Every Saturday, The Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
Get your pad party perfect
THE biggest celebration of the year is just a few days away – but is your home ready?
With a few easy tweaks, it can become the perfect party pad for just a few pounds.
So if you’re hosting this New Year’s Eve, ring the changes with these simple and cost-effective tips to see in the new decade?.?.?.
- Use your biggest room as the party area. Clear away breakables and push back furniture so guests can dance.
- If you have doors between interconnecting rooms, thrown them open – but make sure your music can be heard at the far end.
- Prep your kitchen. Hide appliances you won’t use, like the toaster, and set up a bar area for booze. Got a dining table? Open it up to lay out food and drinks.
- Consider your floor layout. Are there bottlenecks by doorways or narrow corridors? Remove any furniture or bulky coats or shoes that could stop guests circulating.
- Try coloured lightbulbs, to instantly change the mood. COST: 10-pack, £10.99 at amazon.co.uk
- Create an “outdoor room”. Whether you have a tiny balcony, a small patio or big back garden, leave access open to your outside space. It can be a haven in which to chill, or a place for the smokers. Dress it up with outdoor lights, cushions and some heavy, faux-fur throws. COST: Throw, £11.99, fairy lights, £7.99 Dunelm
- Prepare. Have carpet-cleaning foam and furniture polish ready for the morning after. COST: Vanish Gold, £4 at Tesco. Scratch cover, £2.75 at Wilko.
Deal of the week
MAKE a fresh start this New Year and kit out your kitchen with this stylish crockery from Sainbury’s Home Apartment Apparel.
The 12-piece set was £38, now £19.
Buy of the week
BILLINGHAM in County Durham is the UK property market’s northern powerhouse – having recorded the highest house-price growth of 2019.
The town saw prices rocket by 12.3 per cent, according to latest research by Halifax. Snap up this immaculate three-bed terrace in the town before prices rise any higher.
WANT to help your kids on to the property ladder?
A new online tool shows parents how much they need to save each month around the UK to give their child a deposit for a home on their 21st birthday.
Richard Petrie, of home decor company Thomas Sanderson, which created the calculator, said: “With many households having little to no savings, we thought it would be helpful to give an idea of how much parents would need to save to help their children afford a deposit for a home in different areas in the UK.”
Access the calculator at thomas-sanderson.co.uk/resources/parent-saving-calculator.
Q)I RECEIVED a letter on August 7, 2019, from a bailiff’s office saying I owed a sum of money relating to an unpaid fine. I had no prior correspondence about this.
After investigating, I learned I had been found guilty at a magistrates’ court of non- payment of a ticket on a Greater Anglia train. I applied to the court for a statutory declaration, as I had not made any train journeys on that line at any time.
I have been given a court date in January 2020 for the statutory declaration hearing and have no evidence to defend myself, as I have not been told the date of this offence.
During this time, the bailiffs have been to my home twice to demand payment. On the second visit, they brought a locksmith and called a removals van to collect goods. I was intimidated and pressured into paying the fine, of over £700, which wasn’t mine. I have suffered significant emotional and psychological distress over this. How can I defend myself in court? And what can I do?
A)This is one of the most appalling stories of unlawful and intimidating behaviour by a bailiff that I have ever heard. It is disgraceful.
Firstly, you appear not to have been notified that you had been summonsed to court. Whether you can provide your whereabouts on the day you are alleged to have fare dodged is not legally relevant at this stage.
You will be making a statutory declaration that the police failed to notify you within six months – as they must – that you had been charged with this offence. Once you make this declaration, this should put an end to the court proceedings – although the prosecution could theoretically choose to reopen the case, I doubt they will.
As soon as you notified the bailiff you had booked a court date to make a statutory declaration, they should have gone away. As soon as you have made your statutory declaration and the case is expunged from your record, write to the bailiff to demand your money back.
Q)BACK in 2017, I was trapped in an abusive relationship. I almost lost my life.
