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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

Sunday 24 June 2018

M&S Coffee Strength: The Lowdown

You may reckon that Brexit is a worry. It's nothing compared to the dilemma presented by a visit to a Marks & Spencer cafe. Which size coffee to order. You might have thought that the quantity of coffee injected into a cup would always increase pro rata with the size of the cup. Not so, it appears. Medium and large get two shots: large gets more milk. So if you thought you would be able to keep awake for a couple of days by downing a large as against a medium, you would be mistaken. I thought you should know. 

My short exchange today with M&S Customer Service and which is below reveals all. By the way, they came back to me within five hours of my enquiry. Really on the ball. Must be drinking medium or small with two shots. 
On 24/06/2018 11:09, STEPHEN GOLD wrote:
Subject :Contact Us-In-store service and feedback
Product Description:coffees 
Store Name :Havant 
Date of visit :23/06/2018
Your coffees (and other beverages) come in three sizes. In relation to coffees, I have noticed that the larger the size, the weaker the drink. This leads me to the conclusion that the same quantity of coffee goes into the cup, whatever the size ordered and that the larger the size, the more the milk (and froth). Am I correct? If so, IY shall restrict myself to the smallest size in future. If I am incorrect, what is the explanation for the weakness I have identified, please?

On 24/06/2018 15.53 M&S SERVICE Team replied: 
Hi Stephen
Thanks for getting in touch with us about our coffee. I'm sorry to hear you've found the coffee is weaker the larger the cup size.
I've just spoken to Gemma, who works in the cafe at Havant, and she's let me know that one shot of coffee is used for a small cup and two shots of coffee are used for the medium and large cups. The large cup will be slightly weaker as this will have more milk in than the medium. She also let me know that they do offer extra shots but these are for a small charge.
I hope this has helped Stephen. Thanks again for getting in touch and we look forward to seeing you in store again soon.
Best wishes

Retail Customer Services
Your M&S Customer Service

Tuesday 19 June 2018

Child Support Reduced For Overnight Contact: New Case

You wouldn't try and get increased overnight contact with your child simply to reduce how much you have to pay by way of child support maintenance, would you? Perish the thought. Hold on to your seats and your World Cup programme as I tell you that some parents do precisely that!  The reason is that the amount of child support maintenance which is payable is reduced by how much overnight contact takes place so long as the overnights are for at least 52 nights in a year.  For example, the maintenance bill goes down by one-seventh for 52 to 103 nights in a year but by two-sevenths for 104 to 155 nights in a year. You'll find out how child support works from the standpoint of the parent who pays and the parent who receives in my book Breaking Law and you will also find there a template agreement which can be used where it could be more advantageous than child support or where child support does not apply. 

In an appeal case* just decided by the upper tribunal of the administrative appeals chamber (now that's a mouthful for you) it was confirmed that under the current law, what is relevant is the number of nights the payer is expected to have overnight contact during the 12 month period ahead of when maintenance is being assessed. The regulations provide that when deciding on any reduction to be made consideration is to be given to the terms of any contact agreement or court order or, if there is neither, whether a pattern of shared care has already been established over the past 12 months. The upper tribunal held that there was no requirement to adopt what was in the agreement or order or what the shared care pattern had been. All that was required was that consideration was to be given to them although there would have to be a proper basis for concluding that an arrangement was not going to reoccur in the future 12 months.

The appeal centered on the payer’s attempt to have maintenance assessed on the basis of a shorter future period of 12 months which the Child Maintenance Service can do if this is considered to be ‘appropriate’. The father’s quest was to have a four month period only to be taken into account. He argued that averaging over 12 months did not achieve a fair and equitable result because the far greater tine he was to have with the child during the four months was watered down when it was added to the 12 month residue. If that argument has succeeded, then he would have had no liability for the four months. But it failed before the first tier tribunal and on appeal. The former had decided that 12 months leveled out the peaks and troughs. The payee had contended that the four month period had been a one-off. The upper tribunal stated that a one-off period could quite rationally be subsumed in a 12 month period, particularly where it did not arise under any agreement and where it was an exception to a previously existing settled pattern of shared care. Its very exceptionality on the other hand might provide a basis for shrinking the 12 month period. There were no hard and fast rules. 

