Fight for your Rights: “Purplebricks won’t do the decent thing now I’m widowed”

Fight for your Rights: “Purplebricks won’t do the decent thing now I’m widowed”

Hannah Nemeth helps a reader struggling to get a bigger refund from her estate agent after her husband died and she no longer wanted to move

Hannah Nemeth
Thu, 07/30/2020 – 16:56

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Let down when widowed

SF wrote to Fight for your Rights after she was upset about how “callous” online estate agent Purplebricks had been following the death of her husband.

The couple signed up with fixed-price agent Purplebricks to sell their home in July last year.

They picked Purplebricks because its fees were around £1,000 less than the £3,000 that traditional estate agents would have charged.

SF says: “My husband and I paid Purplebricks a fee of £1,882 in July 2019 as an advance for selling our home. However, five weeks later, my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We took the house off the market and he died in November.

“It has been a seriously stressful time for me because my husband died intestate and getting any money for bills has been difficult. I gave up my job to look after my husband, who was only one year off retirement.”

SF decided to postpone her move, explained the situation to the two agents she had been dealing with at Purplebricks and asked for a refund of her fees. At first, they suggested that she keep her account with them for whenever she was ready to sell.

When SF refused, she says they first offered her £300 as a ‘goodwill gesture’ and then £749 – “and that was after some toing and froing”.

The reason they gave for the shortfall was ‘incurred business expenses’ – however, while she accepts that the agent did have costs, such as photography and admin, she could not see how it amounted to more than £800.

Finally, SF was offered £900 and was so stressed by everything she had to cope with that she reluctantly accepted it.

A few months later, she started to regret her decision and contacted Moneywise.

The good news is that when we spoke to Purplebricks’ head office, it was very apologetic – it seems that the two agents on the ground had acted alone.

A spokesperson for Purplebricks said: “We are really sorry this was not resolved sooner and will be giving your reader a full refund. Our thoughts are with her during such a difficult time.”

SF says: “It was a great surprise when I received a further £882 back from Purplebricks. If I used a fixed-price agent again, I would look at its refund policy more carefully.

Outcome: Purplebricks refunds an extra £882

 

 

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Help to Buy scheme may be extended to 2021

Help to Buy scheme may be extended to 2021

The scheme could be extended to help buyers whose purchases have been hit by construction delays caused by the lockdown

Stephen Little
Wed, 07/29/2020 – 12:12

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The UK Government may extend the Help to Buy scheme because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Help to Buy scheme could be extended beyond its planned end date of April 2021 due to construction delays caused by the lockdown, the Financial Times reports.

An official announcement on the extension could be made as soon as Friday.

The current Help to Buy scheme is due to end next April, when it will be replaced by a new version which will run until March 2023.

If the original scheme ends in April 2021, this means that sales transactions need to be completed by December 2020.

However, housebuilders have warned that thousands of home sales are at risk of collapse because construction delays caused by the lockdown mean they will not be able to meet the December deadline.

An extension would allow builders to complete deals that have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic before the policy ends.

Craig Hall, head of broker relationships and propositions at Legal & General Mortgage Club, says: “Today’s news that the Government is drawing up plans for an extension to Help to Buy will give developers much more certainty around which planned sites will still be eligible for the current scheme. This will be particularly important as many housebuilders will be revising their timetables for completion in light of the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.

“An extension will also help to support the growing demand for Help to Buy amongst homebuyers, including buyers with smaller deposits who now face a much more limited choice of high loan-to-value mortgages.”

How does Help to Buy work?

Help to Buy is a Government-backed initiative designed to help people buy a property worth up to £250,000 or £450,000 in London.

Introduced in 2013, it is available to first-time buyers and existing homeowners looking to move up a rung on the property ladder with a deposit as low as 5% through an equity loan.

With the scheme, you can borrow up to 20% of the purchase price of a new-build home, or 40% in London. You won’t be charged fees on the loan for the first five years of owning your home.

The scheme is dues to end in April 2021 when it will be replaced by a new version only open to first-time buyers.

