Car buyer furious as Santander refuses to cover her for 'unroadworthy' 4x4 purchase

When Janice Browning discovered that car she’d bought from a local dealer was soon declared unroadworthy she believed she was covered by the safety net of the law to ensure her money was refunded.

Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 3:40 pm

But massive holes in consumer protection statutes and regulations have left her three years down the line still fighting for justice and battling to get her money back.

Her struggle began in September 2017 when the family decided they needed a rugged 4x4 truck to tow a horsebox.

Accompanied by her daughter Fiona, they went to look over a Nissan Navara advertised for £3,800.

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Janice Browning and her daughter Fiona Browning Picture: Chris Moorhouse

It looked in remarkably good nick for its age and mileage and came with a new 12-month MoT plus a six-month major mechanical warranty which she found reassuring.

Janice had no hesitation in putting down a £250 deposit using her Santander Credit card, and after transferring a further £3,550 from her card to her current account, paid off the outstanding balance.

But when her trusted independent mechanic gave the 4x4 the once-over two weeks later, she was devastated when he had no hesitation in declaring it unfit to be driven on public roads.

Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency inspectors were alerted who after re-examining the vehicle, promptly issued a MoT failure certificate.

Janice then discovered that the promised mechanical warranty hadn’t been set down in writing as to precisely what was covered, and hadn’t been given an advisory checklist confirming the mechanical condition of the truck prior to purchase.

The dismayed former medical secretary was determined to fall back on her statutory rights. Because she’d rejected the goods within 30 days from purchase she was entitled to a full no-quibble refund, so she wrote to the dealership to chase up payment.

The dealership refused to take the vehicle back, leaving a distressed Janice with no other option other than explore alternative means to recover her money.

Not knowing which way to turn, trading standards told her they were powerless to step in to enforce the civil law. She would have to sue the dealership in the small claims track of the county court to obtain the refund.

But trying to wrestle with the complexity of issuing court papers couldn’t have come at a worse time, as she was struggling to deal with the grief and anguish following the death of her father.

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Feeling she was on the road to nowhere, Janice turned to Streetwise in search of answers.

As she had put a down payment on the truck with a credit card, we had no hesitation in pointing her in the direction of one of the most important bits of UK consumer protection legislation - a Section 75 refund claim.

Cardholders are covered under Section 75 of the 1974 Consumer Credit act for faulty goods, no show delivery promises, misrepresentation, or if the seller goes bust.

The theory behind the cashback law is that card purchases over £100 and up to £30,000 are a three-way transaction: the seller, the buyer, and the bank. If the seller breaches the contract, then the bank is equally liable to the buyer for being let down or ripped-off.

Initially, Santander accepted Janice’s claim, but after an interrogation by their legal department it was turned down. She had fallen into a credit card trap.

In common with the banking sector who were never enamoured by the Section 75 protection, Santander turned her claim down on the basis that the purchase order had been made out in daughter Fiona’s name.

As it appeared to be a gift purchase and she’d received no benefit from the transaction, the three-way link had been broken conveniently letting the bank off the hook.

When she received the decision Janice put in a complaint to the regulator, the financial ombudsman, as it appeared manifestly unfair. The registration paperwork was not proof of ownership, but only who was responsible for taxing it.

The ombudsman kept her waiting almost a year for a decision, only to leave her feeling she’d been kicked in the teeth when they sided with the bank.

Despite having the strength of three major components of consumer law around her, Janice still hadn’t been helped. No enforcement body was willing to step in and ensure justice prevailed.

We got onto Santander to question and reconsider their decision. We were not disputing their right to find loopholes in the Section 75 legislation to avoid paying up, but simply given the circumstances pertaining to the situation it appeared at odds with their published promise to deliver for customers while building loyalty. An ethical dimension was transparently a segment of their business culture, and a gesture of goodwill would not be out of place.

But despite making her case to the bank’s CEO Nathan Bostock, it dug its heels in and it turned out to be another dead end.

A spokesperson said: ‘Unfortunately, as we have not received any information to show that the customer had use of the vehicle, or was on any of the documents, Section 75 will not be valid. Mrs Browning’s case has also now been reviewed by the Financial Ombudsman Service, which agreed with our position on this case.’

‘I felt extremely let down by the bank,’ said Janice. ‘They seemed far more interested in protecting their profits, rather than taking into account that I’d been an unfortunate victim.

I’d placed a lot of faith in the appeal to the financial ombudsman that they would uphold my appeal against the bank for refusing to refund my money. I was totally devastated, to learn that they’d sided with the bank, leaving people like me with nowhere to turn, other than go down the legal route, with once again no guarantee that it would be successful.’

Streetwise remains critical of ploys designed to erode consumer protection rights. But, of greater concern is the hollowing out of enforcement measures.

Currently preparing for her day in court, Janice echoed the sentiments of many readers who contact Streetwise complaining they feel let down by the law and regulators to protect them.

She added: ‘I feel there is too little action taken to help people right wrongs.’