Consumer rights: Aer Lingus will not take my euro vouchers for a UK to Ireland return flight

A gift of a family flight to Dublin to commemorate a mother's life is spoiled by unread terms and secrets could cost you dear
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The Independent Online

In July it will be 10 years since my mother died in Ireland and I have arranged a memorial event, with a bench to be dedicated to her in her favourite spot.

I'd like my husband and daughters to be with me, but I'd resigned myself to that not being possible as things are tight financially. I got a wonderful surprise when my sister generously gave me an Aer Lingus voucher for €500 to buy flights for us all.

The voucher was bought online in my name in January in the EU. When I tried to book flights in early February I discovered that it can only be used to buy tickets in euros. I can't buy return flights starting in the UK as they have to be paid for in sterling. I could buy the return leg from Dublin back to the UK with the voucher but that would mean my paying for the outward journey to Dublin myself, in pounds, which I can't afford. Having explored the options and talked to the airline I've also discovered that I'd have to travel on the same flights as my husband and daughters which would be next to impossible given their locations and the times everyone can travel. In the end I reluctantly decided that I couldn't use the voucher and that it would be better to have the value of it refunded to my sister. However I've been told that's not possible either as vouchers are non-transferable. The only way I can use it is to buy €500 worth of flights originating in Ireland but to do that we'd have to get there – several times. Is there nothing I can do?

BH, London

I've had a look through the airline's website, at the terms and conditions that apply when you buy vouchers. From that I think this was a case of an emotional sister reacting quickly to do something to help you without really taking in the details. At the bottom of the first page – not buried in the small print – it clearly says that "vouchers can only be redeemed against bookings in the currency of issue". It would seem to me that the only recourse would be to argue successfully that was an unfair condition in the contract.

I have now contacted Aer Lingus through their press office and this is what they told me: "At the point of purchase on, customers have the choice of three currencies, euros, sterling and dollars. Flights are quoted in the currency of departure and it is therefore advised to purchase the currency with this in mind."

However, Aer Lingus's terms and conditions also advise that "Aer Lingus is currently working on the capability of the website to allow sterling vouchers purchase of euro flights, The airline expects to have this option available mid 2011."

In the meantime, the airline promises to issue you with a cheque for the sterling equivalent of 500 euros, which you can use to buy flights for you and your family.

I've been self-employed for a few months and set up an office in the back bedroom. Two weeks ago we had a break-in and my work computer, printer and camera equipment were stolen, along with things from the house. I've claimed on my contents insurance, but they won't pay out. I've provided all the receipts and documents they asked for, but they say they won't even pay out for the TV and music equipment we lost. Where do I stand?

RE, Dorset

I suspect from the tone of your inquiry that you didn't tell your insurance company about your business or the equipment you bought for your office. Contents policies are designed to cover household not business contents. Check the small print and you will find a clause that says you must reveal all material facts. Running a business from home is a material fact.

The general rule is that it's better to tell insurance companies the details up front rather than wait till you make a claim. If you don't, you could discover, at worst, your insurance won't pay out or, at best, the amount of your claim is drastically reduced.

If you're running a home business your insurance company will want to know what business equipment you have in your house and if additional people have access to the premises. You could try arguing that as you're at home all day the risk of being broken into is reduced. If you did inform the insurer about your business, go back and ask them to look again at your claim. If you didn't, your only hope is to throw yourself on their mercy.

Running a business from home throws up a lot of other issues, too. Public liability insurance is important if you have visitors to the house and professional indemnity insurance is a good idea.

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