The chance of a council tax rebate prompted an elderly woman to reveal her bank account details – and saw her receive a bill for £65 to cover the cost of “extensive research” carried out on her behalf.
The 72-year-old South Norwood resident was saved from making the payment when her concerned daughter cancelled the standing order that had been set up, and contacted the council’s trading standards’ (TS) team to question the validity of the council tax-overpayment scheme.
The call was made despite the woman’s details being listed with the Telephone Preference Service, designed to prevent phone account holders receiving cold calls.
TS officers are warning residents that they could receive similar calls from companies that, while offering a legitimate service, fail to follow industry guidelines put in place to protect consumers.
The woman believed that the caller was a representative of Croydon Council when she was told that, due to many properties having been incorrectly banded, she might be owed money for overpayment of council tax.
Her initial attempt to tell the caller her bank account details – needed, she was told, so that any refund could be paid directly into her account – failed when she was unable to find her account number. The fact she had to be told that it could be found in her cheque book should have alerted the caller to her obvious vulnerability.
She was not advised that the call was from a private company, rather than the council, nor that there was a £65 charge for the service.
She subsequently received a letter, dated the day after the phone call, revealing the company name and advising that “extensive research” carried out on her behalf showed that her home was in the correct council tax band and that no refund was due.
The service fee and cancellation rights were referred to only in small-print documents attached to the letter, and the service appeared to have been provided during the 14-day cooling-off period, during which the customer is able to cancel the contract.
Additionally, the company address as stated in the letter and for cancellation purposes was incorrect as the company had listed a new registered office.
Councillor Mark Watson, cabinet member for communities, safety and justice
“This is a sorry case of a company, offering a legitimate service, failing what are basic telephone sales rules that it, and all its staff, should be aware of.
“Those regulations are designed to protect consumers – especially vulnerable consumers – who have the right, in law, to correct information about the company they’re dealing with, and to the opportunity to change their mind as to whether they want to go through with a service that they subsequently realise they don’t actually need.
“This customer was let down on so many counts, and one wonders how many others have received a similarly poor service from this, and other, companies that are simply not playing by the rules.”
Click here for advice on consumers’ 14-day cooling-off period.