Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Read the small print: One reader found themselves with more than they expected
M.D. writes: On January 2, I purchased two televisions from Currys PC World at the Trafford Centre in Manchester. This was an interest-free buy now pay later plan – with the full £359 cost payable by July, by which time I am due a work bonus of £400.
But I was surprised to get an email from credit firm Creation later in January, saying my first direct debit was due on February 2.
Creation claims the interest-free plan was cancelled in the store on January 12 and a 24-month Creation plan was substituted, including interest charges.
I have not been in the store since January 2 and Currys say it cannot cancel the Creation plan even though I have never authorised it.
Tony replies: You gave me a copy of the deal you agreed with Currys on January 2. It clearly says you have until July 2 to pay for the TV sets.
It explains: ‘If you pay £359 by this date you won’t be charged any interest. If you choose to, you can make monthly payments after this date, which would be £19.73 per month starting on August 2.’ This would include interest at 19.9 per cent.
Confusingly though, the same document says you have been accepted by credit firm Creation, with a spending limit of £5,000.
This would allow you to carry on shopping, but of course there would be interest to pay on anything not covered by the buy now pay later offer. Currys gave Creation your personal details, including for your bank, which is why the credit firm was able to draw cash from your account.
You also gave me a statement you received from Currys, dated January 12. It shows that on that date the £359 you owed was transferred from the buy now pay later interest-free deal.
Instead the same amount became part of your interest-bearing £5,000 credit line with Creation. When you complained to Currys the store was unable to produce anything to show you had cancelled the interest-free agreement.
Yet the company says the store manager denied this agreement existed and claimed it had always been a credit sale with interest. Currys tried to paper over the cracks by offering you £110, covering roughly the first six months of payments to Creation. You turned this down, understandably objecting to being forced into a loan agreement you never signed.
I asked both Currys and Creation to let me see anything you signed, cancelling the initial interest-free deal and switching to an interest-bearing loan. Neither could produce any such evidence. Currys said simply: ‘We are unable to provide this information.’
Creation did send me a copy of what it said was your credit agreement, but every figure had been blacked out. So had your name, address, phone number, bank details and signature. It might just as well have been Mickey Mouse borrowing £1 million for all it proved.
So, here is what seems to have happened. Creation now says it was wrong to tell you that the original buy now pay later agreement had been cancelled. It now says it has never even seen the original agreement. It believes Currys tried to send the original agreement, but it was never received.
When Currys sent it again, it failed to tell Creation you had opted for the interest-free six months.
Currys says: ‘This was caused by an internal error and we apologise for the inconvenience this has caused. We have now cancelled the contract completely, confirming no future charges to Mr D.’
That is right – the slate has been wiped clean, the TV sets are yours, the payments already collected are being refunded to you, and you have nothing at all to pay now, in July, or ever. A good result.
I have insurance so why did I have to pay £170 to fix my shattered Virgin mobile?
J.C. writes: My Virgin Mobile phone screen shattered and I needed it replaced through my insurance. Virgin Mobile insisted I had insurance, but Virgin Insurance insisted I had none. I have been to and fro between them half a dozen times, but now I have had to have my phone repaired privately for £170.
Tony replies: This was a case of Virgin’s left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing.
At the heart of the problem is that you did have Virgin cover – but for a different phone.
Virgin told me: ‘We are sorry for the confusion Mr C experienced when trying to find out if his mobile phone was insured.
‘Unfortunately, his handset is not covered by an existing insurance policy he had purchased for another phone.
‘We have apologised for the inconsistent information he received and have offered him a £50 gesture of goodwill which he has accepted.’
A good common sense outcome.
48 hours of car cover cost me extra £48
P.M. writes: I searched online for car insurance, starting February 7 and Hastings Direct came up cheapest. I told my existing insurer not to renew, but it said they had already taken the premium from my card as cover was due from February 5. This was my error and it is refunding me. I then called Hastings to say cover should begin on February 5. I was told it would close the first policy, refund my £358 premium, and open a new policy costing £406. How can the premium have risen so much?
Tony replies: You are paying £48 more for just 48 hours of extra insurance. But Hastings Direct has offered an explanation that may surprise you.
The insurer told me: ‘The cost of an insurance premium can move on a daily basis due to a variety of reasons including the start date of the policy.’ So, you were just unlucky in your choice of dates. I then suggested to Hastings Direct that customers might want to request a range of start dates so they could choose the cheapest.
Back came the insurer: ‘We would be careful of advising customers to run multiple quotes as the pricing system could possibly see that as quote manipulation which would also impact the price.’
Well, I would see it as drivers trying to get the best value by leaving their car in the garage for a day or two. After all, nobody pays full price in the shops if a sale starts tomorrow.
Our licence should be free – so why the threats?
R.S. writes: We bought two semi-detached bungalows and converted them into one home. They were numbered 73 and 75 in the road and we chose to use 75, so 73 no longer exists. But we keep receiving threatening letters from TV Licensing about 73. We have had two visits from inspectors and both said they would correct their records, but the threatening letters still arrive. What makes it more galling is that I am 82 and my wife is 76 so we have a free TV licence.
Tony replies: You have explained repeatedly to TV Licensing that you have just one house. Even if you put 75 in your name and 73 in your wife’s name, you would both still get the over-75s free licence, so all this investigation by the authorities is pointless.
Yet the threats have kept coming. Just after you contacted me you received another letter, saying: ‘Official warning: we have opened an investigation.’ And if you fail to reply, ‘our enforcement division will schedule a visit’. Absurdly though, your free TV licence was addressed to you at 73-75, so someone at TV Licensing has accepted that your house covers both numbers.
Officials told me: ‘We are very sorry for any concern or inconvenience caused by this database error and we are writing to Mr S to apologise. We can assure Mr S that we have now linked the two addresses and our records correctly reflect that he has a free licence.’ But they added that the Post Office still lists the two numbers separately, so it might be worth looking into this.