Archives for October 2011

Taking off the miles

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 17:44 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

Nearly 700,000 cars on British roads are driving around with a lower mileage than a year ago - that's according to official figures obtained by BBC Wales' X-Ray consumer programme.

It's been investigating the issue of car-clocking and the involvement of so-called mileage correction firms.

Tonight's X-Ray goes undercover to film at two of the firms to see if they're willing to wind back the clock on the programme's cars, even when they're told the vehicles will then be sold.

Mileage correction firms advertise freely on the internet. They say they're there to help motorists who need to replace or reset broken or faulty mileometers. Using specialist computers, the companies claim to be able to re-programme and adjust the mileage on virtually every make of car.

Gareth Rees

Gareth Rees talks to Rachel

Gareth Rees, an independent vehicle inspector with more than 30 years' experience, said many doubted the need for so many of the firms.

"There's no genuine reason why they should exist," he said. "Modern dashboards rarely go wrong and the only legitimate reason for them to exist is to actually rectify faulty speedometers."

X-Ray found eight mileage correction firms in Wales. It contacted them all and told them it wanted to wind back the mileage on a car before selling it. Three refused, but the other five appeared ready to do the work.

The programme then secretly filmed at two of the companies, taking a different car to each. Between them, they were asked to take a total of 50,000 miles off the clocks of the two cars.

Both garages, Secure-wise in Cwmbran and Rollingmotion in Caerphilly, agreed to change the mileage, even though they were told that the cars would then be sold.

Secure-wise told the programme that it wasn't a problem as long as we didn't guarantee for any future buyer of the car that the mileage shown was genuine.

They said there were lots of cars on the road with the wrong mileage on them, and refused to give a receipt for the work because they didn't want to leave a "paper-work trail." The company has not commented on the claims.

After doing the work, the other company, Rollingmotion, asked X-Ray to sign a disclaimer explaining why the work needed to be done.

The firm, which has now stopped advertising mileage correction on its website, say they acted in good faith, as they'd been led to believe the mileage was incorrect for the reasons set out in the disclaimer.

Gabriel O'Connell, from Brynmawr, is a victim of car-clocking. He travelled to Birmingham and spent £3,500 buying what he thought was a bargain - a 10-year-old Audi A3. He had second thoughts, though, when he got home.

"I paid £30 and had an HPI check on the car," he said. "I found out the car was showing a lot more mileage than 97,000 and had been clocked twice.

"We worked it out that the car had roughly done 297,000 miles, which is the distance from south Wales to the moon."

Last year The Office of Fair Trading carried out a survey of the second-hand car market last year and found 50 mileage correction firms around Britain.

"We have a strong suspicion that many of these companies adjust mileages for illegitimate reasons," the OFT reported. It said it would like to see them either banned or regulated.

Breastlight

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 17:34 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

Women across Wales know it's important to be aware of the early signs of breast cancer, but can a hand held device, called the Breastlight, be a useful tool in the fight against cancer? Or, at £86, is it cashing in on our health fears?

Breastlight

Breastlight

Designed to be used in the home, women are encouraged to use an LED light to look out for and remember changes in their breasts. According to the kit malignant lumps have an increased blood supply so dark areas or shadows could be a cause for concern.

Its makers say it's not a diagnostic tool, but on their accompanying video women using the Breastlight make conclusions about their own health including one woman who says, "obviously I haven't got a lump because it was all just a big red glow".

Since going on sale in 2006, 20,000 Breastlights have been sold to retail and medical outlets worldwide. They're on sale in 12 countries and in 650 Boots stores across the UK.

At Rhondda Breast Friends cancer support group, Diane Raybould and Sally Stoat have tested the Breastlight. Sally fears its cost and availability on the High Street could lead women to place their trust in it.

Sally told X-Ray, "It's quite expensive to buy, it's then people think because they've spent quite a lot of money, bought it from a reputable place that this is going to be a really good answer and perhaps rely on it".

But Diane thought the product could be useful as an addition to a wider breast awareness routine.

She said, "Anything that actually encourages people to check their own bodies is a really good thing.

In Wales there's alreday a comprehensive evidence-based, screening system for breast cancer. Women over 50 are invited to screening centres every three years for checks.

Dr Rose Fox

Dr Rose Fox

Director of Screening at Public Health Wales, Dr Rose Fox, is not convinced by home testing.

She said: "There isn't any evidence that introducing home testing is going to have any impact on someone's chances of dying from breast cancer.

"There are lots of different types of cancer, and they all look very different on the x-rays. If someone who didn't have that degree of training looked at a mammogram they wouldn't be able to tell what was normal and what was abnormal.

"Often it's changes, very subtle changes between an x-ray that was taken three years ago and an x-ray that we've just taken recently that will give the clue to actually this is something abnormal."

There are concerns that women using the Breastlight at home are expected to understand and compare changes they spot from month to month.

Dr Fox added, "Maybe they'd do it and feel that everything was all right when perhaps they should be being worried. The other end of the spectrum if you like is women trying to look and perhaps being anxious and not being sure what they are seeing."

Sally who's had breast cancer agrees that the Breastlight relies too much on the individual.

