Questions of Cash: The Independent

Q. My daughter booked a holiday with a group of six friends through First Choice.  All six paid individually: my daughter used her debit card. Since then, the lead passenger has without my daughter’s consent signed her ticket over to someone else and that person has given my daughter’s holiday to another person. This has left my daughter without any holiday, but £386 out of pocket. First Choice states it can only deal with the lead passenger for changes and it is not liable for refunding the cost of my daughter’s holiday.  It has refused to reveal the lead passenger’s name or address, citing the Data Protection Act. My daughter’s friend is also not willing to pass this on, so my daughter cannot take a case to the Small Claims Court. PS, Hertfordshire.

A. Your daughter’s problem reveals a serious weakness in consumer protection. First Choice is adamant that it dealt with the complaint correctly and refuses to make a refund. A spokeswoman explains: “We can confirm that a number of amendments have been made to the booking. This has resulted in [the reader’s daughter’s] name being removed from the booking altogether, as per the instructions of the lead passenger. As per our terms and conditions, First Choice can only deal with the lead booking customer in all circumstances, including any additional charges, amendments or cancellations. The lead passenger is therefore wholly responsible for changes made in relation to all persons travelling and settling any financial disagreements there may be within the party. As this is now a matter that can only be rectified by the individuals themselves, we cannot assist any further with this dispute.” We attempted to argue that a contract existed between your daughter and First Choice, on the basis that your daughter had paid directly to First Choice by debit card, but First Choice rejects this argument. We next pursued the matter through your daughter’s bank, HSBC, requesting a chargeback through Visa. This took several weeks to progress, but First Choice rejected the application from HSBC, on the basis that it has now provided the holiday in return for the payment made. The appropriate option at this point might have been legal action, but this would have been difficult. First Choice is confident it has a strong legal defence to any claim; your daughter does not know the name of the new lead passenger, or the person who has taken her place on the holiday; and there are practical and personal problems involved in suing the person who was originally nominated as lead passenger. The story does have a happy ending though, some nine months after you raised the problem with us and three months after someone else had a free holiday at your daughter’s expense. HSBC is refunding your daughter’s costs in full, as a goodwill gesture on the basis that your daughter is a valued customer and it shares our view that her situation was outrageous. We suggest that your daughter, and other readers, take great care in similar situations in how they nominate a lead passenger for a group holiday.

Q. My daughter had fraudulent activity on her two Alliance & Leicester accounts between September and November 2009. It has taken 13 months for Alliance & Leicester to refund the transactions and accrued bank charges. The bank acknowledges in a letter that it is: “deeply concerned about the time which we have taken to resolve this matter. As a result of this I have come to the final decision to refund the bank charges in full along with another £35.72 as a gesture of goodwill.” This adds up to a total refund of £125. But my daughter has been inconvenienced by being without a debit card and she has had to pay phone charges to sort this out. Alliance & Leicester weren’t slow to deduct four lots of £25 bank charges for being overdrawn by small amounts for a period of less than one month. Hence we think compensation in the region of £250 would be more appropriate. MA, Leicester.

A. Santander, which now owns Alliance & Leicester, has reviewed your case. It accepts that a “goodwill payment £35.72 does not reflect the disappointing service” your daughter received. It is therefore offering a higher compensation payment of £150, which you and your daughter are happy with.

Q. I went into Halifax’s Camden High Street branch on 1 October and asked for a loan.  An advisor asked me lots of questions and then said I could have a loan of £10,000. She printed a letter and asked me to sign it, which I did.  She gave me a copy of the agreement and I left. When I got home I found that the agreement was for a £12,000 loan, with repayments totalling £22,000 over seven years at 29 per cent interest. I was horrified as the advisor did not take me through the figures, or the details of the loan. I have tried to cancel the loan, but was told I could only do so if I pay a fee of £600. I am a pensioner and cannot afford to repay the loan: I feel it was mis-sold. BR, London.

A Halifax has investigated your complaint and its advisor strongly refutes your report, claiming that she fully explained the terms of the loan, including the interest rate and total of repayments to be made. Halifax also says that it calculated that the loan was affordable for you, but that the 29 per cent interest rate was one of the highest priced loans it provides, reflecting the level of risk attached to it for the bank. However, given that you dispute this version of events, Halifax has agreed to cancel the loan without charge. You have accordingly fully repaid the loan to Halifax. The loan account is now closed.

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