It might not always feel like it, but we actually have lots of laws, rules and regulations protecting our consumer rights in the UK. Unfortunately, wherever there are rules, there are ways to bend them.
In recent years, there’s been a huge rise in ‘third party’ firms. These are businesses that don’t actually offer the goods or services they are providing. If you’ve bought a holiday online in the last few years, you’ve probably used an ‘online marketplace’. So the firm you booked the hotel and flights with isn’t the firm that provides the services.
This might not seem like a major problem – until you need to complain. I’ve spent the last year being deluged by complaints about travel traumas alone, with most about online travel marketplaces. Many of these firms refused to refund cancelled holidays despite being threatened with fines and court action. Their argument is your contact isn’t with them – it’s with the hotel or airline.
I disagree – but this is a grey area. Businesses operating as a third party are often able to exploit gaps in the rules like this to avoid responsibility when things go wrong. Which brings us to vouchers…
Voucher websites have been one of the biggest success stories of the last few years. They appeared seemingly from nowhere, and millions of people use them regularly. But their customer service often leaves a lot to be desired. Last year nearly 14,000 people used Resolver to make a complaint about these websites. So here’s what to watch out for.
Voucher websites offer a huge range of goods and services, from spa days to garden furniture sets. If you can think of it, you can usually find it on one of the websites. They work by offering big discounts on the things being sold on the site. The catch? You buy a voucher from the website, then use it to make your purchase from the retailer.
Everyone loves a bargain, so on face value this rather complex arrangement doesn’t seem so bad. The voucher website doesn’t have all the overheads of a superstore and the retailer can reach a much wider range of shoppers.
The problem though, is when the goods turn up and they aren’t what you wanted or expected. One of the most common complaints I hear is about poor-quality items, broken or damaged goods or things that simply never appear. Lots of people raise concerns about T&Cs on ‘experience days’ that make the actual experience rather less fabulous.
The Consumer Rights Act gives you loads of powers when it comes to dealing with retailers in the UK. You’re entitled to a full refund from the retailer in the first 30 days if the goods or services are damaged or misrepresented, for example. And for six months after the purchase, the firm must repair or replace items that don’t work. However, many people I’ve spoken to have reported businesses based abroad that don’t respond. Others have told me that some shops have refused point blank to refund.
And, of course, the other problem is technically, what you’ve purchased is a voucher. So even if you do get a refund, it might just be a voucher for something you don’t want or need.
Because of this voucher websites have come under scrutiny and have reputedly been warned about poor practices, refund rights and customer service. Not all firms are bad, but bear in mind that you might encounter problems when making a complaint.
Ultimately, if you’re thinking about using a voucher website, check the T&Cs on the website before going ahead. Check to see if there’s a telephone number to speak to a member of staff on the ‘contact us’ page too. If there’s no way to speak to a human, then have a think if the firm deserves your cash. Always remember though that getting a 5% discount might seen tempting – but bear in mind that buying direct makes it much easier to sort out a complaint.
Resolver can help with all complaints about voucher firms and retailers. Get help for free at www.resolver.co.uk