Case Studies

£5,490 refunded for a faulty SCS sofa

Just because you bought an item nearly a year ago, don’t assume it’s too late to make a claim if something goes wrong with it.

Advice from Which? Legal helped Sam Leitch recover the full cost of a sofa – 11 months after she bought it.

Sam bought a leather corner sofa and chair from SCS Edinburgh for £5,490 in July 2009. Less than a year later, she noticed that the sofa’s stitching had started to unravel and reported the fault to SCS.

Sam was shocked when a technician sent by the company to inspect the sofa, simply glued it back together.

Seven days later, the stitching started coming apart again. Sam contacted her local trading standards office, which contacted SCS on her behalf. SCS said that it required photographs of the fault, and wanted to send round another technician – who turned out to be the same person who inspected the sofa previously.

SCS then, via the manufacturers, offered to replace the sofa covers. Sam reluctantly accepted, providing that the colour of the covers would exactly match the rest of the suite. But, as the samples sent didn’t match the suite, a replacement leather panel wasn’t fitted.

Which? Legal advice

Sam contacted our lawyers for legal advice. We told her that her claim was against SCS for selling a suite that wasn’t of satisfactory quality as it hadn’t proved durable. We explained that, under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, if goods aren’t of satisfactory quality, a retailer can offer to carry out a repair, but it must be done in a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience. SCS hadn’t done this, so she could rescind her contract with the store and ask for a partial refund.

What Sam did next

Sam went back to the local trading standards office, asking it to tell SCS that she wanted it to collect the suite and give her a refund. Instead, SCS offered her a replacement but she replied it had had ample time to repair or replace the suite.

The outcome

In October 2011, the company agreed to collect the suite and refund Sam all of her money (£5,490).

Faulty mattress and customer asked to pay for usage

When you buy a new mattress, you’d expect it to last a number of years. So when the springs broke on Robert Raynham’s mattress after less than two years, he was understandably annoyed.

Robert bought the £380 Dorlux mattress from Essex Beds in Chelmsford in January 2009. By December 2010 the springs had broken. Robert wrote to Essex Beds about the problem and its representative agreed that the mattress has suffered a manufacturing defect. Essex Beds said that Dorlux was happy to provide a replacement but, as the fault was within a five-year ‘chargeable warranty’, Robert would have to pay a £139 usage charge.

Which? Legal advice

Robert contacted our lawyers for advice in handling the situation. On our recommendation, he rejected Essex Beds’s offer on the grounds that the mattress wasn’t of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose, and asked for it to be replaced free of charge.

When he failed to receive a response, Robert sent Essex Beds a pre-action letter stating that if it didn’t settle his claim, he’d issue proceedings 
in the small claims court.

Essex Beds responded by saying that the mattress was only covered against fault within the one-year 
guarantee. After that, any repair or replacement was at the discretion of the 
manufacturer. It said the offer to replace the mattress stood but the charge would rise if Robert didn’t accept within six months. It added that if Robert issued court proceedings, the firm would counter claim its legal costs.

Following further advice from our lawyers, Robert informed Essex Beds that he was claiming not under a warranty, but under the Sale of Goods Act 1979. Our lawyers advised that Essex Beds were wrong to charge a usage fee so Robert again wrote to Essex Beds, setting out the facts and legal basis of his claim, and spoke to Dorlux.


Dorlex replaced the mattress for free, through Essex Beds, in July 2011.

Faulty Freezer after just 28 days

When Mark Dawson’s fridge-freezer stopped working after 28 years, he knew 
he’d be unlikely to find one that could last as long.

But he hadn’t expected the new fridge-freezer he bought to fail after just 24 hours – nor for the replacement model provided by the store to fail just as quickly.

When Mark visited his local Currys electrical store in November 2010 to buy a fridge-freezer, he told the salesperson that it was for use in his garage. The salesperson recommended a Frigidaire model, costing £209.94, which Mark bought.

The fridge-freezer was delivered and placed by the delivery team in Mark’s garage. It was fine for 24 hours, but then stopped working.

What Mark did

When Mark reported the problem to the store manager, Currys agreed to replace the fridge-freezer. Again Mark explained that the fridge-freezer was for use in his garage. So when the replacement failed in the same manner as the previous one, Mark did some research and discovered that the fridge-freezer he bought was not designed to work in a cold environment.

When Mark asked the store manager what Currys intended to do about this problem, he was told to write to the customer relations team of DSG Retail Limited – the company that operates the Currys shops.

Which? Legal advice

Mark then contacted Which? Legal. Our lawyers advised Mark that it was likely that DSG 
was in breach of contract as the fridge-freezer he bought was unsuitable for the specific location he had told its salesperson he wanted it for. We recommended that he ask DSG for a refund, but DSG refused. 

What happened next

We advised Mark on how to issue legal proceedings against DSG for breach of contract and misrepresentation. In response DSG offered to repair the fridge-freezer, pay his court costs and a further £20 in compensation. Mark rejected this offer, explaining that the fridge-freezer was never going to work in the winter in his garage and was, therefore, unfit for the purpose he had bought it for.

He told Currys that he felt its salesperson had mis-sold the fridge-freezer and what he wanted was a refund so that he could buy a fridge-freezer that would work properly in his garage.


DSG apologised to Mark for the way it had treated him and refunded the full cost of the fridge-freezer.

Catherine Ward Precious Ring

Can you get your money back if you buy goods abroad and something goes wrong?

Which? Legal member Catherine Ward bought an 18-carat gold emerald ring while on holiday in Colombia, only to find when she got home it had a fault that made it unwearable.

Catherine bought the ring as part of a set costing £1,935, while on a cruise through South America. As she purchased it abroad it seemed it might be difficult to get her money back. Thankfully, our lawyers helped her recover the full cost. The problem was discovered when Catherine got home to England and took the ring to a jeweller to have the emeralds authenticated.

The jeweller found a fault that had caused a chip in one of the emeralds. This meant Catherine couldn’t wear the ring for fear of causing further damage or losing one of the stones.

The jeweller estimated it would cost £1,200 to have the ring remade to prevent the stones from damaging each other.

It would have been difficult to seek a remedy from the seller in Colombia so, as Catherine had bought the ring using a credit card, she asked its issuer, the Co-operative Bank, for help. But Catherine says it refused and suggested she pay for the repairs herself. At this point she came to Which? Legal for help.

Our advice

Our lawyers confirmed that even though Catherine had bought the ring in Colombia she could still go to the Co-operative Bank with the claim. We suggested she write to the bank again, this time stating her legal position and requesting it offer remedy as it had to.  The Co-operative Bank agreed to pay the repair cost and Catherine got back the remade ring at the end of 2014, a year after her trip to Colombia.

The law

Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 makes the credit card issuer liable, along with the seller, if there has been a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This applies to goods worth more than £100 and up to £30,000, where you paid at least part of the price on a credit card. The card issuer would be liable to offer a solution to you in such a situation and you could seek either a refund, or a repair or replacement of the item. For any purchases made abroad, your rights would be subject to local law, which would differ from UK laws. But the card issuer would probably consider whether the circumstances amounted to a breach of contract or misrepresentation under UK law.

Vicky Drazhners Boots

Which? Legal member has to remind Boots of her rights after it denies her a refund or replacement

When Which? Legal member Vicky Drazhner’s reading glasses from Boots Opticians broke after just four months it refused to repair or replace them.

It said that as she hadn’t purchased a warranty, she’d have to buy a new pair, although she’d be entitled to a discount.

Vicky wasn’t happy at the idea of paying for new glasses so quickly, but she had to show the opticians the Sale of Goods Act, which set out her rights, before Boots agreed to send the glasses to the manufacturer to be assessed.

Vicky had been without her glasses for 18 days when Boots contacted her to say the manufacturer had returned them in the same condition. It had been unable to provide an assessment report to determine whether the glasses were defective or Vicky had damaged them.

She was again told that Boots wouldn’t repair or replace the glasses as it did not think there was a manufacturing fault. She complained to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), a free mediation service that tries to resolve disputes between opticians and consumers. But it couldn’t provide a resolution and the case was closed.