She said, "Most of us aren't medics so when you actually look at your breasts through it you can see your veins but do we really know what we were looking for. I know when I looked through it I thought that looks fine but is it ok?"

But Diane, who lost her daughter to breast cancer and had her own personal battle with the disease knows of some women who find the machine reassuring. She told X-Ray, "One lady come back, she had a lump in her breast, she'd actually gone to GP, the GP said don't worry it's a cyst there's no problem. She'd gone away. The worries hadn't gone away. The worries were still there, the lump was still there.

"She tried the lamp, she said I shone the Breastlight on my breast when I felt the lump was, it didn't show anything up and that really gave me a lot more confidence in what the GP has said."

The UK licensed the Breastlight for sale however, last November Canada recalled the product. Health Canada said there was no clinical evidence that the Breastlight could be used effectively as a screening device for the early detection of breast cancer.

Dr Fox added, "I'm not aware of any evidence - and if you think about it logically if there was that level of evidence there then maybe we should be offering those tests on the NHS rather than the breast screening programme that we currently do offer."

Breastlight's makers have told us they make it clear in their literature that they don't encourage women to use the Breastlight as a diagnostic tool to look for cancer, but as an useful addition to their breast awareness routine, and thousands of women use it in this way.

And Boots say it isn't a diagnostic tool and should be used with self awareness checks. It shouldn't be seen as a substitute for mammogram screening.  They also say  the product comes with information on how to use it properly and customers can also ask a Boots pharmacist for advice if they need to.

Claiming cash

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:48 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

There are plenty of companies who will offer to help you reclaim any fees you might have been wrongly charged on financial products. But you may wait a long time for a result and the costs can be surprising.

Reclaiming PPI, or payment protection insurance, has been big business for years. But now the firms which claim on our behalf are branching out - offering to reclaim all sorts of other charges from financial institutions. And there are concerns about how some of them are operating.

Haydn Trew from Cardiff

Haydn Trew from Cardiff

One consumer who's been left baffled by his experience of a claims management firm is Cardiff PE teacher, Haydn Trew.

Hadyn told X-Ray how he was telephoned at home by one company last year, “This company said do you want to win some money back.  They were looking to look into the companies - mortgage companies, credit card companies to see overcharges, overpayments, charging for late payments or to see if I’d been wrongly sold any mortgages.”

On the phone the advisor was pretty persuasive, convincing Haydn this was a great way to reclaim money from organisations which had taken advantage of him in the past and, before he knew it, Haydn was handing over his credit card details. The company was able to withdraw almost £600 from Haydn's credit card to look into two claims.

With the claim ongoing, a few months later Haydn was contacted again by the company offering to look into more claims - but that would mean handing over more money.  Haydn says, “I thought as I already paid £600 and didn’t want to risk losing that I thought if I gave them the £700 I might have a chance of getting a successful claim and getting something back.” 

The total Haydn had paid was now almost £1,300.

The company Haydn had paid is called Client Connection Limited, based in Swansea. They were trading as Money Claiming Experts but changed their trading name to Lifestyle Claims.

It’s been over a year since Haydn first heard from the company and only one of his claims so far has been successful, earning him just over £100. But Client Connection Limited have asked for 30 per cent of this as their fee.  The rest of his claims have been unsuccessful, except for one which is still outstanding - so Haydn is still waiting to hear if he's due any more money back.  Haydn said, “I’m not very hopeful with that at the moment.”

Hyadn says he had faith in the company because, “they said they were with the Ministry of Justice.” Client Connection Limited say they only refer to themselves as being: “regulated by the Ministry of Justice in respect of regulated claims management activities.”

The first fees of almost £600 were charged to Haydn's credit card the same day as their initial phone call.  The Ministry of Justice, which regulates Claims Management firms, has provided guidance which suggests companies aren’t allowed to do that.  Client Connection Limited says: “The guidance note to which [X-Ray has] referred is not statutory and has no legal basis.”

But the Ministry of Justice is critical of this, saying the guidance clarifies what businesses need to do to protect consumers and: “If a business is found to be flouting these guidelines, the MoJ can take appropriate action which can include investigation and suspension of a company." The Ministry of Justice has told X-Ray that they are investigating consumer complaints made against Client Connection Ltd / Lifestyle Claims.  They say they will carefully consider the issues raised about this business

Haydn’s left baffled by his experience, saying, “I don't understand how they operate and I wish I hadn't entered into it in the first place.”

The consumer organisation Which? has recently conducted research into claims management firms. Money editor James Daley has a stark warning. He says, “Dozens of firms out there don't declare fees, overstate their value, charge up front fees, get consumers to sign the contract before knowing what the service is. The MOJ needs to clamp down on this industry so those firms which aren't following the rules are shut down.”

Consumers who believe they have been wrongly charged by financial institutions can contact the Financial Ombusdman Service for free and impartial decisions.

There are template letters available widely on the internet for people who feel they have been left out of pocket and want to make a claim, and some banks are actively encouraging consumers to make claims themselves and not to use Claims Management Firms which take a fee from any money recovered. 

Which? suggests people who do want to use a claims management form should choose one which offers a "no win no fee service" and should not use any company which charges fees up front.

