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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Friday 27 January 2017

Massive MasterCard Claim

Remember the MasterCard case which might just generate a bit of cash for you? See my 25 November 2016 post Well, the hearing before the Competition Appeal Tribunal to decide whether the massive claim can go ahead has taken place and the Tribunal has reserved its decision. That means it is thinking about the right result. 

When will its decision be given? No date has yet been fixed. My guess is that it will be within the next six weeks. And if I am wrong? You won't have a claim against me!

No Smoker's Cough

Smuggling fags into the country is at the least likely to be bad on your pocket and bad on your health.

In a case before the tax tribunal in which a decision has just been published, a man returning with his family from Iraq entered the green channel at Heathrow with 13,160 cigarettes in his luggage. Civil evasion penalties were slapped on him for £3,226. He appealed against them to the tribunal which accepted that the man had intended all the cigarettes for his own use.

Monday 23 January 2017


If you take off your clothes on television and are involved in a contested property and maintenance dispute after divorce, the media will be interested in publishing as much detail of the case as they can. On the other hand, if you keep your clothes on except for bathing and going to bed, the likelihood is that the media will leave you alone.

Last week, a woman who was appealing a matrimonial order regarding  finances lost her plea to the Court of Appeal to ban all publicity about the case. Full reasons and no doubt guidance for future cases are to follow. But in the same week, a High Court judge granted an application in a matrimonial finances case banning any publicity apart from the names of the parties involved. We weren't concerned with clothes off in either set of proceedings.

One way to ensure total privacy in cases of this kind is to have your dispute decided out of court by an arbitrator. A financial arbitration scheme is run by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators   which had a pool of around 220 lawyers on their books when I last counted who are prepared to act as an arbitrator. They even include a couple of High Court judges who are trying to supplement their pensions. Some charge an arm and a leg: others can be almost cheap. For more, see Breaking Law at chapter 49 which is my anti-stitch up guide to how to play things when a relationship breaks down.

Now, put your overcoat back on immediately.

Sunday 22 January 2017


A Chinese man who last week opened an account with a Changsha city bank was wrongly credited with around £142 million. Instead of investing in many thousands of gold plated copies of Breaking Law, he returned to the bank three hours later to alert them to the error. No, he is not being investigated for insanity but was rewarded by the bank with a packet of cigarettes and around £24 in cash.

Could he have kept the money? I am not that good on Chinese law but I fancy not. If it had happened here, the answer is NO. If you know that money which has wrongly come your way was not intended for you and you spend  it then that's a crime. Sometimes, though, a bank or building society account may be wrongly credited and you just don't notice it or you believe you are entitled to the money. If you spend it that's not a crime because you have not acted dishonestly. Even better, you may not have to give the money back where the spending has gone on something you would not otherwise have bought. Take a look at chapter 28 of Breaking Law and see my 13 October 2016 post PPI Payments:Hands off. 

Thursday 19 January 2017


Renewing your car insurance? I have already alerted you to one development which your insurer might use to justify a premium increase (see my Don't let your insurer get away with it post on 5 January 2017).

Here's another.

Insurer to you: "It isn't necessary for you to shout at me, sir. A European order coming in on 1 March 2017 means that we must pay more  money to the Motor Insurers Bureau to cover any claims by victims of negligent drivers who were uninsured or have never been traced. That is going to cost us an arm and a leg and we are having to pass that extra burden on to our policyholders. All insurers are doing it. It really hurts us, be assured. Our chief executive officer has been up at night worrying about it. But there you are. Thank goodness for Brexit but it hasn't happened yet. We very much appreciate your loyalty to us over the last 30 years and would you mind answering a customer survey when we have finished?"

Wednesday 18 January 2017


I have had my differences with Waitrose over car parking (see my Car Park Cockup post of 2 December 2016). Regrettably, their Richmond, Surrey car park clock continued to misbehave. And that has meant - you guessed it - back to the e-mails. Here's my latest exchange. 

Sent: 04/01/2017  To: customerserviceteam@waitrose.co.uk
Subject: Car Park clock at Richmond, Surrey store

I hesitate to make yet a further complaint about shortcomings at your Richmond, Surrey store but concern for customers other than myself compels me to do so. Did you know that the car park entry point clock is wrong? Your store knows.