Our advice

Vicky contacted Which? Legal. We confirmed her rights under the Sale of Goods Act and advised that as Boots had already had the chance to inspect the glasses and failed to prove its case, she could get an impartial expert to inspect them to see if she could claim a manufacturing fault. Rather than do that straight away, because she didn’t want to be without her glasses, Vicky wrote to Boots Opticians again saying she didn’t agree with its analysis and if she didn’t receive a satisfactory resolution she’d consider legal action. Boots offered a full refund of £229, which she accepted.

What the law says

The Sale of Goods Act says goods should be of satisfactory quality. This includes durability. In the six months after purchase, the onus is on the supplier to prove that the defect wasn’t there when you bought the item. You’re entitled to a repair or replacement – the retailer is likely to choose the most cost-effective option. If a repair isn’t possible or would be disproportionate in price, you may claim a refund, reduced to take into account the use you’ve had. If, like Vicky, you face a situation in which a firm won’t repair or replace, you can then go to the relevant complaints service. In this case, the OCCS deals only with the financial/ contractual part of the supply of glasses.

When a free trial turned into a year's contract

Which Legal stepped in to help when a service offering to help a man set up his own website proved more costly than expected.

Jamie Whitehorn had a call from 1and1 Internet Limited, a web hosting company, in March 2012. The company, trading as, offered him a free trial of MyWebsite: calling it ‘everything you need to quickly create a personalised website’.

Jamie was told that he’d get an immediate email that would include details on how to cancel, followed by a second email just before the trial ended reminding him to cancel if he didn’t want to continue with the service that cost £20 a month. 

He heard nothing further from 1and1 until April 2012, when he got a bill for £71.96, which had been debited from his credit card. When Jamie emailed 1and1, it said a ‘valid sale’ had occurred, his free trial had ended and he was committed to a contract for a year. He then contacted our lawyers for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We advised that, as the contract was concluded over the phone, 1and1 had to provide Jamie with specific information – including his cancellation rights and how he could contact the company to exercise such rights. Its failure to do so was likely to mean he was entitled to cancel the contract and receive a refund of any money he’d paid.


Jamie said the advice he received from Which? Legal gave him the confidence to pursue 1and1 and insist it cancelled the contract without penalty to him. In May 2012, 1and1 agreed to cancel the contract and refund Jamie’s money.

Legal points

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, if you buy goods or services online, you have the right to certain information including a seven working day cooling-off period (or notice that no such cooling-off right applies).

If you’re not told about the cooling-off period by letter or email, your right to cancel is extended to a maximum of three months and seven working days from the day after the day the contract is concluded. 

Laptop case taken to court

In October 2006, Ian Rowland paid £3,080 for a high-spec laptop from online retailer Alienware. He chose the laptop because it could run two powerful graphics cards at the same time.

Within three months, one of the graphics cards failed but Alienware agreed to replace it for free under the one-year warranty. 

But Ian faced further problems with the laptop in July 2009 when it failed to start up. He asked a computer repairer to examine it and got a report saying that the replacement graphics card and the other original graphics card had failed, and both needed replacing at a cost of £957.

What Ian did next

Ian contacted Alienware. It said replacement graphics cards were no longer available, so it could do nothing. Later, it said it could repair the laptop, but Ian would have to pay the cost. Ian argued that the failed graphics cards should have lasted longer than three years, but his letters to Alienware went unanswered. Ian then issued legal proceedings in November 2010 against Alienware’s parent company, Dell Computers. He obtained a judgment for £1,075 against Dell as it failed to file any defence to his claim. 

Dell instructed a solicitor who had Ian’s judgment set aside on the grounds it had never received his claim form and that the laptop’s warranty expired in August 2007. It suggested Ian should have bought an extended warranty for up to four years if he wanted protection beyond the first year. Dell’s solicitor offered Ian £200 in full and final settlement of his claim. Ian contacted us. 

Which? Legal advice

We advised him that it was likely that Dell had breached the contract as it was reasonable to expect that an expensive computer should last longer than three years before the graphics cards failed. It was also likely that he could claim the cost of replacing the cards if Dell wouldn’t replace them for free.

Ian offered to settle his claim for £500, the cost of one of the failed graphics cards, but Dell refused. We guided Ian through the process of preparing the documentation for court.


At the trial in June 2011, Ian was awarded the cost of replacing the defective cards and court costs – £1,192.

Legal points

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 sets out the obligations of businesses that sell goods to consumers. The Act says goods must be of ‘satisfactory quality’ when sold.

When assessing if goods are of satisfactory quality, durability is one factor taken into account; price is also relevant – you can usually expect an expensive computer to be more durable than a cheap one.

So, if your goods fail prematurely under circumstances that wouldn’t ordinarily be considered normal wear and tear or misuse, you should be able to argue the seller has breached the contract and is obliged to repair or replace the goods and, if it doesn’t do this, you can claim compensation which could be the cost of having the goods repaired or replaced by another trader.

The fact that warranties or guarantees may have expired, by the time the lack of durability is discovered, doesn’t affect your statutory rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

If you have to issue proceedings, make sure to claim against the right legal entity. Many firms have trading names that are part of a limited company so if you get the information wrong, a judgment could be worthless. The named defendant should be individual names if against a sole trader or partnership, and company names should end in ‘Ltd’ or ‘plc’ if it is a registered company. 

Company claimed it could do nothing as the product was out of warranty

Sales of breadmakers have shot up in the past few years as many more of us look to enjoy the taste and smell of fresh homemade bread. But you’d expect to get more than a few months’ use out of a new breadmaker. 

When David Robertson paid £102.38 for a Panasonic breadmaker, he was irritated when it broke down twice in the first 18 months. 

As his son is gluten intolerant, David researched breadmakers carefully and bought a model with a gluten-free program. However, he was unhappy with the breadmaker from the start, as all the bread it made came out misshapen. But things got worse after just 15 months’ use when the only two programs he’d been using failed.

What David did next

He contacted Panasonic and was told that as the machine was out of warranty, it could do nothing for him. Unhappy with the customer service he received, David contacted us for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We advised him that as his warranty was only for a year, Panasonic had no liability. However, we told him that he had a claim under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 because the breadmaker was not of satisfactory quality.


Armed with this information, he approached Amazon, who had sold him the breadmaker, and it agreed to give him a replacement for free.

Legal points

David had a claim even though he’d had the breadmaker for 15 months and it was out of warranty. The Sale of Goods Act says that goods sold must be of satisfactory quality and durability. In this case, the breadmaker didn’t last as long as a buyer would reasonably expect. The remedy under the Act is for a repair or a replacement that must be carried out within a reasonable period of time and without causing significant inconvenience.

As David had paid for the breadmaker with his credit card, he could also have made a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. If you’ve paid by credit card for goods worth more than £100 but not exceeding £30,000, you can ask for a refund from the credit card provider. 

Shockingly high british gas bill

A gas customer for many years, Mr S was surprised to receive a 'shockingly high' gas bill of £649.21.

But challenging the amount proved much harder than he expected. Mr S used gas just for central heating and hot water in his three-bedroomed home in Oxfordshire. As the bill he received covered four months of warm summer weather, he was keen to find out why he was being charged so much.

All the homes in his road had just been fitted with new gas meters. When the new meter was installed at Mr S’ house, an engineer gave him a reading for the old meter, but this was much lower than the reading on his next gas bill which arrived soon after.

While the engineer's card said the old reading was 14,707, his bill stated 17,047. Despite having evidence of the original reading, Mr S had to complain several times to the gas supplier before it sent a replacement bill – but this was for the same amount of £649.21.

Despite complaining again, Mr S received a final demand for the same amount. 

Which? Legal advice

Not knowing what to do next, he contacted the Which? Legal. We explained that he was obliged to pay only for the gas he'd used and advised him to complain to the company's senior management team. If that didn't work, he should refer the dispute to the energy watchdog Energywatch. Mr S sent a letter, detailing the change of meter and readings, to a senior manager at the suppliers.


Within a week, Mr S received a revised bill for £59.46. 

Ian Walker Energy Bills

A Which? Legal member came to us for advice when his energy firm tried to recalculate his bill  

Which? Legal member Ian Walker came to us for advice when his energy firm tried to recalculate his bill and charge him extra.

