THE Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
Alien invasion in our homes
DO you have an unwanted guest in your home or garden?
Invasive Species Week, which ends tomorrow, aims to raise awareness of the damage non-native plants and animals do to the environment.
Experts estimate the annual cost of invasive species to the UK economy exceeds £1.7billion, including damage to buildings and native plants.
Here are the top invaders rampaging through UK homes and how to tackle them.
GREY SQUIRRELS: The critters cause £40m worth of damage to UK trees each year alone and if they get inside your loft, they will gnaw wood, pipes and electrical cables and shred insulation. Call a pest control firm.
JAPANESE KNOTWEED: Introduced as an ornamental plant in Victorian times, the roots of this voracious species can grow several feet a month, threatening building foundations.
Most mortgage firms refuse to lend on a home with knotweed in the garden or even close by.
Engage a specialist firm to remove it. Find out more at gov.uk/guidance/ prevent-japanese-knotweed-from-spreading.
BAMBOO: The craze for Asian-inspired gardens has made bamboo a popular choice, but left unchecked, its roots can extend for 30ft.
There have been legal cases where neighbours have claimed for damage, including bamboo growing up through floorboards. Ask a professional gardening company to remove it.
GIANT HOGWEED: Notorious for causing skin burns, it needs to be chemically treated for three consecutive years to kill seeds and roots.
OAK PROCESSIONARY MOTH: The caterpillars have venomous hairs which remain toxic for years. The hairs blow on the wind and can stick to clothing and pets, causing severe irritation, redness and swelling. Report sightings at treealert.forestresearch.gov.uk.
Buy of the week
WHETHER you want to get away from it all or invest in a holiday let, this pretty Grade II-listed thatched cottage near Exmoor ticks all the boxes.
Snap it up for £240,000 at onthemarket.com/details/10400246.
Quick mortgage searches
NEW mortgage platform Mortgagez aims to help time-pressed homebuyers by searching the whole market for deals in just one minute.
Would-be homebuyers don’t need to sign up and the quick quote won’t impact your credit rating.
Founder Vik Roda said: “The service will genuinely transform the way people search and apply for a new mortgage online.”
Deal of the week
LOVING the cottagecore trend? Add it to your home with a Laura Ashley Lisette Flint kitchen splashback.
Was £199, now £159.20 at splashback.co.uk.
Judge Rinder, legal expert
‘‘Our son’s ex has stopped his little girl having contact with him and the rest of the family. Is this legal?’’
Q) OUR granddaughter’s mother has stopped all contact with her dad (our son) and the rest of the family.
Our son is very upset and misses his daughter, 13. She sent a message to one of his friends a few weeks ago saying she misses him too.
We feel she is unhappy and we would like it if you could suggest the best way to tackle this awful issue legally?
I have spoken to social services and the police and they say that as there is no legal paperwork saying he can’t visit, then he has every right to access unless the courts say otherwise. But he feels that by trying to contact his daughter face to face he is just making it worse for her.
A) Your son is legally entitled to contact with his daughter unless there is a court order saying otherwise.
And, as a grandparent, you have a clear legal right to see her unless your son’s ex has a proper reason to believe that your granddaughter would be harmed.
I am afraid that this may end up in court but there’s no reason to worry as the law is likely to be your side.
Your best option at first is to attempt to do all you can to resolve this amicably.
Write to your son’s ex, calmly suggesting an arrangement between everybody, and reminding her of her legal obligation to allow your granddaughter to see her father.
You should offer mediation in this correspondence – it is often a good way to resolve things.
If this doesn’t work you may need legal advice which, given this situation, should not be too expensive. Citizens Advice can point you all in the right direction.
Q) MY father died in 2000 and in his will he left me a third of his estate and a car.
He made my stepmother executor of his will and she tore the will up in front of me. She sold the car before the funeral.
I went to a solicitor and was told that because she was the executor she could do whatever she wanted. Is that correct, is there anything I can do about it?
A) I do not like to criticise fellow members of the legal profession but this advice seems to me to be entirely wrong.
