Questions of Cash: ‘First the flood, then the bill’: The Independent


Q. We had a flood in our housing association flat while away at Christmas. The tap had dripped, causing the sink to fill.  It turned out the overflow was blocked, so the excess water could not drain away. I am sure I had turned the tap off. The housing association’s plumber changed the washer, but wouldn’t look at the overflow problem and reported the problem was our fault.  I have been asked to pay for the cost of the repair and have been in dispute with them for two weeks. My contents insurer says the association will be insured for this and should do the repairs. CO, London.


A. Your landlord is the Family Mosaic Housing Association. When we brought your problems to its attention it said it was “alarmed to hear of [the] experience…. We accept that her experience of our repairs service has, on this occasion, been unacceptable.” Family Mosaic will not now recharge for the cost of repairs and agrees there should never have been any question of this “as there has been no wilful damage to her property”. The work will be carried out as soon as possible and in recognition of the problems you have suffered, Family Mosaic will carry out relevant redecoration work free of charge. The association also says it will conduct “a thorough review of our procedures…. to find out why [the reader’s] experience has been contrary to that of our other residents”.


Q. I read the problem of the reader left without heating during the cold spell (Questions of Cash, 23 January). I have a warm air central heating system using a gas burner. It is maintained under contract by British Gas Homecare. An engineer called in December because I was worried about its reliability. Initially he decided everything was OK, but after packing everything away, he noticed some wear that had been there for some time and decided the system was unsafe, so cut-off the gas supply, leaving us with no heating. Phone calls to British Gas Homecare were not returned, we were given inconsistent information and we still have no heating! I am now employing my own contractor, who will install a new burner. Whilst I understand an unsafe appliance needs to be disconnected, the service I received from British Gas Homecare is shocking and the result is very costly: I had to buy electric convector heaters, which have been on non-stop since the gas was cut off due to the freezing weather. If I had a boiler that BG provides, I would have been on a fast track system and everything would have been fixed by 23 December. Homecare took my monthly payments, but provided me with an inferior service. WJ, Guildford.


A. British Gas rejects your version of events. It argues that your system was installed over 30 years ago and that your contract does not cover replacement of old systems that become unsafe. It says you were advised previously that the equipment was unsafe, but failed to replace it, and had previously had your equipment turned off as unsafe, which you turned back on yourself. A spokeswoman explains: “Our first priority is to keep customers and their homes safe.  On several visits, prior to December of last year, our engineers advised the customer that the thirty year old warm air heating unit was not to current safety standards, due to poor ventilation, and that it would need to be replaced as a matter of urgency.  It is only as a last resort that we would turn off a customers heating system at any time of year, but we have to act responsibly in terms of our customers’ safety.” She adds that when you originally signed-up for the service, your boiler was over 15 years old. Customers with a boiler less than seven years’ old are entitled to a free replacement boiler.

Q. My son and I have a Virgin credit card account, which we use to pay his college expenses. I paid the full outstanding balance from my First Direct current account, using the faster payment system on 3 January 2010 – the date the payment was due. But it was a Sunday and although First Direct assure me the payment would have been received on this date, my Virgin statement shows the amount as credited on 4 January, so applied a late payment charge, plus interest. When I complained I was offered a refund of the £12 late fee, but not the interest.  I was told to read the small print on the back of the card, which explains that use of the faster payment system is not taken into account. Surely all banks should recognise faster payments and also print accurate ‘pay by’ dates on credit card statements. NS, London.


A. Virgin credit cards are administered by MBNA. It has now refunded the interest as well as the late payment charge.


Q. I made an online booking with Travelodge. It told me that two bookings with Visa Electron had failed because of its systems failures, yet both appeared on my card as pending debits for seven days. I am not out of pocket, but I cannot understand how Travelodge can tell me that the transactions failed. MR, Hertford.


A. Your bank, First Direct, confirmed that Travelodge processed two transactions in January. The first was for £24 via the internet on 7 January, but only debited to your account on 18 January. A second transaction of £22 was debited to your account on 11 January. First Direct explains: “Once a payment is made with a card and the bank authorise the transaction these funds are ‘marked’ for that particular merchant.  However, they will not debit the account until the merchant claims the money via their processing
bank.  At this time the authorisation becomes the transaction. If an authorisation is not processed within a window of up to 14 days, the funds become available again.” Or, to put in more simply, recredited to your account.

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