General information and advice

•Recent information in the media about EU consumer law, gave the misleading impression that consumers are entitled to “a minimum period of 2 years in which a faulty product can be returned.” Under the Sale of Goods Act, 1979 consumers in England and Wales, have rights against the trader, e.g. the shop where you bought the item, for up to 6 years to claim a refund, repair or replacement.  Obviously these rights are taking into account any fair wear and tear or misuse of the item; you could not expect a full refund on a faulty iron that you have been using daily for 5 years. The Sale of Goods Act was amended by EU law, The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 which made any guarantee given to be legally binding. Guarantees are in addition to your statutory rights, under the Sale of Goods Act.  Guarantees give you the right to make a claim against who ever issued them, often the manufacturer. The EU law was passed to make trading amongst all European Union members equal and fair.  So other EU country inhabitants can rely on the 2 year guarantee, whilst in England and Wales we have the Sale of Goods Act, which gives up to 6 years to make a claim for faulty or misdescribed products.

•Kent Trading Standards advise consumers to be wary of traders cold calling either by phone or in person to their home.  When a trader calls to your door, even if by a pre-arranged visit, you may not be aware of who they are or what they are selling.  Consumer’s are in a vulnerable position when allowing unknown traders into their home as they may feel they cannot easily get out of the situation if the sales people are very persistent. If you want to buy or sell jewellery Trading Standards advise consumers to get a more than one valuation of the goods before parting with them to ensure you are receiving a fair price. We strongly advise consumers to check a website before they commit to buying goods or services. Search on the internet to find out if other people have used the website and are happy with it, even then take care. Check with the promoter or venue to find out where the tickets are to be sold and try to buy from official agencies. Always pay using a credit card. Kent Trading Standards advise all consumers’ to be very vigilant when receiving phone calls requesting personal and financial data and not to give any information.  Genuine banks and building societies will already have your details and will not need to contact you to obtain them.

•DON’T BE TEMPTED BY A LOAN SHARK – they have an expensive bite! In order to lend money as a business, there is a legal requirement to have a licence issued by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).  Illegal money lenders – or loan sharks – don’t have this licence and take advantage of some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society.  Loan sharks frequently have extravagant lifestyles – paid for by some of the most disadvantaged in communities; one recent example in Manchester paid £850,000 for a house in cash. Loan sharks charge astronomical rates of interest, with penalties and increased charges for late payments. They don’t provide any forms or paperwork, meaning victims never know where they stand.  Loan sharks frequently use threats and actual violence to ensure their demands are met.  Through fear and intimidation, victims often pay loan sharks back for years – also not realising that what the illegal lender is doing is completely unlawful.A specialist Illegal Money Lending Team is working hard in Kent to crack down on the problem.  Nationally, they have had more than 100 prosecutions, helped 10,000 victims and written off more than £30m of illegal debt (a loan is unenforceable and therefore becomes null and void). 
The Illegal Money Lending Team takes phone calls 24 hours a day in the strictest of confidence. They provide victim support from day one and ensure loan sharks are prosecuted, and alternatives highly promoted.  Please help the team crack down on the problem in your local area by reporting information in the following ways;
•    phone: 0300 555 2222
•    text: 'loan (space) shark (space) + your message' to 60003
•    e-mail: reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk

 

•Internet shopping has become increasingly popular, with consumers contacting traders all over the world, making a variety of purchases at the most competitive prices. But, like any purchase, internet shopping has risks – you may not know who you are shopping with and where they are based. Before you buy always:-

•    Check the website for a geographical address – if there is no address or it is hard to find, think carefully before continuing.  How will you contact the trader if things go wrong?

•    Make sure you know who you are buying from – are they the genuine trader or a scam website?  You may never receive the goods or they may be counterfeit or worse, unsafe. 

•    Look for any negative feedback before you buy.

•    Read any terms and conditions.

•    Check availability of the goods, are they in stock?  Traders have 30 days to deliver, unless a delivery date is agreed.

