bedroom terrace with three reception rooms and a courtyard garden, £700,000
A four-bedroom period house which has been extended to provide almost 2,500sq ft of living space, £675,000
A pretty three-bedroom Georgian home with a 22ft drawing room and a master suite with a balcony, £525,000
A substanstial family home with five bedrooms and landscaped gardens in the much sought-after Branksome Park area
A well-presented three-bedroom house with front and rear gardens, close to White City station, £475,000
A handsome five-bedroom house in a sought-after location close to the city centre
A five-bedroom country home with valley views, equestrian stables and 27 acres of land, £725,000
A six-bedroom farm house with separate, detached cottages and 371 acres of land
A two-bedroom cottage with parquet floors, chunky beams and an open fireplace
A three-bedrrom flat with 2,733sq feet of living space, a beautiful private garden and 15 acres of communal grounds
A four-bedroom chalet bungalow with three bathrooms and a spacious garden, £525,000
A two-bedroom flat with an open plan kitchen and two balconies, close to Arsenal station