I write to you for your advice in desperation having drawn a blank everywhere else.
I booked a cruise holiday with Thomas Cook, shortly before it collapsed in 2019.
I paid an initial sum using some Thomas Cook vouchers, as well as a deposit on my credit card. I set up a prepayment plan to pay the rest, paying three sums of around £360 from my Santander current account before the firm went under.
When Thomas Cook failed my deposit was safely transferred to another cruise company. However they did not receive the £1,100 I had paid in those three payments.
In October 2019 I tried to claim the money back from Santander, to no avail. I also made a claim with the Thomas Cook administrators online, but it was rejected. Atol and Abta also rejected my claims.
Holiday hopes: Our reader booked a cruise with Thomas Cook but her plans were cancelled when the firm went into administration
I recently tried again with Santander, and branch staff told me it could easily be reimbursed by them under the direct debit indemnity scheme as these were payments for goods or services not received.
But when I heard back from the Santander head office, they rejected the claim again. They said that although I was entitled to reimbursement from them they could not do it as they needed an email from the originator who of course is the now non-existent Thomas Cook.
I asked the administrators if they could provide this, but there was no reply. I cannot fathom why I’ve had every door closed to me. What on earth do I do next to try to secure my reimbursement? Anonymous, via email.
Helen Crane of This is Money replies: I cover stories of holiday hell frequently in this column, whether that is fighting to get compensation for readers following delayed flights, or chasing refunds for trips that never took place due to Covid.
I regularly hear stories of travel firms and banks dodging their obligations and weaselling out of refunds, but the fact that you have spent more than three years trying to get your money back is a shock even to me.
With Thomas Cook having gone under back in 2019, the fact that you were owed a refund on payments you made for your holiday was clear-cut. But working out who should give it to you proved almost impossible.
While you did manage to transfer some of the money to another cruise company, you have been left more than £1,000 out of pocket.
Dead ends: Our reader has filled out claims online with Atol, Abta and the Thomas Cook administrators, but to no avail
I have spent several months looking into this for you, and have come across multiple dead ends myself, so I understand your frustration.
First, I approached Santander. Could it really be demanding an email from a company that no longer existed?
It told me that this wasn’t right. The branch staff were wrong when they told you you would be able to get a refund, and Santander paid you £20 as a gesture of goodwill.
The real reason it won’t refund you is that it has a policy not to reimburse payments for goods and services not provided, if those payments were made via direct debit. I don’t think it’s a fair policy, but those are the rules, so I moved on.
CRANE ON THE CASE
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Next, I turned to Atol and Abta, the protection schemes for those booking holidays that don’t go as planned. Atol only covers bookings that include flights, so that was a dead end. I also confirmed that a previous claim you made to Abta had been rejected.
The rules are complicated, but I believe this was because you transferred a chunk of your deposit to another cruise provider, meaning that under its rules you had ‘accepted an alternative booking’.
Another way you could have got your money back would be claiming on travel insurance, but as you booked the holiday far in advance of your departure, you hadn’t taken any out yet.
Taking out insurance as soon as you book is a good idea, as – provided you take out the right policy – it can cover you for money lost before the holiday takes place, for example if it is cancelled.
The key to getting this sorted, it turned out, was that you paid some of the initial deposit on your credit card.
You didn’t lose the deposit that you initially paid via your credit card as it was passed on to the new cruise company.
But one of the advantages of using a credit card to book a holiday is that the credit provider may be required to pay you back money over and above the total that you paid for using that card.
This is because of a legal protection called Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.
Plastic protection: Paying via a credit card can help customers to claim money back when goods and services aren’t delivered, or aren’t as advertised
To activate this protection, you only have to pay a penny of the total amount on your credit card, but the product or service you are buying must cost between £100 and £30,000.
So although it was the deposit that you paid on your credit card, and this was already paid towards your new holiday, the subsequent direct debit amounts paid from your current account were considered part of the same overall payment and you were eligible to claim them back.
The credit card firm will ask you to prove that you have explored all other avenues to get the money back first, and fortunately you had diligently kept all of the documents you received from Thomas Cook, its administrators, Atol, Abta and Santander to show that this was the case.
I am delighted to say that the credit card firm involved has assured me that a cheque for the full £1,100 is now on its way to you.
It asked me not to name it in this article, and you were worried that me doing so would affect your ability to get your money back, so I agreed.
You told me that, after three years, you never expected to receive the cash, so I am pleased that we found a solution.
I hope your story reminds others that it really does pay to use your credit card when paying for things like holidays, where there is a chance you might run into problems in the future.
Hit and miss: This week’s naughty and nice list
Every week, I look at the companies who have fallen short when it comes to customer service, and those who have gone above and beyond.
Hit: There’s plenty for customers to be angry about at the moment when it comes to their energy bills, so I was pleased to hear that at least one person was happy with their suppliers’ service.
David emailed to shed some light on his experience with Eon Next, a supplier he was switched to involuntarily when his previous energy firm Symbio collapsed last year.
While he’s not happy about his bills going up (who is?) he says that Eon’s customer service has helped to soften the blow.
Smooth switch: Reader David says Eon Next has made his transfer across from collapsed energy firm Symbio easy
He said: ‘Communications about the switch were clear and gave me all the information I needed. Generally an excellent service and a couple of email queries have been promptly and satisfactorily dealt with.
‘The surplus from Symbio was applied to my account within a reasonable time. I have been submitting meter readings each month since and have never had any issues with this.
‘Recently, Eon estimated my energy use post- 1 October and then deducted the Government subsidy, so my direct debit is now £17 less than before.
‘Obviously I am not pleased about having to pay more for my electricity, but I am pleased that it was Eon-Next that I was moved to and I commend their service.’
I’m glad to hear the switch didn’t take Eons and that everything is running smoothly – even if you are paying through the nose.
PCN pain: Reader Liz found it impossible to pay Dart Charge the money she owed because of a tech problem
Miss: Reader Liz sent me an email to tell me how cross she was about her experience with a penalty charge notice she incurred for using the Dartford crossing.
Back in July she made a return journey across the bridge and failed to pay the toll in time, resulting in two PCNs of £37.50 each to pay within 14 days.
She accepted she was in the wrong and set up an online Dart Charge account to settle up, but the total to pay was shown on the website as only £5.00 – which would have been the cost of paying the two crossing charges on time.
The ‘penalty charge’ section showed a figure of £0, meaning she was unable to pay any amount other than the £5.00 shown, which she did.
But come September, she received another charge of £107.50, stating that she failed to pay the penalty charge within the appropriate period, and threatening a court order if this was not paid in time.
This seemed wrong so I got in touch with National Highways, the organisation that runs the charge.
It told me that the issue was down to a tech error. As this was the first time the vehicle was detected using the crossing without making a payment by midnight the following day, a warning notification was included in the PCN.
This gives the road user an additional 14 days to pay the road user charge without incurring further penalty.
Dart Charge says this system prevents road users from being unfairly penalised, and helps raise awareness of the scheme – which seems a remarkably reasonable policy.
So the £5.00 payment was correct – but due to the tech issue it was not allocated to the correct PCN notice, resulting in the subsequent fine.
The matter is now settled, Liz does not owe any money and Dart Charge has apologised for the error. Result.