Thursday 12 January 2017


Here's the moral of this story. Never legally commit yourself to buy a property by exchanging contracts unless you can be sure you will be ready, willing and able to complete the purchase on the date which will be specified in the contract. 

If you can't complete when the contract says you should, the seller can send you what is called a notice to complete. It will set a final deadline for you to produce the cash and that could be as close to five working days from when you get the notice. Still fail to come up with the cash and what will happen? The seller can cancel the contract and probably keep your deposit. Ouch?

In a case just before the High Court, the buyers had paid a deposit of a cool £43,000. One week before when completion was required they told the seller that they might be late because of delay in funds coming through from a Nigerian bank account. They didn't take up offers by the seller to put the completion date back in return for a modest price increase. The completion date arrived and they weren't ready. The seller sent them the dreaded notice to complete. The final deadline passed without completion. So the seller cancelled the contract and told them they were keeping the deposit. The next day the buyers were ready with all the cash they needed!

The buyers' attempt at getting the £43,000 returned to them through the court has failed despite the fact that the seller later sold the property for an extra £100,000 (albeit with the benefit of planning permission although it had been known that planning permission was on the cards when the original buyers agree to go ahead).

The key to having a decent chance of securing a deposit return is to  come up with some good proposals to compensate for lateness, to keep the seller very closely informed, not to be very late and, with a  bit of luck, to be able to rely on some delay on the part of the seller (for example, in answering queries after contracts have been exchanged or in providing relevant details). Any extra money the seller later managed to obtain when selling to someone else will be taken into account but as just one of the considerations. 

The High Court case was called Solid Rock Investments UK Ltd v Reddy and another [2016] EWHC 3043 (Ch).

Tuesday 10 January 2017


The amount of debt owed by consumers on credit cards is at an all time high. That's what is revealed by Bank of England figures just published

Do bear in mind that the law protects you against harassment by your creditors and they include banks and other financial institutions who have issued you with a credit card. In Breaking Law (chapter 12) I advise what you can do when your creditor goes too far in trying to persuade you to pay over money you owe. I tell the story of a customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland plc who was in debt to it. Although she had made it plain that she did not want to speak to the bank, they spoke or attempted to speak to her over the phone on 547 occasions. She was intimidated by this pressure.In 2013 the Court of Appeal upheld a £7,500 award to her for the harassment she had suffered.

And if your creditor will not accept a debt management plan under which you pay a monthly sum which is shared among your creditors in proportion to how much each is owned, there are other options for you. The ultimate one is to ask for your own bankruptcy or invite your creditors to bankrupt you. Remember, though, that no creditor can have you made bankrupt unless you owe them at least £5,000. The old figure was £750. Much more in Breaking Law. 

Monday 9 January 2017


Tickets for the 2017 Isle of Wight Festival are on sale. Rod Stewart. Know him. Run DMC. Eh? No, I'm not on commission and won't be going but I've had an attack of nostalgia.  For my memories of doing legal work as a solicitor for the companies behind the 1969 Isle of Wight Pop Festival - Bob Dylan, Moody Blues - see Breaking Law {chapter 2).  


If you have read Breaking Law, you will know about misleading price labelling and your remedies when you have been misled by it. Well, my campaign for fairer labelling continues unabated. I have had correspondence with Marks & Spencer on the topic (see chapter 39). I have had to renew it.

From Stephen Gold
08 January 2017
To M&S Service Team
I have a bugbear. It concerns misleading price labels. I exchanged emails with you on the subject in February 2016. The reference was 310957. I then complained that the where your displayed greeting cards were available at a price that included pence then the pence were shown on the label in a substantially smaller font than the pounds and in substantially less bold print. Your response was sympathetic and understanding. You seemed to be agreeing with me and gave me every indication that the matter would be addressed.

