EVERY Saturday, The Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Amanda Cable will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, Maddy Tooke rounds up the best coupons to save you money and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
AS we are only venturing outside for an hour at most, we’ve got plenty of time on our hands to reassess if our home is fit for purpose.
Your living space is crucial to your mental well- being – especially during this tough time.
Here top interior designer Chrysoula Sofitsi from sofitsidesign.com reveals how to make small changes to cope better.
- Use the time to declutter. Do a room a day and be ruthless. Bag up stuff ready to pass on to charity, or sell on eBay to make extra cash.
- Group mirrors all on one wall near a window. It bounces daylight into the room, boosting the feelgood factor, and makes the room seem bigger.
- Turn sofas, armchairs, desks and even beds outwards during the day, for a change of scenery. You can always turn them back again for a cosier feel in the evening.
- Invest in bright bedding to raise your spirits and lift the room. The yellow, reversible Norsjo printed duvet set at debenhams.com is just £14. And turn the mattress frequently.
- Indoor plants are on trend and can help purify the air. Try Patchplants.com, which has options from just £6, plus delivery fee.
- Grow your own herbs, veg and tomatoes. Even a windowsill will work as a mini-kitchen garden, and nurturing plants is good for the mind.
- If you are lucky enough to have a balcony or a garden, invest in an outdoor fire-pit or chiminea. Make a date at the end of the day to sit around it with your family, to talk to relieve stress. B&Q’s version costs £33 at diy.com.
Buy of the week
SWINDON is the swiftest place in the UK to sell a home, with pads on the market for just 46 days, according to Quick Move Now.
This two-bed coach house-style home won’t be hanging around for long either. It’s on at £215,000 at zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/details/51134824
Top up energy through the app
ENERGY experts are warning the 4.3 million UK households who pre-pay for their energy are at risk during the coronavirus pandemic, by leaving their homes to top up.
Bill Bullen, Utilita CEO, is urging householders to top up by app or phone instead.
He said: “This is the biggest threat for generations. People spread viruses, so we must all stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary to go out.
All pre-pay energy customers with a smart meter, can top up via phone, website – or dedicated app if their energy provider has one.
“For elderly or vulnerable customers who may have difficulties, we would urge trusted friends or neighbours to download the app, to top up for them.”
Deal of the week
WITH households saving food during the coronavirus crisis, Tupperware is having a moment. This set of four leftover bowls was £20.25, and is now £14.90, at tupperwarequeen.co.uk.
Q) WE moved our caravan to a new site in November 2019.
The agreement was that we pay £2,000 cash for 12 months – which we paid straight away – incorporating full payment for water and electricity.
We arrived back on March 12 and the site owner told us that from this date we would have to pay for our electricity, at 20p per kilowatt.
I have checked average prices in England, which vary from 11 to 16p per kilowatt.
The owner has not put in an electric meter so we can’t monitor the amount we use.
He said he will monitor our electric from his home on the site. He told us it was either 20p per kilowatt or an extra £500 a year.
We only normally visit at weekends, and obviously not even that now.
Can he go back on the agreement (it was verbal)?
And can he charge more for the electricity then electric companies do? ALEX, Skegness
A) You had a clear verbal agreement with the caravan park owner that £2,000 would include a year’s worth of electricity (up to the end of November 2020) – and he is bound to honour this.
The problem is that you did not ask for a written contract, which was a serious mistake.
In the event that the owner denies saying that the £2,000 would cover the electricity (he could claim it was just for ground rent), you are going to have a tough time proving it.
The owner is not legally allowed to profit from the re-selling of electricity. Ofgem regulations permit him only to sell you electricity at the same price he paid for it.
There are two things that you should do here.
Firstly, email the campsite owner reminding him of your initial agreement (I suspect that there are others whom have been given the same deal, too, who you may want to get in touch with to help prove this).
Secondly, you must remind the owner that as soon as the electricity charges commence (you say from March 2020), he will need to prove that he is charging you the same price for it as he paid or he is breaking law.
Q) I WORK as a barman on a zero-hours contract.
A table at work fell on me and broke my arm. I was unable to work for five weeks and had to delay starting a new job for three weeks.
I have been paid for “shifts I would have worked” but have missed out on three weeks of pay from my new job.
Can I sue my ex-employer? I am worried they may deny the accident and have hidden the evidence.
A) I would urge you to write to this employer, reminding them that they are liable for your injury and consequent loss.
Make clear that you require them to preserve the accident book and any CCTV of the incident.
Get in touch with the Free Representation Unit, too.
Q) MY partner has fought for two years to see his children and won.
He was awarded a court order and has had regular contact with his two boys.
The mother has now stated that he is not allowed to see his children for three months as she is self-isolating with them due to coronavirus.
My partner is beside himself. Is he able to enforce the court order even in these troubled times, and how should he proceed?
A) In ordinary times this situation would be entirely straightforward.
