Consumer Rights: On a wing and a prayer with holiday vouchers

A long wait for reimbursement from Thomas Cook ... A faulty laptop from Currys and the 'red herring' of warranties ... Freeholders fall out over service charges


I booked a holiday with Thomas Cook using £500 of vouchers I had collected. The sales staff, though, explained that I had to pay in full by credit card, send the vouchers in the post and my card would be credited as soon as possible. I dutifully sent these vouchers, paying for special delivery, and Thomas Cook took receipt on 8 October. My card has still not been credited and I have had to pay interest on the balance.

I phoned Thomas Cook 10 times, and every time someone promised to get back to me and never did. I emailed as well and the only thing I received was an acknowledgement of that message. The one person I spoke to said I should have sent the vouchers to a different address from the one I was told.

Nearly six months later, my £500 is still missing.

GC

Leicester



With the travel industry in turmoil, it is surprising to find cases of poor customer service. It seems ridiculous that companies wouldn't be doing all they can to keep their clients happy, but sadly, as in your case, it doesn't always work that way.

That said, Thomas Cook acted very promptly once we got in touch. It has now written and apologised, refunded the money to your credit card and given you an extra £50 to cover your costs. It hopes that this will to some extent restore your faith in Thomas Cook.



***

I recently bought a Hewlett- Packard laptop from Currys and within a week the "enter" key had come away from the keyboard.

I phoned the Currys helpline. It logged the fault and told me to take the laptop back to the store along with a reference number. I did this and I was told the laptop wasn't covered for this kind of fault as they classed it as damage. The manager said that if I took out Currys' £6-per-month extended warranty plan, he could sort it out and I would get the repair done. I declined and took my laptop home.

Later I contacted Hewlett- Packard by email and received a prompt reply stating that it would carry out repairs under warranty. Should I have gone to HP in the first instance? Surely Currys must bear some responsibility rather than simply trying to get more cash from people?

LC

Manchester



Retailers spend a lot of time hiding behind warranties. As I've highlighted many times before in this column, retailers have to provide goods that are "fit for purpose", regardless of the existence or otherwise of warranties.

Currys reacted very differently to Thomas Cook, sticking with the line that a key falling off is "usually caused by misuse or accidental damage". It is difficult to understand the implication here. Is Currys suggesting that you deliberately picked the key off? Or that the key is only designed to withstand a certain amount of pressure? It is hard to see how either scenario is more likely than one where the key simply fell off because it wasn't attached properly in the first place.

Currys' full response was as follows: "We are very sorry to hear of your reader's problems with the Hewlett laptop he purchased from us and that he is dissatisfied with the way his issue has been handled, for which we apologise. A key falling off is usually caused by misuse or accidental damage, which is not covered by the manufacturer's warranty."

This says all you need to know about the effort Currys puts into its after-sales service. Fortunately your laptop is now back in working order after HP agreed to mend it. For Currys to imply that you needed to buy an extended warranty to deal with an already broken laptop is poor and you were right to reject the offer.



***

I am a joint freeholder on my flat and a co-director of the management company that owns the freehold. This firm levies the service charge from which all bills are paid.

One of the other joint freeholders, a developer, has not paid the last three instalments of the service charge and is now several thousand pounds in arrears. The remaining three freeholders are worried that we will have to pick up that share of the bills. What can we do to reclaim the money?

BC

Brighton



This is a common problem. Many developers work on the basis that they buy a property, do it up and sell it in the space of three or four months, so don't have to trouble themselves with boring things like service charges. The current environment has left them with unsold properties on their books and many are holding out on service charges for as long as possible. A tip for anyone considering buying from a developer is to check for outstanding charges.

Of course, it's illegal not to pay them. Your first step should be to write to the debtor, asking him to settle the outstanding amount by a certain date. If the claim has to go to court, you will have to show that you have done all you can to reclaim the money. Ingrid Gubbay, a consumer law consultant at Hausfeld & Co, says many agreements will state that the debtor is liable to pay any legal costs associated with recovery of service charges, but check your documents.

Ms Gubbay adds: "Disputes about service charges can be referred to the low cost Residential Property Tribunal Service at www.rpts.-gov.uk, which offers a dispute-resolution process. You could also contact the national mediation helpline." However, if the dispute is simply a claim against the defaulting freeholder (rather than his liability to pay the charges), you will need to lodge a claim in the County Court for the balance owing plus interest and any legal costs.

If your claim is over £5,000, it will be allocated to what is called the "fast or multitrack" section. Information leaflets to take you through the steps can be found at www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.

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