Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Consumer - Know Your Rights

There is a terrific article on the BBC online Magazine which I refer to. It highlights five consumer laws you should know when buying goods.

With it comes a few horror and good stories from punters. I am sure we can all relate a few stories about buying products and what the article shows is that you need to know your rights.


I do a lot of travel and the last few months two things have affected me.

1. Eurostar

I took a trip to Paris and that included a meeting in Lille. So I bought a ticket to Paris returning from Lille so I caught the SNCF train to Lille from Gare du Nord which incidentally is an identical train to the Eurostar in every detail. The Eurostar tickets were Business Class, fully flexible and I noted there was no difference in the price of a return ticket from Paris or the halfway point which is Lille - ah, well you pays your money. My meeting at Lille ended slightly earlier than anticipated and I was able to catch an earlier Eurostar that had coincidentally come from Brussels not Paris. The first thing is that there is no special facility at Lille for Business Class like a lounge. Then when I got to my seat on the train there were only 3 other passengers in the carriage and no one came through with a drinks or meal service. Eventually I had to buy some water and ask for some service. A person came through set out the meal table and then did not return.

I complained to Eurostar and it took weeks of wrangling as all they wanted to do was to compensate £30 for the missing meal. However, I argued that the ticket was Business Class and several services were missing which made the ticket missold. Only when I said that I was referring the matter to a solicitor under my rights as a consumer did they act - then suddenly they went over board and sent me a return ticket to either Paris or Brussels, Business Class. I had not asked for that or expected it, but had clearly touched a raw nerve.

2. Air Travel - Budget Airlines

I recently had to travel to Germany and, late as usual, I could not get back to Dusseldorf in time to catch my flight home and so had to make for the nearest airport which happened to be Ryan Air hub at Frankfurt-Hahn airport. It should be noted the 'Frankfurt' title is pretty stretched as it is over 200km from Frankfurt, about as far as Birmingham from London. No matter, it served a purpose. I called to buy a ticket but as I was inside a 4 hour limit to buy either online or by phone (I didn't know such a limit existed), I had to go to the airport to buy the ticket. I was quoted €239 over the phone which I was assured was the all-in price. When I got there, the price was €354 and I had to check a bag in for extra, I had also to pay for automatic check-in which did not work and priority boarding, the total was closer to €400 for a single flight.

It was late by several very sweaty hours and most of the time we had to wait at a packed gate. It went over the 4 hour trigger to get looked after but nobody manned any desks for Ryan Air and we were told to call them when we got back even though there were small families with thirsty children. When I got back I was told that you had to write in as salespeople didn't handle customer support calls and all is done in writing. Naturally I have received no reply.

For budget airlines, there is misconception that it is implied you only pay for what you get. That is not true - all airlines are governed by the same international compensation policy which have clear guidelines - Ryan Air get away with it as no one calls them out on it while they do not have staff focused on dealing with customer problems or complaints. There is a 'like it or lump it' and 'you pay peanuts, what do expect?' policy in action.

Buying A Car

Some years ago I bought a BMW 7 series - why, I don't know. I went into the garage to buy a 5 series and ended up with an exceptional deal on the 7 series that had languished on the showroom floor. It was an odd car - luxurious and annoying at times but very nice to drive. After about 4 months a recall letter came through and the engine management software needed a bug fixed so I booked the car in to have it done. I was expecting to pick it up later that day but got a call - they had done the fix but there was a problem with the transmission or gearbox. They needed it for another day.

4 weeks later and I still did not have my car back. They had put brand new software, put all the settings back to the factory ones, and still the transmission was stuck in 4th gear. They then tried to get me to take a replacement car for a while but I went to the garage to find my car and found it with it's transmission on the floor beside it, laid out like animal entrails. I turned to the manager and said I wasn't going to have that car back - it was clearly not going anywhere fast let alone back to me. It was not fit for purpose, i.e. driving.

There was long exchange of letters, some help from the Citizens Advice Bureau and a solicitor. In order to stop adverse publicity and have the law poking around, the garage agreed to replace the car with a new one and said I could have any BMW to the same value. I went for the 645i and applied the same discount which sent them into fits as they could sell those quickly. After some wrangles and legal threats, they agreed and I got my new car.

The key factors here were that the car was less than 6 months old and was effectively 'not fit for purpose' in that I couldn't drive it and they had changed the transmission once and could not get it to go. The law was in my favour within that 6 months period. The second thing was that it was the garage, not BMW who had to remedy it. In fact, BMW did not want to know and made it absolutely clear to me, in very legal terms, that they were not responsible for selling me a car not fit for purpose even though it bore their name and they manufactured it. It was entirely the dealer's responsibility.

Finally, it does not matter how big or expensive the item is, if it is not 'fit for purpose' you have six months to exercise your rights and demand your money back or a new product - your choice.

Buying on the Internet

I recently bought a new computer for my business on my credit card - it was with PC World Business. When it arrived, after a few goes, the power block failed. I phoned Sony as PC World said it was a warranty issue. Sony said they would send a new power block to see it it fixed the problem. Clearly this was my work PC, and so I exercised my right to reject it under the 7 days cooling off period you have for any goods or service bought on the internet.

In praise of PCWB, they were excellent and made no quibbles. They took the product back, collecting and delivering the new one of my choice at the same time at no extra cost and credited the full amount on my card within two weeks (with a bit of prompting).

PCWB are a good company - there was never any question of taking the product back for a full refund and the service was superb. I didn't replace it with another Sony, I bought Lenovo instead and it is excellent.

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