When 84-year- old pensioner Myra Rayner was called out of the blue and told her washing machine guarantee had expired the concerned pensioner immediately agreed to a renewal.
But when her other half Bob recalled the five-year-old machine was never covered by any extended guarantee in the first place, her relief quickly turned to anger.
The Horndean couple turned up at the Gosport Streetwise consumer surgery to complain about how Myra was rung up by Repair and Assure Ltd, a company specialising in service plans for domestic appliances.
In the middle of preparing lunch, she says she was caught on the hop when she agreed to taking out a £195 three-year plan.
‘The thing is they don’t give you thinking time,’ she explained. ‘They rang at a busy time when you’re likely to be distracted.
‘We’re both 84 so we’re not as fast as we perhaps once were in thinking. You believe what you are being told.
‘The agent said I’d a washing machine that wasn’t covered and the insurance was due.
‘He was so nice and polite and it was very convincing. I didn’t give it a second thought when I was asked for our bank details and on impulse agreed to a continuing direct debit payment.
‘I just thought the renewal had come up and as I don’t remember some things I wasn’t worried. When I told my husband he said he was pretty sure we didn’t have any repair cover. If it wasn’t for him I’d probably just left it.
‘So I rang Zanussi to check and said I wanted to cancel it. We were shocked when they confirmed he was right. They said it wasn’t anything to do with them. We’d never had repair insurance on it in the first place.
‘I then rang Repair and Assure back to cancel because we didn’t need it, but they didn’t seem to take much notice.’
‘So we went to our bank and asked them to cancel the direct debit, but the following day we’d another call from the firm. They still carried on despite my husband taking the phone saying we didn’t want anything more to do with it.’
But if the couple thought that was the end of the matter, there was yet more annoying inconvenience.
Two days later they traipsed to the bank to see if the payment had been stopped. They learned it had already been credited to the Repair and Assure Ltd account. The furious couple asked Streetwise to investigate because they’d read about others on the internet who found themselves in the same boat.
Our company background checks disclosed that Repair and Assure Ltd were a relatively new kid on the domestic appliance aftercare block.
Manufacturers of domestic appliances invariably have their own extended guarantee service plans, and all the major retailers and energy suppliers offered consumers similar breakdown and repair cover.
The Repair and Assure plans were very competitively priced, the cover, whatever the age of the machine impressively comprehensive. The competence of their service engineers wasn’t an issue.
We put Myra’s complaint to company director Jason Jeffries who claimed that he didn’t believe it had any substance and we’d been misled. She’d simply got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
He claimed Myra hadn’t been the victim of an unsolicited call. Their database included details of expired manufacturers’ guarantees, and contact information was gathered from consumers as a result of completing a survey. It was therefore implicit they had given their permission to be contacted.
The firm adhered to consumer protection distance selling rules which gave people the right to cancel their plans within 14 days. As soon as Myra had told them she didn’t want her plan they took steps to cancel it and refund her.
But we weren’t at all convinced that was the whole story.
It wasn’t just that Myra and other complainants objected to the initial phone call.
The unqualified opening gambit that the guarantee for their appliances had expired was potentially a recipe for confusion.
It was likely many people already had service plans in place for some or all of their appliances.
The elderly in particular would require an elephantine feat of memory recall when put on the spot.
Small wonder they were annoyed and concluded they’d been hoodwinked into buying a service they or their elderly relatives didn’t need or want.
A spokesperson for the Data Commissioner’s Office confirmed that data collected from consumer surveys would need the individual’s specific consent to use the information for marketing purposes.
Myra had no recollection of being surveyed.
Streetwise had been fighting consumer rights for long enough to develop a distinct aversion to distance selling commercial practices that didn’t take into account a consumer’s right to sufficient advance information so that they could come to a fully informed buying decision.
We got back to Mr Jeffries with our concerns, but he appeared reluctant to accept the firm’s marketing approach had been misleading.
He didn’t believe Myra and a significant number of angry people with similar complaints had been influenced to sign up to spur of the moment unwanted service plans.
He added: ‘It would seem that the main focus of the complaint by Mrs Rayner is that she was contacted at all, for which we had prior consent and would have been authorised by her directly.
‘However, due to the comments made and from reviewing the situation, we have added Mrs Rayner’s telephone number to our internal ‘do not call’ lists and have contacted the associated data provider(s) to request that they do the same.
‘We hope this will finalise the situation for Mrs Rayner and prevent further inconvenience from contact received from other companies.’
After our involvement the couple confirmed their bank was finally successful in putting a block on the £195 plan payment and thanked Streetwise for getting the problem sorted.
Myra said: ‘It makes you so very angry and you start to think you’re stupid.
‘People need to be reminded that when they’re called up not to take what they’re told for granted.
‘If someone you don’t know asks you for your bank details that’s when the warning lights should start to flash.’