TONY HETHERINGTON: We called off our wedding and were prepared to lose deposit - but the venue demanded thousands
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.
M.L.writes: On July 9 my son and his fiancee booked Bickley Manor Hotel in Kent for their wedding reception next April. Staff urged us to pay a £750 deposit as it was a popular time.
However, on August 9 we had to cancel as my son and his fiancee broke off their engagement. We were expecting an administration charge to be deducted, but in fact we have received a letter requesting a further £2,831.
Amicable split: A wedding venue's unfair terms were thrown into light when our reader cancelled their reception.
Attached to the letter are the hotel’s terms and conditions, which we had never seen.
Neither you nor your son signed any contract with Bickley Manor Hotel. The only paperwork you were given was a single sheet of estimated costs totalling £8,578. Small print said terms and conditions were available on request.
I have read those terms and conditions and I seriously doubt that they would stand up in court. For a start, they refer to ‘the company’, without revealing any name or registration number.
The hotel letterhead reveals nothing either, so you had no way of knowing whether you were dealing with a sole trader, partnership, limited company, or what. Customers are legally entitled to this information.
More seriously, the terms and conditions are incredibly one-sided. The hotel could cancel the reception the day before, simply by saying it was short-staffed, and you would not be entitled to a penny in compensation. But as you found, customers are treated differently.
Calling off the wedding many months before the event brought a demand for 40 per cent of the costs. The hotel even had the cheek to slap on a further £150 as an ‘administrative charge’.
If you had paid, the hotel’s owners would have pocketed £3,581 for doing nothing.
The Bickley Manor Hotel is run by a company called Mahut Limited. I asked director Hickmet Mourat to justify this whopping bill, and to say whether he would give you a refund if another couple book the hotel for the same date. I also told him I thought his business terms were so unfair as to be unlawful.
Mourat did his best to hold me off while inviting you to meet him to discuss what he called an ‘amicable settlement’. Sensibly, you declined and asked for proposals in writing.
However, Mourat admitted he copied his terms and conditions from another business some time ago, and they might not be acceptable now.
He would change them, he promised, to put his company and its customers on a more equal footing.
But he still wanted a meeting. You were ‘rude’ for refusing to listen to him, he said. He wanted to explain his business terms ‘instead of writing a long and tedious letter’.
And that is where things stood until Thursday, when I told him we would be publishing your letter today. He was disappointed not to give you ‘an insight into our industry’, he told me. But he added: ‘To resolve this matter we will be forwarding a full refund.’
I know you were prepared to face a reasonable cancellation fee, so in fact Mourat is doing more than you expected. But I hope he sticks to his plan to improve customers’ rights and issues no more dodgy demands.
Contract: Bickley Manor Hotel, Bickley, Kent
Claiming £900,000 football lottery ‘prize’ would be an own goal
S.F.writes: I am sending you a letter I received, purportedly from the Spanish Lottery Commission, awarding me £900,000.
I assume this is a scam, though unlike similar scams, it uses a London address and phone numbers.
You are right. This is a scam. And you are right again – what stands out is the London address and phone numbers.
The letter is headed ‘Spanish Euromillion FIFA World Cup Online Lottery’, with a headquarters at FIFA House in Zurich and a London claims office at Citigroup in Canary Wharf. Supposedly, the Spanish Lottery and the Qatar Football Association promoted a free lottery, and to collect your winnings you should contact a Dr Andrew Morgan in London.
All this is garbage. There is no lottery and no prize. If you had replied, you would have been milked for ever-increasing sums, with tales of legal fees, taxes and bank charges due before the prize could be released.
There is no claims office in the Citigroup building, but I did wonder about the phone numbers. Well, the mobile number, 0778 699 9775, rang without answer, but to my surprise the landline number, 020 7060 6110, was answered.
An African-accented voice told me Dr Morgan was not available, but the speaker was reluctant to go further and hung up. Anyone invited to call these numbers should beware.
Why taxman can ignore a mistake…
Mrs A.S.writes: When I claimed child tax credit in 2009, I gave the information needed. But the Revenue left out my husband’s salary from its sums and overpaid me. It admits its mistake, but says I have to repay all the money.
In 2009 you rang the Revenue and provided honest details of your income. It slipped up and now wants thousands of pounds back. It rejected your appeals, saying: ‘You did not inform us of our error when we sent you your award notice. We had both not met our responsibilities and the overpayment has to be paid back.’
When I spoke to the Revenue, it confirmed you declared your husband’s income. It said it sent you the calculations, but you said you received none.
But you did receive other examples of its arithmetic. One showed your daughter attending two nurseries at once and another included childcare costs after you told them she was at school.
The Revenue’s position is that it does not have to get it right. It just has to claim that you got it wrong. Its rules mean it can then hand you a bill for thousands of pounds.
The only option left is to ask the Government’s independent Revenue Adjudicator to investigate. I shall be impressed if the Revenue can be over-ruled. The rulebook it writes for itself allows it to sidestep serious mistakes.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, Room 301, 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.
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