Client Connection Limited say they have investigated five claims on Haydn's behalf.  One has been successful so far with £110.93 recovered.  Haydn has paid a 30 per cent plus VAT fee of £39.94 in relation to this claim.  One claim is with the Financial Ombudsman Service and Client Connection Limited say it may take 6-9 months to be processed, and three of the claims have been unsuccessful.

Haydn has paid Client Connection Limited £1,344.89 in total and the company says a further “success fee” may be payable depending on the outcome of his outstanding claim.  If Haydn is owed a refund from the company this will be paid within 30 days of completion of his claim, although they say he’s not due any refund from them at this stage.

A little-known lifeline

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:37 UK time, Monday, 24 October 2011

A little-known financial lifeline has been uncovered by the X-Ray team.

But are the banks doing enough to make their staff aware of it, and are they passing the information to their customers?

Gail and Ken Hughes from Prenteg near Porthmadog received the wrong information from their bank when they tried to get a refund on some chairs they'd paid for using their Visa Debit card.

The trouble started in May when Gail and Ken ordered the furniture from Finney's in Bangor.

Ken told presenter Rachel Treadaway -Williams the two chairs would cost £268, including the delivery charge.

But while the couple waited for the chairs, the company which ran Finneys went into administration.

At the time Finneys promised to honour orders and return deposits, but when Gail and Ken contacted the liquidators they were told to try and get a refund from their bank.

In the UK purchases on Visa Debit cards are covered by a scheme known as chargeback.  It's not legally binding, like the rules which cover credit card purchases, but banks using Visa Debit agree to apply its principles.

Chargeback can be used if something you've paid for using the card doesn't arrive, arrives damaged, is not as it was described, or where the merchant has ceased trading. 

There are some conditions - you'll need to claim within 120 days of realising there's been a problem with the purchase and there's no guarantee that your claim will be successful, but your bank should be aware of its duty to investigate each case.

The HSBC branch

The HSBC branch

They weren't aware of chargeback, but on the advice of Finney's administrators, Gail and Ken headed to their local branch of HSBC in Porthmadog to try and get a refund.

“We went to the cashier's counter. I gave her the actual card, the Visa Debit card which she claimed she took in the back to manager. She said the manager said you can't have your money back, you could only have it if you paid by credit card. We just accepted it and walked out.” Gail said.

X-Ray wanted to know if this kind of bad advice from banks was a common problem. We phoned all the major banks and visited some of their branches in Pontypridd.

Two of the banks gave us completely the wrong information. On the phone, Lloyds TSB told us that we couldn't get a refund on an item that hadn't been delivered because we'd paid by Visa Debit card, and in the Pontypridd branch of Halifax our researcher was given the same wrong information. Lloyds Banking group - which runs them both - has promised to remind their frontline staff about the scheme - so they can pass the information onto customers.

According to Trading Standards, some banks don't do enough to let consumers know what their rights are when it comes to getting a refund through chargeback.

Steve Bumford from Cardiff Trading Standards told X-Ray, “It's obvious that some banks aren't telling their staff or not training their staff. When we advise people to go to their banks and ask for chargeback they're told if they bought it on credit card they could have had a refund.”

We contacted HSBC who agree that Ken and Gail were given the wrong information and said that they are entitled to claim for their chairs under the chargeback rules.

They've refunded the couple's £268 and told us they recently switched all Debit card customers from Maestro which didn't operate the chargeback rules to Visa Debit which does. They are reminding staff of the additional benefits provided by Visa Debit.

Smart smartphones

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:32 UK time, Monday, 24 October 2011

X-Ray has been investigating the high cost of connecting to the internet when on holiday.

Viewers have been contacting us after returning from holiday with bills of over £1,500 for their smart phones - even though they say they used the internet sparingly.

The key problem is the sky-high cost of using the internet abroad.

For most UK smartphone users, the cost of using the internet is included in their monthly bills. But when you go abroad the picture changes. In countries outside the EU, internet use which would cost around £10 in Britain could cost £8,000 on some networks.

Modern smart phones can build up bills in two ways. Firstly they are regularly connecting to the internet and updating themselves - so even if you don't actively use the internet they are incurring charges.

And secondly some of the applications which the phones use can also be expensive. Tests carried out by X-Ray found opening Facebook on an iPhone outside the EU could cost from £1.20 to £19. Using popular mapping applications, which work like Sat Navs, could cost £20 the first time you use them in a location. Watching videos is even more expensive.

Christine Gordon from Porthcawl

Christine Gordon from Porthcawl

Christine Gordon from Porthcawl discovered the pitfalls the hard way after she lent her smartphone to her son when he went to Turkey. She told X-Ray she was absolutely devastated when a bill for £1,500 came through the door.

James Guy from Swansea

James Guy from Swansea

James Guy from Swansea also returned to a huge bill when he came back from a holiday in Turkey, “I had heard that you could get high bills but I though these people had been on the internet for hours.

“I didn't use it at all for the first few days, but then I went onto the internet then and started to look at the Swansea City websites. I used it for four, five of the 10 days I was away.

"About three or four days after I came back, I had my Orange bill through the door and the bill was £806”.

After X-Ray got in touch his operator Orange says it will refund more than £500 of James’ bill. Vodafone says Mrs Gordon’s son turned off a service which would have warned him about his spending but as a gesture of goodwill they are willing to cut 10 per cent of his data roaming bill.