Ian switched gas and electricity supplier from British Gas to First Utility in October 2012 and had a new gas meter fitted by National Grid in June 2013.

First Utility was told and given the old and new meter readings. But when Ian checked his bill in July, his energy use had been recalculated using a higher ‘calorific value’ – a measure of heating power – than previously and First Utility wanted an extra £23.19.

Ian queried this, and First Utility said that it had performed a ‘credit and re-bill’ on his account to correct any discrepancies that there may have been with previous billing. It later contacted him again and said the increased charge was in fact due to his change of meter

Our advice

Ian came to us for advice. We said that he should write to First Utility to say that he wasn’t satisfied with its reply, to ask it to justify that its action was legal and to show where its terms and conditions allowed it to re-bill him. We also advised that he could go to the energy ombudsman if the case wasn’t resolved within eight weeks.

First Utility didn’t reply, so Ian went to the ombudsman. It asked First Utility to explain the charges, to give Ian a written apology and credit his account with £25 as a goodwill gesture. First Utility agreed to this and also refunded the £23.19 recharge. Ian accepted this.

What the law says

If an energy supplier amends your bill, you are entitled to ask where its terms and conditions authorise it to do so. Energy suppliers are regulated by Ofgem, which aims to protect the interests of consumers. Ofgem requires energy suppliers to comply with its standards of conduct, including investigating any customer complaints in an honest, transparent and professional manner.

If you aren’t satisfied with how your complaint is handled by your supplier, then you can ask the ombudsman to investigate further. The service is free and impartial.  If you would like help changing energy supplier, you can use our free comparison and switching service at

For more advice on energy-related problems, including our template letter on how to complain about what you believe is an inaccurate meter reading, visit

Nasty shock on mobile contract

A Which? member who thought she’d found a cheap mobile phone contract for her daughter had a nasty surprise when the first bill arrived for more than twice what she was expecting. In response, Sylvia Kovacsits called T-Mobile to cancel the contract.

T-Mobile offered her a new contract that was £5 a month cheaper than her current contract. It came with a new smartphone, 100 minutes talk time and unlimited texts. However, when the first monthly bill arrived, it was for £18 instead of the £10.50 she was expecting.

Sylvia called T-Mobile and was told the extra charge was because the smartphone had converted text messages of more than 320 characters into picture messaging.

Which? Legal advice

Unhappy with the contract, Sylvia contacted Which? Legal.

We advised her to write to T-Mobile pointing out that she couldn’t be bound by the terms of a contract that were not brought to her attention at the time the contract was agreed.

T-Mobile replied offering a refund of the first month’s charges as a goodwill gesture, but wouldn’t offer a further refund. Following further advice from Which? Legal, Sylvia wrote again stating that, as T-Mobile had misrepresented the contract, she wanted to cancel the contract under the Misrepresentation Act 1967.


T-Mobile agreed to release her from the contract if she returned the phone.

Legal points

When you enter into a contract, only terms brought to your attention when the contract was made, can be binding. If you enter into contracts based on information you were given which turns out not to be true, you may be able to cancel the contract on the basis of misrepresentation under the Misrepresentation Act 1967 in England and Wales, and under common law in Scotland.

If you enter into phone contract by telephone, the provider must comply with the Distance Selling Regulations by providing you with certain information, specifically the right to cancel the contract within seven days. However, if you don’t receive notice of your cancellation rights, that right is extended to three months and seven days beginning the day after you received the phone.

Court action by mobile phone company over £3.76

A 77-year-old Which? Legal member was threatened with court action to recover a debt of just £3.76 from cancelling a phone contract.

Arno Rabinowitz was shocked to receive a letter from debt collectors for a debt he knew nothing about. He turned to Which? Legal to help stop court proceedings and to wipe out any suggestion that he owed money.

Cancelling a mobile phone contract

As a Onetel customer, Arno paid a monthly line rental on a mobile phone and for 1877 prefixes for cheaper landline calls. He decided to change providers and called to cancel his contract. He agreed with the company that the contract would end at the end of October 2010. He paid what he was told he owed (£7.83) and was given no advice about when to cancel his direct debit instruction.

Debt collectors

Three months later, Arno received a letter from debt collection agency Commercial Credit Services (CCS), acting on behalf of Onetel. Arno was shocked to receive the letter, which he described as intimidating and aggressive, as he had no knowledge of any debt owing to Onetel.

The letter, headed ‘Notification of Legal Proceedings’ stated he owed a debt, now raised to £41.76 which would lead to court action and a debt of £122.03, unless he contacted CCS to settle.

Arno felt vulnerable and threatened, so took immediate action to telephone and pay CCS the £41.76. He wished to avoid the threat of court action and eliminate any possibility of an adverse credit reference, but told CCS that he was paying under protest.

Which? Legal advice

Arno then contacted Which? Legal. Our lawyers gave Arno advice and wording for the content of a letter to TalkTalk, which is part of the same group as Onetel. TalkTalk told Arno that he had been contacted by email, but Arno said he hadn’t received any emails or reminders that £3.76 was due.


TalkTalk has since apologised to Arno and promised to refund his payment to CCS less the small amount owing. It promised to ensure his credit file wasn’t affected.

Legal points

You can expect to receive notice of a debt from a business, and a reasonable chance to settle it, before hearing from a debt collection firm.

Debt collection guidance issued by the Office of Fair Trading says that charges for debt collection should not be levied unfairly. Examples of unfair practices include applying charges that are disproportionate to the main debt. 

BT hassle after house is flooded

Elizabeth faced major upheaval when her property was flooded after heavy rain in November 2010. She had to move to temporary accommodation for seven months, while the entire ground floor of the house was rewired and replastered.

As part of the move, she contacted BT to ask for her broadband and phone to be transferred to her temporary accommodation.

BT told Elizabeth her phone and broadband would be installed on 29 December 2010. It later cancelled the appointment. A second order was placed and Elizabeth was assured installation would take place on 12 January 2011. She then discovered that this order had been changed to ‘pending’. BT then told her to cancel this order and place a new one.

Frustrated with the lack of progress and poor customer service – on one occasion she was left waiting on hold for more than an hour in order to speak to someone – Elizabeth wrote to BT to cancel her contract. 

She received no response, despite sending BT a further letter. She was then received a letter from a debt collection agency stating that her credit rating could be affected if payment was not made for her present account.

Which? Legal advice

Elizabeth sought advice from Which? Legal. We told her that, under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, BT has to carry out all aspects of its service within a reasonable period of time, using reasonable care and skill.

As it had done neither, she could terminate her current contract and cancel any ‘pending orders’ without financial penalty. We told her she should write to BT again, setting out the above, and stating that if her credit rating was affected, she should also write to the Information Commissioner’s office on the basis that BT had no right to put anything detrimental on her credit file. 


Elizabeth sent the complaint by email and on the same day received a call from BT stating that the debt would be cancelled and she wouldn’t receive further communication from the debt collection agency. BT also agreed to pay Elizabeth £15.

Legal points

If you’ve experienced problems with your broadband service that aren’t rectified to your satisfaction, you may be able to terminate the contract without financial penalty. Many providers claim that you must pay a cancellation charge but this is not the case.

Restaurant food not up to standard

Can I refuse to pay for poor-quality food?

Our members often ask us questions about their consumer rights when eating out in restaurants. Typical questions include: “What are my rights if the food I buy at a restaurant isn’t up to standard?” and “Can I ask for my money back?”.

One member recently sought advice from Which? Legal on just such a subject while still in a restaurant.

While dining at a local restaurant, our member complained that the chicken she was served wasn’t properly cooked. Although the waitress took it back to the kitchen, when it was returned, it was still raw and completely inedible. She wanted to know whether she was obliged to pay for it.

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyer explained to her that under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (or common law in Scotland) when you book a table in a restaurant, or sit down to eat, you enter a contract with the provider of the service.

Restaurants are obliged to prepare food – and provide service – with reasonable skill and care. If they fail to do so, it is your right to stop eating and tell the waiter.

In this case, our lawyer advised the member who was still in the restaurant that having complained to the waiter, if the restaurant was unable to get things put right, she could deduct a reasonable sum from the bill. In this case, she could deduct the cost of her chicken, and refuse to pay some or all of the service charge if the service was not up to scratch.

