Your rights with... Dermott Jewell
Excessive excise fees, whopping corkage charges and a late credit card payment. What are your rights? Our expert advises...
Question: I recently bought four CDs online through Amazon. The prices were great and, to save costs on postage, I availed of what I saw to be a very good idea of packaging them all together to cut down on postage charges, especially as they were coming from the USA. They were delivered last week but would not be handed over unless I paid additional charges of €18.62 - at the door, there and then! I argued this as best I could but got completely confused in customs, excise and VAT rates quoted, and after 20 minutes of this, gave up and just paid. What is going on and can I get this money back?
Answer: The key to your dilemma here is the source of the CDs and the way that they were bundled for delivery. When we buy goods from anywhere outside of the EU there can be a liability to additional 'Import Charges'. These are calculated as a percentage of the value and that value is reached by adding the price of the goods to the postage, packaging and insurance costs giving it a taxable value over the threshold of €22. In your case I am fairly certain that the grouping of all of the four items into one package gave rise to the Import Charge being calculated on the full value and then VAT was added on top of that giving rise to the doorstep demand for payment.
Question: We are in the process of budgeting for a family wedding reception, which includes bringing our own champagne and wine. The hotel is looking for a corkage charge of €15 per bottle, which I find to be outrageous. I can't find any information on this. Are there rules on this or limits to what can be charged?
Answer: There are neither rules nor limits on corkage fees and it is really a matter for negotiation. You are not unique in wanting to find some form of guideline here because, in truth, certain establishments have demanded breathtaking sums for corkage over the years and, in certain cases, more than the value of the bottle of wine itself. There does need to be consideration of the associated business costs for provision of glasses, staff engagement etc. and the fact that it is on all drink and alcohol related sales that venues will be relying for profit margins. That does not, however, require you to lose all sense of fair value for fair outlay. So, keep calm and try to negotiate what you see as reasonable in terms of the overall spend. One useful tip can be to check if the wines you are using come in larger sized bottles of litre or litre-and-a-half (many good wines do) and work from there. Alternatively, try to get some other charge waived to compensate.
Question: I follow the best advice and always pay my credit card in full at the end of the month. This I did as usual last month but underpaid the bill. I paid €889 of a bill for €898, a shortfall of just €9. I now have my latest statement and am absolutely stunned to see that I have been charged interest on the full €898 at 21.5%. Is the Financial Services Ombudsman the best one to lodge a complaint with on this?
Answer: First of all, believe it or not, if you look at the terms and conditions of your card you will see that the interest charge is correct. Unless you pay the bill, in full, to the last cent, then interest will be applied on the full amount borrowed until the full amount borrowed is cleared in total. Actually, sit down for a minute, because I can tell you that there will be interest applied on the €10 as well on your next bill! You are a good customer, who has made a mistake which a computer has not recognised. Call your credit card company and - calmly - explain to the customer service agent what has happened. A simple and immediate review of your record onscreen will show how you always pay on time and, trust me, they will arrange for a waiver and credit of the interest charge. And yes, it is a 'stunning' way to make money!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org