High charges also apply within the EU, but since July 2010 an EU law limits bills to 50 Euros a month, excluding VAT.

So how do you avoid bills like these?

When you go abroad, turn off your phone's "data roaming". That will stop it connecting to the internet automatically.  For information on how to do this:

  • iPhone
  • Blackberry
  • HTC
  • Samsung and Sony Ericsson - telephone your provider or visit your nearest store to ask.

Call your network provider before you leave the country – they may offer a package deal which could save you money if you to use mobile internet while you are away

Look for free wifi hotspots in hotels and cafes. If you are connected via wifi you will not be charged. 

If you are using mobile internet, use it sparingly. And turn off data roaming when you are finished to prevent it operating in the background.

Remember downloading something over the internet isn't measured in how much time it takes but in how much data you are using. Opening a single email won't cost much  - but opening a large attachment like a photo or video could be expensive.

Downloading music tracks and films will quickly build up your bill and you could end up owing thousands.

More information from Ofcom can be found here.

Anxiety in Aberporth

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 17:24 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

For one cul-de-sac in Aberporth, the last four years have proved a nightmare after residents thought they were buying their dream home. Back in 2007, Clos-y-Fferm in the pretty sea-side village was built by Ian Jones of Rheidol Developments.

Rob and Dods Arnold moved in to number four a few months later, paying £185,000 for their brand new bungalow. Rob told X-Ray it was perfect, “It's a nice environment, it's close to the sea, the beach is five minutes away - very natural, unspoilt.”

But very soon their dream home became more of a nightmare as serious cracks began appearing in their walls. When Rob showed reporter Rachel Treadaway-Williams his garage, the evidence was clear. He told her, “It has got worse and you can see the door frame’s moving away from the door there. And the same on the floor line, the wall is moving away from the floor of the garage.”

one of the cracks in the Arnolds' garage

one of the cracks in the Arnolds' garage

When Rob first noticed the damage he visited his next door neighbour Jennifer to see whether his was a one off. Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones with these problems.

Jennifer told X-Ray, “We opened up our garage and we saw intensive cracks, then the actual airing cupboard was starting to crack, and then we see the bathroom in here, the tiles actually fell off, it’s been tiled four times since.”

Rob, Dods and Jenny had also heard that a few doors down, their neighbours were having even bigger problems. Those properties now sit empty on the estate. Rob told X-Ray one of them has been boarded up for almost two years.

And for both sets of home owners, the financial consequences have been devastating. Rob and Dods have told X-Ray an estate agent has recently valued their property at between £10,000 and £20,000.

Dods said, “This house represents between us almost 60 years of hard work and then to be told it’s virtually worthless…this was our retirement fund and now it’s been wiped off the face of the earth almost.

X-Ray spoke to Kevin Thomas, a chartered surveyor to ask his opinion on what has gone so horribly wrong. He says that there’s “ongoing ground movement, it’s probably the worst ground movement I’ve seen in a long time…we’re talking about cracks of 30 to 60 mm wide which are very, very serious.” 

So what does the future hold? X-Ray wanted to know who was going to be responsible for sorting out the mess. Kevin Thomas told us it’s actually down to their home insurers, “Generally they’d have to take this through their buildings insurers, and if they’re not getting any joy through those, employ their own professional advisors, by way of surveyors, engineers, to take this forward through them, and progress their claim.”

The Arnolds have insurance with Zurich who have been monitoring the movement of their home with small devices attached to the cracks and walls. But as Rob told us it’s not come to much, “We haven’t really had any results, and we haven’t had any indications of what actions they’re going to take as a result of the movement.

Zurich has now told us it will continue to monitor the property over the winter in case there is further movement.  After completing their investigation they'll then consider what the best course of action is, and implement it.

When the problems first occurred, Jenny made a claim to her insurers - Barclays, which was declined. Jenny no longer insurers her home with Barclays, but we've asked them look again at the original claim. Barclays has since sent out its loss adjuster who is now reinvestigating her case. It also says it’s now liaising with Zurich to ensure the best outcome. 

We also spoke with the builder, Ian Jones who told us he's spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to find a solution and is determined to put things right. He says he's taking legal action against a company who he believes failed to diagnose the landslip early on in the process.

He goes on to say he deeply regrets what has happened and will fix the problems whether or not he wins this case. New drainage and monitoring systems have been installed, and he says he needs to be sure the land has stopped sliding before any repair work starts.

Payday loans

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 17:05 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

Heading off to university means a lot more responsibility - living on your own, cooking your own meals, and, handling your finances.

But when money gets tight, financial experts are worried that students might be tempted to go down the wrong route to solve the problem.

Students are being bombarded with text messages, adverts on Facebook and TV, mobile phone apps and websites which all offer high interest short term loans, known in the business as payday loans.

Quick access to money - just a few clicks away. 

Craig Thorne, vice president of Coleg Gwent’s student union, thought taking out a payday loan was the solution to his cash problems.

He said: “It was just a quick fix option, I was struggling to find money for Christmas so I decided to take out a loan and repay it when I had more money.”