Another option pointed out by our lawyer was that she could either order something else as a replacement (and pay only for the replacement), or deduct the cost of the dish that she rejected from the bill.

Alternatively, if she didn’t want to make a scene, she could pay the full bill under protest and effectively reserve her right to make a claim later. 

Made redundant and didn't know where to turn

Mr D had recently been made redundant but his mortgage protection insurer was refusing to cover his mortgage payments on the basis that his redundancy was voluntary rather than compulsory.

Mr D called Which? Legal for advice.

He told our lawyers that the company had offered him an enhanced redundancy package if he were to go voluntarily, but he explained that he was just made redundant and hadn’t receive this enhanced package. However, his employer had told his mortgage protection insurer that his redundancy was voluntary. Mr D wanted to know what he could do.

Which? Legal Advice 

Our lawyers explained to Mr D that there was no way of forcing his employer to change what had been said to his mortgage protection insurer. However, he was advised to take his insurer to court for breach of contract, or refer the case to Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

Legal points

If your insurance company refuses a claim that you feel has been wrongly declined and you’re able to show that the insurer should be paying out, then once you have reached a deadlock, you can refer the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You must do this within six months of receiving the insurance company’s final response letter.

Last in first out redundancy

A Which? Legal Service member recently called our specialist employment lawyers about her selection for redundancy based on her employer’s policy of ‘last in, first out’. 

The member told our lawyer that she had been made redundant but said that she was definitely not the most recent employee to join the company. She wanted to know what she could do.

Which? Legal advice

Our legal team told the member that the rule ‘last in, first out’ is no longer acceptable as a means of selection for redundancy as it discriminates against younger workers. However, the length of service can be included as part of a wider selection criteria. In this case, we advised that the issue appears to be that there were others doing the same sort of work that she did, who had not been included in the selection pool. 

We advised that the employer is required to identify a suitable pool from which to select (which should include all those doing the sort of work that she did) and then they should select candidates for redundancy from within that pool using a fair selection criteria. 

Legal points

If you’re made redundant but your employer has failed to follow procedural requirements, it is quite possible that an employment tribunal would find the dismissal to be unfair and would award the appropriate compensation if you make a claim.  

Dismissed after injury at work

Mr P called Which? Legal Service for advice on his dismissal from work. He had worked for a company for three years during which time he had hurt his back due to the company’s failure to provide adequate equipment for a task. He was then dismissed by the company and ten months later wanted to make a claim for unfair dismissal.

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyers advised him that most claims must be made to an employment tribunal within three months of the date of dismissal. This meant that Mr P was out of time to make a claim.

Our lawyers advised that Mr P may be able to bring a claim with regard to his personal injury, if he could show that his employers had been negligent.

As we're unable to advise on personal injury law, we suggested that he contact the Law Society to find a specialist personal injury lawyer in his area, or that he should check to see whether he had the benefit of any legal expenses insurance.

Legal points

If, when dismissed by your employer, you feel that the dismissal has been unfair, always seek independent legal advice as soon as possible. If dismissed for bringing a personal injury claim against your employer, it would be classed as an unfair dismissal.

You have three years from the date of injury (or when the effects of the injury became known) in which to bring a personal injury claim

Breach of contract

A Which? Legal Service member recently raised an interesting question with our employment law specialists.

The member informed our lawyer that at her request she had started to work from home part-time a few years ago. When she did this, her employer installed broadband for her so that she could use it for both work and home purposes. She told our lawyer that they have continued to pay the bill. 

The member explained to our lawyer that she had just been advised that her employer would be removing her broadband and that it would be up to her to find a supplier and pay the £30 per month that it currently costs. Our member wanted to know, as this has been running for a number of years, had the provision by the employer become contractual by custom and practice?

Which? Legal advice

Our team of expert lawyers advised her that as there was no contradictory written term in her contract, it could have become a contractual term by custom and practice.

Our lawyer explained to the member that not only was it the means by which she did her job, but it was also a contractual benefit which would allow her to take legal action against her employer for damages for the breach. 

We advised that she had a choice as to whether she wanted to just give in and accept what her employer was intending to do, or that she could refuse to pay and as a result, would be unable to do her work when it was withdrawn (but as an employee, would still be entitled to her pay even if unable to work as a result). Alternatively, she could find her own broadband provider and pay for it and then sue her employer for the cost (as a breach of contract claim). 

Legal points

If you’re dismissed from your job for refusing to accept a change in your contract , then it is possible that an employment tribunal would consider this unfair dismissal and the appropriate damages will be awarded.

Much would depend on whether the employer could show a pressing business need for imposing the change.

Resignation to Employment Tribunal

Mrs S called Which? Legal for advice when she felt forced to resign from her job.

Mrs S told our employment lawyers that she had been working for a company for seven years. Two weeks before her call to us, she had been called into her manager’s office where he told her that in his opinion she didn’t do a full day’s work. The member was so annoyed that she resigned. 

During her employment with the company, she hadn’t applied for a promotion because her manager had stated that she wouldn’t be able to do it due to her childcare responsibilities. 

The member told our lawyer that she had found out that the man who had been given the role that she would have been in line for was much less qualified and experienced than herself.

Mrs S confirmed to our lawyer that the role was neither advertised internally or externally. 

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyers told Mrs S that her case was very likely to be regarded by an employment tribunal as constructive dismissal, especially in view of earlier (out of time) acts. Although out of time, these acts could still be cited as evidence of the employer’s intent or mind-set. 

Legal points

You need to enter a grievance at employment tribunal, within three months from the date of the act that you believe led to the constructive dismissal.

What happens at a Grievance Meeting

Mrs H contacted Which? Legal for advice on a grievance meeting that she was about to attend.

She told our lawyers that she was due to attend a grievance meeting and did not have anyone at work that could attend it with her. She wanted to know whether she could bring a friend along.

Our lawyer advised that she would only be able to invite a friend if her contract of employment gave her a contractual entitlement to do this, which would normally be very unlikely.

Legal points

The only right that you do have is to take a work colleague or union representative. However, there’s no harm in asking if you can bring a friend or relative along from outside the workplace. The employer has the discretion whether or not to permit this.

Working conditions

A Which? Legal member called our employment lawyers for advice on his working conditions.

He told our lawyers that he worked nights watching VDU security screens and had worked on his own for the last two years.

The member wanted to know if by forcing him to work alone, his employer was in breach of Health and Safety rules. He told our team that he worked nine and a half hour shifts without a break. His employer had said that he would be considered for a pay rise, but he was yet to receive one. He asked our team what could he do, because he was concerned that if he complained, he would be dismissed.

Our lawyers advised him that the type of work that he did wouldn’t prevent him from being required to work alone. They also advised him that legally he was required to have a minimum of 20 minutes rest for every six hours worked, but there was also the possibility of an employer giving ‘compensatory rest’ at some other time if continuous presence was required. Our lawyer explained that the compensatory rest could simply be added on to the end of his shift.   

With regard to the pay rise, our lawyer advised that as no actual commitment had been given, his employer was not in breach of employment law.

Legal points

If you feel that you've been treated unfairly at work, you can raise a grievance. If dismissed for doing so, this is likely to be viewed as unfair dismissal, for which you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.  


A Which? Legal member recently called our specialist employment lawyers about her selection for redundancy based on her employer’s policy of ‘last in, first out’. 

The member told our lawyer that she had been made redundant but said that she was definitely not the most recent employee to join the company. She wanted to know what she could do.

Which? Legal Advice can help

Our legal team told the member that the rule ‘last in, first out’ is no longer acceptable as a means of selection for redundancy as it discriminates against younger workers. However, the length of service can be included as part of a wider selection criteria. In this case, we advised that the issue appears to be that there were others doing the same sort of work that she did, who had not been included in the selection pool. 

We advised that the employer is required to identify a suitable pool from which to select (which should include all those doing the sort of work that she did) and then they should select candidates for redundancy from within that pool using a fair selection criteria. 

Legal points

If you’re made redundant but your employer has failed to follow procedural requirements, it is quite possible that an employment tribunal would find the dismissal to be unfair and would award the appropriate compensation if you make a claim.  

