Package cancellation led to dispute over the bill

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Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.

Q I’ve run into a problem with Virgin Media which is driving me to the end of my tether. I cancelled my combined e-mail, phone, and home entertainment package with the company in good time to move to Sky, but it claims I owe for an outstanding 11 months’ service. Please can you help?

KJ (internet)

A When I spoke to Virgin Media for you, it was adamant that you hadn’t given notice of the cancellation in time, and therefore you owed it for the 11 months outstanding on your service agreement.

Not having any proof from you of the precise date or method of cancellation didn’t help, so I was left a little flat-footed. I initially had to accept what Virgin Media said. You’d left it too late to cancel, and it was entitled to payment up front for the remaining 11 months remaining on your contract.

Not being one to accept defeat easily, I urged you to provide me with some proof of exactly when you cancelled.

After a bit of an effort, you finally tracked down on your computer a copy of the letter you sent to the company, which confirmed your side of the story.

I forwarded it to Virgin’s contact centre staff, who took almost two weeks to respond. When they finally got back to me it was in effect to cast aspersions on the date of the letter, without actually claiming it was a fake.

To cut a long story short, I went to higher management, and they have agreed as a matter of goodwill to cancel the outstanding payment.

It’s essential to avoid this not unfamiliar type of dispute to send a letter of cancellation by recorded delivery so there can be no doubt when it was posted and received.

I’m glad to have been of service.

Q I left my car at a garage for an MOT. When I collected it I noticed a dent in a door panel. The garage claims it’s nothing to do with them, as they have a notice up in reception saying they’re not responsible for any loss or damage. Where do I stand please?

A Taking your car to a garage for repairs puts the responsibility on them to take reasonable care of it whilst it is in the workshop or anywhere on their premises.

The garage will have to compensate you for any damage unless they can prove they weren’t at fault.

Most garages will have someone from reception go around the car with you to agree any existing damage before they start the work. This avoids any accidental damage disputes when the owner collects the car.

As for the exclusion notice, it will only be upheld in law if the garage can prove it is fair and reasonable.

The scope of these notices are regulated by the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. It’s very unlikely a court would allow a garage to rely on terms that exempt it from all responsibility for loss and damage.

Any notice couched in these terms is likely to receive the legal equivalent of the red card.

SMALL PRINT

Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. Wherever possible he will try to provide practical assistance. Unfortunately he cannot guarantee to respond to every letter or e-mail. Richard Thomson welcomes letters from readers on consumer issues. Replies are intended to give general help or advice, not a complete statement of law.