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.
Ms P.S. writes: I hired a car from Avis in Coventry and used it for four months with no problems. Then the car was stolen along with my house keys and everything in the car, including my daughter’s new £850 pram.
I informed the police and the car was recovered in London the next day. The thief was arrested and charged. I had insured the car through Avis and a month later the company took £885 from my NatWest Visa card without my permission, leaving me overdrawn as I had also had to pay for a replacement pram and new locks at home.
I wrote endless letters to Avis and NatWest without reply. NatWest has now told me I have run out of time for reclaiming the £885.
Confusion: Avis’s bill included charges for refuelling, a one-way fee and damage done when the car was stolen
You did all the right things. You were insured, reported the theft to the police and even went to court as a witness when the thief was prosecuted and convicted – though he absconded.
So what was the £885 supposed to pay for? It has not been easy to match up various Avis charges, some of which were justified and others not. I did find Avis had already credited £58 back to you. What I ended up with was charges for the car rental itself, damage to the car, refuelling and a one-way fee. The rental was correct and came to £338. But there was no way you could or should be held responsible for damage caused by the thief when the car was stolen.
Similarly, I do not see how you could reasonably be charged for the cost of the fuel it took to recover the car from London and get it back to Coventry. The oddest bill of all was the one-way fee charged by Avis for picking up its own car from the police in London and driving it back to the Midlands.
All of these charges added up to £399 and Avis has now credited this sum in full to your Visa card.
A warrant was issued for the arrest of the thief and he was caught. It turns out he has been committing similar offences for years and in 2013 he was jailed for 16 months. He is now back in prison thanks to your evidence.
£66 for extra leg room? Pull the other one
Footing the bill: BA charged extra but couldn’t guarantee space
Mrs H.S. writes: My husband and I believe we have been mis-sold seats by British Airways.
We wanted more comfortable seating with extra leg room for our flight from Heathrow to Australia and were happy to pay an extra £66 each for seats 29J and 29K. This was after being told by BA that these were bulkhead seats giving extra legroom.
But at Heathrow we were told they were not bulkhead seats. BA says we are not entitled to our money back because of its terms and conditions.
It is never possible for any airline to give every passenger the seat they want. But if you paid extra it raises the question of what you got for your cash. If the extra leg room did not exist with the seats you booked, it looks as if you got nothing for your £66 apiece.
I asked British Airways to look into this. It is true the airline’s terms and conditions say it cannot promise passengers they will always get the seat they want.
But the company operates a paid-for reserved seat scheme which was introduced after passengers requested it.
So what went wrong? Well, it turns out that one possibility is that on a different type of aircraft those seats would have provided the extra space you wanted.
BA told me there had been a ‘misunderstanding’ with one of its booking agents when you reserved your seats.
It has now refunded the £132 you paid and added 5,000 Avios points for you to use against future flights, an upgrade, hotel or car hire.
The buck should stop with South Bucks for council tax
In the red: The council never made contact despite the arrears growing
Ms S.K. writes: Last year, I had fun and games with my local authority, South Bucks District Council. After much disagreement I set up a direct debit to pay council tax.
Now, after just getting a Pin for my bank account, I have found that though the direct debit was set up, the council never requested the money from my Nationwide account and I owe them more than £2,200.
The council blames me, saying I should have checked my bank account every month. I do not know why the council never contacted me as the arrears grew. I cannot afford £2,200 on top of the council tax due for the current year.
While I would never discourage anyone from checking their bank account regularly, it is a bit much for the council to blame you for its failures – first to collect its tax by using your direct debit and then its failure to check why it was not getting the tax it expected.
The start of your problem goes back a couple of years when you were in dispute with the local authority over the amount of council tax you should pay.
You lost that argument and later made an arrangement to pay the arrears that had accumulated and then to pay current taxes as well.
South Bucks District Council has told me: ‘Unfortunately, due to human error, the arranged amount was not correctly coded as a direct debit at that time, meaning payments were not taken and the standard reminders were not produced, for which we apologise.’
The authority has now reconsidered and settled for a payment of £1,279 as a lump sum which you have managed to pay.
That leaves £935 of arrears, plus the normal council tax for this year which you are paying by instalments.
Not such a Smart move by Barclays
Ms J.W. writes: I am so disgusted with Barclays. For many years I have been a customer and share investor with the bank. Last year it changed its share dealing business into Smart Investor – not very smart at all. Since then issues take months to resolve and phone calls last at least half an hour.
I tried to buy shares, but it would not let me. I was informed this was because my husband’s address was in New Zealand which we left four years ago. I was told to go to a branch and change the address.
However, the branch could not help me because the postcode did not fit its criteria. The young woman at the branch had never heard of Smart Investor.
I have received a flood of complaints about Smart Investor since it was launched. It was supposed to allow customers to see their bank account and share deals in one place online, but many people found it did not work.
When they tried to switch to a different investment company, transfers that should have taken days stretched for months.
Barclays has admitted your incorrect address was Smart Investor’s oversight. One official told me: ‘It does not reflect the level of service she should rightly expect.’
You have now received an apology, a refund of £25 in charges and a further £250 as a gesture of goodwill.
You have now opened an account with Halifax.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.