Questions of Cash: November 2014

Q. My father died in October last year and my siblings and I sold his house in December. Final meter readings were supplied to nPower that same month. Only in April did nPower send me a final bill which showed that they owed his estate £911.52. I rang to ask when this would be refunded and was told that it would be within 28 days. NPower failed to reimburse me by that deadline and so I made a formal complaint. My complaint was not resolved and so I referred it to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman issued his report at the end of July requiring nPower to pay the amount of £911.52 within 28 days and to credit my account with £150 as a gesture of goodwill, in addition to the £100 that nPower had already agreed to as a goodwill payment. NPower wrote to me on 26 August, 16 September and 15 October to say that it couldn’t refund me due to a technical issue. The only amount that has been paid is £150 of the goodwill payment. NPower’s failure to refund the overpayment has prevented me closing my father’s estate and paying out the proceeds to the beneficiaries. I am at my wit’s end. PC, by email.

A. This is an amazing failure by nPower. But nPower promises that this is now resolved. It is paying you £100 as a goodwill gesture, in addition to the previously agreed £100 compensation and the £150 required by the Ombudsman – a total of £350 on top of the £911.52. A spokesman for nPower says: “We’re issuing a refund and factoring in a suitable goodwill gesture, to say sorry.”

Q. My mother was sold a Telecom Pro-Call Blocker over the phone in January by the Telecom Protection Service. I have power of attorney for her and I have been trying to obtain a refund for her since February, when the device was returned. The terms and conditions of the sale specify that if the device is returned within seven days there would be a full refund within 30 days. This did not happen.   I have phoned the company on several occasions, but I have been unable to obtain the refund. What should I do now? GM, by email.

A. The Telecom Protection Service did not respond to our two requests for a refund. There are many criticisms online of the company and its product. Your mother paid for the device using a Lloyds Visa debit card. As a result, we asked Lloyds to consider making a chargeback to obtain the refund. Unfortunately, the transaction falls outside the 120 day limit for making a chargeback and so this request was rejected, with the suggestion that the problem be addressed to the vendor. We requested that Lloyds reconsider the matter given the specific circumstances – your mother’s vulnerability, the failed attempts at resolution with the Telecom Protection Service and the other criticisms of the company. We are pleased to report that Lloyds accepted our argument and has refunded your mother in full. A spokeswoman for Lloyds said: “I appreciate the individual circumstances regarding this particular case and the potential vulnerability the customer has felt when dealing with the company that she made the initial purchase from. As a gesture of goodwill, on this occasion we are able to refund the customer and we will look to recoup the money directly from the company.”

Q. I have been a customer of TalkTalk for five years, despite repeated technical problems with its broadband service, which is very slow and regularly times out. My phone line is so bad that I have had to change phones three times in the last year only to discover it is not the fault of the handset, but with the service provider. There is a constant hissing noise. What I find worse is that money has been taken from my account without my permission or authorization. In August, £27.90 was taken from my account without my knowledge, yet I had no intention of renewing my contract – which came to an end in September. TalkTalk is continuing to take money from my account without consulting me or contacting me by email. My contract costs £9 per month, with the line rental paid up-front. TalkTalk has renewed my contract without my consent, or offering me the chance to accept or reject its terms. I have complained repeatedly, but TalkTalk’s customer service is awful. VB, London.

A. TalkTalk is insistent that it has done nothing wrong. A spokesman for TalkTalk said: “We are sorry if the details of [the reader’s] package were not clear. We have written to her to explain the charges on her bill in more detail. As she is still receiving a service from TalkTalk, she will continue to be charged.” However, the legal situation seems less clear than TalkTalk suggests. We consulted the regulator, Ofcom. Its spokeswoman said: “Ofcom has indeed banned ‘Automatically Renewable Contracts’, which previously served to tie landline and broadband customers into repeated minimum contract periods. This means that consumers are now free to shop around once their initial contract term comes to an end and can no longer be ‘locked in’ to another successive contract. We also expect providers to deliver a high quality of service to their customers and handle complaints fairly and sympathetically when things go wrong. In the absence of all the information to fully understand what has happened in this particular case, if the customer feels they have been subjected to an ARC and have exhausted TalkTalk’s complaints process, then we would encourage the customer to exercise their right to take the matter to dispute resolution. Alternative dispute resolution is an important piece of consumer protection.  We require all communications providers to be a member of one of the two schemes – TalkTalk is a member of Ombudsman Services: communications. The Scheme will look at the specific facts and evidence of the case available before making a final judgement.”

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