Consumer rights and customer services: How Streetwise tackled cowboy builders, unfair parking fines, rogue traders and refund refusals in 2021
Every week stressed out readers contact Streetwise with requests for help in doing battle with institutions and companies that have sold them short or failed to right their wrongs.
And 2021 has been another year of fighting for readers’ rights - and what a year it turned out to be to win them justice.
Their complaints relentlessly continued rolling in about holiday refunds, insurance wrangles, rogue builders, dodgy traders, and scores of online scams, all requesting the column to step in to help them out.
But only a small number of cases investigated by Streetwise ends up published. Frequently a quick letter or call from the column is sufficient to get things moving.
One of our biggest and ongoing consumer stories of the year involved exasperated readers scrambling for refunds of pre-booked holiday payments and delayed cancellation insurance pay-outs which had been abruptly triggered because of the pandemic.
Streetwise working behind the scenes was able to sort out and obtain more than £36,000 in refunds from airlines, travel firms, and insurers.
Among them were Hilsea businessman Ian Pickup who spent months locked in battle with online travel agent lastminute.com when just a few days after booking a package break to New York he was called to say it had been cancelled and his £797 for the trip would be refunded. But rather than be returned immediately, he was repeatedly told the payment was being processed.
He ended up just one of thousands of angry and disgusted customers who’d been blanked when they’d asked for the return of what was owed to them.
When we got onto lastminute.com’s head office in Switzerland his six-month ordeal was promptly terminated, and he immediately received news of a refund within hours of our intervention.
Waterlooville couple John and Rita Porter’s experience was typical when their £1,400 Spanish break turned into a nightmare when their government imposed a lockdown.
After they finally made it home, they found themselves locked in a dispute with Staysure insurance trying to obtain a cancellation refund for a lost 12 days’ holiday due to the pandemic.
When they called in Streetwise, company underwriters immediately took steps to apologise for an unfortunate admin error and ensured a £806 refund soon ended up in Porter’s bank account.
John. 81, said the relief was palpable. ‘Streetwise achieved in 48 hours what had taken us more than a year of hassle and stress trying to get resolved.’
But holiday refund woes paled into insignificance after Streetwise continued to expose home improvement con artists ripping off readers with shoddy incomplete cowboy home and garden makeovers leaving them many thousands of pounds out of pocket.
The project was never completed leaving the Mondeys’ home with a leaking roof and in a dangerous shambles with a further eye-watering £30,000 bill to put the job right.
Other readers got in touch with similar stories about running into of opaque bureaucracy on trying to report the theft of their money.
Tatiana Dent wrote in complaining that Trading Standards and Action Fraud (the police) had become statutory toothless watchdogs. She highlighted her experience endlessly trying to get them to investigate and clamp down on home improvement fraudsters.
Along with 15 other victims of Elegant Construction Ltd, (not to be confused with companies of a similar name) she says they had been taken in by notorious rogue company boss and former banned company director John Lepp.
They reported him to the regulators for being left with no recourse after absconding with more than half a million pounds of their money in advance payments for cowboy abandoned home makeover scams they could do nothing about.
An angry Rowlands Castle complainant, Marie Reagan, was swindled out of more than £3,000 when her landscape gardening project turned into a disaster and the contractor walked off the job.
She said: ‘’The shocking truth is complain about the theft of your money and the chances are it’ll end up filed in the bin.’
We disclosed that trading standards offices had been cut to the bone across the country.
We asked cash strapped Portsmouth City and Hampshire County Councils how many residents over the last five years had been ripped-off with impunity after complaining about fraudulent and potentially deceptive trading practices.
Despite 6,510 complains, law-breaking traders had either not been formally investigated or let off lightly with formal warnings. Only 25 rogues had ended up in court.
Retired Drayton gardeners Philomena and Lee Bryant hit the headlines in July after being locked in a protracted spat with Robert Bosch about a faulty lawnmower.
They were astounded to discover that to replace a defective burnt-out motor which had packed up just two months out of guarantee would cost more than buying a new machine.
When the issued dragged on, they emailed Streetwise about the ludicrous situation. Within a matter of days our stepping in resulted in a commendable company U-turn when Bosch agreed to an upgraded brand spanking new replacement Rotak machine.
Phil said: ‘We were delighted with the outcome, all thanks to your involvement - you truly are a consumer champion.’
Fareham based plasterer Tony Lawson was just one of countless people who told us he’d fallen for an internet scam.
He went online to pay £59 for a month’s supply of wonder prostrate pills in the hope of managing his incontinence problem but ended up being fleeced out of over £280 when his credit card was also debited with a fraudulent £140 purchase.
‘When the pills didn’t arrive to my astonishment although the site had a London address, I traced the company to China,’ he said.
His bank TSB initially gave him a hard luck run-around but after we advised him how to make a section 75 Consumer Credit card claim his money was promptly refunded.
‘Streetwise gave me the opportunity and information to deal with the situation. I can’t thank you enough for all the sound help and expert advice you provided.’
Disabled Fareham pensioner David Shepherd can now feel a little more comfortable in his old age after Streetwise took up his two-year fight with Lidl to shop at his local store without repeatedly being clobbered with parking fines.
The 90-year-old blue badge holder’s disability frequently left him physically struggling to complete his shopping and load his car in the 90-minute window imposed by their car parking management operators, Parking Eye.
His wife Yvonne ended up traumatised after her regular appeals against the charges were routinely ignored, and store managers insisted it was nothing to do with them because Smart Parking were a separate company.
After we got involved, Lidl acted with commendable speed to assure customers their car parking management systems were in place to facilitate the availability of space for all their customers and did not discriminate against the elderly or disabled. Blue badge holders who were wrongly ticketed should inform Parking Eye directly to have the charge withdrawn.
David’s fines were cancelled, and steps had been taken to prevent any charges arising again.