Lucy Owen talks to Craig Thorne

Lucy Owen talks to Craig Thorne

But when it came to paying back his small loan Craig started to struggled. He missed early repayments and didn’t know how to deal with the debt he had built up.

He said, “I thought I was going to be able to pay it and if I could repay it for whatever reason I wasn't expecting the interest to be so hefty.”

For Sorcha Kennedy who works with people in debt in Newport this is a familiar story and she’s concerned that payday loans are so easy to obtain.

She said, “I’d say it’s the biggest thing we're seeing over the past couple of years.  Most debt clients that come in for advice have got a payday loan that they’re struggling to repay.

“It’s very rare that you see someone that’s able to use them for what they’re designed - very basically filling a gap between a payday.

“The majority of clients using them can't pay them back.  Just by the very nature of them the interest doubles and the default charges goes on which can result in bank charges as well.”

And universities across the country say they’re concerned. From Bangor to Swansea to UWIC in Cardiff  there’s been a sharp rise in students taking out pay day loans over the last few years.  

For Anne Reid, financial support officer for Aberystwyth University, it is a problem that has increased over the last two years and she says she’s now hearing from all kinds of students who’ve encountered problems with payday loan companies.

She said, “You have students from the poorer background who have the low household income perhaps who haven't been able to budget properly and you have the students from the higher income families who have again overspent and are too embarrassed to tell their parents they are in financial trouble.”

Students that have come to see her have borrowed anything between £75 to £1,000 and when they have struggled to pay back the debt, she has had to step in.

Anne says over the last year she has helped 30 students who have struggled with payday loans, half helped with advice, but for the other 15 she had to use the Welsh Government’s hardship fund to solve the problem.

Ann adds, “That’s not to say that there aren’t many more out there, there may well be those who perhaps are embarrassed to ask for help.”

Advisors like Sorcha are particularly concerned by the way payday loan companies offer top-up loans when students are already struggling with repayments.

She said, “That’s the biggest problem it’s people then having to take out one loan to repay another one and again that’s when the cycle of debt then begins.

Students struggling with payday loans should seek advice, from staff at their college/university or specialists like Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Sorcha has some tips for those who do get themselves in trouble:

1. Don’t be tempted to take out any more.
2. Don't ignore it
3. Get help & advice from a free specialist money advice agency eg CAB, CCCS and Payplan
4 Take control of finances, work out a realistic household budget to stabilise spending
5. Consider alternatives if necessary eg local credit unions & Moneyline Cymru

A Mini mystery

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:55 UK time, Monday, 17 October 2011

Sytner Mini Garage

The Sytner Mini Garage

When you hand your car over to a garage you expect them to take good care of it, but that’s not what happened when Catherine and Bill Lewis from Magor wanted their Mini fixed.

For Catherine the car was her pride and joy when she bought it new nearly eighteen months ago.
The family had been through a tough time and hoped the car might lift their spirits.

Everything was fine until they noticed a tapping noise when they started the car first thing in the morning.

The Lewis’ booked the Mini into the Sytner garage in Newport in March. It seemed like a quick fix.

The garage said a lack of oil was causing the problem - but the noise returned in May and the car went back for testing.

Sytner asked permission for one of their staff to take the car home overnight but Mr Lewis refused, although he did agree for it to be driven in moderation.

When the Lewis’ finally got their car back, the garage told them there was no fault and that the noise was just a characteristic.

But that wasn't the end of the story - three days later a speeding notice arrived in the post addressed to Mrs Lewis. It was dated at exactly the time her car was with the garage.

"My first thought was that they had the wrong car,” said Catherine. “The next thought was that my son had been driving the car, but when I showed it to Bill, he said it was when it was with the garage."

The speeding offence happened near Ystrad Mynach - around fifteen miles from the Sytner garage in Newport. The Mini was caught on camera doing 55 miles per hour on a road where the limit is 40.
 
"The speeding fine provides evidence of their lack of regard for the car and their total contempt for my instructions,” said Bill.

Tim Shallcross from the Institute of Advanced Motorists told X-Ray that garages using customer cars is nothing new, "There are garages who use customer cars as runabouts, and that's totally wrong,” said Tim.

“This is a valuable possession that the customer has entrusted to the garage." He also pointed out that a lot of garages are responsible and do look after their customer’s cars. 

So how can customers make sure their car doesn’t get used in this way?

Tim says, "The first thing we can all do is make a note of our mileage when the car goes into the garage. If it seems excessive, more than five or six miles, challenge the garage and make a note of it, so if a speeding ticket does come through, you've got a note of it."

Sytner admitted that one of their staff was at the wheel when the car was caught speeding. They paid the fine and the points have gone on their driver's licence.

The company told X-Ray they have reviewed their internal controls on the use of customer's vehicles, and have offered to pay the Lewis’ more than £500 as a gesture of goodwill.

However, Mrs Lewis says the experience has changed the way she feels about her car.

"I loved it when I first had it,” she added. “With every car I've ever had I become attached to it, but now it's nothing. It's just something I drive."

Wedding dress disasters

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 17:06 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

The six brides talk to X-Ray's Rachel Treadaway-Williams

X-Ray's Rachel speaks to the six brides about their big days

Scroll below for advice on what you can do to avoid getting into the same situation...