•    You have a 7 day cooling off period for most purchases, but you must notify the trader in writing/email.

REMEMBER
Choose shopping sites carefully
Help yourself – think price, place, packaging
Ensure the site is secure (look for https and a padlock symbol on the website)
Contact Trading Standards if you spot something suspicious
Keep a copy of your order, details of the website, acknowledgements

•Kent Trading Standards have received complaints concerning time share businesses conducting cold calling by telephone and to residents’ front doors. Consumers also report high pressure selling from these businesses and offers of being able to recoup money consumers may have lost through their time share or selling on the timeshare on for them.  It is not illegal for businesses to cold call you at your home. However, consider that you don’t have to open your front door to strangers with the best advice being that you do not allow strangers into your home. Before agreeing to buy from any business consider if you really need what they are selling? Can you afford it? Does it sounds too good to be true? In which case it probably is. If you decide you would like to buy always get a second opinion before agreeing to buy. If you decide to buy from a salesperson:
•    Always ask for a copy of the paperwork.
•    Take the time to read all paperwork before signing
•    Do not feel pressured to sign anything
•    Never sign a blank form.
If the salesperson refuses to give you time to think it over and to get advice,  do not deal with them
Businesses are also permitted to telephone consumers in their home, though the number of calls from companies offering to sell goods and services can be reduced by registering your telephone number with the Telephone Preference Service, which is free. Registration may be completed online at www.tpsonline.org.uk or by telephoning The Telephone Preference Service on 0845 070 0707.
Some businesses selling time share may not be legitimate and do scam consumers so research any business before you decide to invest with them. The Time Share Association website, www.timeshareassociation.org can provide further information.
If you do decide to invest in time shares be cautious of those businesses which cold call. Never make payment up front.  Remember if you sign an agreement you may not be able to cancel and then you would be bound by all the terms of the agreement. 

•Kent Trading Standards monitor sales of age restricted goods to young people, particularly tobacco and alcohol. It is important to restrict the sales of such goods because they lead to health problems, truancy and anti-social behaviour.  Often young people will attempt to buy such goods themselves or will ask an adult to buy for them. Trading Standards advise members of the public not to buy alcohol for young people aged under18 when approached in the street.  These purchases are known as “proxy sales” and are illegal. Adults who buy alcohol for children are committing an offence and could face a fine of up to £5000. If you are aware of retailers who you suspect of selling tobacco or alcohol to children under 18, or have been approached by a young person with a request to buy cigarettes or alcohol for them, Trading Standards would be very interested to know when and where.  Please be assured that you can remain anonymous if you wish.

Thousands of people have already received compensation because they were mis-sold payment protection insurance policies (PPI) which are supposed to repay people's loans if they are unable to make their repayments due to loss of employment or illness. Examples of mis-selling include:

•    Not being informed the insurance was optional
•    Policy exclusions not being explained properly (i.e. not being covered as the applicant was self employed or unemployed)
•    Being led to believe that the application would be declined if the applicant did not take PPI
•    Policy being unsuitable as the consumer had a pre-existing medical condition or was over the maximum age specified in the policy
•    It was not explained that the policy premium would be paid upfront as a single premium and would be added to your debt and attract interest.
The banks challenged the Financial Services Authority (FSA) over guidelines it published which said banks should contact all past PPI customers and invite them to complain if they thought they had been mis-sold PPI. The High Court ruled in April 2011 that they agreed with FSA’s guidelines. On the 9th May 2011 the British Bankers Association confirmed it will not be appealing the High Court ruling.
Many claims had been put on “hold” pending the ruling, this now means that these claims must be processed and responses should be received shortly.  In, addition banks are required to re-examine the way their own PPI policies were sold and if they find cases of mis-selling, they should contact the consumers and inform them they are entitled to compensation.  The advice is not to wait for a call if you believe you have been mis-sold PPI but to make a claim.
A factsheet on making a claim and how to proceed with your complaint if you are unhappy is available on the Financial Ombudsman Website :
http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk/publications/factsheets/payment-protection-insurance.pdf
A sample letter and further information on making a claim can be found via:
http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/personal-finance/the-ppi-campaign/sample-letter/

