How consumer champion Streetwise has clawed back £250,000 for our readers in six years

From faulty freezers to sky high power bills, over the past six years Streetwise has clawed back more than £250,000 fighting for readers’ rights.

By Richard Thomson
Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 4:34 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 4:34 pm

The precise milestone of £251,462, includes refunds for faulty goods, sums retrieved from rogue traders, compensation for poor service, and money written off by companies.

Passing the quarter million has been an eventful journey.

Every week, the column’s email inbox has been hit with requests for help by stressed out readers, imploring us to fight their corner and take on traders, companies, and institutions who’d let them down.

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Barry Jackson, from Portchester, was furious with tour operator Thomson Holidays in 2015 for ignoring his holiday nightmare complaint for almost six months. Picture: Sarah Standing (150895-9242)

There have been a scathing flow of complaints about abysmal customer service, bad workmanship, faulty appliances, sagging sofas, insurance nightmares, disputed bills, and holidays from hell.

And we’ve exposed rogues, cheats and scammers along the way, bringing unlawful activity to the attention of trading standards and the police.

Streetwise has spent many hours listening to readers’ horror stories at the weekly consumer surgery in the Gosport Discovery Centre, and on the phone arguing with incompetent customer care departments for dishing out raw deals and failing to comply with consumer rights and protection measures.

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Chris Gates was furious with Currys in 2015 over his Samsung washing machine. Picture by: Malcolm Wells (150616-3901)

Equally, Streetwise is committed to the editors’ code of fairness, accountability and accuracy, and does not shy away from spotlighting companies who admit mistakes and learn from them.

We were delighted to recover thousands of pounds for readers who’d lost out to fraudsters.

We’ve also answered many hundreds of reader queries, letters, and behind the scenes advised people who felt they had nowhere else to turn for help and advice.

Blundering billing wrangles with the big six energy providers featured high on the list of Streetwise success stories.

In 2014 Paul Muscat got a refund of charges from Talk Talk, with the help of Streetwise. Picture: Allan Hutchings (142907-056)

Complaints about people’s sleepless nights worrying about energy bills were brought to an abrupt end after we intervened and had inaccurate demands running into many thousands of pounds written off.

Home improvements and bad workmanship were way up on our league table of consumer concerns.

Readers routinely told us they were knocked up and cold called with offers to revamp their driveway, kitchen or bathroom.

Others placed their trust with high profile national companies but still got let down, their homes left in a shambles for months on end trying to get defects put right.

Poor quality workmanship was exposed, traders advised about their legal responsibilities to their customers, and compensation claimed to put defects right.

Used cars bought from dodgy dealers or online fraudsters regularly crossed our radar.

We advised complainants when the odds were stacked against them, how to prepare actions in the County Court to recover their money when they’d been taken for a ride.

Time and again we had to point out to cash buyers with money burning a hole in their pockets they’d unwittingly been their own worst enemies.

Instead of insisting on a written independent report on the condition of the vehicle before handing over their hard-earned cash, inevitably they wound up shelling out unexpected mind-blowing sums to repair concealed mechanical or chassis defects.

Streetwise was also instrumental in obtaining refunds for motorists who imprudently parted with significant deposits when buying cars over the internet, only to discover they’d been scammed and the cars didn’t exist.

We also rode to the rescue of many readers left in a spin with rogue ‘Friday’ model washing machines and driers that kept breaking down, either within a few months of purchase, or shortly after the guarantee ran out.

We went to war with high street big names who relentlessly inconvenienced buyers waiting in for service calls to domestic appliances, or fobbed off with excuses that once the guarantee ran out they had no right to a refund, repair or exchange.

One of our most significant success stories was obtaining refunds of more than £60k for readers who’d fallen for investment scams in the crypto currency Bitcoin. The internet was awash with fake ads by unregulated firms, promising sky high returns for a modest investment. Even seasoned investors had been caught out by them.

Initial deposits were either returned, or banks persuaded to compensate victims who found their money had been pocketed by untraceable foreign investment gangsters.

The government’s failed ‘green deal’ scheme came in for a lot of stick from homeowners, when we cast the spotlight over inappropriate cavity wall insulation by unprofessional fly-by- night rogue companies.

We obtained redecorating compensation for people whose homes had been blighted by damp and unsightly black mould, and insisted the insulation was removed free of charge.

People who’d forked out money on expensive lounge furniture, and soon discovered they weren’t sitting pretty made it clear they weren’t prepared to take their grievances lying down.

Poorly constructed sagging sofas and mechanical defects with high rise chairs were frequently at the centre of disputes, with a number of well-known high street stores refusing to concede problems until we stepped in to obtain replacements or refunds.

But nothing enraged readers more than holidays from hell, with hundreds of pounds in compensation returned to bitterly disappointed and stressed-out holidaymakers whose family fortnight in the sun turned out to be a monumental disaster.

Tour operators who resisted recompense for sub-standard accommodation, cancelled flights, or last minute hotel downgrades quickly found their decisions challenged and regularly persuaded to cough up.

But in reminiscing about the column’s successes not everything was plain sailing.

Insurance companies were in the forefront of extended battles when they dug deep into their policy small print and refused to entertain legitimate claims.

Home insurance came in for particular criticism, when insurers turned down claims for damage caused by leaking water tanks or roof repairs, unexpectedly claiming they were down to lack of routine maintenance.

Pet and holiday insurance was singled out by a number of readers, who reacted with understandable fury when insurers failed to cover their vet bills by invoking their pet’s pre-medical conditions.

In a disturbing development, a number of insurers would only agree settle disputed claims when we intervened on condition complainants agreed to sign up to non-disclosure agreements, preventing their dirty linen from being washed in public.

There were also a significant number of occasions where we had to remind readers that the firm or individual they’d complained about also had rights. They had unreasonable expectations of the redress they were demanding, particularly in relation to compensation.

However, not every complaint that dropped into our inbox about corporate indifference to consumer complaints was doom and gloom. On the bright side, Streetwise gave due credit to companies that openly admitted their mistakes and were keen to learn from them.

We paid tribute to household names John Lewis, Saga, Currys PC World, Carphone Warehouse, for thoroughly investigating reader issues, getting to the bottom of them and promptly issuing refunds or generous ex gratia payments.

Our gratitude also goes out to the readers who thanked us by making donations to charity - the Gosport Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Wessex Medical Trust.

Although Streetwise consistently wins readers’ battles against incompetent, unfair, and sometimes downright criminal trading practices, we accept we’ve not won the war. We are not complacent.

As we embark on another year of fighting for readers’ rights, we’ll continue to champion their cause and fight their corner.