Your partner’s ex is in breach of a court order which could be resolved pretty easily by taking her to the family court.
But these are not ordinary times.
It seems to me that your partner’s ex is not allowed to keep the children away from their dad unless they are being isolated in their house because they are showing symptoms or someone else in their mum’s house is.
The Government’s regulation on this issue is clear.
It says that “where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between the parent’s homes”.
As there is no law preventing the children from being moved between homes, your partner’s ex is still legally bound by the court’s order.
The difficulty is finding a lawyer or a court date to enforce this before we come out of quarantine.
Your partner’s best bet is to attempt to get his ex to see reason and remind her that she is in breach of the court’s order.
A kind but firm email may be the best option he has for now, which is deeply unsatisfactory.
- Judge Rinder regrets he cannot answer questions personally. Answers intended as general guidance. They do not constitute legal advice and are not a substitute for obtaining independent legal advice.
- Got a question for Judge Rinder? Email [email protected]
Mel Hunter, Reader's champion
Q) BACK in December our Jeep would not start and the garage told me the fault would be investigated and someone would call me.
I heard nothing. When I called five days later they said they had ordered a new battery to arrive the next day.
That battery was the wrong one, so I prepared to go without my car until the new year.
In fact, it was three weeks later that I was told there was an issue getting the battery – from Italy.
Despite many calls, this has continued, with no access to my car that I am taxing and paying insurance on. Robert Parkin, Derby
A) You were without your car, which simply needed a new battery, for nearly two months before you contacted me.
I asked Jeep what on earth was going on and, months after your car had gone into the garage, the battery miraculously appeared within a couple of days from the factory in Turin, along with an extended warranty.
Jeep UK was not able to provide a clear explanation of what had happened here. I am only glad I got it sorted for you before the coronavirus crisis hit full-force in Italy, as otherwise you may still be waiting.
Jeep told me: “On this occasion we are very sorry to say that we did not meet our own expected standards.
"The customer has received his car back, along with a goodwill gesture which we hope will go some way to repairing the relationship.”
You did receive an extended warranty but I am still chasing the exact details of the “goodwill” for you.
Q) I HAVE insured my Basset hound Darcy with Direct Line Pet Insurance since he was a puppy and have never had a problem until now.
Darcy is on medication for epilepsy and under the policy each condition is covered for one year.
Just before his year for epilepsy ended, I made a claim for £81 for medication which I believed would be covered, as I was still within the year.
Today, I received an email saying I would be paid £8.45 and the rest was “deducted”.
I was told I was not being paid because I would be using the medication out of the time period covered.
JULIA McBRIDE Northampton
A) Direct Line’s Essential policy, which you had, provides cover up to £4,000 for up to 12 months.
The insurer agreed to cover £8.16 of your £81.61 claim as this fell in the current policy year.
Initially, I was told that the rest of the money was withheld for any dose your pet would take after the renewal date.
But then the insurer reconsidered and agreed to pay it all.
A Direct Line spokesman said: “We advise all customers to read the terms and conditions of their policy in full, to understand what they’re covered for.
“If in doubt, please contact us. We have reviewed Ms McBride’s claim and, as a gesture of goodwill, have paid out in full.”
Pet insurance, indeed any insurance, can be a minefield of small-print terms and conditions, and each policy will vary.
I’d urge all readers to know their policy’s limitations from the start so they are not caught out when they need it most.
- Do you have a consumer issue? Email [email protected]
Maddy Tooke, Coupon Queen
Top 10 deals
- Get £20 off your first two Feast grocery boxes, and free delivery too. Order through quidco.com and earn up to £8 cash back on top. See bit.ly/20feastbox.
- NHS staff are among those who can get car rental from Hertz for £1 a day to make getting to and from work easier and safer. Book before March 30 for rentals up to April 30. Detail at hertz.co.uk.
- Learn a language for less with 20 per cent off first orders from Groupon. See bit.ly/groupon20new.
- Get a £70 gift card for switching supplier to EDF Energy via vouchercloud.com, by March 31. See bit.ly/edfvouchercloud.
- Take out a new EE or a Vodafone monthly contract with mobiles.co.uk through vouchercodes.co.uk and get a £65 Currys PC World voucher. Use code VC10OFF to get £10 off any upfront handset cost too. Offer ends March 3
- Join the Pets At Home VIP club and get ten per cent off. Plus your pet gets a birthday present every year. See bit.ly/petsathome10.
- Get two- for-one on orders at The Entertainer. Delivery free on orders over £40. See bit.ly/241entertainer.
- Get £2 off at Farm Foods when you spend £25, £5 off when you spend £50, and £10 off when you spend £100 when you sign up to the Farm Food email newsletter. Coupons expire on April 7. See bit.ly/farmfoods10.
- Enjoy £10 off Thorntons orders over £60 until tomorrow (bit.ly/thorntonseaster).
- Treat your garden with £10 off orders over £40 at Thompson and Morgan. See bit.ly/10thompsonmorgan.
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