THE Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.
Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.
Jane Hamilton, property expert
THE Chelsea Flower Show is an annual summer highlight, but this year the Coronavirus crisis means the event is being held online.
However, the show’s top garden designers have come together to reveal the top trends to make your garden blooming lovely.
Create a wildlife haven: Lockdown has seen wildlife flock back to our gardens – and has also made us realise how important green space is. Add plants such as buddleia, which attract insects, and pop up a nesting box and feeder for the birds. Cut holes in fences to help hedgehogs and add a pond or water feature to draw in wild animals.
Grown your own: Whether you have a tiny windowsill, a roof terrace, a patio or a garden, you can grow your own fruit and veg. Homegrown grub can have a better taste and texture and saves money, too Beginner? Try broad beans, courgettes, tomatoes and herbs grown in containers.
Beekeeping is buzzing: Beekeeping in Britain has almost doubled in a decade, according to government figures. Replace concrete driveways and artificial grass with natural grass and flowers to create “insect corridors” and help bees thrive.
Garden organically: Organic food, clothes and cleaning products are already popular. Experts say organic gardening is “going with rather than against nature”. Look for natural fertilisers such as manure or kelp and cut down on pesticides and weedkillers.
In a flap over chickens: Chickens are now five times more popular as pets than hamsters, but you don’t need a large farmyard to house them. Keeping-chickens.me.uk can help get you started.
Buy of the week
GOVERNMENT aide Dominic Cummings’s lockdown jaunt to Barnard Castle has put the pretty Teesdale market town firmly on the map.
Thankfully, a change to the Covid-19 rules mean you’re now permitted to view in person properties such as this immaculate three bedroom semi, for sale at £175,000 at onthemarket.com.
ALMOST a third of us feel an increased sense of pride in their home compared with prior to lockdown – and two in five have a greater sense of community with their neighbours, research from the Halifax reveals.
People living in detached houses have felt the greatest increase in ties to their community, followed by those in semis and bungalows.
Halifax chief Russell Galley said: “Lockdown will have been a difficult time for many, but these results are a testament to our ability to stay optimistic, and to come together, in the face of challenging circumstances.”
Q) I AM shielding and away from work during the Covid-19 pandemic because of health issues.
I work for a retailer and I’m off work until June 30, as I am classed as clinically extremely vulnerable.
During my time off I have realised my health is worse than I thought. I am now concerned about going back at all.
I am 66 years old and receive my state pension. If I do not return to work, would I be expected to repay the money I have received during this time?
My employer, as far as I am aware, tops up my wages so I receive my contracted hours pay.
A) Unless there is something very unusual in your contract with your employer, I see no reason for you to be concerned about having to pay this money back.
You were perfectly entitled to the payments that you received while you were forced to stay at home and shield yourself.
There will almost certainly be no conditions attached to this money.
Now that you wish to leave your employer (for perfectly valid health reasons), you should not be penalised at all.
Be sure to give your employer reasonable notice and do your best to write an amicable email.
Q) TWO weeks ago, just before lunch, my wife and I were working in our garden with a bolted gate and a closed garage door.
I heard a noise and turned around to see a man, who had got in through my gate, had entered my garage and was riding off on my new e-bike.
I got into my car to chase him but being 72 am not as quick as I once was. I later called my insurers who said there is nothing we can do as the garage was unlocked, even though it was the middle of the day and we were in our garden. Is this legal?
A) This is not as straightforward as it seems. Reading your account, it makes complete sense that you feel that you ought to have been insured.
You were at home so assumed you didn’t need to have all the doors locked. Imagine, for example, if you left your windows open on a sunny day and a burglar got in while you were in the house.
You would reasonably assume, in those circumstances, that your insurer would cover your losses. The problem is that insurers may be perfectly entitled to place strict conditions on you, including insisting in this case that your garage door is locked at all times (even when you are in your house).
You need to go through your policy with a fine-tooth comb. If the wording doesn’t make this clear (I doubt it will), you need to write to your insurer asking it to re-evaluate its decision. If it does not listen, you have the very good first option of complaining to the Financial Ombudsman and then, if necessary, to a judge at the county court.
- Got a question for Judge Rinder? Email [email protected]
Mel Hunter, Reader’s champion
Q) WE were due to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary with a South East Asian cruise we had saved six years for.
On February 16 we received an email from Princess Cruises to say our trip was being cancelled. It immediately refunded our excursions.
We booked our cruise through a third party – Imagine Cruising – and were told we would be contacted before our planned holiday date to discuss our options.
We informed Imagine that as the trip had been to mark our golden wedding anniversary, we would like a refund.
We contacted the company throughout March, then again after our holiday start date, but we are getting nowhere. We our both retired, on a limited income and at our wit’s end.
Jeff and Paulette Turner, Hastings
A) Your story is a familiar one, judging from my postbag, with many readers still working on getting refunds from different cruise companies.
You had saved for years, so I really felt for you. As your trip was cancelled so early on – a full month before we were told not to travel – you should have been one of the first to get your money back.
The money often seems to take longer to get through when a third party is involved, with long delays occurring even when the cruise company itself has released the cash.
I got on to Imagine Cruising. It apologised and said your refund was already being processed in departure date order.
A spokesman told me: “The team continue to work through bookings in departure date order at a good rate.
“Given the high volumes caused by the pandemic, this is taking longer than we would like, but we are working as quickly as possible.
“Alternative dates, credit refund notes and refunds are all options available to customers.”
You received your refund a few days later.
Q) WE went on a city break to New York in December and took out travel insurance with Cover For You.
On our return flight, one of our suitcases did not arrive back with us so we filled out the right forms and were told it would be couriered to us the next day.
It finally arrived two-and-a-half days later, severely damaged and with some items inside affected.
We got no response from the airline, so filled in a claim with our insurers, Cover For You, sending photos and everything else asked for.
But after numerous phone calls, it said our claim was not valid as we did not notify it within the first 12 hours we were home.
This was impossible because it was 60 hours before we discovered the damage.
Paul Parcell, Swansea
A) To give Cover For You its due, when I got in touch it quickly changed its stance, even though it was snowed under with claims relating to the pandemic. A senior director conceded that “the policy wording has been too strictly applied in Mr Parcell’s particular circumstances.”
It paid out for your full £240 claim within days.
- Do you have a consumer issue? Email [email protected]