Questions of Cash – October 2013

Q.  In August last year I ordered a free trial of a Dead Sea Beauty Kit, paying just the postage.  As soon as I received it I discovered in the very small print that I could be entering into a never ending and costly auto-refill arrangement.
I never even opened the trial pack and – in accordance with the terms and conditions in the same small print – I returned it within 14 days.  The terms and conditions promised that I would not be charged anything further for the ‘free trial pack’ and the transactions would be terminated.  As requested, I sent proof of postage as a scanned image attached to an email. I did not hear anything more for a period, but then I discovered that my MasterCard had been charged £59.95.  After numerous challenges by email, I was advised that the company had changed supplier since my order was placed and that the new one could only make the refund to a Visa card.  I duly supplied my account number expecting the full refund to be processed.  Various  ‘customer satisfaction specialists’ gave the impression in further emails of being helpful, but I did not receive a refund and on one occasion I received a request for proof of postage.  Totally ignoring the fact that I had returned the trial pack within 14 days, I was advised that I would not be receiving a refund because the proof of posting had been sent after the prescribed period.  I believe that the company behind it has gone by the name DS Marketing Limited in London. Can anything be done?  BD, Southampton.


A.  Earlier this year DS Marketing of London was found by the Advertising Standards Authority to have breached the advertising code of conduct.  This was because it was unable to prove claims in its advertisements that the Dead Sea products could remove wrinkles caused by ageing.  DS Marketing blamed its ‘affiliates’ for the problems.  We made repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact DS Marketing to discuss both its products and your complaint.  We were also unsuccessful in our efforts to contact the supplier based in the United States.  You paid using a BHS Mastercard, which is issued and administered by Barclaycard.  We therefore contacted Barclaycard to request a refund of the £59.95 – which they have agreed.  Barclaycard has credited your account and issued a chargeback to the supplier.  This could be reversed if the supplier makes a challenge, but we believe you have a very strong case.


Q.  On 15 September I phoned John Lewis Car Insurance to say that I had purchased a new car and I requested this be added to my existing policy.  I asked to keep my existing car covered for 30 days to allow time to sell it.  I was told this had to be done in two stages. First I had to add my new car to the policy for an additional premium of £92.86, including a £20 change of policy fee. Then I had to obtain cover for my old car, which for 30 days cost £159. I felt mugged as the premium for the whole year for my old car was only £192.32.  I was told this is what the underwriters charge and John Lewis is unable to do anything about it. I thought about it and phoned back shortly after to make a complaint, but the person just checked the amount I had been charged was correct.  I sold my old car three days after the revised policy came into effect and requested a refund of the unused part of this cover, but I was advised that no refunds are paid on this type of policy.  AN, Romford.


A.  John Lewis insists that its actions are in line with normal industry practice.  However, it has agreed to refund the premium for the unused cover, providing you return the temporary cover note on the sold car.  Kieran Hartigan, head of products at John Lewis Insurance, explains: “[The reader] was provided with temporary cover for 30 days to ensure that he was fully protected while the old car remained in his possession.  Providing this type of cover and the premiums applied are common practice in the industry. However, we review all claims on a case-by-case basis and while temporary cover is not always refundable, as a gesture of goodwill we will offer [the reader] a pro-rata refund for the days following the sale of the vehicle, on receipt of his temporary cover note.”  John Lewis is to refund you £143.10.


Q.  A few years ago our small business took out a contract with British Gas to supply gas at what was a decent price at that time.  Since then the tariffs have become very poor value with the standing charge now three times higher than that of other suppliers.  I tried to change recently, but was advised that I could not move until August 2014.  It seems that we are tied into a two year rolling contract and we are stuck with this.  KY, Yorkshire.


A.  British Gas insists that you have been sent yearly renewal notices and it is because you failed to respond to these that your contract has been automatically renewed each time for a further year.  Your existing contract is due to expire on 15 October next year and you need to urgently contact British Gas if you want this not to be renewed.  However, British Gas is now ending the auto-renewal of energy supply contracts.  A spokeswoman says: “Increasing numbers of our small business customers have told us that they don’t like the way the energy industry automatically moves them onto new customers, so we’ve decided we will lead the way and put an end of this practice for our customers.”  From 1 September next year, new customers will be placed on contracts that do not auto-renew and from June next year existing customers will be given options to avoid auto-renewal.  Ofgem is currently looking at whether automatic renewal of energy supply contracts to small firms should be banned.

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