Tuesday, 25 November 2014

MONEY BACK PLASTIC

If you pay for goods or services by credit or debit card or by a prepaid card you have clear rights to get your money back if anything goes wrong. So it is always safer to pay by plastic and you should always do so if you can. With a credit card you have two separate rights.

Legal right
If you pay by credit card for an item which costs more than £100 and up to £30,000 then the credit card provider has a joint legal liability with the retailer for the goods or services you buy. If the product or service goes wrong you can claim the full cost back from the credit card provider. 

For example, you pay for a holiday or flight and the firm goes bust. Or you buy clothes online and they do not arrive. Or you purchase an electronic device which stops working after a week. Or you pay for an online service which is a fraud. In all those cases you can use your legal right to get your money back from your credit card provider. 

The legal right covers purchases made anywhere in the world – whether you are buying in person abroad, or you pay online or by phone. Note the price limit applies to each item not the total amount of the bill. So two items of £80 each bought at the same time are not covered but one item of £160 is.

It is called your ‘section 75’ (or s.75) right because it comes from that section of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Of course, it is usually best to go first to the retailer or supplier to get your money back. But if they refuse or have disappeared or gone bust then the credit card provider must refund the whole cost.

Even if you just pay for part of the purchase on a credit card and the rest in some other way s.75 covers you for the whole purchase price if that falls within the limits. So if you buy a £750 sofa and pay a 10% deposit of £75 on a credit card and then you pay the balance in cash, you can claim a refund of the whole amount from your credit card provider if the sofa doesn’t arrive or is faulty.

There is no time limit on making a s.75 claim but it is always best to make a claim as soon as possible. If the purchase was more than six years ago you may find it more difficult as that is the normal limit on legal claims.

Section 75 rights apply to every credit card – Visa, MasterCard, or American Express (credit cards but not its charge cards).

Contract right
If you pay by debit card, credit card, or prepaid card you have a separate right to get your money back called chargeback. It is part of the contract between Visa, MasterCard, or American Express and the bank or firm that provides the card. Chargeback generally has no upper or lower limits, but MasterCard won’t consider claims for items that cost less than £10. Chargeback is most useful for plastic card purchases not covered by s.75. It does not apply to American Express charge cards but American Express credit cards are covered by it (and, of course, they are covered by s.75).

Chargeback covers the same problems as s.75 – goods that are defective, do not arrive, are fraudulent, or where the firm goes bust.

There are time limits for claiming which are quite complex. Normally you have to claim within 120 days – about four months – of realising something has gone wrong. But there is also an absolute time limit of 540 days which is about 18 months. So claim as soon as you know something has gone wrong.

The chargeback procedure involves your bank going to the bank of the supplier and trying to recover money from them. But even if the supplier’s bank refuses that does not affect your right to be repaid by your bank or card provider. Some guides suggest it depends on the firm you paid agreeing to refund the bank or card provider. That is not true. Although it is not a right under a legal provision, it is an absolute right guaranteed by Visa, MasterCard, or American Express and their contracts with the card providers.

Many banks and card providers misunderstand chargeback and frontline staff may well say that you cannot recover your money or they must wait for the provider to refund them. If the product has failed or not arrived they are wrong.

How to claim
Write to your bank or card provider setting out the details of what has happened and say you are claiming a full refund under s.75 of the Consumer Credit Act or under the chargeback procedure. In your initial letter always say that if you do not get a satisfactory response within eight weeks you will take the claim to the Financial Ombudsman Service. That tends to concentrate the mind. If the claim is refused or not resolved within eight weeks then do take it to the FinancialOmbudsman Service. Normally a claim to the Ombudsman costs the financial firm £550. It is free to you. The Ombudsman upholds most of the claims that reach it. You must go to the Ombudsman within six months after receiving a final refusal from the card provider.

