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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

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Waitrose Car Park Clock Reprise

Not many folk would get emotional about a car park clock which is rarely accurate. I am one   of the few. The emotion stems from the fact that it is a Waitrose car park clock  - you would have thought that given the high quality of their summer puddings and the credit balance of their bank account, they could do better - and their efforts to correct the situation being puerile. It is also a car park clock which could lead to customers being deceived about the true time they parked their cars and, hence, how long they have left before being stung for a charge they would prefer to avoid. Here is the latest chapter of The Story of Car Park That Cannot Tell The Time.

16 September 2017
From: Stephen Gold
To: Waitrose Customer Service 

I’m back. I’m back.
 Oh dear, Oh dear.

Despite the very worthy sentiments expressed in the message immediately below (see   messages at http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/nonsense) the wretched car park machine at your Richmond, Surrey store is wonky yet again. Today it was ten minutes slow. And I have now realised that yesterday it was also ten minutes slow and, worse still, I was deceived to my detriment by the wrong time on my ticket - just as I have been telling you for ages that the slow clock will trick customers. Because I thought I had only about 15 minutes left in the car park before I became liable for a £25 car park charge, I had to forfeit using a voucher for a £6 discount on a £60 spend. My shopping partner was on her way to the store with my My Waitrose card which I had to produce in order to redeem the voucher,. But she was running late and I could not run the risk of waiting for her. In the event, she appeared just after I had paid. If I had been aware of the fact that I had another ten minutes — and relied on a recall of my pre-car park arrival movements and the time at whichI had in fact clocked in there rather than the time shown on the ticket — then I would not have been so anxious and would have been able to utilise the voucher.

Now I am not making a claim for the £6 and I am not making a claim for the value of ten minutes’ worth of car parking time. What I am doing is to registering my dismay that Waitrose, with all of its resources, is unable to achieve the running of a car park for which it prospectively charges its customers without potentially deceiving those customers  about the time at which they entered it. How much longer do you need to get your act together?

I am
Stephen Gold
Your Disgusted Customer 

From: Stephen Gold

24/09/2017 23:41
Is anybody there?
I am
Stephen Gold

From Waitrose Customer Service
To Stephen Gold
25 September 2017

Thank you for your further email.
I’m sorry you have found the time to be running slowly again.
We’ve spoken with James again, who has told us that we hope to have new machines installed at the end of this year. 
Unfortunately, until then the branch do have to continue to reset this manually. I’m sorry there has been some occasions when you’ve found the time to be slow.
The branch will do their best to monitor this, but until we have new machines installed this may still happen on occasion.
I’m sorry this has caused you so much disappointment and thank you for taking the time to let us know.

Kind regards 
Waitrose Customer Care

The machine was seven minutes slow yesterday afternoon.

Monday 25 September 2017

Become a Family Beak: the Law Needs You!

There aren't enough magistrates in England and Wales to deal with the increasing workload of family cases: that's principally disputes about the welfare of children, child adoption and  proceedings arising out of  domestic violence. To solve the problem it has just been announced that it will be possible to apply to be appointed as a magistrate hearing only this type of case and so sitting in the Family Court. Until now magistrates have covered both criminal cases and family cases  and only been able to touch those family cases after deciding the fate of alleged speeders, shoplifters and sex maniacs for at least two years.

This new appointments procedure is being tried out in Birmingham, Greater Manchester and London during which time the eligibility criteria is being relaxed. No role or occupation will be explicitly ruled out. But if you are under 18 or over 65, are a wife beater or can't tell the difference between a child and a kangaroo, do not trouble to apply.

Magistrates are required to sit for at least 13 full days or 26 half days a year and attend training and occasional meetings after court. They will be expected to be living or working in or reasonably close to the area in which they are to to serve.

If you fancy the idea of administering family justice and reckon you make a decision  which  you will still be confident in when you get home from court and consume your fish, chips and pickled onions, then take a look at https://www.gov.uk/become-magistrate/apply-to-be-a-magistrate and  https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/you-and-the-judiciary/going-to-court/familylaw-courts/   

Silence in court. 

Friday 15 September 2017

A Tesco Insurance Haggle and an M&S Punnet of Strawberries

You have probably picked up some haggling tips from money saving expert Martin Lewis who wrote the foreword to my book Breaking Law. I had to engage in a bit of haggling with Tesco Bank only yesterday after I had received a  renewal building and contents insurance quote for 55% more than the premium charged to me for the past year. As I hadn't made a claim since I was in short trousers, I reckoned this was outrageous even allowing for the fact that insurance is now costing more.  

I telephoned and selected the option applicable for anyone thinking of taking their business elsewhere.
" I think you have made a terrible mistake or are having a laugh."
"We haven't made a mistake but let's see if we can get it down."

