Q. Our group bought advance tickets for the Eiffel Tower, to stop-off en route to a skiing holiday in the Alps. We had a limited time period between trains, which is why we made an advance purchase. But when we arrived there was a demonstration, with the police and army trying to remove people. As a result, there was a huge backlog of people trying to visit the Eiffel Tower.
The staff there could give us no idea how long it would take before we could use our tickets. To make it worse, only one lift was working. At no point did they indicate that we would not obtain a refund unless we waited for over two hours – which would anyway not have been possible with hungry young children in our group. Now the Eiffel Tower refuses to provide a repayment on the grounds that refunds are only available when access is restricted for at least two hours. JS, by email.
A. We have had difficulty in contacting the administrators of the Eiffel Tower. Our initial emails were not delivered because of a website malfunction and we had significant difficulty in obtaining the correct phone number to pursue this matter. Eventually we obtained a working email address. Soon after, you received a more helpful response. The administrators maintain that a refund does not fall within the terms and conditions of the sale. However, because of the additional information we provided, it accepted that "due to the confusion, you were given information which may have led you to take the wrong decision and to cancel your visit". On this basis, "we exceptionally agree to refund you" and you have received €175.70 (£141) credited to your account. However, the Eiffel Tower administrators have failed to directly respond to our communications, despite reminders.
Voucher variance at Center Parcs spa
Q. I purchased vouchers online from Center Parcs for their spa in Penrith in Cumbria for my wife and daughters as a Christmas present at a total cost of £477. I have since found out that if I had purchased the vouchers direct from the spa the total cost would have been £377! Both the spa at Center Parcs in Penrith, and Center Parcs' customer services have admitted that there is not any difference between the spa days I purchased online and those which I could have purchased direct from the spa. I have exchanged a number of emails with customer services – the only justification they appear to offer for the huge difference in price is that the vouchers I purchased can be used at any time, subject, as they put it, to availability. So if the spa is already booked for when my wife wants to use it, she cannot book it anyway whether or not she has the vouchers! GH, by email.
A. Center Parcs insists that customers who buy the vouchers do have the benefit of extra flexibility in terms of how the vouchers can be redeemed. The vouchers can be used at any time and in any of the four Center Parcs villages – though, as you say, this is subject to availability. The higher cost is in recognition of that flexibility. To avoid problems with availability, Center Parcs suggests that customers with vouchers book in advance. A spokeswoman for Center Parcs said: "We are sorry to hear of [the reader's] disappointment… Center Parcs Guest Services team has offered to exchange the vouchers on this occasion which we hope [the reader] will find helpful." However, you tell us that you have not received any such offer from Center Parcs. We have therefore recontacted Center Parcs requesting that it contact you directly, making sure that it does carry through on its promise.
* In Questions of Cash on 16 June, we answered a reader's question regarding what he regarded as excessive charges for his father-in-law's residential care. We explained that it is common for some residents to be charged more than others and that, given the high cost of residential care, it is essential to negotiate properly for the best-possible care and charging package before agreeing a contract. We also said that while we would be happy to take the matter up with the care home, we were concerned that should we do so this could damage the relationship between the reader's father-in-law and his care home operators. Following publication of the question and answer, we have been contacted by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the sector regulator with whom we discussed the situation before formulating our answer.
The commission's chair, Dame Jo Williams, has asked us to make clear that while it agrees with our comments about the need for proper negotiations taking place prior to agreeing the contract terms, she is concerned about residents being discouraged from raising legitimate grievances about their care packages. She said: "CQC is aware that on numerous occasions individuals using the health and care services are afraid to raise their concerns because of potential repercussions. This is unacceptable and I believe that we will only bring about real change and the behavioural shift required if individuals and their families raise their voices about matters of legitimate concern.
The appropriate handling of feedback and complaints is the mark of a service that is focused on those they provide for and a desire for improvement. People who are supported by their local authority should approach them with their worries. For private payers in the care sector many voluntary organisations provide advocacy services. Healthwatch will be established in April 2013 and this may go some way to filling the gap."
The commission is also keen to hear directly from residents and their representatives who have concerns. It can be contacted on 03000 616161 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dame Jo added: "Our local inspectors want information as part of their analysis of the performance of a service." We are happy to make this clear. Unfortunately this information was not provided to us when we consulted the commission prior to publication of the question and answer.
Questions of Cash cannot give individual advice. But if you have a financial dilemma, we'll do our best to help. Please email us at: email@example.com