During this time, my boyfriend (now ex) used my details without my knowledge to take out a credit card in my name. He swiftly maxed it out. He made all the payments on the card and I had no access to it.
When I found out about the card, I couldn’t report it as fraud, for my own safety. But when I escaped the relationship, I reported it to the credit card company.
It investigated and said, because I was in a relationship with the person who took the card out in my name, I needed to pay it. The balance is around £855. I’m trying to buy a house and this is affecting my credit.
A)You would be in a much stronger legal position if you reported this to the police. You would get a crime reference number to forward to the credit card company’s fraud team, along with a written explanation of what happened.
CC into your email the head of the card’s customer services department. If you have been a victim of fraud, the card company are insured and should refund you. You can then inform the credit agencies, who are obliged to remove this debt from your file.
Cash ‘n’ nab
Q) MY partner’s mother passed away in late July without leaving a will.
She had lived with her partner for 30 years but they were not married. When he found out she was terminally ill, he blocked all communication between her and my partner. Within 48 hours of the death of my partner’s mother, he went to her bank and somehow removed all the money.
My partner contacted the bank’s HQ, as she is next of kin. The bank confirmed that the partner had no power of attorney over the account, which has since been frozen. We went to the police but they claim it would be too difficult to investigate.
A)By the sound of it, this man has committed criminal fraud.
But it could be very hard for police to prove, to criminal law standards, that your mother-in-law’s partner acted dishonestly (that he didn’t have consent to take the money). But it sounds to me that you would be able to meet the standard of proof required in a civil court.
If so, your wife may have legal remedies available to her. But she needs to act fast, as these cases have time limits. Contact a specialist lawyer. The first consultation may be free.
Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion
Q)I NOTICED a transaction on my bank account I had not made, for £271.99 taken through PayPal for House of Fraser.
I reported it to PayPal, which looked into my claim but turned it down. I appealed and was told there had been an inconsistency and a full refund would be paid. Then, later, I was told that a refund had been denied again.
Stephen Hobson, Barnsley
A)With my involvement, PayPal considered the case again and agreed to credit your account with all the money you had lost. A spokesperson said: “Most of our customers use PayPal every day without a hitch, but sometimes things can go wrong.”
“We have investigated Mr Hobson’s case and concluded that his PayPal account was subject to an unauthorised transaction. We have issued a full refund and apologise for any inconvenience.”
“We encourage all customers to remain vigilant at all times to online scams. If you notice a transaction that you didn’t authorise, let us know right away.”
Q)I BOUGHT a two-seater settee, as well as a three-seater, from Dunelm.?
It arrived four days later, but I immediately noticed the whole frame was bent, leaving a large gap between the cushions and faulty recliner. Dunelm said it would replace it straight away. That was back in September.
At first, it said the settee was out of stock. Now every time I email, I just get a generic response that my query will be answered in 72 hours, which it is not. I have 16 of these responses.
Lesley Morrison, Aberdeen
A)The lack of information was nearly as frustrating as the lack of settee. I finally got to the bottom of things and found out the furniture was still out of stock, and possibly discontinued, and Dunelm then offered you the choice of another sofa instead.
You took delivery the week before Christmas, along with a £100 gift card for all the problems you’d experienced. Dunelm said: “We are really sorry for the inconvenience that has been caused.”
Q)AT the start of the year I got a letter from booking.com, stating if I booked a hotel above £175 I would get a £45 reward.
I duly booked a hotel for one night at £176.40. Fifteen days after the stay, I rang booking.com who told me it would take 30 to 60 days to receive the reward.
Two months later, I rang again to be told it would be in my account in days. I have now been told I will have to wait.
Roy Aulton Scarborough
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A)Back in the summer, many Booking.com customers were not receiving the reward. A technical glitch was blamed. This “glitch” appears to have taken a while to sort out, as you were still facing problems when I contacted booking.com just a few weeks ago.
I got things moving for you and the cash landed in your account. A spokesperson for booking.com apologised for the delay, blaming internal issues with its website.
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