A wedding dress supplier has left customers' dreams of a perfect gown in tatters.

La Belle Bridal Wear in Swansea charged hundreds or thousands of pounds for dresses which fell apart or smelt of damp as brides walked down the aisle.

Other brides ordered dresses which never arrived.

Carolyn Edwards, who ran the shop on The Kingsway for several years, refused to comment.

One bride, Natalie Howes from Plasmarl, Swansea, chose a couture wedding dress, apparently made by a designer company, in 2008.

Her mother Sheran Rasstatter paid £2,000 for the gown.

She told X-Ray's Rachel Treadaway-Williams: "She looked like a vision in it, like a daughter should look like on her wedding day, and if that's what she wanted, I was prepared to pay it."

By the time Ms Howes' dress was paid for in full in 2010, La Belle Bridal Wear had downsized and Carolyn Edwards was renting a room above another shop in Swansea city centre.

Ms Howes said Mrs Edwards was unclear about which dress she had ordered for the anxious bride, and there were delays in getting hold of her gown.

The reason for the delays became clear on the wedding day as her dress began falling apart.

Both shoulder straps snapped off before the reception and the skirt began unravelling during the wedding breakfast.

Marcia Pendry believes her dress had been a sample to try on in the shop. Her mother contacted the company which Mrs Edwards claimed had made the dress.

The company confirmed it was not one of its dresses, although it contained parts of a shop sample it had previously supplied Mrs Edwards.

The bridesmaid dress which cost her nearly £200 was not the one she had chosen, and fell apart when her daughter tried it on.

By the time Charlotte Hurford and Kayley Criddle collected dresses they had ordered from Mrs Edwards for their weddings this year, she had moved premises again and was trading from a unit on an industrial estate in her home town of Ystradgynlais.

The cramped and dingy office was far from what the brides expected when it came to arranging dress fittings, but Mrs Edwards was proving increasingly difficult to contact.

When they finally collected their dresses with hours to go before their weddings, Ms Criddle was concerned that her dress smelt of damp, and Ms Hurford's was hanging in unfinished swathes of fabric.

Ms Hurford said: "I just broke down in tears. I just sobbed for about an hour while I was there, and on the day I felt I was putting a bed sheet on, not my wedding dress."

Ms Criddle told X-Ray: "I was paranoid that when I was walking down the aisle that people could smell the dress and think I smelt."

Five days before Lisa Needham's wedding, Mrs Edwards admitted she could not supply the £700 dress which had been paid for.

Ms Needham had to find a dress at short notice and is still waiting for the refund she says Mrs Edwards promised her.

Rebecca Hardwick is getting married next year. She has been unable to contact Mrs Edwards, who she paid £2,000 for wedding and bridesmaids' dresses.

She said: "That's when the sinking feeling starts, that the realisation is you're probably not going to get your dresses or your money back."

X-Ray contacted Mrs Edwards to ask her to explain what had gone wrong and why she had taken money for dresses she had not provided, and some which were falling apart, but she refused to comment.

When presenter Rachel Treadaway-Williams called at Mrs Edwards' Ystradgynlais home, although the dress seller answered the door, she refused to provide any answers.

La Belle Bridal Wear is unrelated to any other bridal supplier.

So, how can brides avoid problems when buying wedding and bridesmaid dresses?

Karen Taft who runs Swansea based wedding dress company Benjamin Roberts.  She’s also a member of the Bridal Industry Supplier’s Association.

Karen suggests that brides do their research on suppliers before handing over any money for their dresses.

If you fall in love with a dress or a particular designer, make sure you check that the seller is an authorised retailer. You can check with the manufacturer’s website, or give the company a ring – they’ll be more than happy to confirm whether the shop you’ve visited is an approved stockist.  If they aren’t an approved retailer, you can’t guarantee that the dress you end up with is the genuine article.

Make sure you get a contract which clearly states what dress you have ordered – including the manufacturer’s name and the style of the dress, the size, price, and when you can expect to receive the dress, as well as details of when payment is expected and contact details of the company you’re buying from.  You’re dress should be in the shop ready for any fittings with time to spare for alterations before the big day.

Some authorised retailers will sell sample dresses or ex-display gowns at a reduced rate – but this should be reflected in the price you pay, and it should be clearly explained when you buy the dress, and on any paperwork you receive.

Buying from websites or mail order companies can carry risks.  Some disreputable traders use pictures stolen from legitimate websites to give the impression they are selling designer dresses. Again, check with the manufacturer direct.  It may seem like you’re saving money by ordering from a cheaper supplier, but if your dress doesn’t arrive, or isn’t what you expected, then you could find you need to buy a different dress at short notice from another source.

If things do go wrong, here’s the advice from BIS:

If you have paid by credit card, contact the credit card provider to start the process of reclaiming any money paid on the card. You are protected and as long as you have all receipts, should get a full refund. If you have wedding insurance, your policy should also protect you against any losses.

If you paid by cash then you will have to make a claim through the shop's administrator, details of which may be found through HM Revenue and Customs, local courts, Companies House and possibly even your local Trading Standards office. The shop may also display a sign of which company is dealing with the closure of the shop.