Kent Trading Standards are advising consumers with food allergies to sign up to the Food Standard Agency's text alert service. Food law recognises 14 food allergens – cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, molluscs, eggs, fish, peanuts, nuts, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, lupin and sulphur dioxide. Food that is pre-packed must declare on the label any ingredients that are in this list or are derived from them.  Occasionally foods are found to contain allergens that are not declared on the food label. By signing up to the free Allergy Alert service you can receive notifications of the latest products notified to the Food Standards Agency. Foods sold loose or packed and sold direct to the customer by the manufacturer are not required to declare allergens in their labelling. Similarly, caterers are not required to indicate allergens. In these cases you should ask the seller direct if you need to know if a food or dish contains a particular allergen.
To sign up to the free Allergy Alert SMS service, simply send the text message 'START ALLERGY' to 62372. Texting 'STOP ALLERGY' unsubscribes you.The initial text will be charged at your network provider's rate.The FSA uses a third party to provide its SMS message service. Phone numbers will only be used for the purpose of sending the text messages that users have opted for. Numbers are stored on a secure database until such time as a user chooses to unsubscribe from receiving the text messages. Texts to subscribe and unsubscribe will be charged at your network provider's rate; messages you receive from the FSA are free.

 The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is warning people to steer clear of scam loan companies who take upfront fees but fail to provide credit or offer clearly unsuitable credit alternatives.
The OFT is alerting consumers after seeing a 50% year-on-year rise since 2009 in complaints about loan scams, particularly credit applications which involve the consumer 'wiring' or sending upfront fees through money transfer companies. People should be vigilant when dealing with or taking calls from loan companies that want upfront fees and who are not interested in consumers' credit history. The OFT's “do’s and don'ts” to help consumers spot scam loan companies are:
Do:
•    Do be very careful when dealing with loan companies that charge upfront fees
•    Do be cautious if a loan company cold-calls you
•    Do some research about the business offering the loan – look for proper phone numbers and physical addresses and ask for information in writing
•    Do check that the company has a credit licence on the Consumer Credit Register at www.oft.gov.uk/ConsumerCreditRegister
Don't:
•    Don't believe adverts which indicate a loan is 'guaranteed'  
•    Don't give out your card details 'for security reasons' as the company may then debit your bank account without you knowing
•    Don't wire money to loan companies using money transfer services when applying for loans
•    Don't go ahead with a loan if a company approves it and then demands a fee before you get the money.
David Fisher, OFT Director of the Consumer Credit Group said:
'We have seen an increase in complaints about companies who are not interested in the applicant's credit history, that ask for payment of fees upfront and then disappear with the money.
'We advise people to check out the company carefully before agreeing to anything, including asking for a landline number, a physical address and doing a search about the company online, as well as checking that they have a valid credit licence. If consumers think they have been approached or tricked by an advance-fee loan scam, they should report it to Consumer Direct.'
For advice on loan scams or any other consumer issues call Consumer Direct on 0808 156 2256 or visit www.direct.gov.uk/consumer. Free, confidential debt advice services are available for those facing financial difficulties through their local Citizens Advice Bureau by visiting www.citizensadvice.co.uk. (1/9/11)

 

Kent Trading Standards monitor sales of tobacco in terms of young people accessing them unlawfully. From the 1st October 2011 sales of tobacco from vending machines will be banned. This means it will be illegal to sell cigarettes or any other form of tobacco from an automated vending machine regardless of the age of the person. It will also be against the law for such machines to display advertisements or tobacco promotion. This action is part of the Government’s commitment to reducing smoking prevalence and addresses the fact that 11% of 11-15 year olds who regularly smoke say they buy their cigarettes from vending machines. Business owners are responsible for ensuring no tobacco sales are made from vending machines on their premises otherwise they face a potential fine of up to £2500.
Frequently asked questions can be accessed on the link below.
http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1096901377&type=CAMPAIGN&furlname=vending&furlparam=vending&ref=&domain=www.businesslink.gov.uk.
If you see a tobacco vending machine still in clear operation and accessible to the public after 1st October 2011, Trading Standards would be very interested to know when and where. Please be assured that you can remain anonymous if you wish.

