Questions Of Cash: The perils of buying spectacles abroad

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Q.I bought two pairs of spectacles from an optician in Italy while on holiday at a cost of €1,200 (£840). The glasses were to be posted to my home address. They never arrived because Royal Mail says it delivered them to a neighbour's house and the neighbour claims never to have seen them. I can't get either Royal Mail or the optician to accept liability for the loss - the optician's best offer is to send me another two pairs at reduced price.
JM, London

A. Some readers' problems are easy to solve - and some are not. Yours has taken us nine months. It is a complex story from which the retailer, Royal Mail and the Italian postal service emerge poorly and your credit card issuer, Barclaycard, proved a reluctant saviour.

Royal Mail is plainly at fault in delivering the goods to the wrong address. But the spectacles should have been insured by the sender, the optician, but were not. As a result Royal Mail will not pay for the full value of your loss. Following our intervention it offered £150, which you have accepted.

The optician, Ottica Vogue of Lucca in Italy, intended to send the goods by insured mail, but there was a misunderstanding between the shop assistant and the local post office. As a result the goods were not insured, although the shop thought they were. The Italian postal service failed to respond to our request for it to provide compensation. And the optician resolutely refused to accept any liability, although - in our opinion - the responsibility for properly despatching the goods lay with it.

At first, we were no more successful with Barclaycard. When you contacted us, the legal position appeared to be that the Consumer Credit Act did not provide protection to overseas transactions.

Subsequently, the law has been clarified by the House of Lords, which confirmed that it does. As a result, credit card issuers are jointly liable with the trader for the provision of goods and services bought using a credit card abroad.

Initially, Barclaycard refused to accept any liability. Consequently, we contacted Barclaycard to ask it to reconsider its refusal to accept liability as a result of the House of Lords decision.

We then found out that Barclaycard had refunded you last year with half the transaction value that was paid by credit card - and it has now refunded the balance you were forced to pay by cash when a second card transaction was not authorised by Barclaycard.

The consolation for you is that you are actually £150 up in the end, when the Royal Mail compensation and Barclaycard refund are added together.

Q. Frizzell has adopted what I regard as a predatory practice of automatic renewal, using the motorist's credit card details from the previous year to take a fresh annual premium. It then sends a bland letter throwing the burden on the insured to say no to renewal.

Upon complaint, the company says there is nothing wrong with this: it is a matter of its commercial judgement how it handles renewals. I referred the matter to the Insurance Ombudsman. Although as a lawyer I regard this practice as plainly unlawful - it is taking money without authority - the Ombudsman refuses to take legal advice and accepts the justification given by Frizzell, thus rubber-stamping the practice.

The Ombudsman referred me to the Financial Services Authority - which does not accept complaints from individuals.
NP, London

A. While Frizzell defends its previous practices, following the complaints from you and some other customers the insurer has changed its ways. It introduced "automatic renewal" in 2003, which it says remained a fair system because it provided sufficient written information to enable customers to be aware of the impending renewal.

However, as a result of complaints to the Insurance Ombudsman and the Information Commissioner, and consultations with them, Frizzell has agreed to renew only where there is specific authority to do this, except where policies had previously and successfully been renewed automatically.

Mike Naylor ofWhich? magazine suggests that companies that automatically renew policies should do so only if they have stipulated their right to do so in their previous contract.

Q. I am not satisfied with the service I received at the Phones4U branch in Tottenham Court Road, London. I made it clear I wanted a cheap mobile phone contract. I was concerned that the contract I was given was incomplete.

The sales assistant reassured me that it was fine. Later, I found that the assistant had added on a video pack that I hadn't asked for at an additional cost of £5 a month. The branch promised me a refund of £30, which I have never received
MR, London

A. Phones4U has now sent you a cheque by express delivery for the £30.

Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. Please do not send original documents. Write to: Questions of Cash, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS;

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