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
HOME is where the heart is – and the state of your house can have a big impact on your wellbeing.
To mark Mental Health Week, I asked 60 Minute Makeover DIY expert Craig Phillips for some advice.
He said: “Just painting walls or putting down laminate can change lives. In the current situation, we need something to give us a lift.
“Whether it’s cleaning, DIY or maintenance, keeping your mind busy, your body active and making your house look better will help.”
Build your own BBQ area: Getting outside is good for our mental harmony. You can construct a stylish BBQ corner using a shop-bought grill, table and seating. Or if you are feeling adventurous, put together your own brick-built barbie following “how to” videos on YouTube.
Build a DIY pallet bench: Create a quiet corner in your garden with a DIY pallet bench. Easy to make from leftover pallets, it will be durable against our mixed weather. Watch Craig’s how-to video on YouTube.
Hang your own floating shelves: Staring at the same four walls every day soon gets boring. Floating shelves are quick and easy to install and will lift your home with a contemporary look, as well as helping you to get organised. Ikea.com sells them from just £6.
Hang pictures: Now is the time to sort old photos or print images from your phone. Group together shots of friends you are unable to see in person. That will soon lift your spirits.
Get crafty: You don’t have to carry out a big DIY job to boost your mental health. Come up with a small upcycling project, such as painting ceramic flowerpots for the garden or sanding and restoring a wooden table or chair.
Why not do it in rainbow colours to match the cheerful NHS-supporting drawings in windows across the country?
MY daughter booked her wedding before the coronavirus outbreak and paid £500 deposit for a photographer. The wedding is now likely to be cancelled but the snapper says the deposit can’t be refunded.
Is this legal, given it is effectively the Government cancelling the wedding rather than my daughter?
I can understand the photographer’s reluctance to hand back your daughter’s deposit at the moment but he almost certainly must. He might have a contract with your daughter with some wording in it stating that deposits are not returnable in the event of hurricanes or wars or viruses – called a force majeure or act-of-God clause – but I doubt it.
Whether he does or not, the bottom line is that he will be unable to provide his services, so will be in breach of contract. He cannot perform the work as legally agreed.
Your daughter’s entitlement to a refund would apply, in my view, even if the terms of business made it very clear her deposit was “non-refundable”, as she has had to cancel because of a Government edict.
Your daughter has two options over this. She can either ask the photographer to retain the deposit (assuming she still plans on getting married) or insist on a refund within 14 days. Either way, she is legally in the right.
MY colleagues and I suspect that our employer, a restaurant owner, is taking the Government’s furlough payments and not passing them on to the staff. We were informed by letter on March 26 we were being furloughed but then heard nothing further and have received no payment.
When challenged, our boss said we would not be receiving furlough because he did not plan to reopen the restaurant again and we would be made redundant instead.
My understanding was that even if a business went into administration, staff could still be furloughed. Is there any way to ensure that we are?
If your employer has claimed money from the Government’s furlough scheme and failed to pass that on to you, he might have committed a criminal offence and could be prosecuted.
By the sound of it, this employer might have intended to claim from the scheme and then changed his mind (which he is entitled to do). If he shuts down the business, then – as you correctly assumed – you might also be legally entitled to the benefit of the furlough scheme while the business is in administration.
Your first step is to email your employer asking him to confirm that he has not claimed for your wages through the scheme. Then ask for the name of the administrator.
However, note that your redundancy money could conceivably be more than you would get from the scheme – and as soon as the business goes into liquidation, you will no longer be entitled to any furlough payments.
AT the construction company I work for, we are going to be given a two-week break at Christmas, during which there will be a complete shutdown of sites and offices.
Usually we get this off in addition to our holiday entitlement. But this year the company has told us we must keep seven days of our holiday entitlement to take over this period.
This seems unfair, as we don’t have the option of going to work because the whole place is closed. Can they do this?
This feels unfair because it is. But the law doesn’t always cure unfairness. You need to check your contract carefully.
Your employer is, in all likelihood, entitled to ask you to take your holiday even when the business is closed, so long as they give you reasonable notice of this (it seems that they have).
Your contract might specify that you are entitled to holiday outside of these dates, so go through it carefully. Otherwise, I am afraid you are almost certainly stuck with what you are being offered.
Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion
JUST before lockdown, I decided to rent a property by the coast for four nights via cottages.com. I rang the booking line and an agent accepted my £229 payment.
That evening, we became aware of the likely Government lockdown and had misgivings about the booking. So we rang the owner of the property. She was adamant we shouldn’t travel, as the accommodation had already been cancelled and was no longer available.
I was quite relieved but when I tried to get a refund from cottages.com, I got no response. Then I received a voucher to use for a future booking. I do not want this. I want my money – which was taken by cottages.com knowing the property was not available to be rented out.
John Cheney, Birmingham
A couple of months ago was a time of huge confusion. For a brief time, you thought you might be able to self-isolate away from home. But this proved to not be the case, so you quickly changed your plans.
While a voucher is what cottages.com was offering at the time, your case was slightly different. You felt your money had been taken even though the property had been withdrawn from rent.
I put this to the cottage company. It refunded you, telling me: “We are dealing with an unprecedented demand in our call centres but are doing everything we can to help rebook customers’ holidays, including offering price-matched breaks for the same or equivalent date in 2021.”
While cottages.com is still urging customers to accept a voucher, its website now says it will also discuss other options – including refunds.
WE booked to travel to Holland for half-term. We have been refunded for our accommodation but Eurotunnel is refusing to give us our money back or a credit note.
It says we can rebook to travel within 12 months of our booking date – so before February next year. But we have no idea when the travel restrictions will be lifted.
Eurotunnel says if we don’t rebook, we can try to claim through our holiday insurance. But our insurer won’t even discuss it until the week we are due to travel and the excess would take a third of our claim.
We would be more than happy if Eurotunnel gave us a voucher to use in 2021. But it is treating its customers as if Covid-19 and the related travel restrictions simply don’t exist.
Teresa Short, Bristol
Eurotunnel insists that its tickets allow lots of flexibility – which is true in normal times. It lets customers amend their tickets online with no fee as many times as they like within a year of purchase.
But at the moment, while people have no idea when the restrictions will be lifted, that doesn’t look quite so generous.
A Eurotunnel spokesperson told me customers who need more time to use their ticket can now contact the firm to get a voucher.
This needs to be redeemed within a year and used for travel no longer than a year after that, effectively giving you almost two years to use the ticket.
This option did the trick for you.
Buy of the week
GOOD news for Wayne and Coleen Rooney: Building work has resumed on their new £20million mansion in Knutsford, Cheshire.
You can pick up this budget Wag-friendly two-bedroom apartment in the town for considerably less.
It is available for £189,000 at onthemarket.com/details/8319204.