Q My mother is an elderly widow in poor health. As her designated carer, I recently got access to her bank accounts and when examining her accounts, I discovered she was still paying a TV subscription for a property which she moved out of five years ago. I have since learned that my mother called the TV provider in March 2017 to inform it that she would be moving property and would need to cancel her TV subscription. Throughout the course of this call, the TV provider actually sold her another TV subscription and advised my mother that she could take the service with her when she moved – and to tell the TV provider when she moved. My mother moved home in May 2017. However, she forgot to inform the TV provider of her move, didn't realise she was still being charged for the TV subscription – and then signed up to another TV subscription provider at her new home. I managed to get in touch with the TV provider and it has now stopped the service and charges on my mother’s account. However, the TV provider said my mother is not entitled to a refund of the last five years’ charges as she never advised it when she actually moved. Can this be right? It seems incredibly unfair that an elderly woman has been paying a TV subscription for the last five years for a service which was delivered to another property which she didn't own. Tommy, Dublin South
A When entering a service contract over the phone, the first thing to be aware of is that it is as valid and binding as a written contract. This means that once the contract is agreed, both the consumer and the service provider have a number of rights, as well as responsibilities.
For example, the consumer has a right to certain information about the contract, including details about the provider, the costs and the minimum length of the contract, as well as any terms and conditions that may apply.
In turn, the service provider must also give the consumer this information either in writing (such as in a letter or email) after the call, or retain proof that this information was given to the consumer over the phone (such as a recording of the phone call). It is important to note that the service provider is not obliged to send a written version of the contract to the consumer – as it is sufficient for them to keep a recording of the telephone conversation in case there is a dispute.
Based on the details provided, it would seem that the consumer agreed to a new subscription contract with the service provider over the phone, and was provided with some relevant information, such as the ability to transfer the service to her new home. The information also suggests that the consumer was made aware of the need to inform them of her new address, so that the subscription details could be updated.
From a consumer rights perspective, neither consumer protection law nor contract law specify a right to redress in such instances where a consumer omits to inform the service provider of updates to their personal information. This means that what the consumer is entitled to will depend on the terms and conditions of the service contract with the business.
If the consumer did not receive or retain a written copy of the contract, as a next step, we would suggest that she (or her son or next of kin) contacts the service provider to request a copy of the original terms and conditions. She or her next of kin should check for any references to circumstances in which she may be entitled to a refund.
Your mother or you may wish to request further details of the telephone conversation between her and the business representative to further support her claim for redress.
Given the circumstances of the case, the consumer may wish to formally ask the service provider to waive the past charges as a goodwill gesture – however the service provider is not obligated to do so.
Where the consumer is still unhappy after exploring all alternative options directly with the service provider, one option is to escalate the matter within the company by making a formal complaint in writing, either by letter or email.
You can get a number of sample complaint letters at the CCPC’s website (ccpc.ie).
If after making a complaint, you or your mother are not satisfied and you believe the actions of the company were not in line with the terms and conditions of the service, your mother may take legal action through the Small Claims procedure for claims of up to €2,000. For claims over €2,000, your mother may choose to seek independent legal advice to pursue the matter further.