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.
Mrs K.A. writes: Last September, I received a letter from Halifax Bank of Scotland, saying I may be due a payment protection insurance refund following a new legal ruling. I applied online and ten weeks later I received a cheque.
Now though, I have received a letter from a claims management company asking for a percentage fee due to its successful claim on my behalf. I had in fact made an unsuccessful claim through them some years ago and was astonished to find that the bank had told them about my own recent claim.
Demand: Manchester-based payment protection insurance reclaim firm Claims Advisory Group wanted a 39 per cent fee
Tony replies: In 2014, you used Claims Advisory Group Limited, a payment protection insurance reclaim firm based in Manchester, to try to recover premiums you paid to HBOS. It then submitted a claim on your behalf which the bank quickly rejected. That was that – until recently.
Last August, a court ruling came into effect after a borrower named Susan Plevin successfully claimed she had been treated unfairly because a lender failed to tell her a huge chunk of her PPI premium was the salesman’s commission.
Banks were forced to contact anyone who had been sold PPI but were not warned that 50 per cent or more of their premium would go in commission. So, HBOS quite rightly contacted you, invited you to claim, and then paid you a total refund of £3,706.
The shock came when Claims Advisory Group sent you a demand for 39 per cent of this as its fee. It told you: ‘You will see from our terms that we state our fee covers any compensation payments made to you in relation to PPI policies, of which we can prove a direct link between our original letter of complaint sent and the offer you received.’
On reader was alarmed after she ordered and paid for some gardening goods but they failed to arrive
But there was no such link. It failed with its complaint, yet it expected to be paid simply because someone else succeeded, paving the way for you to file a fresh claim by yourself. I had a word with HBOS and it told me the claims company’s details should have been deleted from its records when the original claim was turned down. Instead, it mistakenly notified Claims Advisory Group about your refund.
HBOS has now contacted the Manchester claims firm which has agreed to withdraw its demand. The bank told me: ‘We are extremely sorry for the inconvenience Mrs A has experienced as a result of this error.’ HBOS has also sent you £50 by way of an apology.
I did invite claims company boss Jamie Alaise to comment. I also asked whether his company is still in dispute with the taxman over £7.6 million it is said to owe in VAT. He offered no comment on the demand you received or on his company’s VAT bill.
My growing concern about garden goods
Mrs A.M. writes: On January 15, I sent a cheque for £55 to order goods from gardening company Bakker of Spalding. I have used them for years and they are usually prompt. The goods failed to arrive, but my cheque was cashed on January 29. I tried phoning and writing, but with no response.
Tony replies: Bakker was in trouble before you even placed your order. The real name of the company in Britain is Plantiflor Limited and according to records at Companies House all seems fine. The business is listed as ‘active’ and is up to date with its accounts.
But behind the scenes, Lincolnshire-based Plantiflor is controlled from the Netherlands by parent company Bakker. Last year, Bakker notched up losses of €14 million (about £12.5 million) and in January a court in The Hague allowed it to suspend payments to creditors for two months. Efforts to find a buyer or to raise fresh capital failed and the company’s lawyers have said that unfilled orders dating from before January 30 will not be met.
It is hard not to suspect that Plantiflor banked as much as possible ahead of the news from the Netherlands. The Spalding business is headed by Adrian Nind, but he did not respond when I invited him to comment. Calls to Plantiflor now go straight to a taped message saying that because of ‘unforeseen circumstances’ nobody can answer the phone.
I warned two years ago that Bakker of Spalding was using misleading mailshots. It was giving customers the false impression they had won thousands of pounds, but had to place an order to collect their prize. The Advertising Standards Authority banned the mailshot.
Perhaps the British company can now come clean about whether customers’ own cheques are safe, or have they been syphoned off to pay Dutch debts? Meanwhile, nobody should dream of placing an order with it.
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.
Read Tony Hetherington’s case files at thisismoney.co.uk/hetherington
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