Questions of Cash – August 2013

Q.  I retired last year as a university lecture. My employer took six months to process my retirement documentation.  Now I cannot get through to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, to which I paid monthly contributions.  I attempted to contact them by email, through their website and by post, without response.  BD, London.


A.  We also had no reply from the TPS by email.  We then contacted the Department for Education, which agreed to investigate – but failed to come back to us.  We made more enquiries and established that the service was outsourced to Capita.  After we contacted Capita, it investigated your problems and contacted you to assist you in accessing your records online.  We understand you are now in receipt of your pension.


Q.  I am about to reach age 60 and I went on the Teachers’ Pension Scheme website to apply for my pension.  It was frustrating experience. The site failed repeatedly. I contacted it via the ‘contact us’ function on its website and later had a response saying an email was waiting for me – but none was there.  ML, Thailand.


A.  Capita tells us that since we contacted it on your behalf, the TPS has tried to contact you, but has been unable to do so.  It has left a message for you on how to contact them.  Your pension is due to begin this month, but there is a period of missing service information that needs to be supplied by a former employer.  Even if this information is not obtained by the time your pension is due to begin, an interim award will be made with any underpayment subsequently released.


Q.  I ordered online a Dell laptop, which was to be delivered within ten days.  Two weeks later Dell rang me to say it could no longer supply that model and offered an alternative. In the same telephone conversation I cancelled the order and said I would consider the alternative once I had received details and a refund of the cancelled transaction. This was agreed and I received an email from Dell confirming that the refund was being processed and asking me to look out for the credit to my account.  But Dell shipped the original model, later claiming the order had not been cancelled.  I provided Amex with a copy of the written confirmation from Dell, yet Amex has repeatedly refused to remove the item from my statement.  I complained to the Financial Ombudsman, which confirmed that the distance selling regulations were relevant.   But the FOS misread the relevant provision by counting the cooling-off period from the date the order was placed, rather than the date of delivery.  Amex is now taking me to court for payment.  It appears to me that a criminal offence may have been committed in threatening legal action to force payment for unsolicited goods.
If as I contend, and have supplied evidence to support, the order was cancelled before shipment and Dell then took a conscious business decision to ship the goods anyway, then the goods were unsolicited and Amex has broken the law by threatening legal action for payment.  HN, London.


A. We have tried, unsuccessfully, for several months to resolve this dispute.  There are two central problems.  One is that Dell refused to credit you with the cost of the laptop until it was returned, while you refused to return it until you were credited with the cost.  This has caused the matter to drag on for two years.  The second issue is whether Dell made a deliberate decision to deliver an item that you had cancelled – as you suggest – or whether it simply made a mistake.  We are willing to accept Dell’s assurance that this was cock-up, not conspiracy.  Dell tells us that it is still content to credit you with the purchase cost, but only after the goods are returned.  This seems reasonable to us.  AmEx is willing to write-off the interest charged on the item, which is in excess of £1,000, on condition that you repay the rest of the outstanding balance on your account.  Your current debt with AmEx is over £13,000, so the dispute over payment for the laptop is just a small part of your overall financial difficulties.  AmEx is willing to accept payment of £10,000 to clear your debt, but this is conditional on you accepting the proposal for resolving the dispute regarding the laptop.  If you cannot afford to pay the £10,000 in a lump sum, AmEx will accept staged payments, conditional on you presenting evidence of your ability to make the payments.   AmEx believes that as you originally ordered the goods and then cancelled, the law regarding unsolicited goods is not relevant and does not apply.  You continue to argue that it does and seem inclined to reject the proposals from Dell and AmEx.  The matter therefore seems destined to go to court.  You have raised in private correspondence with AmEx the possibility of taking the matter to an outside arbitrator.  AmEx is willing to accept this, but on condition that you make the arrangements and meet the costs.  Incidentally, initial decisions by the Financial Ombudman are not final and can be reviewed on request and then appealed.


*  In Questions of Cash on 19 July we published a letter from a reader whose vehicle was hit by a van belonging to Norland Managed Services.  In its response, the company stated that if insurers determined that its driver was at fault “as a gesture of goodwill Norland will pay the £100 excess” to be imposed on our reader by his insurer.  We have been contacted by Alan Samuel, a senior solicitor at Slater & Gordon, who asks us to make clear that the party found responsible for an accident is legally required to cover any losses incurred.  “This includes any uninsured losses such as excess, any costs for replacement vehicles, any expenses etc,” he explains. “To suggest that they would pay ‘as a gesture of goodwill’ is nonsense and insulting.”

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