Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday’s ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below.
Mrs E.E. writes: I ordered and paid for pet food from Advanced Pets in Gloucester, but received nothing. Emails were not answered and the phone was answered by an outside company advising that lines were busy.
The firm asks for details and say someone will get back to you, but nobody ever does. The company issues invoices without any contact details.
The Trustpilot review website has several people suggesting positive reviews are fake. Luckily, I was able to reclaim my money from my credit card.
Tony Hetherington replies: The invoice you received from Advanced Pets is a mess. It charges VAT without showing a VAT number, and the closest it gets to an address is very small print which says ‘Advanced Pets – United Kingdom’. Trustpilot displays lots of detailed complaints, with 66 per cent of reviewers rating the business as bad, while curiously 27 per cent say it is excellent. And one does say she was offered a 20 per cent discount if she submitted a five-star review.
Advanced Pets is a website-based business, but its website is as poor as its service. Some of its terms and conditions refer to the US. Others refer to the laws of the United Kingdom, which is confusing in itself since business terms covering firms in England normally say they are covered by the laws of England and Wales, as Scotland and Northern Ireland may be different.
Even the usual privacy statement is absurd. It refers to ‘Advanced Pets doing business as advanced pets’, but since there is no such registered company, this is legally meaningless. Some of the firm’s sales terms have blank spaces that have never been completed, and there is a whole section devoted to California state law.
Who in California is likely to order dog biscuits or chewy toys from thousands of miles away in Gloucester?
At the heart of all this is one very basic offence. Customers are legally entitled to know who they are dealing with.
The details of limited companies are free to view in Companies House records, but Advanced Pets is not a limited company.
Anyone carrying on a business in a name that is not their own must disclose their full name and address at which they can be contacted and where legal documents can be served. This information is not on the Advanced Pets website or on invoices, but I can tell you that the man behind it is Aaron Price.
When I asked him why there were so many complaints he said: ‘Since opening our website, we have gone from 10 to 15 orders a day to 100 to 150 orders, which our infrastructure was not quite prepared for.
‘I am personally still shocked at the vast amount of orders we are getting.’
And he added: ‘One matter I am sure you won’t mention in your report is that we are currently offering families around our Gloucestershire area completely free monthly dog or cat medication or pet food to support low income families.’
Price did not offer any comments about his firm’s terms and conditions or his failure to give customers the information that is legally due, but he did tell me that his address is 37 Naunton Road, Gloucester GL4 4RD.
If his name and this address do not appear soon on his website and invoices, I trust that Trading Standards officials in Gloucester will step in.
Meanwhile, unhappy customers do now know who to contact and where.
Taxman won’t let me use my online account
A.C. writes: I was registered to use the Revenue & Customs online service via the Government Gateway scheme for managing my personal tax account.
But I found I was locked out as I had not used it for three years.
Trying to renew my registration has proved impossible due to questions about my identity.
A.C. was registered to use the Revenue & Customs online service via the Government Gateway scheme
Tony Hetherington replies: Part of the process of renewing your registration meant you had to supply information about your passport and your credit record. You are sure you answered questions accurately and honestly, but the system rejected you, claiming some information you provided was not accurate.
You contacted the Revenue but officials would not help. As they pointed out, if they told you the ‘right’ answers, they could easily have been helping someone impersonate you.
I asked staff at the Revenue headquarters what you should do, and they suggested you call for assistance. But when I looked at the instructions, it stated: ‘Make sure your personal details and address are up to date in your personal tax account or you could fail telephone security.’
Since your very problem was that you were denied access to your tax account, how could you possibly make sure its details were up to date?
Happily, officials have managed to shift the goalposts. One told me: ‘Customers can now use GB driving licences as one of the two forms of ID needed to verify their identity on the Government Gateway.’
Bizarrely, until a few weeks ago only Northern Ireland driving licences were accepted.
You have now had a call from the Revenue guiding you through the renewal process successfully.
Debt collector got wrong door
Mrs S.M. writes: I am 80 years old, widowed, and have been at the same address since 2013.
I am sending you a letter I have received from Moorcroft Debt Recovery Ltd, showing my address but someone else’s name, and demanding £1,013.
I am concerned that my address might get a bad credit rating, and I am really worried that Moorcroft might send recovery agents to my door.
Mrs S.M. is concerned that her address might get a bad credit rating, and really worried that recovery agents may turn up at her door
Tony Hetherington replies: You told me that you and your husband, who you lost in 2018, always paid your bills on time, so let me start by reassuring you that your credit rating is safe as records of debt are linked to individuals and not just their addresses.
That said, it took me fewer than ten minutes to trace the person targeted by Moorcroft. I am not identifying her today as she may have no idea that there is a claim against her, and she may not be a debtor at all. I will just say that she does live near you, though her name is nothing like yours.
I asked Moorcroft whether all this was just a mistake – or had the other woman allegedly used your address to get credit?
The answer is that it was a mistake by an outside firm that traces debtors for Moorcroft, and your address has now been wiped from its records. Moorcroft apologises for the distress and inconvenience, and you will be receiving £100 to make up for this.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.