If you have time before your wedding, find another bridal shop that stocks that label. Even if they don't stock that style, they may be able to order your dress because of your special circumstances. Look at the supplier's website to find out other stockists and bear in mind that local stockists may be inundated with similar requests so why not look at stockists further afield, within a 30 minute to two hour train or car journey?

BIS members, the suppliers to bridal retail shops, will also try and offer help, especially if your wedding date is very close. Call the supplier and see what they can do. They will try and help in whatever way possible but please note that some dresses are made in the Far East and are normally made to order - the dresses in bridal shops are samples. So please don't take out any frustration on suppliers if they are unable to help in a short time frame.

If this is the case, BIS’s advice is to call shops to see if they are prepared to sell you a sample off their rail. Most shops can get the dress cleaned and altered. Again, shops don't want to let any bride down and will do their level best to help out.

Who is BIS?

Bridal Industry Suppliers (BIS) is a trade association of companies that supply gowns and goods to bridal shops. BIS represents everyone involved in manufacturing, wholesaling, importing and exporting bridal goods and services in the UK. Any supplier to UK shops can join as long as they have a link to a UK postal address.

Brides Aware is a useful website giving further advice.

Petrol patrol

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 16:57 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

Petrol stations are suffering from bilking attacks

Petrol stations across Wales are suffering from bilking attacks

Drive-aways, make-offs or bilking – the crime goes by a number of names, but the reality is that fuel thefts from petrol stations are costing a fortune.

Hari Patel should know – he owns two garages in Cardiff, “It costs from fifteen hundred pounds a year for two of my sites,” he says.

“At the beginning of the year, it starts with one drive-off a month, coming towards Christmas it mounts up to one a week.” he added.

Garages normally have extensive CCTV systems, but on their own they are not enough to deter the thieves. That’s because many of the criminals are now using stolen or false number plates on their own cars.

Hari told X-Ray: “They come with number plates covered, they come with the number plates made up. They stick the number plates on, break the number plates. They’ll try anything.”

University lecturer Mike Biddulph is one of the victims. A few months ago he had his number plate stolen from right outside his home.

He says: “The police rang me up and asked me if I’d driven through a petrol station without paying. And I said no I hadn’t and they pointed out to me that a car with my number plates had driven through this petrol station and they described a car that wasn’t my car.”

Mike immediately went to check his car. The thieves had simply pulled off his number plates and then stuck them on their own vehicle.

“It was a bit of a shock. You just assume that your number plates are on your car, and I had never had to think about the implications of losing them.”
 
The police accepted that Mike’s number plates had been stolen, but warned him of the long-term implications.

“They explained that we might be pulled over because our number plates might pop up on the system somewhere,” Mike says.

X-Ray spoke to the four Welsh police forces, and they told us that last year there were just over 2000 drive-away fuel thefts from garages. The AA estimates 40,000 UK motorists had their number plates stolen off their car last year. A figure that’s doubled in the last five years.

Alan Rice-Smith, a former Scotland Yard detective, has set up a business to protect motorists from having their number plate stolen or cloned. 

He says petrol thefts are just the tip of the iceberg, “People will use stolen number plates for all sorts of crimes and they can be quite serious.  Very prevalent is the theft of petrol from garages. But then without any concerns they can go about incurring parking fines, speeding fines, even congestion charge fines.”

There are a number of anti-theft devices on the market which could help. All of them are designed to make it impossible for a thief to make a quick getaway with your plates.

Alan says, “There are tamper proof screws that are very difficult to undo and tamper proof number plates that can be bought. If someone tries to force them from a car they smash and break up.”

One other possible solution would be to change the way we all pay for our petrol.

Hari Patel says, "We should follow what America does and charge everyone up front before they draw the petrol. All the petrol retailers should get together and say hang-on a minute, that's the end of the story."

What's in a letter?

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 14:49 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

The street in Brithdir
The street in question...

 

Moving home can prove a financial headache, but for one young couple moving just 450 feet left them with more of a migraine.

Rhys Evans and his partner Nicole Olsen moved one parallel street along in their village of Brithdir earlier this year after managing to finally get on the property ladder.

Rhys told X-Ray for them it was an easy move: “We just carried the whole lot. No cars, no vans, just our hands.”

So far, so cheap but little did they know the headache it would cause with their car insurance company, the RAC, when they telephoned to change their details. Nicole said, “I rang them up and the gentleman on the phone said I had to pay an extra £178 for moving over one street.

“It’s crazy. We’ve just moved house and it’s something we really can’t afford to spend extra on top.”

But how had the RAC arrived at this conclusion? Nicole told us the last letter of their postcode had changed and that seemed to have made all the difference, “They basically told me that we were [now] living in a high risk area”.

Rhys said they couldn’t understand it, “It’s identical streets. We are living on the same side as what we lived in in Herbert Street, we’re parked on a hill like we was in Herbert street. Neighbours are the same, the road is used by the same amount of cars as they is in Herbert Street. So there is no difference.”

Despite explaining this to them numerous times, Nicole said the RAC wouldn’t budge. So X-Ray sent Rhodri to investigate. Would he find that their neighbouring street was so deserving of its high crime risk category?