 

• Youngsters hanging around drinking?  Do you see lots of alcohol related litter?

Trading Standards are responsible for making sure that age restricted items particularly alcohol and cigarettes, are not sold to anyone underage.  It is a criminal offence to sell these products to a young person under 18.  Underage drinking can lead to health problems, truancy and anti-social behaviour. 

There are a number of ways that young people obtain alcohol, from home, attempt to buy it themselves or ask an adult to buy it for them.   If an underage person asks you to buy alcohol for them, don’t be tempted.  This is called a proxy sale and you could get an £80 on the spot fine or face prosecution with a fine up to £5000.

We are also interested to know about anyone selling cheap cigarettes; it is possible that they are fake.  All cigarettes are harmful but counterfeit products have been found to contain cyanide, plastic, sand and even rat droppings.  Fakes are so dangerous that doctors have warned that they are responsible for 4 times as many deaths as drugs.

If you know of retailers that you suspect are selling cigarettes or alcohol to children, or if you have been asked by a young person to buy alcohol for them, please let us know.  You can complete our online form at http://www.kent.gov.uk/community_and_living/consumer_advice/report_a_rogue_trader/report_underage_sales.aspx  or alternatively you can telephone the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.

Your contact can be completely confidential and you do not need to give your name or address.

 

•Kent Trading Standards and The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) would like to warn householders and businesses about unscrupulous individuals and companies that offer to reduce your council tax by challenging your council tax band. (The Valuation Office Agency is an executive agency of HM Revenue & Customs HMRC). They may telephone you or appear personally at your door. Here are some examples of the tactics used to try and get you to part with your money:
•    charging an up-front fee and then not challenging your band on your behalf, but blaming the VOA for not taking any action
•    insisting you're definitely in the wrong band, when in fact your band is correct
•    saying they are from the local council or VOA and asking for your bank details so they can provide a refund. You may then find that money is taken from your account
•    claiming that the VOA charges you to challenge your band, when you can do this for free
•    claiming that you must, by law, be represented by an agent to challenge your band, when in fact anyone can do this
•    saying that the VOA won't reduce your band, without the help of an agent, because the government is short of money.
Here are some do's and don'ts to help you avoid falling victim to these scammers:
DO:
•    remember that you can have your band checked for free by contacting your local valuation office
•    phone the cold callers office to confirm that they are who they say they are
•    inform the police if you believe that anyone is impersonating staff from your local council or the VOA
•    dial 999 if a cold caller refuses to leave your home
•    contact Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre on 0300 123 2040 or online at www.actionfraud.police.uk, if you feel you have been the victim of a council tax scam.
DON'T:
•    give your bank details to anyone that contacts you by phone or who calls in person
•    let anyone into your home or business without seeing appropriate identification
•    feel under pressure from a cold caller to pay an immediate up-front fee. Take the time you need to think about it
•    accept cold callers’ claims about your band without seeing evidence or proof of what they are claiming. There is nothing wrong with being sceptical
•    speak to anyone that is reluctant to give you their company address or contact details.
If you feel that the band on your home or business is wrong, then all you have to do is contact your local valuation office and explain why you think it is incorrect. They will also ask you to confirm that the details they hold about your home are correct. They will listen to your views and if they agree that the band is wrong, they will change it. Bands can occasionally go up as well as down.
To report any concerns you have call Trading Standards via Citizens Advice Consumer Service on 08454 04 05 06. (29/9/12)

