Your consumer rights questions answered

Beds and bikinis and a rude awakening for an internet shopper


Q. I ordered a mattress for £609 from Bedworks in Blackburn (www.bedworks.co.uk). They wrote to tell me they were going into administration, but still appear to be trading. The firm supposedly handling the insolvency was Campbell Crossley & Davis, based in Blackpool.

At around the same time, I also ordered a bikini from Silkpeach (www.silkpeach.co.uk). The owner called us to say the shop was having a refit and the electronic payment terminals were down, so could we send a cheque. We duly did; he said he would dispatch the goods. The bikini never turned up. SG, East Dulwich, South London

A. No sooner do we get comfortable with buying online than cases like this appear, showing the potential perils of dealing with smaller internet traders. There may be a ray of hope in the case of Silkpeach, who have told us they have your order on file and have promised to send a cheque refunding your money in full. Your recent experience may not instil confidence, so please let us know if the cheque doesn't arrive.

Silkpeach has at least put a block on its website to ensure no new customers can enter payment details. Not so Bedworks. Until relatively recently it was possible to get as far as the payment screen, though the site now appears to have been disabled. According to Campbell Crossley & Davis, the company is not officially in administration and so should be subject to the usual consumer regulations. Theoretically, therefore, you can claim that by failing to deliver the mattress it is in breach of contract and ask for a refund. However, given that none of the numbers on the website was operational and Companies House holds only an address, this may be unproductive. We have sent a letter and await a response.

Frank Shepherd at government advice organisation Consumer Direct (www.consumerdirect. gov.uk; 0845 404 0506) says: "A better alternative is that if you paid by credit card and the item cost over £100, you are entitled to claim against your card firm, which is jointly and equally liable under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

"If the company does go into administration, you can log a claim with the administrators," he adds. "But be aware that the process can be very time-consuming."

Mr Shepherd also advises that internet purchases are covered by the EU's Distance Selling Regulations. Under these rules, a firm must deliver the ordered goods within 30 days. Otherwise, you have the right to cancel and should receive a full refund in the next 30 days.

Q. I upgraded my T-Mobile with Fonehouse to the T-Mobile MDA Vario 3. I soon noticed a hair-like substance inside the screen. As the phone was working fine, I ignored it. The performance deteriorated. I called T-Mobile and was told to return it. The shop told me it was cracked and they would not replace it. I was reading up and, under the Sale of Goods Act, I believe I should be given a replacement. SB, Central London

A. Under the Sale of Goods Act, products need to be of a decent quality when sold. In other words, they should work and be as described. But your rights are not unlimited and there is always the thorny issue of proof. This case illustrates the point.

If a problem is noticed straight after a purchase, there is only a small window of opportunity to return it to the shop, formally "reject" the item and claim a full refund.

Mr Shepherd at Consumer Direct says: "If you are deemed to have 'accepted' the goods [for example by using them for a time], you lose your right to reject them, though you may be able to claim for a repair or replacement. If this is in the first six months after purchase, the burden is on the trader to prove the defect was not present at the time of sale."

In this case, it appears the fault appeared after the sale, so the issue is over a claim for a repair. Fonehouse acted correctly in going on to put you back in touch with the manufacturer and even paying your postage. When the phone was returned, the manufacturer agreed with Fonehouse that the problem was a crack.

It may still be worth going back to the manufacturer and asking it to check again. Failing that, your only option is to pay for a repair to the screen.

Ideally, retailers should warn you that something so expensive can also be a bit flimsy, but it is not an obligation. This is why they offer insurance.

Although it may not help in your case, a lesson from this is to check goods immediately and not accept faulty ones. If something is expensive, it should be fully insured.

Consumer Direct suggests putting complaints in writing, sending them by recorded delivery and keeping copies.

Q. I have a Bradford & Bingley online savings account. Not too long ago, the bank introduced a new internet savings account that looked remarkably similar but had a higher interest rate. I asked about it and they changed my account across. As an existing customer, shouldn't my bank be obliged to tell me automatically if there are higher-paying savings accounts, rather than me having to look for myself? SR, Harpenden, Herts

A. It would be nice to think that banks paid as much attention to looking after their existing customers as bringing in new ones. However, it is more realistic to conclude that banks will do what they can to ensure they achieve maximum profit.

It would scarcely be in their interest for everyone to convert to their sparkly new savings rates, so they don't automatically move existing savers. They wait for them to find out of their own accord and make a fuss, as you have done.

Brian Capon at the British Bankers' Association says that according to the Banking Code: "Customers who have a variable-rate savings account with £250 or more will be advised by the bank if the interest rate has fallen significantly compared with the Bank of England base rate [0.5 per cent or more]. The bank will also provide information about other savings accounts it offers and help the customer to switch to another account or withdraw the money if they prefer. The bank will give the customer a reasonable period of time [at least 60 days] to do this, during which it will waive any required notice period or charges."

On a general note, consumers should be wary of simply chasing high rates. Some accounts will only pay interest annually, leaving savers with a smaller return than deals with lower rates where the interest is calculated daily or monthly. Financial analyst Moneyfacts ( www.moneyfacts.co.uk; 0845 168 9689) now prints a list of the most consistent accounts.

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