To start the year a couple of stories from last year... I hope they encourage you to seek the service you deserve during 2009. Both these stories are about extended warranties. They both have a happy outcome.
Just before Christmas a colleague was having considerable difficulty getting the manufacturer of her Worcester Bosch boiler to source replacement parts covered under warranty. Her family had no heating or hot water for several days. I suggested she email the CEO. She did, and the next day the company swung into action with full force - the regional manager ensured a rapid fix and she was still receiving calls at 11pm that night to check she was happy. It's disappointing when the only way to get service is to complain direct to the top, but it does seem to be increasingly true.
The second complaint took a bit more effort. A close friend was embarrassed to discover a company called Dom & Gen had been helping themselves to money out of her bank account. Upon looking more closely she discovered this had been happening periodically since 2001. Adding up all the payments it came to just shy of £700. She had no idea what the payments were for, but thought they might be life insurance premiums linked to an endowment policy cancelled earlier that year.
I tend to Google everything these days and came up with DomGem.com Britain's largest supplier of extended warranties. So what could she have taken out an extended warranty on? Phoning Domestic and General was of little help. She has moved 4 times in 8 years and there was no policy listed against her current address or any of the previous couple. The customer service agent was not only unhelpful, but obstructive and refused to escalate our call that Saturday afternoon, hiding behind the 'Data Protection Act'.
Of course I took notes of the time of the call, the operator's name, and the duty manager (who he wouldn't let me speak to). Then I phoned again and got someone more helpful.
Through careful questioning I discovered the payments were for an extended warranty on a Zanussi washer dryer purchased in June 2000. At first the payments were taken at twice yearly intervals, then quarterly and now monthly. They added up to £697.68. These sporadic payments were due to continue until July 2009. To request any refund I must phone Customer Accounts - who of course don't work weekends.
The appliance cost around £350 - half the cost of the warranty payments collected by Domestic and General. They claimed to have sent renewal letters - but to a property she had sold in December 2000. My friend gave the appliance away in 2001 when she moved to a new property which already had a washer dryer installed. So she was paying for a very expensive breakdown policy which she could never claim against.
My friend felt so stupid for not noticing the debits from her bank account, or failing to to act earlier that she also felt awkward about complaining. After asking a few questions I persuaded her otherwise. She had arranged with the Post Office to have her mail forwarded for 6 months after moving in December 2000 - which should have caught any renewal notices from Domestic and General. Also she is fastidious about filing paperwork, so after a going through a couple of boxes came up with the errant policy documents and a direct debit agreement. The policy appeared to automatically renew and the payments escalate as the appliance aged.
On the Monday morning I telephoned Domestic and General to make a formal complaint about the first customer service operator. I heard nothing back, so wrote to the Managing Director enclosing a letter of complaint detailing all my phone calls and copies of the paperwork, and mentioning the Financial Ombudsman Service. I noted that the policy had a continuous authority until it was either cancelled or expired in 2009, which I felt was unreasonable. The policy called for a new letter every time the payment schedule changed and this condition had not been fulfilled.
Less than 2 weeks later Domestic and General wrote to refund the entire £697.68 'as a gesture of goodwill' adding 'this is being made without any admission of liability'.
Domestic and General went on to write 'after looking at the paperwork you have provided we have also noted that when you accepted our offer of breakdown protection for this appliance you had also purchased protection with Domestic Insurance Services. This is a separate company to Domestic and General and so there was duplication of cover on your appliance for the initial period of protection. We will also be issuing a refund for this period.'
In fact the policy documents my friend had filed away were two separate policies. One sold by House of Fraser at point of purchase and then a second sold via post from Zanussi when returning the guarantee card. Even I missed the difference between a policy headed Domestic Insurance Services and another letter headed Domestic and General Group PLC.
The law doesn't allow for two insurance policies to be in force and so the first policy takes precedence. Domestic and General were ineligible to sell their policy and therefore all the subsequent automatic renewals were void too. My friend is £697.68 better off - although of course they shouldn't have taken the money from her in the first place, so it is rightfully retunred.
Keep your paperwork, keep notes and if you have a legitimate complaint about the service you receive don't hesitate to make it. As consumers we're well protected by legislation and regulation. Regulated companies will usually always honour their obligations - eventually.