Questions of Cash: March 2014

Q.  I purchased a wooden bed frame and mattress in June 2010.  The mattress cost £329, which is not cheap, and came with a five year guarantee. Initially the mattress was used infrequently on our guest bed.  When my son moved back home and started using it we noticed four bars of metal could be felt through the covering and the covering started to detach from the sides.  The retailer inspected the mattress and offered us a replacement or £150, as a ‘goodwill gesture’.  So what does a five year guarantee actually mean? If the product develops a defect within that period through normal use, a replacement or full refund would surely be obligatory, not merely a ‘goodwill’ gesture – otherwise the five year guarantee is meaningless. The replacement will only have a guarantee for the remainder of the original guarantee, a year and a half.  My preference would be to replace the mattress with one from a firm with a better product and guarantee, such as John Lewis.  But their basic product is £250 and I should not be out of pocket. HL, by email.

A. Citizens Advice’s Pól Callaghan responds: “When you buy a product with a guarantee, you have two levels of protection.  Firstly, you have statutory rights.  Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, a product must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.  These apply regardless of any guarantee or warranty.  Secondly, you have the guarantee.  The nature of a guarantee is dependent on the specific terms and conditions within it. Whether a mattress is of satisfactory quality and is fit for purpose will normally be related to normal wear and tear.  We know you bought the mattress in June 2010, but it is not clear exactly how much use it received, or the nature of the use, between then and the defect being noticed.  The offer of a replacement has been made as a ‘goodwill gesture’, so it is not clear if the retailer has accepted that the mattress was not of satisfactory quality, or was not fit for purpose. In any event, a retailer can normally offer a remedy by means of repair, replacement or refund.  The appropriateness of each remedy will depend on the situation.  It may be reasonable if the retailer has offered a cost-free replacement to you of an equivalent standard mattress.  However, the guarantee may require a full refund at any time within the five year period if the product has only been subjected to normal wear and tear (this depends on the terms of the guarantee).” If you feel the retailer has not complied with these obligations, you can contact either Questions of Cash or Citizens Advice to pursue the matter further.

Q.  I left Npower, my dual gas and electricity supplier, in August 2013, paying £173 to settle the account, including early termination penalties. Unfortunately I didn’t cancel my direct debit and Npower debited my account for £15.01 in February.  My online account shows a zero balance and that it is closed, so I don’t know if the charge was correct.  Npower has been unable to satisfy my enquiry.  JC, Ayrshire.

A.  Npower has investigated this and issued a refund.  A spokesman explains: “There was a slight delay in sending [the reader’s] final gas bill and we have sent him a cheque for £25 to say sorry for this.”  In addition, you have received a letter to collect a further £30 from a Post Office branch to refund the early termination penalty.

Q.  In December last year I phoned my bank, Santander, asking how long it would take to clear a foreign bank cheque and was told six working days.  On 20 December I deposited the cheque at my branch.  I was then told it would take six to eight weeks to clear.  I complained I had been wrongly informed and was given £60 compensation.  At the end of the six weeks deadline, 14 February, the cheque had still not cleared.  I complained again and was given further compensation of £170.  I have since phoned nearly daily, but I am now told there is no guarantee of when the cheque will clear.  I need the money and this has resulted in me being evicted, overdrawn, unable to pay bills and unable to take my kids on holiday at half term.  BL, Cambridgeshire.

A.  Santander says that when your cheque was deposited last December it was done so on a ‘collection basis’, which means the value could only be credited to your account “on receipt of the funds from the remitting bank, so no timeframe could be confirmed”.  It was drawn on RHB Bank Bernad, a large Asian bank based in Malaysia.  Santander says that it has not had co-operation from the bank in attempting to credit your account.  “The cheque was sent by our International Payments department and subsequent messages were also sent asking the bank for an update as no funds were received,” says a spokeswoman for Santander.  She explains there are two methods for processing international cheques.  “Negotation, where we credit the customer’s account without needing to receive confirmation of clearance from the bank on which the cheque was drawn, and collection where we send the cheque to the bank where it originated from, requesting payment and then need to wait to receive the proceeds before crediting the account.”  Where the collection system is used, processing usually takes two to eight weeks.  We understand that you have now recovered the cheque and intend to find an alternative means to process it.  Our view is that you should go back to the cheque issuer, establish the reason the bank has not honoured the cheque and obtain an alternative means of payment. Santander’s spokeswoman adds: “Whilst we are sympathetic to [the reader’s] situation, we cannot accept that any error has been made and feel that [the reader] has been amply compensated for any mis-information or service issues having already received £230 of goodwill.”


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