*JS v SSWP and another [2018] UKUT 181 (AAC)

Tuesday 12 June 2018

Credit Card Blocked Without Notice: Red Face In Queue: Compensation?

I've had to work hard to secure £50 compensation from Partnership Card (and they didn't enter me for a prize draw) for blocking my credit card when I say ' To hell with your terms and conditions. You were wrong!' Here's my exchange. I've edited Partnership's correspondence. More apologies and 'You can go to the Ombudsman' stuff omitted.

Me to Partnership Card on 25 April 2018           
' ....
On 19 April 2018 I received your statement for my account dated 15 April 2018. It showed that no payment had been credited for the immediately preceding month. In fact, I had given instructions to my bankers First Direct on 23 March 2018 to pay the full account debit balance before the due date. I immediately contacted First Direct who accepted that it had failed to implement those instructions and agreed to refund to me the interest charge and default fee you had debited to the account.* I gave instructions for payment of the full debit balance under the latest statement which you should now have received.
On 21 April 2018 I presented my Partnership card twice at Waitrose and once at another retail outlet to pay for transactions but suffered the public embarrassment and inconvenience of ‘declines’ on each occasion. I immediately telephoned you to enquire why this had happened and was informed that there had been a block on the card because of the non-payment of the minimum sum required under the March 2018 statement and that it was standard practice to impose this block when the next statement was issued.
On 23 April 2018 I received your letter dated 14 April 2018 which was presumably in standard terms relating to an overdue payment of £28.82.
In neither the 15 April 2018 statement nor the subsequently received 14 April 2018 letter was I informed that my card would be blocked. It may be that your standard terms and conditions permit blockage in the circumstances. That is not the point. Custom and practice and fairness of banking conduct demanded that I should have received advance notice of blockage. In fact, the 15 April 2108 statement informed me that all I was required to do was to pay the minimum amount by 10 May 2018.
Given the length of time I have been your customer and the conduct of my account to date, I am appalled at your conduct and require you to put forward a proposal to compensate me for embarrassment, inconvenience and wastage of time in dealing with this matter that you have caused me. I acknowledge that First Direct’s failure is a matter between me and them.
I do not wish to discuss this matter by telephone. Please write.'

Partnership Card to me on 3 May 2018
'Thank you for your recent correspondence informing us of your concerns....Unfortunately, due to the non-payment of your statement balance in March a temporary block was placed on your account as the statement balance was overdue.
I would like to advise you that when an account becomes overdue it is automatically referred to our Collections Department. Please be assured we aim to contact our customer at the earliest opportunity, in order to establish whether an oversight with the payment has occurred, irrespective of the amount. I do apologise if you did not receive notification in this instance.
If the full payment is not received by the due date, our system will automatically apply a late fee payment and/or an interest charge as this is part of the terms and conditions of your account.
Upon reviewing your account I can confirm that the block has since been removed and you are able to make successful transactions.
May I once again apologise for any inconvenience you have been caused.'

Me to Partnership Card on 10 May 2018
'I have your grudging letter dated 03 May 2018 and received today, seven days later. It is a pity that you do not cause your post to be delivered as promptly as you apply a temporary block.  You emerge from your pre-complaint conduct and your response to my complaint (the latter compounding the former) as an unfriendly financial institution which gives not a fig for the inconvenience and embarrassment it causes to its customers.  I shall seriously consider closing my account with you.
You do not have the decency to make an unconditional apology. Your apology is qualified. You state that ‘if’ I did not receive advance notice of the temporary block then you apologise ‘in this instance’. You know I did not receive advance notice because I told you so and your computer records would confirm that to be the case. Custom, practice and fairness (as I have already stated) demanded that you should have given me advance notice. That was a serious failure on your part. Further, notwithstanding your terms and conditions, you should not have elected in this instance to rely on them, given that the minimum payment in arrear was a modest £28.88 as against a credit limit of £9,300 and given the length of time I have been your customer and the conduct of my account over this period. Your decision to block represented a failure to exercise your discretion on rational grounds or otherwise in a fair manner.
You chose to totally ignore the fact the notification you did give to me by letter dated 14 April 2018 failed to warn of the intention to block and merely called for me to pay £28.82. You further chose to ignore my request for your compensation proposal, presumably because you are too stingy to put one forward unless forced to do so.
I call on you to deal with my complaint in a proper manner and not to close your eyes to your dereliction of duty. If you fail to do this within the next seven days, I shall refer my complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.'