The Help to Buy scheme has helped thousands of people get a foot on the property ladder who otherwise would have been unable to because of high deposits.

However, the scheme has been criticised for helping people who could afford a home, driving up property prices and increasing the profits of housebuilders.

Kate Davies, executive Director of the Intermediary Mortgage Lenders Association (IMLA), says: “COVID-19 has caused severe disruption to the market.  Any consideration of new schemes has been side-lined while firms have worked to protect existing customers.

“Pre-planned construction projects have also been significantly delayed – leaving customers who were relying on the Help to Buy scheme to purchase their new-build properties to feel as if this could be taken away by a somewhat arbitrary deadline.”

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Fight for your rights: “Thousands refunded to readers this year — but it’s not all about the money”

Fight for your rights: “Thousands refunded to readers this year — but it’s not all about the money”

The thing I will miss most about being Moneywise’s consumer champion is helping readers who are more vulnerable.

Hannah Nemeth
Wed, 07/29/2020 – 10:06

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The thing I will miss most about being Moneywise’s consumer champion is not so much the money I’ve managed to claw back from companies – averaging at about £1,000 a month – but helping readers who are more vulnerable. Sometimes their stories don’t get mentioned on these pages, either for lack of space or for fear that readers will be identified.

The complaint I’ve found most rewarding to resolve in recent weeks involves a thoughtless attitude by a telecoms giant and a victim of domestic coercion.

Our reader wrote in to say that she was divorced after experiencing coercive control throughout her marriage.

She had changed her household accounts to her name, but her Sky account was still in her husband’s name – even though she was paying the bills. She said Sky was “unsympathetic” and asked her to speak to her ex about closing the account.

She felt uncomfortable doing this, but eventually emailed him, but instead he just arranged a better deal.

Nervous of challenging him, she told Moneywise: “I have now resigned myself to having an account that is not in my name and receiving phone calls and emails from Sky addressed to my ex.”

When I spoke to Sky, I was told that Sky subscriptions could not be transferred, though it does try to help in exceptional circumstances, adding that as long as our reader had the password she could speak to the team and make changes to payment details.

But Sky was missing the point – her partner still had control of the account unless he closed it.

Sky explained that a stumbling block was that there was a credit agreement for a mobile phone in her husband’s name on the account. Unless the bill was paid in full, Sky said the account had to remain in his name.

But after several weeks of toing and froing, Sky said it could arrange to have the TV contract cancelled and a new account set up under the reader’s name. It offered her Sky Cinema for free for two months as a gesture of goodwill.

Our reader was happy with that, saying: “It is such a relief to have it sorted and to know that I am in control of my account.”

A Sky spokesperson says: “Sky is committed to supporting customers affected by domestic abuse and we have made access to online support services and information free of data charges. The customer is now in control of the account and we’re sorry it took longer to resolve than it should have.”

This case shows how staff on the ground may not be trained to look at the bigger picture and at individual circumstances. But the great thing about being a consumer journalist is that you can flag up these complaints and hope that it will lead to a better understanding and a change in policy in the future. 

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Fight for your Rights: “Virgin Holidays owes me £7,000 for cancelled trip”

Fight for your Rights: “Virgin Holidays owes me £7,000 for cancelled trip”

Hannah Nemeth helps three readers get their money back after their holidays were cancelled due to the pandemic

Hannah Nemeth
Wed, 07/29/2020 – 09:38

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Virgin Holidays

Thousands of travellers have been complaining about how hard it is to get a refund for a cancelled flight or holiday.

While the travel industry is under huge pressure, many holidaymakers are frustrated by how hard it is to get through to customer services once their flight or holiday has been cancelled.

TC booked a holiday to Ajman in the United Arab Emirates over Easter with Virgin Holidays but was advised on 27 March that it had been cancelled due to the pandemic.

He was offered a voucher but phoned up Virgin Holidays to ask for a refund of more than £7,000. He contacted Fight for your Rights on 28 May when he still had no idea if or when he would get a refund.

