EVERY Saturday, The Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
JUDGE Rinder, Mel Hunter and Jane Hamilton give advice on legal, consumer and property issues.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
SAVE money and the environment. Monday sees the start of the annual Big Energy Saving Week, where Brits are urged to make energy saving changes to help both the climate and your wallet.
With the average household spending a huge £1,368 each year on gas and electricity, even a few small swaps can make a very big difference.
To get started, try these simple DIY hacks and see how much you can cut off your bill.
PROBLEM: A dripping tap can waste 5,300 litres of water a year, so make sure your taps are properly turned off and change washers if they drip.
COST: A leaking tap loses an average of £35 worth of water each year. The average plumber charges £35 to sort it, but you can replace a washer yourself for £2. Watch a video tutorial for free on YouTube.
SAVE: £33 a year if you fix yourself
PROBLEM: Replacing an inefficient shower head with a water-efficient one could save a household of four people around £70 a year off gas bills, plus around £115 a year off water bills.
COST: A water-efficient shower head costs from £20. Some water firms offer them for free.
SAVE: £165 in a year
PROBLEM: Installing a thermostat, a programmer and thermostatic radiator valves and using these controls efficiently could save around £75 a year.
COST: Thermostatic valves cost from £12.99 and room thermostats and programmers from about £40. Installation can cost from £100 upwards.
SAVE: You should save cash from the second year.
PROBLEM: Draught-proofing window and doors and blocking cracks in floors and skirting boards can save around £20 a year on energy bills.
COST: Basic door-attached draught excluder cost from under £4 while weather strip seal for windows is less than £2.50. Fill cracks with specialist filler from £3.50.
SAVE: You should break even in year one – and save every year afterwards
Buy of the week
FALKIRK in Stirlingshire has the UK’s most in-demand property market, according to online comparison site getagent.co.uk.
This stylish three-bed home is on sale for £179,950 at onthemarket.com/details/8157620.
THE average buyer views eight homes before finding the one they fall in love with.
To help you keep track, property site Zoopla has released a free buyer’s checklist to record the details of each home you view.
You can find it at zoopla.co.uk/discover/buying/house-viewing-checklist.
Deal of the week
BRIGHTEN up Blue Monday with this stylish Cerys lamp, available in a range of neutral shades at dunelm.com for £3.50.
SAVE: £10 on similar styles elsewhere.
Q) MY wife is a freeholder on a block of flats. One of the leaseholders has not been paying their ground rent and service charges for eight years over claims there is a problem with the roof. But she needs the money from the service charge so that she can fix the roof. What do you advise she does to get the money?
Nick, West Sussex
A) Freeholders are usually legally responsible for the upkeep of the external structure of the buildings they own. Although your wife needs to check the terms of this lease with care, she is almost certainly responsible for maintaining the roof.
She is probably entitled to recover a portion of the cost of fixing the roof from the annual service charge owed by this leaseholder, but your wife may not refuse to complete this work even though the leaseholder has not paid up.
The bottom line is that the leaseholder appears to have a strong legal point in this situation. The correct approach is for your wife to obtain several quotes for the work, notify the leaseholder of the costs that will be incurred and then get the roof fixed as soon as possible.
Assuming the lease specifies that service charges may go towards building maintenance (it almost certainly does), your wife may be able to recover the cost of these repairs, which could then be deducted from the service charges that this leaseholder has failed to pay over eight years.
Before proceeding I would advise your wife to get some legal advice. This is fairly straightforward but she needs to proceed with care.
Feeling the heat
Q) I OWN a rental property and the heating broke over Christmas.
I sorted it within 48 hours but now the tenants are asking for an unrealistic amount of compensation. Am I obliged to give them any? And if so, how much? Nick, London
A) Nick, even though you did your best to fix the heating as quickly as possible, the tenants still might have a claim for compensation against you, although I should make clear that this would not permit them to withhold any rent they owe you.
Because you fixed the heating as soon as possible, I doubt that these tenants would be able to claim for either general damages (pain and suffering) or special damages (loss of income and that sort of thing).
They could only sue you for losses directly and reasonably connected to the heating not working for 48 hours.
I would suggest looking at their claim with care and making a reasonable offer. If they refuse then suggest mediation.
Mediation would be a far better option than taking you to court where they would be in serious difficulty getting close to the amount they are claiming.
Q) A CAT started turning up at my door and over time I started feeding it. She did not seem to have an owner and gradually she would stay for longer and longer periods until I decided she must be a stray, and started to treat her as my own pet.
When she was sick I paid for a hefty vet bill. Now, over a year later, a guy I have never met before is claiming the cat is his. The cat does not have a microchip so it is impossible to prove. I have become very fond of her and don’t want to give her up. What are my rights?
A) It has been a legal requirement for cat owners to have their pets microchipped since April 2016. A microchip is not proof of ownership, however. As tough as it sounds, cats are considered in law as objects, rather the same as any other household property.
In this case it would be up to this man, who is now claiming ownership of this cat despite a year of absence, to prove that the cat belongs to him. If this matter went to court, this man would need to provide records proving his ownership, such as documentation from a vet.
