Questions of Cash: February 2015

Posted on August 4, 2015 · Posted in The Independent

Q. I bought 20 hours of vouchers for driving lessons from voucherdriving.com 17 months ago.  I was only able to use eight of the vouchers at the time. I am now trying to book the 12 hours remaining, but the company says the vouchers were valid for one year, so I can no longer use them.  I was not aware of the expiry date as this is not on the printed voucher.  The only way to find out is by reading the terms and conditions on the voucherdriving.com website. I have been offered just one hour lesson “as a complimentary gesture”.  Is this legal?  I have about £240 of unused vouchers.  CR, London.

A.  We had difficulty communicating with Voucherdrivingcom.  Phone calls to the company went to voice mail and not answered, while emails did not receive a reply.  Eventually we obtained both an email and phone call response, but none that satisfied us.

A representative of Voucherdriving.com maintains that the business is within its rights in refusing to honour the vouchers you hold.  She told us: “On the website it states the expiry date and also in the terms and conditions.  If the vouchers are a present, it states the expiry date in the letter to the person receiving the vouchers.  The expiry date is one year from purchase.  If we are advised before the end of the year that the vouchers are unused we will come to an accommodation.  With any vouchers, there is always an expiry date.  If the person hasn’t redeemed it by the due date there is nothing we can do.”  She added by email: “the one year expiry date is clearly stated on our website, both as part of the product description(s) and in our terms and conditions. Furthermore customers are asked to tick a box to confirm that they have read the terms and conditions before the transaction is completed. We therefore believe that we have acted appropriately. If, however, you are able to prove that we have breached the contract and/or law we will be more than happy to issue a refund.”

We were not persuaded by this response, so we asked Citizens Advice for its legal opinion.  CA’s Pol Callaghan responded: “This query involves two types of consumer problems – voucher expiry and online terms and conditions. There is no requirement for an expiry date (where applicable) to be printed on a voucher.  However, consumer law says that a retailer cannot enforce terms that are unfair and create a significant consumer detriment.  What this means will vary on the facts of each case.  However, a retailer should ensure that all relevant terms and conditions are clear to the consumer before she enters into the contract.  It may not be sufficient for a retailer to rely on terms and conditions that, while technically available to the consumer (e.g. on a page within a website), would rely on the consumer carrying out her own investigations in order to establish significant terms about the transaction. Put simply, the voucher seller should be clear and up front about all significant terms before the sale is made.  If the purchaser believes this was not the case, she can take a small claims action against the company, where the court will decide if the actions of the seller were sufficient in this case.  If considering such action, she should seek further advice from Citizens Advice or another independent source of advice.”

We suggested to Voucherdriving.com that as we had received the suggested legal advice concluding that it was in the wrong, it should now honour the vouchers or provide a refund.  It did not reply, despite a reminder.  We suggest that you file a claim through the Small Claims Court, taking up Citizens Advice’s offer of assistance.

Q  My wife has had an account with Vodafone for more than four years, with two numbers on her account – one of which she used, the other I used.  We decided to transfer my number to an account in my name. Vodafone ran a credit check and said the account would be transferred within 12 hours.  My wife had paid £63.50 in advance to Vodafone for the line rental.  But when my first bill came, it included line rental for nine days that my wife had already paid for.  I phoned Vodafone, which said that as this was a new account I had to start paying from the account started, even if this overlapped with the previous account owner’s billing cycle. AN, London.

A.  There is a misunderstanding.  Vodafone accepts that line rental for £18.50 was paid for by both your wife and yourself.  It says this will be automatically refunded when your wife receives the final bill for your phone number.