I was back at your Richmond, Surrey store yesterday and in the course of selecting a card for the occasion of my Aunt Vera’s birthday. I handed one which caught my eye to my companion for a second she has opinion and commented that the price of £1 was very reasonable. My companion pointed out that the label showed - just about - a price of £1.50.  I like to think that I am blessed with reasonable powers of observation and that my eyesight aided by spectacles (I had taken delivery of a brand new pair of specs with slightly stronger lenses albeit not falling into the Mr Magoo category only 30 minutes earlier and was wearing them). Nevertheless, I was deceived. It just did not occur to me that almost one year after my original complaint you would be carrying on exactly as before. The focal point of the price label is the pound sign and the figure which adjoins it. This is how you intend it to be but there can be no legitimate justification for printing the pence figures which follow in  a form which in size and thickness is so less prominent than the pounds. I reproduce below two photographs I took yesterday of the display in question. Do look, for example, at the card with the £2.75 label. Why is 75p so insignificant compared with the £2? In value, it represents a large proportion of the total price. If you regard pence as inconsequential then do not add them the pounds!

I have to suggest to you that the only conclusion which can be reached in the circumstances is that your card price labelling where pence are involved is calculated to induce the belief among your potential card purchasers that the price intended to be charged is limited to whole pounds  or, at the very least, is calculated to excite their interest in such a card on a false premise.  I regard this as immoral and a prohibited practice within the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 as amended. 

I welcome your urgent observations on the above and your assurance that the practice about which I  complain will cease forthwith, Please do not soft soap me with assurances of your commitment to customers or promises that your Stationary/Card team will be considering my comments at their next beano in 2018. This is serious stuff and demands serious attention at the highest level of your organisation. For the avoidance of any doubt, I am NOT after any gift card or a free coffee and doughnut for my trouble.

Yours sincerely

Stephen Gold

From M&S
09 January 2016
Hi Stephen
Thank you for getting back in touch; I hope you're well.
With our labelling for our cards, we have inherited a marketing scheme that the majority of retailers use in which the pence is smaller that the pound cost on the cards.
I can understand why you are unhappy with this, if I have noticed the way the pricing is displayed, I probably wouldn't be happy about it either.
We take every complaint we receive equally as important as each other, our suppliers and marketing team are constantly reviewing every aspect of our products to see what can be done to improve on it, if it is necessary.
I have submitted a report directly to them, an internal investigation and review will be done and any changes that need to be made will be if it is necessary.
I am sorry that the labelling of our cards has made you feel deceived, I promise you that is not our intention.
Have a lovely evening.
Kind regards

Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

I'll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime-
Happy Birthday
Congratulations on your Anniversary
Get well soon
Best of luck with the exams
Bon Voyage

No charge!

Thursday 5 January 2017


As from 31 December 2016, your motor insurance policy must include cover for damage to property (be it someone else's car or their brick wall) for up to at least £1.2m. This is an increase of £200,000 on the previous figure. Happily, most insurance policies already provide even more cover than the new minimum figure. If any don't, the insurer must now up the figure. 

When you come to renew your policy, your insurer might conceivably ask for an increased premium. Really! They may rely on increased car repair charges, the cost of fraudulent whiplash claims, that the name of your street starts with an 'R', the time of day or....compulsory insurance cover for damage to property having gone up by £200,000. On the last point, don't let them get away with it. The government consulted on raising the figure and they were told by insurers that few £1m property damage claims were made and that they did not think the increase in the minimum cover would lead to any significant increase in premiums.


Currently, there are plenty of vacancies for magistrates in both England and Wales. Additionally, recruitment starts on 9 January 2017 for magistrates to sit in Cumbria at Carlisle, Workington, Barrow and Kendall and on 23 January 2017 for courts at Burnley, Blackburn, Blackpool, Chorley, Lancaster and Preston. Full details on www.gov.uk

Silence and be upstanding for Breaking Law readers.

Tuesday 3 January 2017


This is a postscript to Landlords in Trouble (see post on 26 October 2016). It is now clear that tenants and mortgage borrowers who are alleged to have breached a suspended order for possession are to have protection against a landlord or lender having them evicted without a judge giving their approval to this step.

For the moment, the landlord or lender who says essential money has not been paid under the suspended order must request permission from a judge for a bailiff to be put into action by completing a new form swingingly called an N325A or an amended form N445. These can be accessed on hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk

Any tenant or mortgage borrower evicted under a suspended order but without the prior approval of a judge may well be able to secure a return to their property by courtesy of the court and damages.