He had only received an automated email saying that Virgin “was committed to getting your refund but we can’t confirm what the timescale will be right now”.

What was more worrying was that he has another family holiday booked with Virgin Holidays this summer, which cost £19,729. This trip has also been cancelled – so it is a huge sum he is owed.

When I contacted the tour operator, it apologised for the delays but advised that refunds would take up to a maximum of 120 days and that “it was fully committed to paying every single refund in full”.

A Virgin Holidays spokesperson said: “Virgin Holidays understands the difficulties that the Covid-19 crisis poses to our customers with upcoming travel plans, and we are offering as much flexibility as possible for those whose trips are affected. 

“To provide immediate peace of mind for customers whose holidays will no longer be going ahead, we are automatically providing a voucher for the value of their trip, redeemable up until 31 March 2021, which they can use to rebook a holiday, departing before 31 December 2021.”

But it went on to say: “We would reassure all Virgin Holidays customers that if they have requested a refund, it will be repaid in full, and the work to process refunds is our priority.

“Payments are being prioritised based on how long the customer has been waiting for their refund, and the payment will be processed within an absolute maximum of 120 days. We are making every effort to reduce this timeframe wherever possible.”

TC is resigned to waiting for his refund for his second trip – which he should receive in September.

He says: “When my holiday was cancelled back in March, I was very supportive of Virgin as I recognised this was a very challenging time for travel companies. 

“But it is fair to say that all the goodwill I had towards Virgin, which had been built up over 20 years of travel, has sadly disappeared over the past three months. I feel during this challenging time they have totally abandoned their customers and I will use other travel companies for any future holiday plans.”

Outcome: £7,000 refunded

Catch-22 over Expedia refund for cancelled Virgin flight

It is not just TC who is having to wait for a refund from the Virgin Group.

JM booked a return flight to Tel Aviv on 19 January 2020 through travel site Expedia, paying £458 to fly on 11 April with Virgin Atlantic.

He says: “When my flight with Virgin Atlantic was cancelled due to Covid-19, I got through to Expedia’s automated service and was told I would get a refund.

“On the day of my flight, I tried again and got the same message.”

In early May, he called Expedia again and was told that Virgin was giving all its customers flight vouchers, which would need to be spent by the end of January 2021.

When JM said he wanted a refund, he was told to email Virgin’s refund department.

He then received an automated response telling him to contact his agent – Expedia.

JM says: “I feel that I’ve been pushed from pillar to post. I’ve received no official communication from Expedia to say I will be getting a voucher or refund.” 

As JM booked his flight with Expedia, his contract was with the travel site and it was responsible for arranging a refund.

Once Moneywise got involved, Expedia was quick to confirm that JM will be refunded – though it will take several weeks.

A spokesperson for Expedia says: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Our customer care team has confirmed that a refund has been processed by Virgin Atlantic and will be credited to the customer in eight to 12 weeks.”

JM says: “I felt that I was left in the lurch by both Expedia and Virgin Atlantic. There was a lot of holding on the line to get through to someone with no clear resolution, but Moneywise fought my case and was brilliant.”

Outcome: Virgin to refund £485

Airbnb won’t refund fees for cancelled booking

Another reader, AJ, also had problems with a refund from Airbnb due to Covid-19 after booking a week’s accommodation for early July as part of a holiday to the Dominican Republic.

When British Airways cancelled his flight, his Airbnb host agreed to refund his rental costs right away. However, when he asked Airbnb for a refund of its £330 service fee, it was less accommodating. It said that its Covid-19 policy only applied until the end of June.

Once Moneywise got in touch, Airbnb said that AJ’s booking was not covered under its extenuating circumstances policy but, as the host had agreed to offer a refund, it would refund its service fee as a goodwill gesture.

A spokesperson for Airbnb says: “Our handling of this case did not meet our usual high standards and the guest has been refunded in full.” 

Meanwhile, AJ says that he now views Airbnb in a less than positive light.