Rhodri spoke to some of the local residents. Michael Evans and Elizabeth Williams told him they love living there, “Very safe to be honest with you. It’s a local family community and everybody knows each other in the street and the village”.

The crime stats tell us the same – there’s only been one crime on each street in the last six months.

A number of companies use postcode profiling to decide what marketing material you’ll receive. One of them told us according to their records both of these streets are inhabited by practical and enterprising people living on well built council estates. But we were told by a local resident who’d lived there for 53 years that the properties had never been council run in her lifetime.

So how do insurance companies use post codes?

Ian Brown, an insurance expert from Williamstown-based Motaquote told us there are a number of factors companies taken into account, “What is the area like? How many cars are there? How busy are the roads? It’s very much statistically based. Sometimes statistics can probably work against you”.

He added, “Insurance companies do have some different attitudes to risk, so it’s worth shopping around”.

But Rhys and Nicole couldn’t shop around – the cost of cancelling their policy was basically the same as the increase in price for moving addresses.

We had a look around for them and found moving them again could save or cost them a lot more. If they lived in a central Cardiff postcode with the same car and driving history, it could cost them more than £1,200. But if they moved to Rhos-on-Sea they would be paying just under £400. Tenby would be just under £600 and Rhyl £685.

And so we turned to the RAC and asked them what had happened and why they believed the couple had now moved into a more risky area. They told us it had all been a mistake. They’ve apologised and reinstated their previous policy. They’ve also given them £50 as a goodwill gesture.

They added, “It is standard industry practice that risk assessment is based on various factors, one of which is geographical location and this can influence the price. However, on this occasion, the underwriter has confirmed that, in this instance, an error occurred and no price increase should have been applied”.

But will anything change? We went back to them to ask if this means they’ll be reviewing their policies. They gave us the following statement, “In response to Miss Olsen's concerns we have reviewed the process with the underwriter and those involved. As a result of this review we have reinforced our existing training and reminded our advisors of their responsibilities when responding to customer queries.

“RAC places great importance in the ongoing monitoring of the performance of our staff to ensure our customer experience is of the highest standard."

On the case

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 14:40 UK time, Monday, 10 October 2011

X-Ray's Lucy Owen talks to Avril and Gerard

 X-Ray's Lucy Owen talks to Avril and Gerard

Avril Peregrine and Gerard Packer from Penllergaer thought they’d found a great deal when they booked a motor home last March. But sadly their road trip hit the skids before they could put the key in the ignition.

The retired couple had always spoken about taking a trip in a motor home with their little dog Megan and in March they decided to take the plunge.

They looked online and came across the Sundrive Hire website which advertised a wide range of motor homes for hire. Avril told X-Ray, "It looked a marvellous site with a wide range of vans to choose from. We decided to go for a Swift Bolero 680FB motor home."

Gerard telephoned the company and booked the campervan for a week in June. He said, "I paid £408 by debit card over the phone and the money was withdrawn from my account within 24 hours. I thought "great! Away we go!"

However, as their holiday approached their booking started to seem less secure. Just three weeks before they were due to travel Sundrive Hire emailed Gerard claiming that they hadn't received payment and therefore the booking was cancelled.

"That's when panic stations set in," said Avril.

Gerard telephoned the company and was told by a staff member that they were still waiting for their payment. Gerard says when he told them he had already paid - Sundrive Hire requested that he send them proof. So Avril and Gerard faxed them a copy of their bank statement and confirmation of their booking. But they never heard anything from the company. When the couple contacted them again to find out what was happening they asked them to send the paperwork again, which Avril and Gerard did. But they didn't hear anything more from Sundrive Hire and they never got the motor home holiday they had dreamed of.

"When I realised the holiday wasn’t going to happen with Sundrive I was so disappointed," Avril told X-Ray. "We'd lost £400 and didn't have our holiday. We couldn't believe it. You never think something like this will happen to you."

X-Ray have written to, emailed and telephoned Sundrive Hire but no one from the company has got back to us.  It seems that they’re no longer trading and the address given for Sundrive Hire is just a mail drop in Shrewsbury. We’ve also been in touch with Trading Standards in Shropshire – they say the company is actually based in London, and they’ve passed on a large number of complaints to the Metropolitan Police.

But, X-Ray didn’t give up.

Avril and Gerard paid for the motor home with Gerard’s Visa debit card and that means he’s covered by Visa’s Chargeback scheme. So we got in touch with the couple’s bank, Lloyds TSB.   The bank says that as the couple are still within the 120 day time limit to reverse the transaction and seem to be the victim of fraud, they are entitled to get their money back.

Advice about Charge Back

Chargeback is a process that allows you to ask your debit card provider to reverse a payment if there is a problem with goods you have purchased, or you don't get the service you've paid for. It applies to all debit cards, although exact rules may vary between the Visa, Maestro and American Express networks. Chargeback also applies to credit cards and is useful where section 75 is not applicable – for example, for goods costing less than £100.

There's no minimum or maximum limit on a claim but it must be lodged within 120 days of the transaction. If you think you're entitled to make a claim through chargeback you should contact the bank that provides your debit card - they will then try to claim the money through the merchant's bank. It's still a fairly unknown process so if you have any trouble making a claim, try asking for a supervisor.

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