If you want to keep this cat (I suspect you do now), you should ask this person to provide you with this evidence. If he can’t, it will be up to him to bring proceedings against you. Without proof of ownership or any documents showing that this cat has been legally registered, I suspect a court would take a very dim view of his case.
- Judge Rinder regrets he cannot answer questions personally. Answers intended as general guidance. They do not constitute legal advice and are not a substitute for obtaining independent legal advice.
- Got a question for Judge Rinder? Email email@example.com
Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion
Q) MY return flight with Vueling from Barcelona to London was booked for a Saturday. On the Friday evening, I received a text to say it had been cancelled due to a strike by ground staff. The new flight was on Sunday so I had to stay another night at the hotel, paying almost £200, which I’ve tried to claim back.
I have phoned Vueling several times and been told to send an email with copies of the boarding pass and hotel bill. The claim form on its site just bounces back asking for more information. Would you be able to help me with the claim for the cancelled flight and especially the hotel bill?
A) As your flight was cancelled due to strike action, you are not entitled to compensation under EU law. However, that doesn’t mean you should be left out of pocket. Although it didn’t have to compensate you for the flight delay, Vueling should have provided food and accommodation while you were waiting, or refunded you for the food and hotel.
You’d been trying to sort this for three months before I got involved. The Spanish airline first insisted you hadn’t sent a proper claim, then said you weren’t entitled to anything as the strike was out of its hands. But I didn’t give up and the airline credited you with £125. This was the cost of the return flight, not the hotel bill, but you were happy with the outcome.
Q) EARLY last year my 96-year-old nan changed energy suppliers from British Gas to EDF. She was put on a direct debit of £71, which was taken correctly for four months.
In July, even though she was in credit, it changed the bill, taking £582. I found out this same amount was set to come out of her account each month.
I cancelled the direct debit straightaway and called EDF, who told me they would refund me the £750 credit that was now on her account.
But there has been no refund, and the direct debit has gone back up to £582. Alisson, Aston-under-Lyne
A) Your nan was lucky to have you on her side. If you hadn’t been checking her bills, EDF would have been taking £582 out of her account each month, plunging her into debt.
But despite you being on the case, the energy company was still giving you the runaround.
I got in touch with EDF which confirmed the direct debit had shot up to £582 in error, and admitted it then hadn’t been resolved.
I pointed out the stress this had caused, and got your nan the refund she was owed along with £100 compensation.
Her monthly payments were also put back at the correct level.
An EDF spokesperson said: “We always aim to provide a good service to our customers and are sorry we have not done so on this occasion.
“Unfortunately, Mrs Collins’ direct debit was incorrectly adjusted. This has now been rectified and a refund has been provided. ”
Maddy Tooke, Coupon Queen
My top five freebies this week
- Free eye test from M&S Opticians. Enter your details at bit.ly/mandseyetest to get your voucher. Offer expires Jan 31.
- Get a Light Pornstar Martini from Pitcher & Piano by signing up to its email newsletter. Show e-voucher at bar. Ends Jan 31. See bit.ly/freepornstarmartini
- O2 customers can feel rested with a weekly mindfulness session by Calm. Sign into O2 Priority and tap “use now”. Ends Jan 21. See bit.ly/mindfulnesso2
- Free copy of plant-based Cooking On A Budget from Animal Aid. Go to bit.ly/plantbasedbudget. Available while stocks last.
- Get a free Lancome Teint Idole foundation sample with the voucher from bit.ly/freelancomefoundation. Show at your nearest Lancome counter.
Top 10 deals
- Extra 20 per cent off Hotter Shoes sale orders, plus free delivery, with code VCFP20k. Expires tomorrow. See bit.ly/20hottersale.
- Save £10 on orders over £35 at The Body Shop with code 19805. Expires February 10. Exclusions apply. See bit.ly/bodyshop1035.
- Get 50 per cent off main dishes at Frankie and Benny’s from bit.ly/frankieandbennys50. Voucher valid until January 30.
- Save £10 on orders over £75 at Habitat at bit.ly/habitat10 until January 26.
- Get 20 per cent off at health store Holland and Barrett using code 20OFF from bit.ly/20hollandandbarrett. Expired tomorrow.
- Get an extra ten per cent off at the MissPap half-price sale. Go to bit.ly/misspap10 to get your unique code. Expires January 31.
- Get 15 per cent off Ray-Ban sunglasses, with free delivery. See bit.ly/rayban15off before January 31.
- Save 20 per cent on orders from Paperchase with code PAPERMOMENT20. Not valid with any other offer. Code expires January 31. See bit.ly/paperchase20.
- Get 15 per cent off Cath Kidston orders over £35 with code dft1535 from vouchercloud.com. Deal ends on Wednesday so be quick. See bit.ly/cathkidston15.
- Save ten per cent on early bookings with P&O Ferries with code NSEBOJ-10 from vouchercloud.com Offer expires on January 31. Please see full terms and conditions at bit.ly/pando10.