After the usual script was read out about my loyalty to Tesco and what a nice person I was and an unsuccessful attempt by Tesco to find out precisely what I had been quoted elsewhere, the quote came down by £31.42 at which point I announced I would be going elsewhere and that automatic renewal instructions should be cancelled. This appears to have been a crucial trigger point for a whole new Tesco approach. They could start me up on a new policy and see the best deal they could offer. It transpires that there were no radical differences between the current cover and the cover available under the new policy. The quote offered was £31.89 up on the current premium but £102.06 less than had been originally offered. I accepted.

The experience suggests that you may not get the best that might be available until you have actually told Tesco - and perhaps any other insurer - that you are off, thank you very much.

Incidentally and talking of best, a warning on fruit stock control at the M&S store in Richmond, Surrey, You may recall that I was recently alarmed by the state of some displayed nectarines there (see http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/nonsense). Today 15 October 2015, punnets of strawberries on display were labelled as best before 15 October 2017. That means they were not best today. After a short debate, a pleasant member of staff agreed and asked whether I would be interested in purchasing at a reduced price. I was not. M&S: you must do better.


Thursday 14 September 2017

Domestic Abuse and Children

The President of the High Court's Family Division has issued new directions *  to apply from 2 October 2017 on how judges (including magistrates) should deal with cases over child arrangements and contact where one party is alleging the other has been abusive and could cause harm to the child. 

The definition of domestic abuse is expanded to make it clear that the court can look at  culturally specific forms of alleged abuse including forced marriage, honour based violence, dowry-related abuse and transnational marriage abandonment (where a husband in England and Wales deliberately abandons or strands his foreign national wife abroad so as to prevent her from asserting matrimonial or residence rights here). 

Lawyers will be interested in this. The edict remains on an application for a consent order for the court to consider all the evidence and information available in deciding whether there is any risk of harm to the child. However, if an order is made after an oral s7 Children Act 1989 report has been provided then its substance must be noted in the court file and a summary scheduled in the order. And more work for the judge and any advocate draftsman where (a) at the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment,  domestic abuse is raised as a relevant issue whereupon this should be recorded on the face of the order and (b) an admission of domestic abuse is made whereupon it is to be recorded in writing by the judge no less and scheduled in the order.

Pre fact-finding and where interim child arrangements are being considered, there is a strengthening of language with regard to the court’s approach with “the court should not make an..order unless..” As to ultimate findings of fact, the court is still to record those findings in writing but now in a schedule to its order.

* Family Procedure Rules 2010 Practice Direction PD12J


Wednesday 13 September 2017

3 Complaints to Financial Ombudsman: 2 Wins

Three complaints to the Financial Ombudsman Service in less than eight weeks. Was that greedy or the action of a mad person? Neither. It was the action of yours truly and in the course of getting financial institutions and businesses which come under the Ombudsman's jurisdiction to deliver a fair and efficient service. How did I get on?

My Bupa policy was due for renewal. They failed to send me renewal documentation but proceeded to take the renewal premium by debiting my credit card account. The first I know of this was when I looked at my credit card statement. Following Bupa's failure to respond to three emails about the premium taken, I did give renewal instructions on different terms as to the excess and with one month's free cover. I maintain that the free cover was part of the negotiated premium  to keep me as a customer and was not intended to contain any compensatory element for  what had happened. Bupa then failed to refund the £782.03 difference between the premium taken and the lower negotiated premium.
On internal complaint, Bupa accepted it was wrong to have taken the premium without the renewal notice but maintained that the one free month dealt with that. It could not find my emails.
The Ombudsman's investigator agreed with Bupa on the one free month. As to the e-mails - sent directly to the person to I had spoken when the wrongful debit had been discovered and soon afterwards - Bupa informed the Ombudsman that he "has now left the business and so they would never be picked up as it (sic) was going to a personal email address". Bupa does not like email and generally insists on contact by telephone.
The investigator's recommendation was £200 compensation together with the return of the £782.03 which both Bupa and myself accepted.

I applied to Paragon for a cash ISA and they asked me for evidence of identity. Fair enough. I could have been anyone like an ex-judge or the author of Breaking Law and you have to watch folk like that. I sent it promptly and they acknowledged it and then said they had not received it. I sent fresh identification which crossed with them returning the original identification they had not received! The account was subsequently opened but later than it should have been which resulted in a loss of interest to me as the intended investment money was lying idle in my current account.
On internal complaint, Paragon rejected it and contended that it had been incorrect in telling me that it had received the original identification. No compensation was offered.
An Ombudsman adjudicator upheld my complaint and concluded Paragon had not acted fairly. She recommended compensation of £100 to reflect loss of interest, distress and inconvenience. We both accepted the recommendation.

