Heating oil payment leaves customer's funds frozen


Your questions answered by CONOR POPE

A reader who has been a customer of Capital Oils in Dublin 1 for over 20 years contacted us last week. She had her oil tank filled at the end of November at a cost of €648.10, which she paid with a Visa debit card. When she tried to use the card a couple of days later she was told she had insufficient funds. “When I rang my bank, they told me that Capital Oils had taken payment correctly but had also put €633.10 on “reserve” until December 6th which means that I cannot access it.” She called the company on six occasions to try and get the matter resolved, without success.

“I did not give them authorisation to do this and now have insufficient funds in my Laser debit card account to either draw out money or make any payments,” she writes.

She contacted her bank who contacted Capital on her behalf, and she found out the problem rested with Capital Oils’ bank.

We contacted the oil company and a spokesman explained what had happened. As is normal, when the payment was taken, a hold was placed on the sum which should have been lifted as soon the transaction was approved. However, that did not happen. The hold was left in place and the actual amount was also deducted, which is what left our reader short.

“We have been in touch with AIB merchant services repeatedly to try and have this resolved. We do not have this person’s money and the hold has not been placed on it by us but we can completely understand her frustration and why she is annoyed with us,” a spokesman said.

“It is our relationship with a customer that is being damaged and we are doing our best to resolve the issue with our bank,” he said.

We contacted the bank. A spokeswoman said the error was an isolated case. AIB said it had “been working with the payment gateway partner to agree the procedures required to facilitate such a flagging process in future”.

Our reader has her money back now but is still understandably upset. As indeed is the oil company.

Higher road tolls for rentals

A reader wants to know who sets the eFlow administration fees levied by car rental companies. He noticed that at €4.50 a crossing of the M50 (automatically charged to the credit card used to pay for the car rental), these “administration fees” can represent up to a 225 per cent surcharge on the lowest eFlow toll rate of €2.

“And annoyingly, it is impossible to opt out of these automatically charged excessive fees and pay the toll oneself,” he writes. He says it would seem that eFlow “implicitly authorises these fees as its information brochure, included with all car rental contracts, states: ‘The car rental company has established account facilities with the toll operator, therefore the toll account will be automatically charged to a car rental company’s account for each toll incurred . . . plus an administrative fee.’”

Christmas haircut for wallets

A reader has Peter Mark in her sights. “In times where discretionary spend is under pressure it’s a wonder that one of our own Irish brands, Peter Mark, actually increase their prices in the final run up to Christmas,” she writes. “There is an almost year-round ‘20 per cent off hairdressing’ promotion running, but it finishes up in December.” She accepts it is a busy time for hairdressers but wonders: “is it not milking the customers . . . just a little bit?” The company gives customers a €10 voucher that can be used in January.

Still waiting for action from UPC after change of address

Another person who is upset is Terry O’Hagan. In August 2011 he cancelled his UPC account because he was moving house. That November he realised UPC was still taking the direct debit despite the fact the company had collected the set top box from the old address. “They claim to have never received my formal letter of cancellation,” he writes. “In their wisdom, they apparently assumed that despite my calling to cancel, I somehow wished to continue paying for a service . . . at an address I no longer lived at . . . without the essential equipment needed to do so.”

On November 20th of this year he complained to the company. He was offered a lesser refund than the amount owed and told it would take several weeks. He says there was no attempt to engage with, calculate or acknowledge the full amount owed – which he puts at between €364 and €400. When he asked for the issue to be brought to a manager, he was promised he would be contacted by a supervisor/manager. No call ever came.

A UPC spokeswoman said the company had not received any cancellation correspondence from our reader and the direct debit was only cancelled recently. She claimed the company had made” several attempts” to contact him and discussions were ongoing.

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