Consumer rights: My mover is refusing to pay for a torn sofa

What to do if a removal firm damages your goods...and can an employer freeze the company pension

When I moved house I paid a firm to pack and move all our belongings. I didn't notice immediately notice that my leather sofa has been ripped and a lamp broken. I've been in touch with the removal firm but it says I should have told them when the van was unpacked and that I could have done the damage myself so they won't pay up. What can I do?

CB

London

Unless you've fallen into the hands of a rogue firm, the removal company should be insured so they should pay up. You must take pictures. If you have anyone who can witness that your sofa and lamp were undamaged before the move, get them to put that in writing. Check whether the firm is a member of the British Association of Removers which offers a mediation service. Write detailing what you're claiming and say that if you don't get a satisfactory reply within 14 days you will take the matter up with the association (bar.co.uk – 01923 699480. If the company does not belong to a trade body, or if it still refuses to pay, you could threaten to make a claim against it in the county court.

*****

I started work in my company on a "fee earner" contract in December 1999. I was offered payment by the day and it was agreed that I would work as and when they wanted me. In the event, I worked full time for two years and was made permanent and pensionable in March 2002. I have heard that I could claim that I was employed full time for the two years while I was on a fee earner contract and earn a pension on that period. Is this true? What's more, my company now wants to freeze our non-contributory final salary pension scheme even though it is not in deficit. Does the company have the right to behave in this way?

NW

Manchester

These are two separate questions – so let's take the employment issue first. This hinges on your true employment status during the period December 1999 to March 2002. Independent employment lawyer David Jones says: "If you were offered work on an 'as and when required' basis and paid on a daily rate, rather than on a wage or salary that's significant because it carries many of the hallmarks of what may be regarded as 'casual' employment. You can be a casual worker where your employer is under no obligation to offer you any work – work is 'as and when required' – and you can choose whether or not to accept the work. The problem with many so-called casual working relationships is that the employer uses this label to try to disguise what is really a true employer-employee relationship."

To build a picture I'd want to know if you were paid net of any tax and national insurance deductions during those first two years. Although tax status is not conclusive of employment status this may be useful. The fact that you worked full-time for two years before moving into regular employment may also be a powerful indicator that you were really an employee. Other considerations would be whether the employer was truly under no obligation to provide you with work and whether you really had the option of turning that work down. Another question is whether you received written particulars of your main terms and conditions when you were made permanent. If not you would be entitled to make a claim to an employment tribunal which might then establish your true employment status. From the bare bones of your enquiry I would say you have a case and ought to take further legal advice. Try your local citizens' advice.

Regarding your pension, Andrew Wilkins, senior financial partner at advisory firm Philip T English, says: "The scheme rules almost certainly give the employer the right to modify or even stop the scheme. Final pay schemes' demise has been brought about by factors including legislation; ever increasing admin costs; increased longevity making annuity purchase more expensive; the reduced numbers of employees staying with one employer long term." It looks like there's little you can do to stop the freeze.

www.moneyagonyaunt.co.uk

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