My mother, who will be 100 this summer, took a turn for the worse in February so I returned to the UK from the Philippines.
I booked a £510 hire car online with Easirent to pick up from Hounslow, near Heathrow, and return to Gatwick 20 days later.
When I presented my debit card, which I had used to book the car, I was told that because it wasn’t a credit card there would be an additional £330 charge.
Wrong plastic: A reader was landed with a bill for £330 when they went to pick up their hire car at the airport – because they don’t have a credit card
Tired and desperate to see my mother, I had little alternative other than to pay the extra charge as the Easirent office was a cabin in an isolated area and I could not switch to another hire firm.
G. B., Philippines.
Sally Hamilton replies: I find the whole car hire process a low point of any holiday.
I breathe a sigh of relief when the vehicle is returned unscathed at the end, though I always half expect the hire firm to find some reason to chase me for more money. So it was with empathy that I read your letter.
It took me a few days to make contact with the right person to investigate your complaint. And head of customer services, Janice East, did respond. Sadly, not in the way you or I would have liked as she made no offer to refund the unexpected extra charge.
She says the requirements for a credit card are made clear at the point of booking on the Easirent website, adding that customers are required to tick a box to confirm they accept the t&cs.
A link to these terms is indeed shown next to the tick box. But as we all know, it is easy to overlook this when in a hurry.
Of course, Janice is right that customers have responsibility to understand the terms before agreeing to them, but I would argue such a key — and expensive — condition should be far more prominent to avoid bad feeling at the check-in desk.
I asked insurance firm iCarhireinsurance about the debit card conundrum. Chief executive Ernesto Suarez, tells me: ‘The issue is that the rental company needs to know the hirer is able to pay the excess amount if a car is damaged or stolen.
‘If they have a credit card this can be pre-authorised, but this is not always possible with a debit card.’ The ‘excess’ is the amount you pay before your insurer will step in to cover any costs. It can be as much as £1,000, so customers are advised to buy what is known as excess insurance.
Many people opt to buy cheaper stand-alone policies. But this means the car hire firm will still need to ensure you can cover the excess, as any bills for theft or damage are paid by drivers and then reclaimed from the insurer. So, those without a credit card often have to buy excess insurance from the rental company.
It is disappointing Easirent could not offer at least a goodwill gesture to help ease your dissatisfaction. Nevertheless, you told me you are keen to share your experience to alert other debit card users to a potential pile-up of extra costs at the hire desk. Debit card users, you have been warned.
Straight to the point
My mother, a widowed 92-year-old, recently had a fall. She lives alone and is independent, but all her calls are going to voicemail.
B. M., Cheshire.
Shell sent two engineers to your mother’s house. It says that the issue was caused by a crossed line which needed to be fixed by Openreach. It apologised for the delay.
My husband and I organised a music event and raised £2,150.06 for the DEC Ukraine Appeal. Our local NatWest said it would match donations but has still not done so.
J. W., Portishead.
NatWest says it set a £2.5 million target for matched customer donations to the appeal. It had already reached this target, however it has now agreed to match your sum as a gesture of goodwill.
When I tried to set up an online monthly payment for £30 with my new Santander bank card, a message said I would need to enter a code sent to my mobile phone. But I do not have one and Santander told me there is nothing it can do.
R. C., via email.
Santander apologises and claims you were given wrong advice. It has now been arranged for you to receive these codes via email.
HMRC won’t sort error at a very difficult time
In July last year, I filed a self-assessment tax return on behalf of my 91-year-old father for the year 2020-21.
The tax office did not reply until November 19. At that point, I noticed an error — I had omitted to fill in the box stating how much tax my father had already paid. I wrote soon afterwards enclosing copies of his P60s and asked it to recalculate the tax due.
I wrote again on January 21, as no reply had been received. My father’s health has since deteriorated; he is now receiving end-of-life care in a home.
I enclosed my power of attorney (PoA) document as I am dealing with all his financial affairs.
This letter was sent by recorded delivery and I enclosed a stamped addressed envelope (SAE) for the PoA to be returned.
Still, I heard nothing so I chased again on March 21. I have tried phoning but either I get cut off or have to hang up as I have been kept on hold for too long. I tried online but with no success.
Meanwhile, the collection department is demanding a payment that is incorrect. How can I get through to the department if no one responds to written correspondence or answers phone calls?
A. B., Bude, Cornwall.
Sally Hamilton replies: How aggravating to be sent down the rabbit hole that is HM Revenue & Customs customer services when trying to unravel a simple error. You had omitted to fill in the box for the 2020-21 tax return that showed your father had already paid tax of £2,270 and now he faces an incorrect bill for £3,846.
I stepped in and asked HMRC to update the sums that you submitted after realising your slip, clear the current bill and issue a new one.
Within two days HMRC had contacted you, confirmed your father in fact owes just £1.51 and arranged to pay him £75 ‘for the inconvenience’ he’d faced.
You thanked me for this ‘great result’, although you didn’t exactly jump for joy when you learnt HMRC had destroyed the PoA document you sent. Apparently, this is common practice once documents have been uploaded on to the department’s platform and have been sitting around for a while.
The struggle to have queries dealt with has been taxing the nerves of many during the pandemic, with a backlog of postal queries piled up at HMRC’s door. A spokesman told me that within the last month its postbag has returned to pre-pandemic levels, which suggests things should start improving. Dear readers, you can tell me if they don’t!
- Write to Sally Hamilton at Sally Sorts It, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] — include phone number, address and a note addressed to the offending organisation giving them permission to talk to Sally Hamilton. Please do not send original documents as we cannot take responsibility for them. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given.
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