Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Mrs E.J. writes: I am sending you a copy of a letter I received from Domestic Cover Limited, spuriously claiming that I have a contract with it to provide its TV & Peripherals Protection Plan, for which it intends to take £99 from my bank account.
I should like to know how this company obtained details of my account.
And why it intends to take money for a contract that does not exist and never has.
Policy: The Financial Conduct Authority must authorise any firm that offers insurance for TVs
The letter you received could not be more clear. It announces: ‘We are proud to inform you that your TV & Peripherals Protection Plan with Utility Care is now being provided by Domestic Cover Limited.’ And it goes on to explain that if your TV or any related equipment breaks down, then ‘One of our engineers will be booked within 24 hours of reporting a problem, and any faults found with your covered equipment will be dealt with either by repair or replacement.’
What is less clear is how Domestic Cover got your details. You have never heard of it or Utility Care Limited, whose plan it says it has taken over. And adding a further layer of mystery, you told me you were previously contacted in the same way by yet another company, TV Spark Limited.
TV Spark, based in Worthing in West Sussex, ceased trading a year ago. Utility Care, also based in West Sussex, still exists and its sole director is Karl Grove, who is also a director of Domestic Cover, set up last January. The company, and Grove and fellow director Dan Williams, all use an address in Covent Garden in London, but they are really in – surprise, surprise – West Sussex.
I asked Domestic Cover how it got hold of your bank details, and Dan Williams told me: ‘We do not hold any payment details for Mrs J.’ He explained: ‘The plan was sold in November 2019 to a separate individual, but in error the sales person wrote Mrs J’s contact details into the sale documentation.’ He was uncertain where your details came from, but believed you must have given them voluntarily to a market research firm that sold them on.
I also asked Williams to say exactly what his company provides. He uses words like ‘protection’ and ‘cover’, which make it appear that he is selling insurance or a warranty scheme, but he told me his customers only gain ‘free access to our group of engineers’. He claimed: ‘This is not insurance as we do not replace the item with a cash value – we repair or replace it.’
This is a grey area. The Financial Conduct Authority says all genuine insurers need its authorisation, and it warns: ‘If you buy or own a product like a mobile phone, satellite TV box or home appliance, you might consider insuring it in case it gets damaged or lost. This sort of insurance should cover you for the repair or replacement of the product, with parts and labour costs often included.’
And the watchdog adds: ‘The cover is often described as a ‘warranty’ but is actually an insurance contract… which means the company offering it to you must be authorised by us.’
So does Domestic Cover need authorisation? And on the wider front, how many unauthorised insurers has the FCA prosecuted? The FCA refused to comment, except to offer a vague assurance that it looks at all reports of unauthorised activity I don’t suppose I should be surprised. In October last year, The Mail on Sunday’s sister website This is Money reported how TV Spark targeted the elderly with high pressure sales calls offering warranties. Despite having evidence of unauthorised activity, the FCA refused to comment.
And last April, the website reported how a company called Home and General Limited had double-charged an elderly couple, collecting £250 to insure their old TV. And the director of Home and General was… Dan Williams. He told me the charges were ‘an administrative error’. I again asked the FCA to say whether it had taken any action. It refused to say.
Affect’s bill has bad effect
K.B. writes: I am continually receiving letters from Affect Energy, part of the Octopus Energy Group, claiming I owe them money, currently £1,130.
I did have an account with them until I switched suppliers last year, and I have a letter and final bill from Affect that confirm this.
Shocking: K.B. continually receives letters from Affect Energy citing monies owed amounting to £1,130
You told me that as you are in your 80s, you are finding it worrying to deal with Affect’s demands, but when you wrote explaining this, you received no reply except for a fresh bill.
Staff at Affect say they did not receive your letter, but admit the demands are wrong. They blame a ‘technical error’ which failed to record that you changed supplier, so you have been billed for energy you have never used.
They cancelled the demands and told me they were sending you £50 as an apology, but then failed to send it – so they have now sent £75.
WE’RE WATCHING YOU
Two months ago, I reported how a nurse ran into problem after problem when she tried to return the car she had leased from Volkswagen Financial Services.
The lease was due to end on April 30, so six weeks earlier she gave VW notice that she wanted to hand back the Volkswagen rather than buy it, but instead of collecting the car, VW helped itself to £4,005 from her bank account, which would have been the balance due for a purchase.
When the nurse complained, VW returned the money, but explained that it could not collect the car because of lockdown. VW agreed to extend the lease so she could still get to work, but soon afterwards changed its mind and scrapped the lease, so the nurse returned the log book papers to the DVLA and cancelled the insurance. This left her unable to use the car, but VW still failed to collect it and ordered her to carry on insuring it.
By July, things got even worse. VW called in debt collectors, claiming that it was still owed £4,005 for the car. Then it finally sent someone to collect the car, but they demanded that the nurse fit a new tyre at her own expense.
Meanwhile, the car sat on the drive at the home of the nurse’s mother. I did suggest that VW pay for a tyre instead of paying storage fees for the unusable car, but it did not like this idea, though it admitted it should never have demanded the £4,005, let alone used a debt collector. And that was how things stayed until the beginning of last month, when VW burst into life again – not with a solution, not with collection of the car, not with the offer of a new tyre, but with a fresh demand for the same £4,005 that VW had previously confessed was not due.
VW has now told me: ‘A letter was automatically generated by our system and sent in error.’ But the best news is that VW also sent someone new to collect the car, and he found the tyre tread had miraculously grown back to well within legal limits. VW has withdrawn all its claims, accepted the car back, and has offered £250 to the nurse as an apology for turning minor mistakes into a serious saga.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email email@example.com. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.