As executor of your father’s estate, your stepmother was legally required to distribute all of your father’s assets according to the wishes he set out in his will.
If your stepmother failed to do this (which she apparently has) she could have faced serious legal penalties. You could also have sued your stepmother in court to reclaim everything that was rightfully yours.
The problem you have in this matter is that this all appears to have happened over two decades ago so you are likely to be out of time for bringing legal action.
On the other hand, given how extraordinary the original advice you received was, you might still have a claim for professional negligence against the lawyer who spoke to you.
Get in touch with a specialist solicitor (you can find one online) who should give you some initial advice without charge.
Damage claim’s chilly response
Q) I BOUGHT a fridge-freezer online and paid for the old one to be taken away. During the course of the delivery our floor was damaged.
I immediately contacted customer services but they replied to say the damage was already there and had been noted by the delivery men.
This is simply not the case – I watched them work and saw how the damage was done. I also provided photographs as evidence.
What should I do now?
A) You appear to have good evidence that the people who removed the fridge caused the damage to your floor.
The company they work for are clearly legally responsible for this. I would write a further email to the head of customer services attaching an estimate for the repairs, making clear you intend to take this matter to the Small Claims Court if they fail to pay for the damage. If they still refuse, take this matter to court.
Do not be frightened off by their lawyers. By the sound of it, you have a very strong case.
Mel Hunter, reader’s champion
Going Dutch cost me dear
Q) I WAS due to go to a hotel in Amsterdam with my sisters last summer. I had paid £349 for a room, booked through Otel.com.
As the pandemic unfolded, I was trying to contact Otel.com but their phone lines weren’t working and my emails weren’t getting through.
At the same time, they continued to send me emails containing my pre-paid accommodation voucher.
I emailed the hotel and was told that Otel.com had cancelled my booking. The hotel said it hadn’t received any money from the travel firm.
I have tried to claim a refund through the credit card I used with Nationwide, only to be told that I am not entitled.
A) Using a credit or debit card should give an extra layer of protection. Under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, the card company is jointly responsible if something goes wrong, while Chargeback is an alternative scheme that allows the bank to claim the cost back from the merchant.
Before I got involved, Nationwide had not shifted its stance. This is despite the fact you were told Otel.com had not paid the hotel, and was proving impossible to contact.
In fact, its website no longer seems to be operational.
I asked Nationwide to reconsider and your claim was successful. Nationwide said: “The member’s claim was correctly declined initially as we had no evidence that she hadn’t cancelled the booking.”
It also gave you £75 compensation. I haven’t been able to contact Otel.com.
Nationwide gave it 30 days to respond to the Chargeback claim.
Q) I HAVE been a loyal Vodafone customer for 25 years and, in December 2019, I upgraded my mobile phone, taking out a two-year contract paying £25 a month.
The phone got too hot so I returned it to my local store 38 days later, expecting Vodafone to replace it.
It said that because it was more than 30 days old, it would have to go back to Samsung for repair.
I was not happy, but I left the phone with them and said that they should do whatever they have to with it.
I have not seen the phone since nor heard about what was wrong with it. Yet Vodafone still wants me to pay £25 per month.
I complained to the CEDR dispute resolution service, which took my side, but the following day it said it had given me the wrong decision.
Vodafone says it doesn’t have to do anything, and I have to continue to pay every month for this phone, which is somewhere in the store.
Q) There was confusion about whether your phone had actually gone for repair. You believed that’s what had happened, but Vodafone seemed less sure.
No one knew where your phone had gone and it could not be found.
With me on the case, Vodafone cancelled your contract and waived around £200 that you still owed.
A booking.com spokesperson told me: “We are committed to facilitating smooth travel experiences for our customers, which is why, if a customer ever requires assistance with a booking, our 24/7 customer service team is on hand to answer questions, provide support and advocate on their behalf.
“In this case, as this customer’s trip was impacted by official travel restrictions, we have processed a full refund.”
The company didn’t explain why it had refused your original request, though.