Consumer Rights: On a wing and a prayer with holiday bookings
Sunday 29 June 2008
Q. have just returned from a trip to Budapest. I booked in January but my computer crashed and, not knowing if I'd bought the flights, I booked again. I realised the error three days later and contacted Jet2. But the airline has refused to honour a refund, though it must have been obvious the booking was exactly the same. What are my rights?
Q. Earlier this year we booked return tickets to Hong Kong with Oasis Hong Kong Airlines. However, the company went bust before our departure date. We filled in a claims form and sent it to Oasis. We have also spoken to our credit card company, MBNA, which says it is dealing with the matter. Is there anything else we should be doing and do we stand a chance of getting our money back? CW, Norfolk
A. These are not the cheeriest of letters with which to welcome the holiday season, but they do highlight various perils for travellers. Unfortunately for the lady who booked flights to Budapest, you have few automatic rights as it was your error. But lawyer Ingrid Gubbay, at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, believes you do have some options.
She says that as the online payment will now show up on your bank statement, you should send this to the airline and request a refund. If it still refuses to pay, she advises: "Contact the aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, at www.caa.co.uk to report your complaint. It has a consumer protection advisory line.
"Depending on its response, you can then lodge a claim online against jet2 at www.moneyclaim.gov.uk. If you have proof of the payment going through twice, the company will have no defence. It is most likely to pay up once it sees you are serious about pursuing the funds."
If you need any extra support, contact Consumer Direct, an advisory service run by the Office of Fair Trading, at www. consumerdirect.gov.uk. Consumer Direct adds that you should speak to your credit card firm to see if it can help out.
The situation with Oasis is trickier, though Ms Gubbay says you did well to contact your card provider as a first port of call as it may accept it is jointly liable for your loss.
Ms Gubbay adds: "The Civil Aviation Authority has an advice note at www.caa.co.uk. The process for passengers caught out by the Oasis insolvency is to visit Air Travel Organisers' Licensing (Atol)at www. atol.org.uk, which takes you through some options.
"First, if your flight is part of a package holiday, your money is protected by law under the Atol scheme. For flight-only tickets with scheduled airlines, the protection is not so straightforward: it depends on where you bought your ticket and when it was issued. If you bought your ticket from Oasis direct, there is no Atol protection."
If this is the case, you should check your travel insurance to see whether it includes payment for failed airlines. Otherwise you are at the mercy of the decision of the credit card provider.
For those yet to book their summer holidays, always check that the airline or package provider is Atol-protected.
Q. We are buying a new house. Everything is ready to go except the mortgage offer, with the lender now saying it wants a £2,500 "retention" for damp found by its valuer. We had previously used an independent surveyor, who found nothing.
I have also read in the small print that the lender may charge a "reassessment fee" for its surveyor to go back, which makes me a bit suspicious of the surveyor's motives. We had already negotiated 10 per cent off the original asking price and only need a 70 per cent mortgage, so we are surprised there is any problem with the valuation. What options do we have? CJ, London
A. I'm sure mortgage firms and surveyors are not in cahoots but it can look suspiciously like that at times. Ray Boulger, senior technical manager at broker Charcol, says: "Reinspection fees are relatively modest, usually in the £55 to £75 range, and so will not generate much profit. And in any case, it probably wouldn't be needed."
A lender will normally make a mortgage offer even if its valuer has recommended a retention, with the retention a condition of the loan. If the valuer suspects damp, it will usually recommend you have a timber and damp report, which can be obtained free from many specialist firms. This is then sent to the valuer, which will either accept there is not a problem or, if there is, reassess the amount of retention required.
As your independent surveyor did not find a problem, ask for their opinion. If the response is that the suspected damp was identified but not considered a problem, get this in writing and pass it to the lender, along with a copy of the independent survey. I would expect the valuer to accept that report as evidence there is not a problem. The lender will then remove the retention.
If you have arranged your mortgage through a broker, that firm should deal with all these issues on your behalf.
Q. I suffer from a debilitating phobia that I had tried unsuccessfully to get treated by the NHS. In desperation I turned to a hypnotherapist, who assured me I would walk out of his session forgetting about my problem. He charged £150 for 90 minutes and the experience had zero effect. The hypnotherapist has declined to do anything further about my situation. What rights do I have? SH, Bromley
A. Alternative medicine is largely unregulated and so you have few options if you believe you have been wrongly treated.
There are, though, trade bodies, and the practitioner you mention is a member of the Hypnotherapy Association. This has a complaints procedure in place, but says it wouldn't cover a treatment simply because it didn't work; the association is more concerned with professional standards.
You may be able to make a complaint on the basis that this man made over-blown claims for his treatments, which goes against the organisation's code of ethics. It is obliged to deal with your queries: www.thehypnotherapy-association.co.uk.
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