Consumer Rights: 'Can I get a refund on a meal that let us down?'
Your rights if you later complain about the food and service in a restaurant / Medical conditions and travel cover / A mortgage borrower denied a good rate
Q: Is it possible to get money back on a service that was really not as promised? I booked a table for myself and my partner for New Year at the restaurant Bonds in London. I paid £90 per person (not including drinks or tips) and had the food been exceptional or even just very good, I would not have minded this price. But £90 for bad food and terrible service was very disappointing.
Is there a way to get the restaurant to give us a refund, at least partial? The food was nowhere as good as you would expect from a Michelin-starred chef and the cost was absolutely not justified.
A: A reluctance to spend a special evening complaining about the food/service/price is understandable. However, it does diminish your legal rights. Ingrid Gubbay, consumer consultant at law firm Cohen Milstein, says it depends how the offer was sold to you: “The restaurant may have breached either the Misrepresentation Act and/or Unfair Trading Regulations. In your case, when you made the reservation and paid the money, you created a contract to which the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 applies – both to the food quality and the service.
“You fulfilled your obligations by attending and accepting its service. The restaurant has an obligation to fulfil its end of the bargain by delivering the description of the food, in its promotion, on your plate. So if, for example, it says it will deliver calamari on a bed of rare krill sourced from a tiny volcanic lake in Peru, and that is the reason you chose the place, then legally it must do so, and the food must be both of ‘satisfactory quality’ (‘fit for purpose’, and here the price is relevant) and served with ‘reasonable care and skill’.” But, and here’s the rub, you should let the manager know on the night that you are dissatisfied.”
Ms Gubbay continues: “Sometimes the manager might agree to you paying what you think the meal is worth. If, however, your argument is not accepted, then the best recourse is to pay the bill in full, minus tips, but do so under protest and make it clear you will be taking some action. Make sure you keep the receipt.” It may be worth going to www.moneyclaim.gov.uk with your proof of payment and description of how the quality varied from the promotion.
Peter Tyrie, managing director of The Eton Collection, the parent company for Bonds, says: “I am hugely disappointed to receive feedback like this – and on the rare occasions that we do, we go to great lengths to ensure such problems don’t happen again.” However, he does point out that the price was for the whole evening, including entertainment (an after-dinner DJ and magician), and not just the menu. I understand Mr Tyrie has now offered you a meal at the hotel and is waiting for you to respond. Given that your legal position is shaky, I think this seems pretty generous and would give it another try.
Q: I bought an annual travel insurance policy last April. I have a pre-existing heart condition, which I didn’t declare on the basis that I would take the risk of having a problem with that, while the policy would provide all kinds of other cover fairly cheaply. A few days before I was due to travel to Spain at the end of October, I was admitted to hospital with acute kidney failure. It seems the insurer will pay out (flights only) as it is not related to my pre-existing condition. But it will not refund the airport taxes/charges. Is it within its rights to do this?
My second query is that prior to my illness I booked a holiday to Egypt in the policy period. I am assuming this will be covered should I suffer a relapse of my kidney problems which prevents me travelling, or means I need medical treatment abroad. Would I be right in this?
A: Consumers should be aware of the limitations of travel insurance and ensure they check the small print. Many have found recently that they are not covered for the bankruptcy of an airline, for example. According to the Association of British Insurers, cancellation cover typically applies to travel and accommodation expenses, not airport taxes and associated administration costs because they can be recouped elsewhere. However, this should be set out in the terms and conditions, so check your policy.
On your second point, I spoke to the consumer group Which?, which said that many insurers would not cover you for a relapse of your kidney problem. Go back to your pro- vider and ask if you are covered. If not, cancel it and get another policy. The British Insurance Brokers Associ- ation (www.biba.org.uk), should be able to help in your search.
Q: I signed up for a fixed-rate mortgage with Nationwide in November at 5.68 per cent. Of course, events have moved fast since then and I could be enjoying 3.5 per cent on the variable rate. My financial adviser contacted Nationwide to try to break my deal and move me to the variable but the bank has just introduced a restriction stopping this.
A: At the end of November, the group announced that its Base Mortgage Rate (BMR) would no longer be available to “new” customers. But “new” includes existing Nationwide customers switching from another Nationwide mortgage product. It told brokers at the time, and the announcement appeared in the press. The BMR is still available to existing borrowers who are coming to the end of their fixed deal.
This means customers with more than three months to go on a fix can’t switch to another Nationwide product even if they are willing to pay the penalties. They will stay on their fixed rate until their deal ends, after which they will automatically be switched on to the BMR. When I suggested that this seemed unfair, Nationwide fell back on the cliché of having “a responsibility to its members to manage the business in a prudent and sustainable way”. In other words, someone has to pay and, unfortunately, you are taking up the slack.
Of course, Nationwide should have a responsibility to you as well as those lucky enough to have bagged the variable rate. It may be worth putting this to management at the next AGM.
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