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.
Ms L.O. writes: I looked for properties online and found a flat in the Chartwell Plaza development in Southend. As I have a dog, I twice asked the agent if dogs were allowed. He told me that although dogs were not allowed in the main tower, they were allowed in part of the building called the ‘annex’ where I was buying a flat, so there was no problem.
I paid £22,000 as a deposit to Prosperity Wealth & Developments Limited. Now I have received a report on title which says that in fact no animals are allowed without prior consent which can be revoked at any time.
However, the company says if I do not go ahead with the purchase I will lose my £22,000 deposit.
Tony Hetherington replies: This really is a case of shifting the goalposts, big time. Even if you were given permission to bring your dog with you when you moved into the flat, the permission could be withdrawn later, leaving you with a choice of finding a new home at short notice or getting rid of your pet.
The good news though, is that the goalposts are pretty firmly rooted. A major factor in your decision to buy the flat was the assurance that your dog could live there too. You would not have signed the reservation form or parted with £22,000 if you had been given the real facts, and because of this, Prosperity Wealth & Developments cannot keep a penny of your £22,000.
So, this was an open and shut case. Almost. After I approached Birmingham-based Prosperity Wealth, it took just 24 hours for the company to tell me that it knew you wanted your dog to join you in your new home.
Staff explained: ‘We sought permission from the freeholder and unfortunately, as we suspected, were told this was not approved.’
The sales agent disputes telling you that your dog would be allowed in the annex, but Prosperity Wealth appeared to accept that it is unlikely you would have bought a new home if part of the price was having to get rid of your dog. The company told me it had decided after all to give you a full refund of your £22,000.
You were pleased. I was pleased. And Prosperity Wealth had won itself a pat on the back on this page. But this is where the company bizarrely managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Without telling me, it refused to repay your deposit unless you first did your best to stop me reporting what had happened.
In a series of messages, Prosperity Wealth told you: ‘We will need communication that the article will be cancelled.’ You explained that this was outside your control, and you asked: ‘Does the refund depend on the article not being published by Mr Hetherington?’
Prosperity Wealth told you: ‘We need to see evidence that you have communicated with him and confirmed the case has been resolved, and you do not wish your statement to be published.
‘Once we have seen this confirmation, we will be able to process the refund.’
So, you let me know what was going on, and I agreed you could send me the demands made by Prosperity Wealth, and let the company have a copy. A day later, the £22,000 landed back in your bank account. But what a stupid decision by the Birmingham business to turn what would have been a small report showing it had treated a customer fairly, into a bigger story of how it threatened to keep your cash unless you tried to censor The Mail on Sunday.
Virgin’s delay on £402 cashback
L.F. writes: Virgin Holidays were offering cashback for bookings made via the Top Cashback website.
I booked for myself, my wife and two friends, and should have received £402 in cashback.
I paid the balance due and we took the holiday months ago, but Virgin has still failed to pay the cashback.
Tony Hetherington replies: This is not a straightforward scheme. In fact, it has been confusing from the start. Top Cashback said it could not pay you because Virgin had not paid it. However, Virgin told me it was fully committed to honouring the deal, but added: ‘We have only very recently received an invoice from Conversant.’
Neither you nor I had heard of Conversant, but Virgin described it as a ‘supplier which works with Top Cashback’. So far, so good. But then Top Cashback told you it no longer works with Virgin Holidays, and suggested you should not contact Virgin as its staff might not understand how the scheme operates.
I found this easy to believe as I was getting confused myself, particularly when Top Cashback told me ‘the network’s tracking registered wrong’. What does this mean? Well, Top Cashback told me: ‘Conversant owns CJ who are the affiliate network involved.’ It is also ‘the tracking platform’!
By then, many weeks had passed since Virgin told me it had paid the invoice. Finally, Top Cashback promised payment within five days, and at last the £402 arrived. You worked hard for months for this money, so you truly earned it.
Why did I receive a £6,000 cheque for PPI I never had?
D.M. writes: I received a letter saying I had been named as executor in the estate of someone bearing my surname. The letter asked that any cheques I received should be forwarded to the writer.
I knew that the deceased was not a relative of mine, so I returned the letter without noting the details. However, two weeks later a letter arrived from Black Horse Ltd, part of Lloyds Bank, with a cheque for £5,937.
This is supposedly the result of a PPI claim, yet I have never even had payment protection insurance.
Tony Hetherington replies: You tore the cheque into pieces which you sent to me with your letter. My first thought was that the cheque was fake, but might be accepted by your bank long enough for the £5,937 to appear in your account. Then you would receive an apologetic phone call, asking you to transfer the money elsewhere. And finally, when Lloyds bounced the cheque, your own bank would cancel the credit from your account, leaving you £5,937 out of pocket.
But I was wrong. The cheque you ripped up was genuine. Helpful staff at Lloyds went back through their records and found that a firm of solicitors had submitted a PPI claim on behalf of the estate of a deceased client. It was the solicitors who for unknown reasons named you as the executor.
Although it was not directly the bank’s fault, Lloyds has sent you £100 by way of saying sorry for wasting your time.
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 email@example.com. 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.