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Spend & Save

Consumer rights: Hounded by bailiffs for someone else's debts

A previous occupant has emigrated and left a long trail of unpaid parking fines / Getting compensation for a lost parcel / On guard against thieves

Q. I moved house last May and have been bombarded with bailiffs' letters for a previous occupier.

At first there were only a few and I marked them "no longer at this address" and sent them back. However, the trickle became a deluge. So I "accidentally" opened one and discovered that the previous occupant appears to have run up a whole list of parking fines. I've made a few enquiries and discovered that he's gone to live in New Zealand. The fines must have been run up between him moving out of my house and leaving the UK – knowing he wouldn't have to pay up. Since opening the letters I have contacted some of the bailiff firms and some have promised to take his name off my address but others still keep sending notices. They threaten to enter the house even if I'm not there and take goods to sell to cover the debt. And how will this affect my own credit rating?



A. Apart from the fact that you are not supposed to tamper with someone else's mail, you're doing the right things. Some bailiffs may refuse to take your word for it and may ask you to send copies of bills in your name as proof. The council tax bill is probably the most convincing one. You could contact your local authority to see if the person is still listed on the electoral register and contact the credit reference agencies (Experian, Equifax or Callcredit) to make sure the person isn't still listed at your address.

If a fine isn't paid and the person fined doesn't respond to notices, the court will use bailiffs to try to recover the charges. If bailiffs do call, don't let them in. Don't worry about going out and leaving the house empty. They can't break into the house no matter what they say in their letters. They don't have the power to enter unless they have been in before. Even if they did come into your home they can't take anything that doesn't belong to the person who owes the money. Probably the best thing would be if bailiffs did turn up as it would give you the chance to talk to them.

Any bailiffs' charges are against the person named on the notices and not against the house. This won't make any difference to your credit rating, but when you contact the credit reference agencies you can check your file to make sure no debts have been filed against you.

Q. I am having a dispute with the post office. I posted a package of presents for family in Canada but it hasn't turned up at the other end. I listed the contents and their values and paid what seems like an exorbitant sum for postage but they say they won't pay compensation for the items lost. The total contents were about £200 and they're offering me just a few pounds.



A. If you used air mail or surface mail you'll be entitled to the value of 100 first-class letter stamps or the actual value, whichever is lower. If you used Airsure or International Signed-for Service, you may be entitled to additional compensation. You could be entitled to the market value of the goods or £250 (£500 for some destinations) whichever is lower. You need the certificate of posting to make a claim, and if you have paid for the enhanced cover you should have that paperwork. There's no additional amount for consequential loss. Go to www2.royalmail.com/customer-service.

Q. I had my home broken into a few weeks ago while I was in hospital for two months. All my jewellery was stolen apart from a few pieces that were locked in a small safe. Nothing else was touched despite me having new TVs and a laptop. The police told me that they are seeing more burglaries like this – where nothing else but jewellery is stolen. They believe it's a result of all the "cash for gold" sites that have sprung up. Please tell your readers to keep everything precious under lock and key. I even lost my wedding ring because I'd taken it off the day before I went to hospital for "safe keeping".



A. Thank you for the warning. What can I say, other than it's perhaps no longer enough to advise people to leave their jewellery at home when they're away. Think about having a safety deposit box in the bank. Cancel the milk and papers so that you aren't advertising your absence. Lock windows and ask a friend to check your mail. All of this is probably the last thing you think about when you're about to be taken to hospital. I hope you recover quickly.