Consumer Rights: The deposit was paid and the car dealer did a U-turn


Q. I put a deposit of £99 on a car at the Evans Halshaw dealership. When the monthly price for the finance came back, it was higher than originally quoted and more than I'd planned to spend.

When I went to collect my deposit, having cancelled the purchase, I was told it was the firm's policy to wait three months before giving a refund and it had the right to charge me for any credit checks it had carried out. I don't think this was mentioned on any of the paperwork.

I said I hadn't been given this information. The response was that the member of staff who dealt with me was new. What are my rights? JW, County Durham

A. Finance deals are often not as attractive as billed. It is amazing how quickly that "£100 a month" painted on a showroom window becomes a lot more, with extras such as loan arrangement fees. Frank Shepherd at advice organisation Consumer Direct (www.consumerdirect. gov.uk; 0845 404 0506) says dealers can charge a "brokerage fee" but they have to make this known to the customer first, or it could be deemed a hidden charge and therefore unreasonable. The staff member's length of service does not affect the company's obligations to you, so this is no excuse.

Anthony Maton, partner in the London office of lawyers Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, says: "The basis on which you entered into the contract was that the monthly price would be a certain amount. Given that this fundamental term of the contract has either been changed or breached by the increase in price, you are entitled to rescind the contract as if it never even existed and claim the £99 back. In these circumstances, the seller has no right to hang on to the money for three months but must return it immediately.

"As the charge for the credit searches was neither mentioned to you nor included in the contract, the seller has no right to charge it. That the member of staff is new is irrelevant. In short, the £99 should be returned to you now."

Armed with this information, you have, I understand, now contacted the car dealership and it has agreed to return the deposit immediately and in full.

Q. My father has built up substantial credit card debts and has no assets. I don't want to become liable for the debts on his death. What can I do? SL, London

A. You will not have to reach into your own pockets to pay your father's debts. But your inheritance would have been eroded had you been expecting one.

Matthew Hansell, private client partner with law firm Mills & Reeve, says: "The executors of a deceased individual's estate are responsible for paying all his debts, including those on credit cards. But they can only be liable to the extent of the individual's assets. In other words, if the debts total more than the assets in the estate, the creditors will receive only a proportion of what is due to them, and if there are no assets they will receive nothing. There can be no question of the executors or the beneficiaries having to dip into their own pockets to pay off debts."

So as your father has no assets, his debts will die with him.

However, you might want to encourage him to call one of the debt helplines, which can offer sound advice in managing these issues. Mr Shepherd at Consumer Direct says: "Anyone struggling with debt problems can contact the National Debtline on 0808 808 4000. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau may also be able to offer support."

Consumer sites such as moneymagpie.co.uk and MoneySavingExpert.com have a wealth of money-saving tips, too.

Q. Please will you advise how to get the best from £100,000. My wife and I have no individual savings accounts (ISAs) – just some pensions and other savings accounts. We have no card debts or mortgage. BD, Manchester

A. Lucky you. If many of the doom-mongers are to be believed, £100,000 will shortly buy you a house in Mayfair, but any realistic advice on where to put the money for long-term saving will have to take account of your longer-term goals, attitude to risk, lifestyle and any need for income. You should be striving for a balance of investments and so avoid the "next big thing", be that emerging markets, property or gold.

Keith Churchouse, director at independent financial adviser Churchouse Financial Planning, says: "This is a large investment, so take full guidance. Visit www.unbiased.co.uk for advisers in your locality. The website details each individual adviser's qualifications, so you know what you're getting.

"Some standard advice is to use your ISA allowances to the full – a maximum of £7,200 each for a stocks and shares ISA," he continues. "You also have savings accounts, and these should hold enough money to cover your income needs for around three to six months in case of emergency.

"If one of you pays tax at a lower rate, invest these savings in their name if possible. You can also use premium bonds as a tax-free savings route (up to £30,000). Above this, look at investing in unit trusts or open-ended investment companies. These should be geared for capital growth but can give some dividend income too."

Financial advisers have had a bad rap in the press and you should ensure you are comfortable with any adviser you choose. The first consultation with an IFA is a "get to know you" session and should be free. As there is no commitment on your part at this stage, you can simply walk away and try elsewhere if you're not sure about that adviser.

One of the big issues with financial advice is how it is paid for. It is still common for advisers to receive commission on any financial products that are bought by their client. While this is the norm, it is also controversial, though for most advisers the commission system is simply part of the landscape and they do not let it influence the type of products they recommend. However, you may prefer to consult an adviser who charges a fee rather than working on commission.

Be wary of any adviser who urges you to put a lot of money into one investment or recommends complicated tax-avoidance schemes. As Mr Churchouse suggests, you can squirrel away a lot of your cash in tax-efficient investments without introducing complexity.

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