•Occasionally this Service is contacted by members of the public that are having difficulty cancelling a continuous payment authority (CPA) set up with their debit cards. Below is some advice provided by The Financial Ombudsman Service in relation to this matter. The advice is based on the Payment Services Regulations 2009 and these should be quoted when a consumer talks to the bank. In short, it means that if a consumer contacts their bank and cancels a CPA then the bank is under a duty to carry out this cancellation. If they fail to cancel the payments the bank may be liable to repay any further payments back to the consumer and any other direct costs.This advice may be of particular use to consumers where the business is taking erratic or irregular payments. In some cases this can place the consumer in severe financial difficulty and distress. If the bank fails to cooperate, the consumer should report the activity to Financial Ombudsman Service.It should be noted that the purchase agreement that the consumer signed with the supplier may also require some form of notice or cancellation before they can stop it. So just cancelling the payments with the bank may not be enough to stop the consumer being liable to pay (for example, there may be a minimum contract period).

http://www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk

Financial Ombudsman Service – News Release – June / July 2012 – Issue 103

A "continuous payment authority" is a payment arrangement that a consumer sets up on their plastic card. This type of payment arrangement is often used to enable regular monthly payments – for example, to pay for a gym membership or internet subscription. But it can also be used to enable a supplier to take variable payments as and when required.

The consumer gives their authority to the supplier that they want to pay – and the supplier then takes the regular payments direct from the consumer's bank. Each payment will show up as a transaction on the consumer's bank statement in the normal way.

In cases we see, the consumer has run into problems when they decided to stop the ongoing payments – perhaps because they no longer wanted the underlying service they were paying for, or because they were unhappy about the way the continuous payment authority was being used by the supplier. Usually they have been unable to make the supplier stop taking the payments – and they can't get their bank to stop things at their end, either.

Until November 2009 the consumer could only cancel continuous payment authorities with the supplier. They could not simply cancel it with their bank in the way they could with a standing order or a direct debit. This meant that if the supplier decided not to cooperate, the consumer could find it very difficult to stop the payments.From the cases we've seen, since November 2009 there appears to have been some confusion about whether – and how – a continuous payment authority can be cancelled. This seems to be because not everyone has thought about how the payment services rules (which came into effect in November 2009) strengthened consumers' rights to stop payments like these.

From November 2009 consumers have been able to cancel continuous payment authorities direct with their bank – and the bank has then been bound not to make any further payments, even if the supplier continued to request them. If the bank makes payments under a continuous payment authority after the consumer has cancelled it, the rules say that the bank will generally be liable to return those payments.The law is one of the things we take into account when we consider cases. So we have always applied the payment services rules to complaints about unauthorised payments made since November 2009. Where we decide that a bank has made a payment under a cancelled continuous payment authority, this means the usual outcome is that we tell it to refund the payment.Of course, it makes sense for a consumer to cancel a continuous payment authority with both the bank and the supplier – to minimise any chance of problems later on. The purchase agreement that the consumer signed with the supplier may also require some form of notice or cancellation before they can stop it. So just cancelling the payments with the bank may not be enough to stop the consumer being liable to pay (for example, there may be a minimum contract period). This means it's always wise to check first. 

 

•Citizens Advice launches National Survey about Payday Lenders

As a new payday lending consumer charter is launched Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country are releasing new figures demonstrating a worrying increase in the number of serious debt cases relating to payday loans.  The Citizens Advice service has seen a ten fold increase in the proportion of clients with multiple debts, including payday loans.

Advice given by Citizens Advice Bureaux included which debts to prioritise, a client’s right to stop payday lenders taking money straight out of their bank account and negotiating a manageable repayment plan with the lender on a client’s behalf.

Citizens Advice is calling on people who have taken out pay day loans to take part in a national survey to monitor whether payday lenders are sticking to their self-regulating charter.  The year-long survey will ask payday loan customers questions including:

Q: Did the lender ask you to provide documents about your personal finances and general situation to check that you could afford to pay back the loan?

Q: Did the lender tell you that a payday loan should not be used for long term borrowing or if you are in financial difficulty?

