Questions of Cash: I would not fly while my mother was terminally ill, but Aer Lingus seemed to gain from my bereavement
Saturday 01 September 2012
Q. I am hoping you may be able to help in a dispute I am having with Aer Lingus. On 16 April this year, my mother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer. My partner and I delayed arranging a trip to Ireland because of the uncertainty. After a spell in Guy's Hospital her condition seemed stable so, at the beginning of June, we booked return flights to Cork, departing on 26 July and returning on 4 August. We investigated travel insurance, but no company would offer a policy in the circumstances.
On 28 June my mother's condition deteriorated and she was admitted to a hospice. Her condition was stable and we thought we would still be able to go to Ireland. On 22 July her condition deteriorated. I rang Aer Lingus to cancel the flights, but was told that we could change our flights rather than cancel them. On 23 July, I visited my mother and was told her condition had deteriorated further and so I remained at her bedside almost constantly until she died on 26 July. During a brief trip home on 24 July I paid Aer Lingus £262.98 to alter the dates of the trip to 24 to 28 August.
I wrote to Aer Lingus on 31 July asking it to refund this amount as it could resell the tickets that we would not be using. I sent this by recorded delivery, at a cost of £6.43, to the address on its website. I did not receive a reply so phoned on 16 August and was told that I must write to a different address – within the same building! I have now had a reply to my original letter which states: "Change fees can be refunded in the case of a bereavement, only if the change is made after travel has commenced. This is advised on the aerlingus.com website. As the change to your booking was made before the commencement of travel, I regrettably cannot accede to your request for a refund." This seems unfair: Aer Lingus has effectively benefited financially from my bereavement, it could resell the tickets and I was not in a position to have "started my journey". SM, by email
A. Aer Lingus apologises for the confusion and has agreed to fully refund the £262.98 fee. A spokeswoman for the airline explains: "In the circumstance of a bereavement of an immediate family member, a customer can apply for a refund on a cancellation made to their booking before travel has commenced. Customers can claim a full refund, minus an administration fee, on presentation of a copy of a death certificate. If travel has commenced, the customer can change their return flight on presentation of a copy of the death certificate, for no extra charge, up to a maximum of 45 days. Customers are requested to send a copy of the death certificate, by post, to their local Aer Lingus reservations centre. Given the circumstance, we are happy to offer a full refund. The value of the refund is £261.98, which reflects the total costs incurred for changes made to the booking."
Q. I moved to Australia last year. I had a mobile phone contract with T-Mobile, which my partner's sister agreed to take over for the 12 months left on the contract. I phoned T-Mobile and made the arrangements, providing my sister-in-law's direct debit details. We decided not to stay in Australia and came back to buy a home in the UK. But we can't obtain a mortgage. My partner has a County Court Judgement against her – everything has to be in my name as I have an impeccable credit history. I have a good job and own a house in Northern England which is rented out.
The outstanding mortgage is less than half its current value. We found a mortgage that would take this on as a buy-to-let and provide funds for a new home. But this fell through on a credit check – T-Mobile has shown a default of £300.04 on my old contract. My partner's sister says she noticed the direct debit was not activated, unsuccessfully tried to tell T-Mobile and then lost the phone so gave up. She did not tell me about this. I have now paid off the T-Mobile bill, but the mortgage lender will not advance any money until six years have passed and the default is off my credit history. By then I will be too old to obtain a mortgage! CN, Dorset.
A. You obtained a credit report with Equifax, which showed the default from T-Mobile. Equifax then raised a "notice of dispute" with T-Mobile to challenge the accuracy of its data. But T-Mobile insists the information it lodged is accurate and says it is not legally allowed to amend data that it believes has been correctly filed. You say you provided the correct bank details to T-Mobile; you think it may have recorded those incorrectly, causing the problem. However, recordings of calls from that time have since been deleted, so it is not possible to check this.
But it seems the contract may have been too new to be amended under its terms, although you were unaware of this. This may be the underlying cause of your problems. Legally, you remained responsible for the contract being honoured, which it was not. Your sister-in-law let you down in a very bad way. But it seems unfair that the burden of this falls entirely on you, and mortgage lenders may take the same view. You can request that a "notice of correction" be placed on your Equifax report, explaining the reasons for the default.
You can do the same with the other credit reference agencies, Experian and CallCredit, after initially requesting a "notice of dispute" regarding the T-Mobile default notification. You can also lodge a complaint against T-Mobile through Cisas, the telephone ombudsman scheme to which it belongs, details of which are at www.cisas.org.uk.
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