Partnership Card to me on 31 May 2018
Thank you for your letter dated 10 May 2018. I am sorry it has taken longer than anticipated to get back to you with a response regarding your ongoing concerns.
I am sorry if you felt my letter dated 7 May 2018 did not take account the inconvenience and embarrassment caused when your Partnership Card was recently declined.
I acknowledge your dissatisfaction with the level of service you have received, and the approach we have taken in handling the matter . It is evident from your comments we have failed to meet with your expectations.
I sincerely apologise for the negative customer experience you have had with us. I have noted that as a customer of 14 years you have not been treated in an acceptable manner and I understand your dissatisfaction with the way this matter has been dealt with.
I have noted your comments with regards to compensation for what has been a very trying and testing time and I do apologise for not dealing with this in my initial response. It was never my intention to cause you further frustration or inconvenience.
As a gesture of goodwill and in the interest of customer relations I have today applied £50.00 credit adjustment to your next monthly statement.


* In response to my request to First Direct for compensation (not, I hasten to add, for the same inconvenience etc covered in my Partnership Card complaint) the bank now says it has made checks and it was not to blame. I could not have successfully confirmed my instructions to it,  they say. The interest charge and default fee imposed by Partnership Card have still been reimbursed to me by First Direct. To be continued!

Wednesday 6 June 2018

Cracking The Code At Waitrose: Car Park Blues

I owe it to you to keep you informed. About the car park problems at the Richmond-Upon-Thames branch of Waitrose, of course (see http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/Waitrose for background as an alternative to a sleeping tablet). I'll let you know if I win the £500 gift card. In fact, I might provide you with a free coffee - provided you have your own cup.


Sent: 02/06/2018 12:36
Subject: Car Park at Richmond-upon-Thames Store

Greetings, My Long-Suffering Recipients of Justified Groans

It had been my misfortune to feel compelled over a long period of time to draw attention to the malfunctioning of various aspects of the car park at your Richmond-Upon-Thames store and the dangerous dangling metal on one of its floors: indeed, most recently to the automated announcement  in one of your car park lifts to the effect that such lift was going down rather than up. Mercifully, everything has eventually been fixed except that I cannot vouch for whether the announcer can yet determine in which direction her lift is travelling. 
Alas, there is a further problem associated with the car park which is of long standing but with which I have not chosen to trouble you previously. However, it has escalated and I really do think that your local management should strain itself to do something about it. Let me explain the problem. In order to qualify for a discounted car park charge on account of the amount of money spent by the parker at the store, it is necessary for the parker to have their car park ticket stamped at the checkout when making payment. There is a machine operated by the cashier which effects the stamping or, more precisely, there should be a machine at the checkout which effects the stamping . For several years, your resources did not extend to arming the cashier at the end till of the battery of tills (furthest from the front of the store) with the necessary machine which necessitated the aforesaid cashier having to rise from their chair and disturb a neighbouring cashier to do the stamping for them. Recently  the end cashier was blessed with their own machine for which I congratulated the cashier on that till the other week and expressed my sympathy for what she and her colleagues had had to endure. She looked at me knowingly and thankfully. 
But machines have now gone from several other tills including the till which I patronised yesterday. On this occasion the particular cashier did not rise from her position but instructed me to accost her neighbouring cashier to engage in the stamping of my ticket. The neighbouring cashier did oblige but doing so created an inconvenience for both of us and a dirty look from the shopper who she was attending when I made my approach. Of course, I could have waited until the cashier had finished with the customer in question but this would have resulted in a longer stay and hence the risk of a higher car park charge.
If you will tell me how many stamping machines have disappeared I will happily endeavour to manufacture some Heath Robinson replacements for you at no expense to Waitrose.
I hope you will not regard me as pedantic or a trouble maker. I simply wish to see the store run efficiently and to the mutual benefit of Waitrose and its customers.
I am
Stephen Gold