My dispute this time involves a widespread practice among ISA providers when the investment is approaching maturity. It is to invite completion of an options form inviting reinvestment with that institution or withdrawal of funds but not the transfer of funds to another provider which is the investor's right. One company has frankly admitted to me that this is quite deliberate so as to encourage the investor to stick with that provider (more often than not these days, at an inferior rate of interest).
So it was with M&S with whom I had a maturing ISA. And so I quite deliberately wrote on the options form that I wished to transfer to Paragon (that name rings a bell!) from whom they would shortly be hearing. It came as a surprise to me, therefore, to receive this letter from M&S.

It told me that the full amount of my ISA had been reinvested "as you requested" and that under the option I had "chosen" I would receive interest at £0.0. A certificate at the bottom of the letter referred to an "advantage cash ISA option". There had been a booklet with the original options from which I did not read but which I accept explained that if the options form was not completed and returned or telephone instructions given by the maturity date then this highly appealing (nil interest) account would be opened. But I maintain the booklet was not material in the circumstances. What was material was that I was being told I had requested the reinvestment and that I had chosen the nil interest investment option. These representations, I maintained, were inaccurate. I had not requested the account and I had not chosen anything. Furthermore, I had returned the form. This computer generated letter should have been modified to fit the circumstances. It should  have said that as I had not exercised any of the options on the form, the default option of putting the funds in the nil interest account (pending transfer out) was being exercised. I wasted valuable time in going through correspondence and speaking to M&S - after waiting to speak to M&S - by telephone.
My internal complaint pursued as matter of principle  was rejected. My complaint to the Ombudsman was rejected by an adjudicator. I asked for it to go before an Ombudsman - this is the second and final stage of a complaint to the Ombudsman Service - and she has also just turned it down.She accepted I would not agree with her - she was right about that! - but found that the letter could not be read in isolation from the booklet and so did not find the letter misleading. I beg to differ.
It would be open to me to bring a county court claim but this would be highly disproportionate and I will not do so. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that M&S will rephrase its letter sent out when the default option is being exercised  and that pressure will be placed on providers when seeking instructions on maturity to expressly draw attention to the transfer option alongside the other options and not bury away references to a transfer in an accompanying booklet.

If you have been, thank you for reading and may all your transfers out be happy and profitable.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Civil Procedure Rules; Latest Amendments

I October 2017. That's when the Civil Procedure (Amendment No 2) Rules 2017 SI 2017/889 - sexy title, eh?- come into force. Unlikely to raise your blood pressure with excitement but will be of some interest to lawyers and their staff if they can stay awake before they come to the end of them - or this post.

Here's a tour around them -

  • The upper limit for a claim under the European Small Claims Procedure - cross-border low value money claims dealt with on paper between litigants in EU member states - is raised from 2,000 to 5,000 euros.
  • Where an application for a European Order for Payment is contested - this is a simplified procedure which allows a creditor who has a claim for a specific amount of money to apply to their court for an order which can be enforced against the so-called debtor in other EU member states - then the application will be transferred over to the European Small Claims Procedure.
  • Where a complex case in the High Court calls for consideration of legal points which would normally be dealt with by different divisions - for example, a matrimonial property case involving both family law and trust law which are the preserve of the Family Division and the Chancery Division of the High Court respectively - then there will now be an express power for a judge from each of the appropriate divisions to sit together to deal with the case in what is called a Divisional Court.
  • It is made clear that when an appeal court grants permission to appeal it can go on to deal with the substantive appeal at the same hearing: rolling the two together.
  • The Business and Property Courts were recently created bringing together the specialist courts and lists of the High Court including the Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court, the Mercantile Court, the Technology Court and the courts of the Chancery Division. As part of the drive to simplify and clarify the names of these specialist courts, the Mercantile Court is being renamed the Circuit Commercial Court. Cool!
I told you!

Monday 11 September 2017

Divorce On Line

There's not much these days that you can't get on line. "You can't get a divorce, Gold, you fool." Gold not so much the fool as you thought. By the spring of 2019 it should be possible to complete all documentation on line from start to finish to secure a divorce, civil partnership dissolution, nullity or judicial separation provided the case is not contested. Any arguments about the children or property and maintenance will continue to be dealt with as at present with an almost certain need to go to court. It's the securing of your freedom through a divorce etc decree that I am talking about. 

The full on line procedure is being introduced gradually. Currently, you usually start your case by completing the petition off line and sending it by post to one of the divorce centres scattered around England and Wales. As from 31 July 2017 anyone  - and not just a few - starting a case in the East Midlands regional divorce centre in Nottingham has been able to complete the petition on line, download it and then send it to the centre. Completion is made easier by user-friendly questions and triggers as you go along. This facility was extended to the West Midlands centre based in Stoke last week and at the beginning of next month it will hit the South West centre in Southampton. You should be able to patronise a centre even though you live off its patch.