A refund of over £3000 when Anglian failed to fix a conservatory roof

When Mrs Rudra's conservatory roof started leaking, she wasn’t expecting a catalogue of delays in trying to get it fixed. 

As the conservatory was 18 years old, the guarantee had run out but Mrs Rudra phoned the original supplier for a quote for the repair work. Although it initially denied fitting the conservatory, the company agreed to a visit at a cost of £99.60.

A fitter said that two of the seven roof panels had cracked. Mrs Rudra asked for two quotes – one for replacing all seven panels and one for just the two broken panels.

Three weeks later, a quote arrived for only the two panels. When the second quote arrived shortly after, it was for glass rather than the polycarbonate panels that were required.

The correct quote for £3,392.81 to replace all the panels then arrived a few days later. Mrs Rudra accepted and paid using her credit card.

The home improvement company confirmed the order and said an installation date would be arranged by the end of the week – but it wasn't. 

When Mrs Rudra called them a couple of weeks later, she was told that the order had not been placed. A week later she was told that the job had been marked urgent, but by the following month Mrs Rudra was no further forward, so she phoned Which? Legal for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We explained that, under the Supply of Goods and Services Act, the work on Mrs Rudra’s conservatory should be done within a reasonable time – and, if she could show that the supplier had gone beyond that, she could hold the company in breach of contract. 

We also advised that, as she'd paid by credit card, her provider would be jointly liable for the breach under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and could be asked to pay.

Mrs Rudra decided it would be easiest to claim under section 75 so contacted her credit card supplier.


The credit card supplier credited £3,492.41 back to Mrs Rudra's account but warned that the supplier could then challenge her. It did not.

Breach of Contract on 'A' rated windows

When Joan Miller decided to have double-glazed windows and a door installed in her home, she quickly found a firm that offered to do the work for a price she was happy with.

SEHBAC Limited gave Joan an estimate for the job, which she accepted. The subsequent contract stated that SEHBAC would provide her with 'A'-rated windows and a door for £6,563.

Following a visit by its surveyor, the company attempted to increase the price, saying that security grilles attached to the existing windows needed to be removed. Joan argued that this work had been included in the contract price already agreed. SEHBAC then accepted this.

SEHBAC's sales rep then called Joan to say it could not fit 'A'-rated windows because the gap between the glass panels was too great and SEHBAC would supply 'B'-rated windows instead. Joan replied that this was unacceptable. She confirmed in writing that she wanted to cancel the contract.

Five days later, SEHBAC left a message on Joan’s answer phone saying it had now found that 'A'-rated windows could be fitted after all.

What Joan did next

Joan responded in writing, advising SEHBAC that she had already indicated that she did not wish to proceed further with SEHBAC for the installation of doubling glazing, whether 'B' rated or otherwise.

SEHBAC wrote back to Joan stating it intended to press ahead with the contract and if she wished to cancel it would be unable to refund her deposit of £657 as costs had already been incurred.

Which? Legal advice

Joan contacted our lawyers for advice. She said she had lost confidence in SEHBAC and wanted her deposit refunded.

We advised Joan that she was within her rights to treat SEHBAC's attempt to vary the contract from 'A' to 'B'-rated windows as an 'anticipatory breach of contract' on the part of SEHBAC, which would allow her to bring the contract to an end.

As she had not received any benefit from the contract at the time she told SEHBAC she didn't wish to proceed with the double glazing, she could seek a full refund of her deposit and she was under no obligation to accept SEHBAC's subsequent offer to install 'A'-rated windows as it had originally agreed.


Joan quoted this advice to SEHBAC and it refunded her deposit.

Legal points

The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 states that goods supplied as part of a contract for services, such as double-glazing installations, should match any description given to you by the trader. If the trader indicates it doesn't intend to provide you with a significant part of what it said it would, you may be able treat this as a breach of the contract and therefore bring the contract to an end.

If you have not received any benefit from the contract at this time, you’re likely to be able to claim a refund of money or deposit you have already paid to the other party.

If you’re able to end the contract on the basis of an 'anticipatory breach of contract', you’ll be discharged of obligations you had under the contract – and the party in breach could not insist at a later date that it is allowed to remedy the breach by performing the contract in the manner originally agreed.

Bathroom fit for a brochure

D-Day veteran Mr Gibson spotted an advertisement for a walk-in bath in his local newspaper. 

Looking for an easier way to bathe, Mr Gibson got in touch with the bathroom company mentioned in the ad. It offered to send a brochure and price list, as well as someone to visit his home.

In the brochure, Mr Gibson saw a shower and walk-in bath that he thought would be ideal for his bathroom. He showed this to the salesman who came to visit.

The salesman drew up a contract there and then for £4,850. As Mr Gibson felt comfortable with the representative and was confident he'd get what he wanted, he signed and handed over his card for the deposit. But when the salesman had left, Mr Gibson read the contract and saw that the positioning of the bath and shower weren't as he had expected.

He explained to the company that the brochure had shown the bath in a different position, while the contract drawing meant he would not be able to look out of the bathroom window. Also, the picture showed a wall-mounted shower, but the drawing had it fixed to the taps.

The company responded saying this had been discussed and accepted, but Mr Gibson disagreed, saying they had only discussed money. He then contacted Which? Legal Service for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We explained that to succeed with a claim, he would have to show that the verbal agreement was for the bath as it appeared in the brochure. Mr Gibson believed that he'd made this clear to the salesman.


While still disagreeing, the company said Mr Gibson's wishes could be met as a gesture of goodwill. He is pleased with the work completed in his new bathroom.

Landlord threatened to keep deposit

What do you do if you’ve been renting a property and the landlord threatens to keep part of your deposit when you move out?

That was the situation faced by Hannah Fisher until Which? Legal lawyers intervened. Hannah and four other students shared a flat in central Sheffield from September 2009 to July 2010 – the first year of her psychology degree at Sheffield Hallam University. 

The students had an assured shorthold tenancy with managing agents Unite. Hannah paid a deposit of £250, which was insured through a rent deposit scheme run by the agents.


During the year, there were a few problems with the flat, including a faulty oven and a leak that soaked carpets in the sitting area. Each time the students contacted Unite they complained it was slow to respond. 

At the end of the tenancy, Hannah’s parents Mr and Mrs Fisher helped her to thoroughly clean the flat. Hannah asked for a joint inspection of the flat – something she was entitled to do under the agreement – but Unite didn’t call to arrange the meeting when it said it would.

Hannah took lots of photos to show the flat was left tidy. Two months later, Hannah was informed that £106 of her deposit was being withheld – mainly, she was told, because the property had not been left in a good state and she was being charged for cleaning and rubbish removal.

She also discovered that different charges were being made against the other students who had shared the house.

Mr Fisher sought advice from Which? Legal.

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyers explained that Hannah could challenge the deductions through the rent deposit scheme and explained how this would work. 

As a refund had been made of £144, the amount in dispute (£106) had to be paid to the rent deposit scheme – in this case – for them to adjudicate on the matter.


Having received submissions from both Hannah and Unite, and photos taken by Hannah before she left, held that the full amount of £106 should be paid back to Hannah.  

The adjudicator stated that the burden of proof lies with the landlord to establish entitlement to any part of the tenant’s deposit and the presence of a signed check-in report is critical to any decision. The absence of this can harm the landlord’s claim, as in this case.

New car constantly in repair shop

Driving instructor Mark Burgess paid more than £15,000 for a new VW Polo in April 2010 from Dane Wirral garage.

After eight months, the car developed a water leak so Mark took it to another VW garage, which replaced the coolant cap. Yet the car continued to leak water, even after a subsequent visit that saw part of the car’s emission control system replaced.

Mark then took the car back to Dane Wirral for repair. After two days, it discovered a leaking water pump and replaced it.

But after driving it for another 500 miles, Mark noticed the car was again losing coolant. He returned the car to Dane Wirral – this time for two week while a replacement cylinder head was fitted. And that wasn’t the end of it. The turbo charger, starter motor and injectors all failed over the next 18 months. As a result, Mark contacted Which? Legal Service for advice.