Q: Did the lender offer to freeze interest and charges for you if you make payments under a reasonable repayment plan?

The survey will run on the Citizens Advice Adviceguide website at: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/dialogue_payday_loan_survey

Participants will also be able to fill in template letters to inform the payday loan company of their situation and experience of taking out a payday loan. Citizens Advice will report initial findings from the survey in spring 2013.
Caroline Farquhar of the Citizens Advice West Kent Consumer Empowerment Partnership said:

“We want our clients to help us hold payday lenders to account.  For too many people payday loans are a fast but dangerous way to borrow money.  Quick cash payouts can have damaging long-term consequences.

“We’ve seen problems relating to payday loans rise significantly over the last four years and we’re worried that this will only increase as more people feel the squeeze.  Christmas can be a particularly expensive time, but January always comes and we urge people not to get stuck with a Christmas debt hangover and seek budgeting advice from your local bureau now.”

Citizens Advice is urging anyone who is experiencing difficulties with a payday loan or considering taking one out to visit their local bureau and seek advice about alternatives. To report any concerns you have, call Trading Standards via Citizen Advice Consumer Service on 08454 040506. 

 

 Kent Trading Standards is advising consumers of some important checks to make when buying a pet dog or cat. This advice comes following several instances of illegally imported pets being sold to consumers unaware of the origins of the animals.

Before entering the UK all dogs and cats must be micro chipped and vaccinated against rabies. In addition all dogs must be treated for tapeworm. Illegally imported dogs and cats may not only carry diseases such as rabies but may also be advertised in a way that misleads the buyer regarding the animal’s history, breed or pedigree. Be particularly careful when buying dogs or cats advertised on the internet or through local media such as a newspaper.

You can play a part in fighting the illegal trade in pet animals by following some simple guidelines.

If you are planning to buy a cat or dog:
•    Buy your animal from a reputable supplier. Advice on buying a dog or cat is available from a range of animal organisations, such as Dog Advisory Council,  Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA
•    Check the animal’s history by speaking to a previous owner. If you are buying a puppy or kitten, you should ask to see it with its mother and the rest of the litter.
•    View the animal and its documentation before you buy. If it was born outside of the UK it must have either a pet passport or a veterinary certificate. The pet passport needs to confirm that it was vaccinated against rabies at the correct age. The age varies with the brand of vaccine used but is usually only effective if the animal is at least three months of age.  For dogs, the passport should also show that it has been treated for tapeworm.
•    If you have any doubts about an animal speak to your vet before agreeing to buy it.

If a pet is found to be illegally imported and non-compliant with disease control rules, then the owner may have to pay for costly quarantine and veterinary bills. If the owner is unable to meet these costs, this may leave the Local Authority with no option other than to euthanize (put down) the animal.

Don’t let yourself become another victim of the illegal pet trade.

Text messages about accidents, debt management, PPI and pay day loans

The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is there to help you understand what the Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act and related issues mean to you. They can advise you on how to protect your personal information and how to gain access to official records.

They are aware that lots of people are receiving unsolicited text messages (SMS) relating to accident claims, debts or mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI).

The messages vary in content but will typically say that you are entitled to money because of an accident, debt or mis-sold payment protection insurance. You are then asked to text ‘stop’ or ‘claim’ in response to the text. They are also aware of a new type of unsolicited text message which is directed to an incorrectly named person, for example ‘Hi Shirley, get your £100 – £1000 funds today only. No checks, no fees’ or ‘Hi Tom here’s that site I was telling you about. Made £630 in the last week already’.

 

How can I stop receiving messages from these organisations?

You can report them to your network operator, who may be able to prevent further spam from the originating number. Unfortunately as the numbers often change, your network provider cannot guarantee to stop all unsolicited messages. You can either contact your network operator’s customer services or forward spam text messages to 7726 (If you are a Vodafone user, forward to 87726 instead). Further information is available on the ICO website:-

http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_the_public.aspx