Consumer Rights: Up early – but he missed the cheap flight


Q. On 18 July at 6.50am, easyJet emailed me to say its winter schedule for London had been issued. I went to its Holidays page to try to book for Christmas but there was nothing later than 1 November. Yet when I checked the airline's Flights page a few hours later, I found flights had been available for some time – and my chosen dates had already shot up from £50 return to more than £335. How can this be fair practice?
JR,London

A. I remain consistently surprised at how difficult it is actually to buy a ticket at any of the prices advertised by these budget airlines. Clearly you are a savvy bargain hunter, yet they have eluded even you.

The problem is that, although the email seemed to suggest the Holidays page was up and ready, easyJet did in fact direct you to the Flights page, so it's in the clear, as its spokesperson points out: "The email sent for the launch of our Winter 2009 schedule advised passengers to visit our flight website www.easyJet.com, which if you click on the link directs you to easyJet.com not the easyJetHolidays site.

"We endeavour to release the schedules for the easyJetHolidays website as soon as they have been finalised on easyJet.com. As the holidays site is a package site, where we aim to match up our flights with suitable hotel accommodation from our hotel provider, it can take a bit longer to load this site."

Unfortunately, therefore, you have no rights to obtain the flights at the lower price. As with so many of these "too good to be true" offers, you have to follow the script to the letter.

Q. I split from my partner around 18 months ago. I shared a mortgage with him and had been paying half each month. When we split up I moved out of the house. He has now moved his new girlfriend and child into the property.

We were originally trying to sell up but he is making no effort, leaving the house untidy when potential buyers show interest. What are my rights? SS, Lancashire



A. You are discovering some of the problems of so-called "common law" partnerships, an arrangement in which many people believe they have more rights than they do. Unfortunately, the housing market is also against you and there can be no guarantee of a sale even if you can persuade your ex to spring-clean.

Ruth Bamford, specialist support (housing) for the charity Citizens Advice, says you have three options: your ex-boyfriend can buy you out, the house can be sold or you can buy out your ex.

Henry Stuart, head of the residential real estate team at law firm Withers, says a lot now depends on the official ownership of the house: "If it is in joint names, the court has wide powers which would include ordering that the house be sold. If, however, the house is in your ex-partner's sole name and you paid half the mortgage when you were living there, you will need either to agree with your ex-partner the extent of your interest or, if this is not possible, apply to the courts for them to declare the extent of your interest. This is a complex area of law.

"The courts will not order that your ex-partner buy out your interest but he may wish to do so if the courts make an order that the property should be sold."

Be aware, though, that the credit crunch and housing market crash could make things more difficult if you or your ex try to buy each other out.

Ms Bamford explains: "If there is no equity in the property, then neither party is likely to be able to remortgage currently. Houses are slow to sell in this environment, so although you may have the legal right to force a sale, this may not be a practical option."

In the first instance, visit your local Citizens Advice bureau, where staff should be able to go into your case in detail.



Q. I hold shares in a former employer, which I bought under a share option scheme in 2000. I had 90,000 shares at an exercise [minimum sale] price of 8p, and on the exercise date they were trading at 67p. I therefore made my money back immediately (and then some) by selling some of the shares. The remaining 40,000 I held on to, having used up my capital gains tax (CGT) allowances. The shares suffered in the dot-com crash and never regained their former glory, seldom getting above 2p since then.

Earlier this year my former employer went into administration, and soon afterwards I got a letter from a company called Investment Recovery Services. It claimed it could get me back around £1,800 by offsetting the losses on the shares against tax I have paid. For this service, to be undertaken on a no-win, no-fee basis, it would charge 25 per cent of any payout, plus VAT. Should I accept its offer? SG, London



A. There are really three questions here. First, the legality of this sort of approach; second, whether you can offset losses from shares against any tax paid; and finally, if you can, whether you can do it yourself and keep all the money.

Simon Bullock, client director at the financial adviser Truestone, says that when a company goes into administration, a capital loss can be claimed as a "negligible value claim".

He adds: "We can only guess at how the company might go about claiming tax relief for you and whether it involves setting losses against income tax or CGT. In most cases, CGT losses can only be set against CGT gains but in some circumstances you can set losses against current or previous-year income. The criteria are detailed and generally apply only to unquoted shares in trading companies.

"HM Revenue & Customs will tell you that while you can carry CGT losses forward indefinitely, you can typically only carry CGT losses back on death. This would mean you would need gains in excess of your CGT allowance to benefit."

So you may well have a claim. But legal or not, I remain suspicious of this type of out-of-the-blue approach, though as you weren't expecting a refund it seems you have little to lose. You could file the claim yourself if you have time, but a financial adviser specialising in tax can give you an obligation-free idea of whether it is worth pursuing. To find one, go to financialplanning.org.uk.

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