Consumer rights: Made redundant at 55 – did age play a part?

Possible case of discrimination...Waiting for a payout from an insurer that has gone into administration...A shopper's right to return goods
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The Independent Online

I was told on New Year's Eve that I'd been made redundant and should not come back to work after the holidays. I know I'm not the only person in this position but I think I've been picked on because of my age. I'll be 55 this year.

Apart from a few days off last year to look after my mother when my father died, I've only ever taken my holidays off and I've been with the firm for nearly 15 years. We've been suffering from reduced orders, so I can see that it's difficult to carry on with the same number of employees, but younger people have been kept on to do the same job I was doing and I know they get paid less than me. I have more experience and better qualifications so the only reason for my redundancy that I can think of is age. I know the law changed a couple of years ago to make it unfair to dismiss someone because of age. Should I just accept my redundancy money and go quietly or attempt to get my job back?


Via email

This is such a dilemma. It's hard to prove you've been dismissed because of your age and there's always the chance that when the orders start coming in again you could be re-employed. You may not want to rock the boat yet but you want justice.

If you have been dismissed because of age that's discrimination, and there is no limit to the amount of compensation you could be awarded if a tribunal found in your favour. The tribunal could also tell your employer to give you your job back. The problem is convincing the tribunal that you're right and age played a part in the dismissal decision. Think this through carefully and make an appointment to talk to an employment solicitor. It has to be someone with experience of these kinds of cases.

After a detailed conversation with a solicitor you'll be much better placed to decide whether or not you really do think age was a factor and whether you'd be able to go back to working with your former employer. If you decide to take a case to an employment tribunal your employer will be forced to respond. Sometimes employers don't realise they're breaking the law until a case is brought against them, and they then offer to negotiate a financial settlement rather than the case reaching tribunal.

After months of trying to resolve a dispute with my solicitor, I was eventually awarded an amount of money to cover what I'd lost. I was told that it would be paid before Christmas and would come from the solicitor's insurers. When I called them last week to see why no cheque had arrived, I was greeted with a message saying the insurance firm is in administration. I've since been told not to worry but I feel I'm back to square one and likely to end up out of pocket. Should I be reassured or is there anything I should do to safeguard my position?


Via email

All is not yet lost. An administrator will have been put into the insurance company to run it and to try to save it. The administrator will be from a specialist firm and will be experienced in saving firms in this kind of situation – perhaps by selling it as a going concern to another insurance company.

If that doesn't turn out to be possible, he or she will try to get the best results for all the company's creditors. The good news is you are one of those creditors. The bad news is that if the firm can't be saved in its current form or sold there may not be enough money in the kitty to pay all of the creditors. Some creditors take priority over others, so tax, for instance, will be paid before wages.

It would be a good idea to contact the administrator and put in writing what you're owed and why. Then it will be a matter of waiting until the administrator decides what the best option is, how much money there is available and how it must be divided up. If you've been told not to worry it's likely that the administrator is optimistic that the company has a future and that creditors will all get their money, but it's worth chasing up to be on the safe side.

My grandmother bought me a jumper for Christmas which is lovely but not something I'd wear. She told me where she bought it and I've taken it back. There's nothing else in the shop I want and I really need the money but the shop refuses to give me a refund. They won't take my word for it that it was bought from them and say they don't have to give me the money back anyway. They won't even let me talk to the manager. I'm sure this is a case of the shop assistant not knowing the law but what do I do next?


Via email

It's a common mistake to think that shops have to give you money back just because you don't like something. But they don't and many shopkeepers tell me they're having a tough time with angry demanding customers who think they know their rights but don't.

The shop assistant is right. Whatever the firm's returns policy, it does have the right to some proof that the jumper was bought from their shop. If it's not exclusive to that one store it could have been bought elsewhere. If you can establish with some proof, such as the receipt, that it was bought there, that's the first hurdle cleared. Then you have to navigate the shop's returns policy.

Some shops will give money back if goods are returned unworn within a certain period of time. Some even extend that period over the Christmas holiday to give recipients of gifts time to open them and return them. But policies differ and no shop has to give you your money back unless the goods are faulty or not as they were described.

The other catch is that the shop has a contract with your grandmother and not you. She may have asked at the time she bought the jumper whether they'd refund the money. If the answer was yes then that's a contract, but it was made between the shop and her. You really can't avoid talking to your grandmother about this as you need to know whether there was any discussion about refunds and you need the receipt of purchase.

The best outcome you can expect is an exchange or a credit note to use at a later date when there's something in store you want.

Do you have a consumer complaint?

Write to Julian Knight at The Independent on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5HF

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