Waitrose Customer Service
To: Stephen Gold
Re Car Park at Richmond-upon-Thames Store
06 June 2018 09.01
Dear Mr Gold,

As promised, I have been in contact with a member of the branch management team, James.

James advised me that all checkouts were supplied with a stamp machine, however since going live they have been removed on several checklist due to faults. 
The machines sit with the manufacture to replace and fix however James advised this is no easy task. Each location has its own code (hub who manage our car park, manage over 3500 across the UK). and rebuilding a new code takes time. 
James would like me to reassure you, that the management team are very well aware of the problem. James mentioned that he would like customers to raise any concerns directly with him, or the manager on duty, so that he can help straight away.

Myself and James would like to apologise for any disappointment and inconvenience caused.

We're passionate about continually improving the service we offer our customers. If you'd like to feed back on the service I've given you, please click on the link below to take part in our quick survey. As a thank you, we’ll also enter you into our monthly prize draw where you could win £500 in gift card.

[link provided]

Kind regards 
Waitrose Customer Care

Divorcing, Dissolving or Separating? Are you free on 11 October 2018?

Thursday 11 October 2018 from 10am until 5pm. No, I'm not inviting you round to my place. I haven't got enough cups, the place is littered with law books and, anyway, I am cutting my toe nails that day.

In fact, it's the day of a major conference on financial remedies - what you apply for to settle the finances in matrimonial proceedings - being held in London and organised by the publishers of At a Glance which is the bible of lawyers who deal with theses cases. The conference will have the current Deputy President of the Supreme Court as its keynote speaker (he is about to retire) and will be chaired by family law High Court Judge Mr Justice Mostyn. Other speakers and contributors will include a retired family law High Court judge, family law barristers and pension law experts.

So what's this got to do with you? If you are going it alone in a  financial remedy application because you cannot afford legal fees for the whole case and do not wish to follow any of the paths I write about in Breaking Law to get some expert help, then you might wish to attend the conference and pick up some tips as you hear from the professionals who judge these cases, advocate in them and give pension evidence in them. Don't even think about asking them to advise you in your case, though. 

The conference is intended for lawyers and other professionals involved in these cases and be warned that talks will not be pitched for litigants in person. But would you be let in? I have asked the organisers. Yes, you would. But you would have to pay. £345 if you book by 31 July 2018: £414 after. VAT is included. You'll get lunch.

Tuesday 5 June 2018

Tax Penalties May Be Unlawful: Latest Case

Do forgive me for boring you with cases on how you may be able to avoid having to settle tax penalties (see http://www.breakinglaw.co.uk/search/label/tax%20penalties for the sort of agony I have put you through).

And here's the latest case with my abject apologies. In Lennon v Commissioners for Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs [2018] UKFTT 0220 (TC)  the taxpayer had been penalised for failing to put in  tax return on time. He was subject to PAYE but his employer had under collected £321 for one tax year and HMR&C decided it wanted a return from the taxpayer. On the taxpayer's appeal against penalties for the lateness of that return,  the Tax Tribunal judge ruled that- 
  • There can't be a valid penalty unless there has previously been a valid notice from HMR&C to the taxpayer to put in a return.
  • A tax tribunal has jurisdiction on an appeal of this kind to look into the validity of the HMR&C notice.
  • A notice can be given for the purpose of establishing the tax which the taxpayer has to pay for a given tax year.
  • In this case, the notice had not been given for that purpose as HMR&C was fully aware of how much tax had to be paid. It was just the uncollected £321.
  • Because the purpose of requiring the return was invalid, the notice requiring it was invalid and the penalty based on non-compliance with the notice was invalid.
Please forgive me.