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.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Notting Hill Carnival: Woman shares selfie after being ‘punched in face for telling man to stop groping her’
- 2 Keira Knightley topless: Usually conservative actress does own take on #Freethenipple campaign for Interview Magazine
- 3 Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast
- 4 George Galloway attacked on Notting Hill street by man 'shouting about the holocaust'
- 5 Brother and sister, Christopher Buckner and Timothy Savoy, arrested for 'committing incest after watching 'The Notebook''
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
- < Previous
- Next >
iJobs Money & Business
£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...
£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...
£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...
£200 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: KYC Analyst, Key Banking Client, Bi...
Day In a Page
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village
A secluded seven-bedroom detached house with large private garden, £490,000
A three-bedroom cottage overlooking Sarratt village green with open fires and solid oak floors
A three-bedroom maisonette flat in a Grade I-listed, Georgian townhouse in a sought-after location
A one-bedroom apartment located within a private gated development, north of Turnham Green
Look forward to a brighter future at two-bedroom Sunny Cottages, ideal for Londoners looking to downsize
A three-bedroom red-brick cottage with outbuildings and pretty gardens, £200,000
This three-bedroom flat within a former textile factory spans the corner of the fourth floor and has a balcony