Tuesday 25 October 2016

Know your rights: Dermott Jewell, consumer expert

A cancelled direct debit, an unexpected increase in a builder's price and a 12.5% restaurant service charge. What are your rights? Our expert has the answers

Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30

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Q: I was sorting through my bank statements and I found that I was - and still am - being charged by direct debit for a service that I had cancelled months ago. I told the bank also that I had cancelled the contract. I got on to the company yesterday and they were very insistent that it is not their fault. They say there is no record of my cancelling, but I rang and cancelled. Now, they are demanding that I send proof of my cancellation before they will 'consider' refunding me! What's the best approach to take here?

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A: I could do with a little more information, but I think I know what has happened. You're not unique in this as a great number of consumers only close out on one side of the deal. To get it right it is generally best that both the bank and the provider be notified in writing to cease a direct debit payment. A chat with a callcentre agent does not necessarily close out on your need to write and tell 'the system' that you are officially cancelled.

Believe me, I understand how annoying and frustrating this is. So, do as they ask and write to the provider, give your full account detail, the date the service was cancelled and, if at all possible, the date and time that you made the call. Insist that they check their call recordings and request an immediate refund for the extra charges they have deducted. Enclose copies of any emails or letters that you sent or received that back up your case. I would also immediately get back to your bank on this as their record of your cancellation will really help to close this one out.


Q: We are in the third week of having a conservatory built and have run into a huge disagreement over the cost and price that was agreed. The difference involved is €4,000 and so is a big deal. At the heart of it is a change in the price of the windows which has skyrocketed. The builder is telling us the price given was an estimate but we have a quotation that shows the prices in detail for all of the work agreed and which, as far as I understood, is binding. Not only that, the first payment was made when the work started.

A: In general terms you are correct. An estimate is a rough guide to what a job might cost. A quotation is a written, detailed document which can be binding, as it forms the basis of a contract. The fact that money has been paid brings me very much to the view that, having taken the opportunity to plan and cost the work, any undercalculation would be a matter for the builders to absorb. In the same way, any and all savings would be to their benefit.

So, what is unclear and needs to be shown to you in detail, is the reason for the price increase and if, for example, it is coming after the windows were ordered. If the increase comes from the manufacturer after the order was placed then that is a matter for dispute between the builder and manufacturer - and your quoted price remains.

Alternatively, if an honest mistake was made by the builder in calculating then it will be entirely a matter for your consideration, or not, to making a goodwill gesture to contribute in some way toward the difference.


Q: Can I just get some advice please on the ever increasing number of restaurants adding a service charge to their bills? I am not mean but having to pay 12.5% in addition to an already over-priced bottle of wine is just taking things too far. We need to fight this one.

A: You will get no argument from me on the points you make! Any charge must be mentioned on the menu - before you order. In general, though, my experience is that, where a service charge is being added, it is accompanied by advice that this is discretionary. If it is not, then it should be! Tipping, and the amount of it, has long been acknowledged to be a personal consideration of the customer that (s)he bases on the quality of the food, service and overall experience. This is why we tip and is usually personally calculated excluding any add-on for wine.

I also agree that, as a nation, we are not mean and see merit in rewarding low-paid or great staff who go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable. I will take this up with the Restaurant Association of Ireland on your behalf to get their views.

Dermott Jewell is a consumer rights expert and the Policy and Council Adviser at the Consumers' Association of Ireland. If you have a consumer-related query you'd like Dermott to help you with, get in touch at djewell@independent.ie

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