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.
Mrs S.D. writes: The county court at Staines found in my favour in an action against Booking.com and the company was ordered to pay me £702 within 14 days. That was last November and to date Booking.com has failed to honour this judgment.
I have contacted them numerous times by email and sent a letter to chief executive Gillian Tans which was signed for when it was delivered. It is so frustrating that Booking.com can ignore not only individuals, but the legal system and a court judgment as well.
Ruling: Gillian Tans is boss of Amsterdam-based Booking.com
In June, last year you used Booking.com to reserve a room at a hotel in Rugen, Germany, where you planned to celebrate your wedding anniversary. Although you had a ‘no smoking’ room, there was a distinct smell of smoke and when you opened a window you found you were directly above a cafe and cigarette smoke was wafting upwards.
The weather was hot and the room had no air conditioning, but opening the windows was out of the question. As you put it: ‘We were so close to the cafe customers we could almost have had a conversation with them.’ This was not exactly the ‘panoramic view’ offered by Booking.com.
The hotel manager was sympathetic and when you found a different hotel he agreed not to charge you and you informed Booking.com. However, when you got home you found more than £600 had been collected from your credit card.
When you complained, Booking.com quoted its terms and conditions which say: ‘If you do not show up at the booking and you do not cancel beforehand, the property is liable to charge you the full reservation amount’.
Booking.com headquarters in Amsterdam
But this sidesteps the fact that you did show up and does nothing to address the real problems. You sued Booking.com, which failed to file any defence, and the company was told to pay you £702, including costs. It ignored this too, so you went back to court and paid a further £60 for a European Enforcement Order valid throughout the EU that you could send to Booking.com’s head office in Amsterdam.
This says: ‘The judgment will be recognised and enforced in another member state without the need for a declaration of enforceability and without any possibility of opposing its recognition.’ In plain English, this meant that Booking.com could not appeal to any local court. The decision of the judge in Staines was binding. But still Booking.com failed to pay up.
When I contacted the company I was quickly told that ‘customer services know nothing about this’. I did wonder why customer services might be involved in a court case, but I provided them with a copy of the original court order and the follow-up EU order as well.
Booking.com then told me: ‘In the rare and unfortunate instance that a customer might show up at a property and it does not meet their expectations, our customer service team are available to investigate, support and advocate on their behalf and we are refunding this customer in full.’
There was no explanation to say why your complaint was not investigated at the time, nor did Booking.com say why it had offered no defence in court and ignored you repeatedly.
I am pleased it has now seen sense, though I note that the company only says it will give you a full refund, without setting a figure. Obviously, if all that lands in your bank account is the amount taken from your credit card, with nothing for the court costs, that would not be respecting the judgment of the court. I hope you receive the full £762, but if not, just let me know.
One call ends months trying for tax refund
Ms C.A. writes: I am retired and on the basic State pension, topped up with benefits, so I do not pay income tax. I received a Payment Protection Insurance repayment, but Revenue & Customs deducted £380 from the interest. I have been trying to reclaim this and have phoned several times and filled in three claim forms, but the tax office cannot find any record of my employment. I retired in 2011. It also says it cannot trace my investments. I do not have any.
When you gave me the details of the hoops you have had to jump through so far, I sensed your mounting frustration at the Revenue’s inability to deal with a claim from someone who simply was not in their system already.
I asked staff at the Revenue head office to step in. They called you and took all the necessary details over the phone, taking 15 minutes to bring an end to months of correspondence. After one call from the taxman, you now have your £380.
If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 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.
Now duo’s bond firm shut down
The Insolvency Service has won a court order to close down an investment company that was marketing interest-bearing bonds to the public. Asset Backed Management Limited was placed in provisional liquidation after investigators found it was operating in breach of investor protection rules.
The company advertised: ‘Whether the criteria be low or high risk, short or long term, capital growth or income, our consultants will guide you through the selection and qualification process and will be on hand to ensure you receive the best possible service from the providers that we introduce you to.’
But small print warned that the business and its bosses would give ‘no guarantee, warranty or representation as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability or content’ of its advertising.
Asset Backed Management was set up in 2017 with backing from Ricky Burgess, 29, and with Amir Damoussi, 28, as its sole director. Both men are from Southend-on-Sea in Essex and both are already known to me. I warned in 2016 that Burgess was behind Good To Be Green Limited, which sold overpriced diamonds as an investment.
Burgess was also behind a similar scam company, Harrison and Carter Limited, where Damoussi was sales manager. Burgess put Good To Be Green into liquidation with debts of £55,000. Harrison and Carter went bust with debts of £65,000 and Burgess is banned from acting as a director of any company until 2031.