Help putting the phone down

The Oxford Times: Lucky break: Louise Claremont Lucky break: Louise Claremont

A main drain was overflowing. Foul water was flooding into the house and ruining the carpet. I was heaving sandbags about. Then the telephone rang and it was someone trying to persuade me I was owed thousands in mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI); not the man from Thames Water from whom I was extremely keen to hear.

It rang again: “How dare I put the receiver down?” said the same tiresome voice. “It was very rude.”

Then there was the friend who went to a wine tasting.

“It is very funny,” said the salesman. “We’ve been trying to ring you about the wine you ordered last year. But every time we do so you hang up.”

My friend explained: “I always assume anyone addressing me by my surname must be a cold-caller,”

But cold-callers can sometimes become a more serious problem.

Take the case of Louise Claremont, 84, of Witney.

During a cold call, a salesman succeeded in persuading her to part with £249 to help her recover PPI — and then the company he represented promptly went into administration.

As it happens her story has a happy ending because Mrs Claremont managed to get all her money back from the credit card company through which she paid out the money in the first place.

And she did this with the help of a new organisation that the Citizens Advice Bureau established in the summer — using Oxfordshire as one of 18 pilot areas — called the Consumer Empowerment Partnership.

Mrs Claremont said: “The CAB was wonderful. Luckily we had paid this company with my husband David’s credit card. An advisor at the CAB found that here was a way of claiming our money back.

“We would never have been able to manage all this on our own.”

She added: “I think the idea of making it easier for people to get help for consumer problems is very necessary.”

However, David Soward, co-ordinator for the Oxfordshire Consumer Empowerment Partnership, said: “We had to tell Mrs Claremont that she may now suffer more nuisance calls as her name has probably been put on what we call the ‘suckers’ list’.

“That is a list of people who are known to have responded to cold calls in the past — and, therefore, might do so again.”

He added: “We aim to provide consumers with a service they will get to know and trust — one that will help them resolve their consumer problem — and to get involved in making sure the same thing doesn’t happen to other people.”

The partnership has come into being in Oxfordshire ahead of April 2013 when Citizens Advice Bureaux will take on national responsibility for the functions of giving information, advice, education and advocacy.

At present such functions are fulfilled by different organisations, including Consumer Focus and the Office of Fair Trading.

The idea is that the CAB, building on its huge experience in the area, will make sure that consumer matters are handled by one umbrella organisation with one easy-to-remember consumer telephone helpline: 08454 040506.

At the same time the CAB will make sure consumer issues are fully represented to central government, policy-makers and consumer protection bodies and that the public at large will be able to make effective complaints and to contribute to campaigns.

The CAB will work in partnership with trading standards officers when it comes to enforcing laws.

One strand of this work is the development of Consumer Empowerment Partnerships (CEPs) across the nation — such as the one already up and running in Oxfordshire — to provide local leadership in consumer protection.

Mr Soward said: “Dealing with doorstep crime is one of our campaigns co-ordinated by the Oxfordshire CEP.

“It is important that people should know that if a person is on your doorstep or in your house and does not leave when you tell them to, then he or she is committing a crime.

“Cold telephone calling is another.

“It is a legal requirement that companies do not make cold calls to numbers registered with the the Telephone Preference Service [tpsonline.org.uk]. “But actually stopping them doing so is, of course, hard, particularly when so many ring from abroad.”

Typical of the consumer jungle that.

A glance at the CAB Advice Guide web page (adviceguide.org.uk) shows how tricky obtaining your rights can be — and in almost all areas of commercial activity: hoiday firms that go bust, disputes with dentists, payday loans with interest loans that go ballistic ... and, yes, a very useful guide for flood victims, including advice on getting insurance in high risk areas.

As for those pesky PPI calls, all agree, including the Financial Ombudsman, that if you have a claim you should simply get in touch with the bank, building society, or credit card company concerned, and lodge your complaint direct.

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