Once again, it has been a million-pound year for Money Mail readers as we’ve fought your corner in the face of crumbling customer service.
With victories ranging from a few pounds to tens of thousands, we’ve forced firms and government bodies to treat their customers with respect, winning back £1.14 million in total.
Our Wooden Spoon awards have highlighted how the same old organisations dodge their responsibilities week in, week out. In some cases, the malaise runs deep, as senior management use Covid as an excuse to force customers online, ignore phone calls and letters, and refuse face-to-face meetings.
In your corner: With victories ranging from a few pounds to tens of thousands, we’ve forced companies and government bodies to treat their customers with respect, winning back £1.14m
Elderly and vulnerable customers can now find it impossible to gain access to services without delving into complex technology which can leave them dangerously exposed to fraud.
But the most shocking cases this year have all involved the callous treatment of bereaved people.
Why would Barclaycard tell a widowed 81-year-old that she must apply for a new card online after her husband of 62 years died? Without computer skills, she felt abandoned by her bank in her hour of greatest need.
How did Barclays incorrectly tell grieving children that they could not have access to their deceased father’s account to pay for funeral expenses?
And why did Legal & General go into nit-picking overdrive when a desperately ill man was attempting to get a £40,000 terminal illness claim paid? Its pettifogging delays meant he died before the payment was made, leaving his grieving widow to pick up the fight.
There has been the usual slew of bank blunders. Money Mail’s biggest win of the year was £280,000 for a man whose life savings went missing after he sold his home. He needed the money for his next property, but it was lost following a series of errors by banks and building societies. It was finally tracked down after we intervened.
Energy companies have excelled themselves in their ability to add complaints to my mailbox.
Among the more jaw-dropping cases was Scottish Power continuing to take a monthly direct debit of £255 after someone had moved out of their house in October 2019 following a fire.
Despite its customer’s protests, it then increased the debit to £319 at the start of this year.
After I intervened, it still took two months for £3,600 to be refunded.
In a separate case, Scottish Power refunded a customer £10,000 made up of £7,122 overpayments, £675 interest and £2,203 compensation after taking erroneous meter readings since February 2014.
One point of which all customers should take note came up in a dispute involving British Gas.
It had failed to read a meter for almost two years, despite having been told a smart meter was not working. Clearly, back-billing rules should apply.
These state that a company should not charge for more than a year in arrears as long as customers have co-operated with readings.
However, British Gas told me this reduction must be applied manually. Hence it took my intervention for the arrears bill to be reduced by £300 before being wiped out with a £253 goodwill gesture.
Occasionally, we are taken by surprise. We are often sent details of old savings passbooks or insurance policies, which are usually worth pennies or turn out to have been cashed in years ago.
But when I looked into policies dating back to the 1960s for a widow who had been trying to get Reassure to examine them for months, the result was astonishing.
A search of microfiche records revealed these investments should have paid an income for many years — and further investigation uncovered another policy, resulting in a payout of £43,000.
Fraud is, of course, a permanent part of the landscape — as is the reluctance of banks to honour their commitments.
We were forced to take Barclays to task when it ignored rules introduced in May 2019 by failing to refund a £49,500 mortgage deposit stolen in a bank transfer scam.
The customer had taken reasonable care but was outwitted by sophisticated criminals. Barclays added £877 redress.
Fear of fraud can instil panic when we believe our money has vanished. This happened to one reader attempting to transfer an investment Isa from Barclays Smart Investor to Fundsmith.
Both firms left their 83-year-old customer and her money in a Bermuda Triangle. The problem was slow service and a cheque with the wrong name on it, but no one had the wit to sort it out before I banged heads together.
The £18,000 eventually moved, months late, with an extra £2,500 in compensation and investment growth from Barclays, and £350 from Fundsmith.
HMRC made some appearances, too. One case was a recurring problem from last year, when a doctor’s receptionist was allocated the details of a higher paid colleague with the same name. The result was a hugely inflated tax bill.
One error is forgivable, but when the same error was repeated the following year, it looked careless.
Another surprise was how easy it is for banks to stop sending vital information to customers without making a decent attempt to check their address.
One reader fell foul of Santander after Royal Mail returned its letters, even though they were correctly addressed.
Rather than attempting to contact the customer by phone or email, Santander simply stopped sending bank and credit card statements.
Another reader stopped receiving his pension for the same reason. Again, no attempt had been made to contact him another way.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing I have noticed lately is that companies increasingly expect we won’t write about them once they have resolved an issue, or think they can avoid adverse publicity by not commenting on cases.
What seems to bypass them is that the only reason we have to become involved is because their customer service operations have failed. No one writes to Money Mail without first trying to resolve an issue themselves.
Treat your customers with respect and your names won’t appear in Ask Tony, unless it is to receive a worthy pat on the back.
Covid has brought home the importance of reading insurance smallprint, but this is not only important for travel cover.
E-bikes are becoming more popular, but would your insurance cover yours if it was stolen? RSA refused a claim on a stolen e-bike while paying out on a mountain bike.
The decision and policy exclusion seemed daft to me, so I checked my own policy and found I would have been covered by my insurer in similar circumstances.
But can anything match the utter daftness of Aviva? Last month, my house insurance payment didn’t go through because I had received a new credit card to replace a lost one.
Aviva sent a letter asking me to call a number which, when dialled, told me they don’t take phone calls and to email via the website instead!
So basically, whoever is in charge of Aviva customer service is too lazy to update this letter template that presumably goes out to thousands of customers, instead making them waste their time calling a number that offers only an automated message. Poor.
- Write to asktony@dailymail. co.uk or Ask Tony, Money Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT. Please include your phone number, address and a note addressed to the offending organisation giving permission to talk to Tony Hazell. We regret we cannot reply to individual letters. Please do not send original documents as we cannot take responsibility for them. No legal responsibility can be accepted by the Daily Mail for answers given