In the coming months the process will be extended to allow the petition to be issued as well as completed on line and for you to pay the issue fee on line without having to strain yourself to download the petition, affix a stamp to an envelope,  put it in an envelope and pop along to a postbox. Much easier, in fact, than getting married. Ultimately, all the other stages in the process including the application for the final decree - the decree absolute - will be dealt with on line too.

For the time being the on line procedure will not be available where the marriage was celebrated outside England and Wales but that looks set to change in due course.

So do you need a solicitor or barrister to secure the divorce as opposed to representing you on other issues? The new scheme should make legal representation less necessary. Frankly, almost everyone should be able to cope on their own with starting the case on line. Where there is doubt about which divorce etc ground to rely on or it is believed that the other party is likely to defend the case then legal help could be desirable. Are your allegations of unreasonable sufficient to secure a divorce? Is there any point in naming the person with whom your spouse has committed adultery? Can you rely on two years' separation with your partner's consent when you have been living under the same roof during that time? These are among some of the points on which you might need legal help. Of course, you can always find the answer in that book. Now, what was it called? Oh, I remember. Breaking Law.

Thursday 7 September 2017

How Long Do You Wait for Your Civil Case To Be Heard?

You are a party to a county court small claim which is defended. How long should it take from when the case was started until the final hearing? Twenty Years? The average time is around 38 weeks. You may reckon that's not bad. Actually, it's over six weeks longer than a year ago, according to figures released today. So if corporal punishment was permissible and possible in this situation, the county court would have to take a caning on the left hand.

And on the right hand, it would have to take caning for the latest figures for the time taken for the bigger cases to come on to trial. That's fast track cases (usually involving no more than £25,000 in value and multi-track trials involving higher values).  For the three months to the end of June 2017, they were taking around 56 and a half weeks from beginning to end which is three weeks longer than the same quarter last year.

The volume of county court business was up overall. Claims for a specific amount of money - probably. manly for debt - were at their highest in the April to June 2017 quarter since 2009. Claims for an unspecified sum of money were down. Most of these were for personal injury compensation and they saw a drop of 4% over the same quarter in 2016. Incidentally, it is possible to claim a fixed sum in a personal injury claim  instead of for damages up to  a specified ceiling although it is not often done. There can be advantages to this which I discuss in my book Breaking Law.  Have I mentioned that book before?!!

Both sides had legal representation in 55% of cases which were defended: a drop of 4%

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Don't Mention The Pigeon

An average sort of afternoon in Richmond, Surrey. Popped in to Waitrose. They had a pigeon with them but nobody could tell me precisely where it was. The fish, meat and cakes were covered over but, surprisingly, heads were uncovered. As you know, everyone is a partner at Waitrose so perhaps there were two pigeons.

Then on to M&S where, at first sight, the nectarines on display looked as though the store had its own bird on the premises. Take a look at this: in particular, the bottom right hand corner. Best before tomorrow. Best not eaten, I reckon.

Could this in fact be the work of a pigeon? There were other packets in the same state and my conclusion is that a pigeon was not responsible and this was mould.

After leaving M&S I passed a stand at which subscriptions were being solicited for the RSPB. No pigeons on show but hedgehogs.

Monday 4 September 2017

Alone With A Barrister

For the paths to follow when seeking free legal help,  please see my post (and best of luck) http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/2017/06/cant-afford-lawyer-what-to-do.html  I mentioned there the opportunity to bring in a barrister (or learned counsel as they may like to be called on a snobby day) to deal with the whole or just part of your court case and your ability to do that without the involvement of a solicitor. Well, the Bar Council (the barristers' trade union) has just claimed that there has been a surge of interest from businesses and individuals (who they call people) who are keen to bypass solicitors and instead directly access barristers, particularly in disputes involving properties and civil and employment law.

Is it a good idea to go straight to a barrister and cut out a solicitor? This is something I discuss in my book Breaking Law but here's a taster of my views. Generally, solicitors and others in the firm are better at preparatory work than barristers and are better placed to be available to you when you want them and to keep up the momentum of settlement negotiations with the opposition. However, if its the advocacy at court which could win or lose your case - and it often is - then you are more likely to find a first-class advocate who is going to demolish the other side among the ranks of barristers than the ranks of solicitors. And when the depths of your pockets are deep and your arms are short or you just cannot come up with fees for a barrister plus a solicitor then a barrister without a solicitor could be the solution for you. There's nothing to stop you from handling all of the case on our own except for the final hearing for which you can engage the barrister's services.