Consumer rights: Silence isn't golden: a faulty TV and the search for a refund

What are a shopper's rights when there's no extended warranty? ... What if an EHIC doesn't get you free medical treatment abroad? ... The outlook for investors in UK banks
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The Independent Online

Q. I bought a £799 LCD TV, made by LG, from Currys in May 2005. In June this year we began having problems with the sound. I contacted Currys on 25 June, only to be told that as I hadn't taken out an extended warranty, there was nothing it could do.



When I complained that an expensive television should last longer than three years, it directed me to independent engineers. These engineers said I should leave it until the sound went completely; that way it would be "easier" to fix. Three months later it finally died.

I supplied Currys with an engineer's report and details of the costs for fixing the problem. Three weeks later I had authorisation from Currys to get the repair work done.

Six weeks later I was told by the engineers that LG could not advise when the parts would be available. When I put this to Currys, it came back in an email, with an offer of £400 of Currys vouchers based on "the age of your television, the purchase price paid and the life expectancy of the unit, which are important criteria that have to be accounted for when calculating the amount".

I don't want to deal with Currys now or in the future and would rather have cash, but it has totally refused.

GH, Manchester



A. Ingrid Gubbay, consumer consultant at law firm Cohen Milstein, says the extended warranty has become a red herring for consumers and can cause confusion over their rights. A month before you bought your TV, the Supply of Extended Warranties on Domestic Electrical Goods Order came into force. This does give customers more rights but training has been inadequate, so few staff know about the rules. Ms Gubbay says that in your case you are correct you still have rights to a refund, but this is because there seems to have been a breach of contract by Currys, as the TV had an inherent fault at the time of purchase.

She adds: "The Sales of Goods Act gives customers rights to a refund or repair if goods are faulty, but this must be claimed within a reasonable period. That period will vary according to the product, but an expensive TV would be expected to perform to contract for a decent amount of time.

"If a fault is identified in the first six months after a purchase, the onus is on the trader to replace, refund or repair the goods. After six months, the onus of proof is on the customer. You obtained an engineer's report and that suggests the fault was inherent, in which case you could bring a claim in the small claims court." The time limit for making a claim is six years.

But you will not need to take these steps now as, armed with this information, I spoke to Currys and it has agreed to refund you in cash.

***

While travelling to Tenerife in November this year, I developed tonsillitis. I found a medical centre and, although I had my European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), I was told I had to pay £50 for the consultation and a further sum for the medication. I thought the EHIC entitled me to free medical care across Europe.

SP, Colchester



I asked Nick Johnson at the Department of Health and he says the EHIC entitles travellers to the same care as a local resident. But as each country's health system is different, it may not include all the things you expect to get free on the NHS.

Mr Johnson adds: "People must ensure they are treated by a state provider as they will not be covered for private healthcare. They should be particularly careful if the medical arrangements have been made by a hotel or travel representative."

He says that in Spain the situation is particularly complicated because Spanish surgeries mix their care patterns, which means they operate both state surgery times and private times, often on the same day. "If you saw a doctor at a time when they were operating privately, they would not be eligible to claim any money back. The Spanish doctor should have made this clear but this does not always happen."

In other words, you may be able to seek reimbursement. Mr Johnson recommends that you contact the Overseas Healthcare Team on 0191 218 1999. It will investigate the case and check your eligibility.

***

I am a long-term shareholder in some UK banks and am now wondering whether I will see any cash from my investments. Can you tell me if the Government plans to compensate any of the shareholders in Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley?

Does the part-nationalisation of the other financial institutions in October mean that the banks, which supposedly held large amounts of Bradford & Bingley shares after the rights issue, were compensated for their losses?

Also, the savings arm of Bradford & Bingley has gone to Santander, while the lending arm is under government control. If in years to come, the lending arm becomes profitable, will the original shares be worth anything?

MT, Bristol



Stockbroker Paul Lumley of Redmayne-Bentley says the Government has yet to appoint anyone to value shareholders' assets in Northern Rock and potentially make an offer of compensation. "Bradford & Bingley shareholders are in a similar position and it is possible legal action could follow," he says. "But investors will probably have to wait some considerable for resolution."

Banks holding shares in other banks are in the same position as normal shareholders. They will be entitled to compensation if the Government decides it is due. As for prospects at Bradford & Bingley, Mr Lumley says: "If the lending arm became profitable again, the Government would be keen to sell and repay the huge investment UK taxpayers have made."

The Government will have to tread a fine line between compensating shareholders at the expense of the taxpayer and ensuring that shareholders do not feel wronged.

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