Questions of Cash: We've still been hit for a bump despite collision waiver

 

Q. We have just returned from a lovely holiday in the Italian Alps to discover that the collision damage waiver included in our car hire with Holiday Autos is nothing of the sort and did not provide the cover we expected.

On our first day while driving an unfamiliar car in the rain on a mountain pass we brushed against a stone gatepost. This punctured a front tyre, broke the mirror and caused minor scratching – though no dents – to the front wing and door. We were distressed to find that the cost to us of this relatively minor damage was €990 (£797), which Holiday Autos' Italian partner, Maggiore, charged to my Barclaycard. This was more than double the cost of the rental, £341. This comprised €800 excess and €190 for a new tyre. These charges seem outrageously inflated. On the booking voucher, Holiday Autos says "all prices are fully inclusive of collision damage waiver". DH, by email.

A. Holiday Autos is a subsidiary of LastMinute.com. It insists it has done nothing wrong and rejects your suggestion that you were misled into believing that an excess would not apply. A spokeswoman says that the collision damage waiver is standard in all its car hire bookings, but there are exclusions which are "explained fully in our terms and conditions on our website and at the time of booking". The fact that Maggiore impose an excess of €800 to €2,100 was stated on your booking voucher, apparently.

The spokeswoman adds that this high excess is common across the car hire sector in Italy. To avoid this, she says, you should have paid extra for either a "total damage excess waiver" or a "standard damage excess waiver". Alternatively, you could have taken out your own independent insurance cover to protect you from an excess – such as the policy offered by www.carhireexcess.co.uk, which would have cost you £1.99 per day of car hire. Not reading the small print of car hire contracts can be very costly.

Q. I took out a £10,000 loan with Alliance and Leicester Personal Finance – now part of Santander – in June 2007, while I was self-employed. In September 2008 I thought I was going to have financial difficulties, caused in part by a high tax bill. I contacted all my creditors – Alliance & Leicester, Egg and HSBC – to request a delay in repaying my loans. Both HSBC and Egg refused. Alliance & Leicester did not answer and anyway I found an alternative source of finance.

In April 2009 I was contacted by a debt-collection agency that told me I had missed repayments on my Alliance & Leicester loan. I immediately made the missed repayments and arranged to have further monthly payments taken from my bank account by the debt-collection agency according to the timetable originally agreed with Alliance & Leicester.

I found out that Alliance & Leicester had sent me numerous letters to an old address advising me that I had missed payments, charging me £25 per letter. So I owed them an extra £125 for the letters. All the letters I sent to Alliance & Leicester contained my current address. I discovered in late 2011 that Santander – which had by then been taken over by Alliance & Leicester – had recorded me with credit reference agencies as being in default from March 2009 and that it had failed to record payments made to my account from that time. LL, London.

A. It seems that Alliance & Leicester cancelled your direct debit when you requested a stay on your repayments, but you were unaware of this because it wrote to advise you at your previous address. The company failed to update your address details as you did not provide proof of ID when notifying of the change of address – but you were unaware of the need to do this as the correspondence advising you went to your former address!

With the benefit of hindsight, it would have been helpful if Alliance & Leicester had written to both your old and new addresses and if you had put a mail redirection in place when you moved. Santander says: "As a goodwill gesture we have removed the outstanding £125 fee on the account and it has been closed. We have also ensured that any adverse data relating to this matter is removed from [the reader's credit file. A goodwill payment has been sent to apologise for any inconvenience caused."

Q. My wife and I booked flights with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Barcelona on 6 November, from there to go on a cruise and returning via Aer Lingus from Orlando to Dublin on 27 November. A change in family circumstances means that we cannot go on the cruise after all, so we have cancelled and lost our deposit. But we want to change the flight bookings. We have already paid €722.18, which we would like to use on other flights. Can you find out for us if this is possible? AN, Ireland.

A. We have discussed this with Aer Lingus and to be blunt we are not very happy with the airline's response. A spokeswoman says: "In this case, where both the dates of travel and routing are being changed, a change fee and fare differential is applicable. The total cost amounts to €372 per person." In other words, the cost for making the variations is greater than you have already paid for the flights. We reverted to the airline to request a further statement to explain why the charge was so high.

The spokeswoman then explained: "Various factors affect change fees such as seasonality and availability. In this case, the customers wish to change from a European to a transatlantic flight and they also wish to travel in early January which is a very busy period." However, Aer Lingus will phone you to discuss other options which may be less expensive. Unfortunately, because of the nature of your change in family situation, travel insurance does not cover these circumstances.

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