Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions and offers you advice.
Q I've been a Tiscali customer for my phone and broadband for just over two years. I started to get trouble with my telephone and subsequently I lost both the phone and internet connection. I wrote to Talk Talk three times, but they've not bothered to reply. Although my contract with them runs until December 2011, can I now cancel on the grounds I'm not getting the service?
A In a word, yes. And you should also insist on recovering any charges Talk Talk have made while you've not been getting the service.
I suggest that as you have not got satisfaction you write to the company secretary at their registered address. Set out your complaint, times, dates, names of contacts so far, and responses or lack of them, and why you are still not satisfied.
Tell Talk Talk you will use the Ofcom, the communications regulator's complaints procedure if you don't get satisfaction – ask them to confirm which dispute resolution scheme they belong to (Otelo or CISAS).
Send your letter by recorded delivery. That procedure in itself shows you are serious and competent and may well get better attention – and is necessary before a formal complaint can be processed by either of the above bodies.
Before you can formally apply to Otelo or CISAS you must exhaust the company's customer complaints procedure and get a 'deadlock' letter. This is an acknowledgement from Talk Talk saying they cannot or will not do anything more to address the issue – or have pursued the issue diligently for eight weeks without resolution.
You must apply to Otelo or CISAS within nine months of the dispute arising and/or within six months of a deadlock letter.
Q My daughter's partner saw an advert on TV for a broadband and telephone package. He went online and accepted a deal advertised at 13.99 with free line rental for three months. My daughter has now discovered that after the three months the price will go up to 28 per month. The advert doesn't mention this and BT won't allow her to cancel it unless she pays them over 100. Can you help?
RC (North End – Portsmouth)
A You enclosed a copy of the BT ad and my attention was immediately drawn to the fine print at the bottom of the ad which was so small I had to take a magnifying glass to read it.
The ad states that after the first three months the standard BT line rental will kick in, pushing up the offer price to the 28. In that sense, it's perfectly legal, and your daughter and partner have been well and truly stuffed.
But the law doesn't like the use of what amounts to exclusion clauses in contracts. It has caused so much upset that none other than the famous Lord Denning, ruled that if any exclusion was written into a legally binding deal then it has to be as bold and as prominent as the original offer.
On that basis I suggest you get onto the regulator, Ofcom, and file a complaint online. I'd be grateful if you'd let me know how you get on.
Q I've been told by my supervisor that I'll have to put in to use my holiday entitlement to make up for the lost days I've not been able to get into work because of the snow and ice. I'm not happy with this at all. Is there anything I can do about it?
A Unless your employment contract says otherwise the short answer is no.
An employer only has to pay you for the hours you have worked. There is no compulsion to pay you anything more but you might like to discuss your particular difficulties with your employer and come to some other alternative arrangement. You might be able to make up the lost time by agreeing to unpaid overtime, for example.
Richard Thomson is a former trading standards officer with many years experience. If you have a question, e-mail him and 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.