Which? Legal advice

Mark told us he had informed Dane Wirrall when buying the car that it was for business use. Because of this, he could claim losses reasonably foreseeable as a result of the car being in a garage for repair. He’d had to go without it for two weeks and had to hire a dual control car, although VW did pay toward this.

As Mark had financed some of the car through VW Financial Services under a hire purchase agreement, we told him to contact the hire firm.

Mark wrote to the hire firm to say the car wasn’t fit for purpose and he wouldn’t accept further repairs. VW Financial Services refused the claim. We advised him to take the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

His case was assessed by an adjudicator who asked Mark to have the car inspected. As a result more faults were found, including an engine leak. VW repaired these faults, but Mark had to pay to correct a further problem with wheel tracking. The adjudicator refused the complaint. As Mark didn’t agree with an adjudicator’s findings, he asked for the claim to be referred to the Ombudsman.


The Ombudsman found in his favour and awarded £1,705 for travel, distress, inconvenience and loss of revenue.

Legal points

You can recover damages for losses reasonably foreseeable as a result of a breach of contract. Both parties must reasonably have been able to anticipate these when the contract was entered into.

Arthur and Sylvi New Car

Which? Legal helps couple get repairs sorted and have compensation paid

When Arthur and Sylvi Leitch spent more than £34,000 on a brand-new car, they never thought it would need repairs carried out as soon as they bought it.

But that is what the couple found when they went to pick up the new Kia Sorento from Snows Motor Group in Basingstoke in October 2013. At the dealership, they noticed the top of one of the rear seats hadn’t been fitted with enough padding and the seatbelt support bracket hadn’t been installed properly. They were assured that if they took the car that day, the problems would be fixed as soon as possible.

But when Arthur returned to collect it after the repairs were done, he found the seat in worse condition than before, with additional damage to the back of the driver’s seat. This was again reported to the dealership, which then dealt with other minor issues, but failed to solve the problem with the seat.

At this point the situation had been going on for nearly a year and the couple were soon due to leave for a driving holiday to France, so Arthur contacted Which? Legal for our advice on how to get the situation resolved.

Our advice

Our lawyers helped the couple with the wording of a letter to send to the dealership, to state their legal rights and have the issue with the car seat put right once and for all. The couple returned from their holiday to find messages from the dealership offering to carry out the required work by replacing the defective seat. This was done to the couple’s satisfaction in early October. The dealership also agreed to pay £200 compensation for the inconvenience that had been caused because of the ongoing problems and the couple accepted this offer.

What the law says

The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) says that goods, including cars, must be of satisfactory quality. This means that they must be free from defects (even minor ones). If the goods are defective, the seller could be in breach of contract and, if it is, the buyer has the right in certain circumstances to reject the goods, or to have them repaired or replaced by the seller. If the goods are to be repaired or replaced, the seller will have the choice of which of these options to choose. The decision may come down to what is the most practical and cost-effective option.

Two-year fight over car costs

Which? member Ken West faced a two-year battle to recover the cost of getting his car repaired – despite having bought an extended warranty on the vehicle. 

In March 2011, the anti-lock braking system (ABS) warning light appeared on Ken’s VW Touareg. He took the car to his local VW dealer to diagnose and repair the fault. He then made a claim on his extended warranty policy from Warranty Direct, having first checked that the ABS unit was insured under the terms. 

But Warranty Direct rejected the claim following an engineer’s report on the car, which the company commissioned. 

The report found that the fault was caused by water getting into the car, which wasn’t covered by the policy. 

Ken then contacted Which? Legal Service for advice. 

Which? Legal advice

We advised Ken to instruct an independent expert to investigate the ABS failure. This report found that the fault wasn’t caused by water. On the strength of this, Ken requested that Warranty Direct honour the terms of its policy, but it refused.

After a final response from the company, and on our legal advice, Ken referred the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The FOS adjudicator agreed with Ken’s complaint. Warranty Direct refused to accept the adjudicator’s decision and requested that the matter be reviewed by the Ombudsman. 


The Ombudsman upheld the adjudicator’s decision and awarded Ken the costs of the repair, along with the costs of the further expert report and associated expenses. With interest, Ken got a total of £3,095.

Legal points

Insurance providers may try to refuse a claim by relying on a particular clause in the contract. If you disagree, you can refer the matter to the FOS. 

Usually, this must be done within six months of receiving a final response from the company. The FOS adjudicators will make a decision, which can then be reviewed by the Ombudsman. 

The FOS decision is binding on the insurance provider. In this case, Ken had to rely on the evidence of an expert that he found, but it’s normally better to agree an expert with the party with whom you are in dispute.

Car repairs taking too long

Mrs Jones took her car into a local garage for a service and some additional repairs. The repairs ran over the time that she had thought they would take and she had to hire a car from another garage. The repairs to her car were finally completed more than a month later. 

When returning the hire car, Mrs Jones told the garage staff about the repairs that she was having done to her own car. They were shocked at the length of time that it had taken. They suggested that these repairs should only have taken about two weeks, and suggested she seek compensation for the cost of the hire car.

Not sure what action to take, Mrs. Jones contacted Which? Legal Service. She told us that while she was happy to pay for the service and repairs to her car, she wanted to know if she could claim back any of the money that she had spent on the hire of the car. 

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyers told Mrs Jones that under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (as amended) the repairs should have been completed within a reasonable time. What is reasonable is subjective and is normally decided on the facts of each particular case. 

We told Mrs Jones that as the hire-car garage suggested that these repairs should have taken no longer than two weeks to complete, this could be considered the ‘benchmark’ with regards to the time that the repairs should have taken.

The fact that the garage had taken over a month to complete the repairs would indicate that they had not done so within a reasonable time. 

Our lawyers advised Mrs Jones that her right to claim any of the costs incurred for the hire car was dependant on whether she had told the original garage that she’d need a replacement car while her own car was being repaired. It would also depend on whether she had asked the garage for use of a courtesy car. 

If the garage was aware of Mrs Jones’ need for a car and were unable to provide her with a courtesy car, they would then be liable to compensate her for the cost of the hire car – for the period in which the garage retained her car beyond what would be deemed to be a reasonable time. 

Legal points

Any compensation that Mrs. Jones could claim would be dependent on her telling the garage of her potential losses (her need to hire a car) and have arisen as a direct result of the garage’s failure to repair her car within a reasonable time. 

Otherwise, it would be reasonable for the garage to have assumed that Mrs Jones had an alternate mean of transport such as a second car or public transport.

Unfair penalty notice

When Diane West parked her car on a broad stretch of pavement outside her house, within the designated markings, she was surprised to find that she faced a £120 parking fine. 

She was issued with a penalty charge notice (PCN) for ‘parking with one or more wheels on any part of an urban road other than a carriageway’. She had parked diagonally at the end of a broad stretch of pavement in a designated parking area. There was no line at the side or end of the parking bay, but there were markings at the front. 

Other residents also park in the same way. All cars have to park there diagonally because of limited space, and because of the angle cars have to drive into the spaces from the road.

Diane refused to pay the fine and appealed the PCN saying that she was parked in a legal parking area. She provided the issuer with photographs to demonstrate this. 

Diane also pointed out that, when six months previously her fiancé Geoff had received a PCN for parking in the same bay and in same manner, his fine was cancelled after he appealed on this basis. 

The issuer refused Diane’s appeal, saying her vehicle was not contained within the parking bay lines.  

Which? Legal advice

Diane contacted the lawyers at Which? Legal, who advised her to appeal to the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service and when doing so to provide all available evidence. 


The Parking and Traffic Appeals Service upheld her appeal on the basis that the contravention did not occur, as there weren’t any clear markings at the rear or the side demarcating the bay.

Barbara Cummins parking

Which? Legal member wins her money back by arguing that signs were confusing

A Which? Legal member has successfully fought a parking penalty notice by arguing that the signs in a council-run car park were confusing.

Barbara Cummins and her friend Cherith parked in the Phoenix Causeway car park in Lewes, east Sussex, on 30 April.

A sign said that parking wasn’t allowed between 20 March and 30 April. Barbara believed this meant that the suspension period had finished, so she bought a ticket.  But when Barbara and Cherith got back to the car, they found the penalty notice and visited the council’s local parking shop to query it.