Not covered
Section 75 and chargeback apply when the item you purchased is faulty, goes wrong, doesn’t turn up, or was fraudulent. They do not apply if you change your mind. However, if you buy online or over the phone you have an absolute right to reject the item as long as you tell the supplier within 14 days.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

HARDSHIP GRANTS AVAILABLE

More than 3000 charities distribute £288 million pounds in grants to individuals in financial hardship every year. And yet these grants are little known and hard to find.

Some give money nationally, others just to people in particular parts of the country. Some concentrate on those in a particular job - or retired from it - others to those with a particular medical need.

The charity Elizabeth Finn Care has held a database of them for some years and this week launched its improved Turn2us Grants Search to help people find the right charity to apply to.

For example a 45 year old woman with a Glasgow postcode can access 88 separate charities which will help with living costs, electricity or gas bills, career training, meeting an emergency, education costs and many other needs.

A 70 year old man living in Somerset can access grants from 73 different charities. And if he had worked in insurance another five pop up. Adding conditions such as occupation, health, religion, or family situation brings up more charities as many operate nationally to cover particular categories of people.

A whole range of disability and illnesses are catered for as well as twenty religions and family circumstances such as adopted, estranged, orphaned or pregnant.

Just about every occupation is covered in the national database, from accountants to writers, farmers to teachers, pawnbrokers to librarians. Among the 3000 charities there is a possibility for anyone in financial hardship to apply.

Turn2us says that people who have used the search have gained £2400 a year in income or more than £550 in one off grants. It also said that two out of three of those visiting Turn2us had not known about charitable help before and a third had been struggling financial for more than a year before finding help.

Apart from the grant search Turn2us also offers information about state benefits and a calculator to work out entitlement. And there are other resources to help people in need and those who work with them on the Turn2us website.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

WINTER BOUNTY

UPDATED 4 DECEMBER 2016

A payment of £200 appeared in my bank account last week. I'm a freelance journalist so in itself that is not so unusual. But this payment wasn't a fee for work. Nor was it a payment for something I'd sold. Nor a gift from a kind friend. Unless you count Secretary of State Damian Green MP as a friend. Because Damian's Department for Work and Pensions sent me £200 tax free this week just because I was born before 6 May 1953.

The Winter Fuel Payment was introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997. It was £20 then and was increased in successive years by Gordon and then Alistair Darling to reach £250 in winter 2008. The final £50 – technically an addition to the £200 payment – was taken away for winter 2011 by the Coalition Government. That was one of its first austerity measures and one of the very few that have affected pensioners. Since then the Winter Fuel Payment has been (ahem) frozen at £200 per household and £300 if one person in the home is at least 80 (technically born before 26 September 1936). Its purpose is to help old folk with the cost of keeping warm in the winter.

Although free money is always nice, I don't need it. I haven't been worried, as many people are, about the cost of heating my home when it gets cold. And because it is tax (and NI) free and I am lucky enough to earn enough to pay higher rate tax it is worth the same to me as earning £344.83. So thank you Gordon for inventing it and Damian for continuing to pay it.

I am not sending it back. Nor am I giving it to Age UK or any other charity which helps people over a certain age cope with their heating bills. I prefer to concentrate what charitable giving I do on homeless people, especially young ones. By gift-aiding this tax free payment it will be worth £250 when it reaches the charity after Chancellor Philip Hammond kindly adds £50. In fact I will give £267 so the charity will get £334 and when I settle my self-assessment tax bill and claim higher rate tax relief it will have cost me just 25p.

So thank you Damian and Philip for giving me a bit more money to help the growing number of people left destitute by your sanctions (taking their benefit away if they fail to jump through all the JobCentre hoops). Left unhoused by councils whose government grants you have cut. Left paying a growing amount of their council tax even though their income is at poverty levels. Left paying a bigger and bigger share of their rent however low their income. Freezing their benefits last April, next April all the way through to 2020. And left with nothing by employers who want them to turn up as and when there is a bit of minimum wage work to do and go away unpaid if there is none, because your Government - like the last - has not legislated to end zero hours contracts.

Happy Christmas

vs2.00
4 December 2016