“I am pleased Airbnb reacted so fast after you contacted them. Our emails and letters were certainly being ignored,” he says. “This experience has left a bad taste for us. Other places we booked on this trip – hotels and a resort – were quick to help us once we explained the situation. They didn’t even ask for proof of the flight cancellation.”

Outcome: Airbnb pays £330 goodwill gesture

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RACHEL LACEY: Growing older and wiser on the job

RACHEL LACEY: Growing older and wiser on the job

Rachel reflects on her 17 years at Moneywise

Rachel Lacey
Wed, 07/29/2020 – 09:00

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I’ve been at Moneywise most of my working life. The adventure began 17 years ago, when I had just returned home from another adventure, a gap year travelling around the world.

A lucky break had landed me my first job in journalism so I was anxious about how I would find my second with the pressure of rent and bills hanging over my head.

But luck was again on my side and a fellow freelancer (Moneywise stalwart Sam Barrett, if memory serves me well) told me Moneywise was looking for journalists to do shifts at its Canary Wharf offices.

A week on shift turned into month-long bookings: I was writing news and features and looking after all our correspondence pages, like letters and Ask the Professionals. Previously I had only written about health insurance and mortgages for financial advisers, so consumer writing was a real change and a real challenge.

I finally joined the Moneywise team permanently a year later when the magazine was bought from Reader’s Digest by the investment platform interactive investor, and we moved to offices in the City.

My job was changing and so was my life. What I had written before had never had any resonance with me, but now what I was writing for work was helping me with some pretty major life events. First buying a house, then getting married and eventually, in January 2009, starting a family.

By this point I was now editing Moneywise. We had launched Moneywise.co.uk and were embracing new ways of sharing content – like videos. We had no budget whatsoever – certainly none for hair and make-up – and I’ll never forget interviewing an estate agent in my back garden, desperately trying to hide a growing baby bump.

I took a break to have my first son, Will (pictured above, who went on to star in his own Moneywise video on child trust funds) but returned to the magazine in late 2009, this time part-time.

Moneywise has always been more popular with women than your average financial mag, and I found myself writing more about the challenges in my own life, including work, childcare and juggling everything.

I don’t think it was just my advancing age, but it felt like personal finance was becoming more important around this time too. Interest rates had plummeted to 0.5% on my maternity leave, austerity was biting and people seemed more tuned in to their personal finances.

I was used to people changing the subject when I told them I was a financial journalist, now I would get hit with a barrage of questions. Money saving had become a competitive sport.

I had another break from Moneywise when baby number two (Edward) came along in 2011, but flexible working made my return to work easier. I was spending more time working from home.

I had learnt so much by this point. I could certainly spend more time shopping around for the best deals, and my love of retail therapy still hasn’t abated – but what Moneywise had given me was the motivation to save and the confidence to invest my cash. I had set up my own Stocks and Shares Isa as well as Stocks and Shares Junior Isas for the boys.

But it wasn’t until 2015 that I started to learn perhaps my most valuable lesson. Following the introduction of the pension freedoms that April, we launched a sister magazine to Moneywise, How to Retire in Style, to help over-55s plan their retirement income.

It taught me not only why pension saving is important but also that it’s something you need to actively engage with if you want to retire on a half decent income – particularly if you are a woman.

One of my proudest achievements was last year’s Great British Retirement Survey, a collaboration between Moneywise and interactive investor, which some 10,000 readers took part in.

It confirmed what we all suspected – that women had less money saved than men, they were more wary about managing it and were less excited by retirement as a result. It painted a pretty bleak picture.

As I start to plan ventures new, this very much lurks at the back of my mind. Life’s ups and down mean pensions and savings can’t always be a big priority, but thanks to Moneywise my eyes have been opened and I’m aware of the challenges ahead.

After 17 years, only art director Mark Stammers has been here longer than me. But I think, thanks to everything that it stands for, Moneywise will remain in the hearts of everyone who has written or worked for it over the past 30 years. In our mission to help our readers manage their money better, we have also learnt plenty of lessons ourselves and we are all so sorry that this journey has come to an end.  

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