The staff there told Barbara the suspension was permanent, although the sign had made no mention of this.

Barbara and Cherith felt that the sign was misleading and appealed for the charge to be cancelled.

Our advice

Barbara contacted Which? Legal for advice. Our lawyers advised that she was right to challenge the notice as the dates on the sign were open to interpretation.  We also advised her to challenge the term as unfair and therefore unenforceable, and request that the council exercise its discretion to cancel the penalty charge notice to avoid lengthy and potentially costly independent arbitration.

After advice from Which? Legal, Barbara completed the appeal form and within a week the council cancelled the charge.

What the law says

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 say that terms in consumer contracts, such as the sign in the car park, must be expressed in plain and intelligible language. If there is any doubt, then it will be interpreted in the customer’s favour. In this case, the parking sign left room for interpretation about the dates. When appealing a ticket, you must be aware of the strict timelines involved. These depend on the type of ticket issued. More on the procedure to follow can usually be found on the website of the local authority or parking company that issued the ticket. And you can watch our video on how to appeal a parking ticket on our consumer rights website at parkingticket.

Complaint Against Excess Baggage Fees

Getting stung with a charge for excess baggage is something that would irritate many of us – especially when you’ve taken the trouble to pack carefully to avoid an excess baggage charge.

That’s the situation Dr Richard Jakeman and his wife faced when flying with Qantas to Sydney in 2010.

Arriving at Heathrow Airport, the couple discovered that the flight check-in was operated by British Airways.

They wanted to check in three bags between them, but were told that the check-in baggage allowance was limited to just one piece of baggage each. Confident that Qantas’ terms and conditions had no limit on the number of bags, just the weight, Richard complained to the BA check-in staff.

However, British Airways was adamant there was a limit so Richard had no option but to pay a £40 surcharge. No excess baggage charge was made on the return flight.

When the couple returned home, Richard checked Qantas’ terms and conditions again and they clearly indicated the weight allowance. However, no mention was made of the number of cases that could be checked in. Richard complained to Qantas.

Several emails later with no satisfactory response from the airline, Richard telephoned Which? Legal for advice on what steps he could take to get his money back.

Which? Legal advice

We explained that, although he could issue proceedings in the small claims court, he first needed to send a formal pre-action letter, giving the company a time limit within which to respond.

Qantas failed to respond within the time given and we therefore advised Richard on how to issue a claim in the small claims court.

Richard issued proceedings against Qantas.


The airline subsequently wrote to the court stating that it had misunderstood the issue and agreed that the luggage was in fact within their weight allowance. It reimbursed Richard the excess baggage charge and his court costs of £25.

Legal points

The Civil Procedure Rules set out what parties to a potential claim should do before proceedings are issued – this is known as the Pre-Action Conduct.

The Court expects all parties to have complied with those Rules and any relevant pre-action protocols, which set out the steps that must be taken in certain types of proceedings.

There is no specific protocol such as this in most consumer cases, but the rules still give guidance on pre-action procedure, the Civil Procedure rules actions you must take before proceedings, and set out what must be in a claimant’s letter before making a formal claim.

Which? Legal can help you take the necessary steps to resolve your issue and make sure you have complied with pre-action protocol if you need to take the matter further.

A family’s distress when their outbound flight is cancelled – then their return one too

Doug McIntyre, his wife Gisela and daughter Alysia were looking forward to their flight to Nairobi. But when they arrived at Heathrow Airport, they were told that the flight had been cancelled because of ‘technical problems’.

After a great deal of queuing and what they felt was rude customer service, the family were rebooked on a flight leaving the following day, over 22 hours later than planned.

Two days before the couple was due to return to London – their daughter having flown home earlier – they received a call to say their return flight had been cancelled.

The airline offered the couple seats on a flight leaving the next day or a night flight on the correct date but with another airline. As both had work commitments back home, they chose the overnight flight.

Back in the UK, Gisela wrote to the airline asking for compensation. The airline acknowledged that the flights ‘were disrupted due to operational reasons’. While it had previously offered the couple 25,000 air miles per person at the airport, no financial compensation was offered in response to Gisela’s letter.

Doug then called Which? Legal for advice. 

Which? Legal advice

We explained that, under the Denied Boarding Regulations, Doug had a right to compensation for the cancelled flights unless the airline could show that they were due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’. Because of the distance they were travelling, the compensation would be €600 per person, per cancelled flight.

Doug wrote again to the airline claiming for the five cancelled flights. This time they blamed ‘a shortage of aircraft’ for the cancellation of the outbound flight and ‘strike action by the company carrying out maintenance on the plane’ for the cancelled return flight. The airline still refused to offer compensation, so Doug started court action.


The airline then offered £1,770 compensation. Keen to avoid having to go to court and wary that strike action could be classed as ‘extraordinary circumstances’, Doug accepted the offer.

Refund on a Holiday that went Wrong

If you book a holiday, who is responsible if things go wrong – the travel agent or the company offering the holiday?

When Edgar Glucksman booked a 14-night cruise with a cruise company via a travel agent, the agent offered a deal that included free parking and $100 on-board credit.

But when Edgar visited the Cruise Relations desk on the last day of the holiday and asked for a copy of his account, he discovered that the promised credit hadn’t been applied.

The ship’s staff refused to credit the money, even though he was able to show them a copy of his booking invoice which detailed the $100 credit. The ship’s staff called the travel agent, which admitted that it had forgotten to advise the cruise company of the credit and said it would reimburse Edgar when he got home.

What Edgar did next

A week after the cruise ended, Edgar called the travel agent to find out why he hadn’t received a cheque for the $100 in question. He was told by the manager that the travel agent could not pay him the money as it no longer worked with that particular cruise company.

Edgar then contacted Which? Legal lawyers for advice.

Which? Legal advice

We advised Edgar that his contract was with the cruise company and that it was legally required to honour the terms of the deal he booked with its agent. As it had refused to do so, he had a breach of contract claim against them for the value of the $100 credit he had been promised.

We advised Edgar to send a complaint letter to them enclosing a copy of his booking invoice as proof of the deal he had booked via its agent.


Edgar received a phone call from the customer services department at the cruise company thanking him for his letter. It advised Edgar that it would send a cheque for the equivalent of $100, which he then promptly received.

Legal points

When you arrange a holiday contract via a travel agent, the travel agent will usually be acting on behalf of another company, in this case, the cruise company.

In legal terms, the travel agent will be the ‘agent’ and the company it is acting on behalf of is known as the ‘principal’.

If you’re buying a package holiday (this includes most cruise holidays), the principal is the party that your contract will be with and this is likely to be a tour operator or cruise company – even if you paid your money to the agent. In Edgar's case, this meant the cruise company was responsible for upholding the contract, not the travel agent.

On the rare occasions when the agent fails to advise you who the principal is, the agent itself could be legally liable for any breaches of the contract by the principal. This is often referred to as the ‘undisclosed principal’ rule.

Error threat to dream trip

One couple nearly missed out on a dream family holiday because of a mistake by a travel agent.

Bob and Nesta Nevatte had saved for a long time to pay for the £1,770 two-week holiday in Cyprus with their daughter and grandchildren. They booked the trip through The Co-op Travel Agency in Portsmouth to stay at a Thomson Gold Hotel.

The holiday was due to start on 12 July 2013 but when they got home with all their paperwork they realised that the shop assistant had mistakenly booked them for a holiday leaving on 12 June 2013. They returned to the travel agent the next day and a different assistant contacted Thomson to change the date. Thomson said it would only do this if the Nevattes paid an extra 50%, which it said was the cost of going on the holiday a month later, plus a booking fee.

Faced with the prospect of missing their holiday or paying extra for someone else’s administrative error, the couple called our lawyers at Which? Legal. 

Which? Legal advice

Our lawyers advised them to write a letter to Thomson asking it to change the dates of the holiday at no cost, as the error was made by The Co-op as Thomson’s representative. Thomson refused to put anything right, saying that it was The Co-op’s fault.


After further advice from Which? Legal, Bob went back to The Co-op Travel Agency. The travel agent said that since it had made the mistake, it would change the dates on the Nevatte’s booking, and agreed to pick up the cost of £302 imposed by Thomson. 

Legal points

Under the Package Travel Regulations, the tour operator is responsible for all aspects of a holiday. In addition, any terms and conditions in the holiday contract are subject to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations. 

The Office of Fair Trading has given guidelines for what would be considered an unfair term. For example, if a contract said that a customer would have to pay to correct a booking mistake that was made through the fault of the ‘principal’ (the tour operator) or ‘agent’ (the travel agent) it could be argued that such a term is unfair. If a mistake is made during the booking, the tour operator or its agent – the travel agent – should cover the cost of correcting it.

Frank and Janice Nightmare Trip

Which? Legal helps couple recover thousands of pounds after ‘relaxing villa holiday’ is ruined

Which? members Frank and Janice Turner paid £2,420 to hire a villa for a family holiday, then found the British owner insisted on living in an outhouse during their stay.  The Turners were looking forward to unwinding on their break in France after a busy year. But when they arrived at the villa on 10 August 2014, they discovered the boiler was broken.

The owner, who was there, said it had broken two days earlier and would be fixed the next day. For hot water, she suggested they boil kettles or use a sink in an ‘outhouse’ at the end of the garden that ran off a different boiler.

They were disappointed, especially as their two infant grandchildren were with them. The owner said she’d spend the night in the outhouse to make sure the boiler was repaired the next day. It wasn’t fixed and, nearly nine days later, the owner was still in the outhouse and asked if she could continue to stay there until the end of their fortnight’s holiday.  The boiler was not fixed until 18 August. To add insult to injury, the Turners discovered a review on the Homeaway website, where they had found the villa, from people who’d stayed there before them and who said that they also hadn’t had hot water.

Our advice 

We advised Frank and Janice that, as the owner had been aware of the issues with the boiler long in advance of their arrival, she should have fixed the problem or informed them about it and given them the chance to cancel. As she hadn’t, they were entitled to claim any loss of value, loss of enjoyment and out-of-pocket expenses they suffered because of her breach of contract.

To avoid having to take court action, the couple were prepared to accept £2,500 in full and final settlement. They made this offer in a ‘without prejudice’ letter – this meant that if matters went to court, the letter could not be submitted as evidence against them. The £2,500 represented half the cost of the villa rental, the ferry crossing and some compensation for loss of enjoyment. The claim was settled without legal action.

What the law says

Under Section 13 of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, a supplier must carry out a service with reasonable care and skill. If the contract is broken, the defects should be put right at no cost to the injured party, within a reasonable time, and without any significant inconvenience. Where they are not, the consumer can claim compensation.

John and Eileen Cruise

Thomas Cook cancelled their holiday without telling them what it was going to do

Which? members John and Eileen Andrews won back £1,162 with help from our legal experts when their 14-night cruise was cancelled without their knowledge.

The couple booked a £3,912 Scandinavian and Russian cruise, including an unlimited drinks package worth £768, with Thomas Cook.

They paid a £300 deposit to Thomas Cook and were sent a booking confirmation by cruise operator, RCL Cruises Limited, which said the balance was due eight weeks before the May 2013 departure. Thomas Cook said it was due 17 weeks before and sent a reminder, but the couple relied on RCL’s booking confirmation as it was in line with other cruises they’d been on.

John went to pay the balance on March 21 and found that Thomas Cook had cancelled the booking two days earlier. It had tried to call them but left no message, and it also didn’t email or write to say what it was going to do.

John and Eileen contacted RCL, which refused to reinstate the holiday, claiming the contract was between the couple and Thomas Cook. It let them rebook, but without the drinks package.

The couple went on the holiday, and complained to RCL and Thomas Cook when they got back. RCL offered £400 in vouchers for a cruise, which they rejected. Thomas Cook didn’t respond.

Our advice  

We advised John and Eileen that their contract was with RCL, not Thomas Cook. They wrote to both saying they intended to make a claim in the county court. RCL said Thomas Cook was at fault, and Thomas Cook failed to respond. The couple claimed for the loss of the drinks package and drinks bought on the cruise. RCL said its conditions were valid and Thomas Cook cancelled the cruise in error. Thomas Cook offered to settle for £1,162 and no further action was taken against RCL.

What the law says

Thomas Cook had no right to demand payment outside the conditions of the RCL contract. By cancelling, it breached an implied term in the holiday booking contract. Under The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 a service must be provided with reasonable care and skill. It also breached Abta’s code of conduct by failing to respond to the couple. Abta members must acknowledge complaints in 14 days and send a detailed reply, or explain why there’s a delay, within 28 days. See

Valerie Jackson birthday surprise

Special family holiday ruined when travel company cancelled at the last minute

Which? Legal member Valerie Jackson booked a luxury family holiday to Tunisia to celebrate her husband’s 60th birthday – only for the booking agent to cancel it five days before the flight.

What happened

Valerie paid £4,348 to Thomson Holidays for the couple, their three sons and partners to stay for a week at a four-star resort.

When Thomson Holidays said that the trip couldn’t go ahead, she asked it to provide an alternative holiday. She told the company that the family could be flexible on the dates and the airport they flew from. However, Thomson couldn’t provide an appropriate alternative and the cost of the holiday was refunded.

Valerie asked for compensation. The response was a £280 voucher, which she returned saying she expected appropriate compensation.

Valerie spent three months trying to resolve the matter, but a suitable outcome couldn’t be reached, so she contacted Which? Legal for advice.

What we advised

Our lawyers advised Valerie to give Thomson a final chance to reach an agreement. This prompted a response from the company, although it simply repeated what it had said before.

Which? Legal advised on issuing proceedings for breach of contract, seeking £3,500 damages for the family.

Thomson then offered £1,000 in settlement. After further contacting our lawyers again, Valerie said that she believed Thomson had already had a chance to negotiate, and as such she would seek a decision from the court. Thomson then decided to offer £3,000 plus £73 court fees, which Valerie accepted.

The law

In a breach of contract claim, damages are usually limited to financial loss, such as the cost of a holiday. Compensation for inconvenience isn’t usually recoverable. But if a contract’s purpose is relaxation or enjoyment, you can claim for loss of that enjoyment. In this case the obligation was to provide the holiday, which Thomson failed to do. It’s difficult to put a price on a holiday’s benefit, but the court may take into account how important the occasion was when making an award.

Lost will

Which? Legal helps couple get more than £1,000 in compensation after mum’s will goes missing

When Stella Cookson tried to get hold of her mum Joyce’s will after she died, she found it had been lost by the solicitors supposed to be looking after it.

Stella, sole executor of the will, contacted Mace & Jones solicitors of Manchester when her mum died in March 2012, to request the original.

The firm failed to reply by mid April, so Stella’s husband Frank faxed them. This was acknowledged by a solicitor at Weightmans, a firm that had merged with Mace & Jones in 2011.

Frank was told that the company would check its records and be in touch. Two days later, the firm said it had searched its three offices, in Manchester, Knutsford and Liverpool, but couldn’t find the will. He was also told that the firm’s wills records had been destroyed and its wills manager had left.

Our advice

When applying for a grant of probate, you must show the original will to the Probate Registry. If the will has been lost, you can apply for an order under Rule 54 of the Non-Contentious Probate Rules 1987, allowing for a copy to be used. But an affidavit (a sworn legal statement) must be made by those with full details of how the original will was lost. In this case, we advised that two affidavits should be prepared, one for Stella and one for the company.

Weightmans agreed to produce the affidavits for free, but its draft version was returned by Oxford Probate Registry with many changes, causing more delay.

Normally, the application for probate takes two to three weeks if the required documents are present, but in this case probate was only granted in September 2012. Frank wrote to Weightmans to complain, asking for compensation for the delay and lack of care preparing the affidavits. He also asked that steps be taken to ensure the same thing wouldn’t happen to others in future.

Weightmans said it had stringent procedures but admitted they hadn’t been effective this time. It offered the couple £250 compensation. Frank complained to the Legal Ombudsman, which recommended a £700 award to reflect the poor service and delay. It also referred the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Frank wrote again to Weightmans and it offered the couple £1,100 and a further £1,100 for the charity of their choice. They accepted the offer.

To find out more about probate, what it is, when it is granted and how our experts can guide you through the process, visit