Pricewatch: Readers’ queries

This week’s concerns relate to the AA’s insurance charges, and 3 Mobile’s insistent callers

Annoyed about insurance charges

Tom Martyn has a Mazda MX-5, which he uses only occasionally. "I had it insured with Setanta Insurance and was in Dublin on Holy Thursday, April 17th, preparing to drive home to Mayo for the Easter weekend, when I heard on the news that the company was gone and there was confusion about insurance cover," he writes. "This was at 4.30pm. I rang my own brokers, who told me they didn't know what was happening and would call me back. They didn't, and they then closed up for the weekend," he continues.

In a state of panic, he started trying to get alternative cover. “The car being a convertible meant that most online insurance companies (there being no offices open at this time) didn’t cater for it. Eventually, at about 7pm, I got a quote from the AA website for €271.76 for third-party fire and theft. I accepted it. I filled out the details, paid by card and got confirmation of cover. Then things started to go wrong.”

In his panic, he had not realised that the previous insurance was in his wife’s name, and he was a named driver. “In the AA online system, I put myself down as the insured and my wife as a named driver. The risk was the same, but the names were reversed. This came to light when I sent them in the no-claims bonus. When I asked could they not simply correct the error, the response was, ‘Absolutely not’. Over the next 63 days, I went to and fro with them until it was explained to me that, even though the error was a name error, I had to cancel the policy, get a refund and take out a new policy with the right order of names. I cancelled and did a new policy with my own broker.”

After he cancelled, he received a refund of €71.56, or about 26 per cent of the premium paid. “They simply applied the money back to my card without informing me, and it wasn’t until I raised it in August that they told me they had returned the €71. Apparently the policy allows for cancellation on a sliding scale of 75 per cent return up to a month, 70 per cent up to two months and so on. On top of this, the insurance company charged a transaction charge to cancel, of €65, and the AA another €50, making a total deduction of €200. He feels he has been treated unfairly.

We contacted the AA and received a robust response. “When anyone takes out motor insurance, they are entering into a regulated 12-month contract. This is why you always hear the AA stress that you have to provide complete information,” spokesman Conor Faughnan said.

“This customer took out insurance in his own name but was not able to provide his own no-claims discount. The fact that we could not accept his wife’s NCD instead of his own is not us being unhelpful; we are not allowed to.

“The AA has a cooling-off period: this customer had 14 days after receiving his documents during which he could have cancelled at no cost. The car was insured for 63 days while we contacted him regularly looking for the NCD.

“After the cooling-off period, the AA operates a sliding scale of proportional refunds for mid-term cancellations. Had this customer told us within 14 days he would have received a full refund.”

Who said you could call my mobile?

Piaras Mac Éinrí is in dispute with 3 Mobile concerning €20.32 owed on an account that has now been closed. It is connected to rural broadband provision; 3 Mobile has a monopoly supply contract on a Government-subsidised scheme for areas where no alternative service exists.

“These people have been phoning me on my own mobile telephone – an entirely separate account, albeit with the same service provider – incessantly, for more than a month. On almost every occasion the calls have come through while I am at work and not free to take them. I took a few anyway in the early days, to find myself dealing with incredibly insistent individuals. My reply was simple: email me or write to me and I will deal with it, but I will not be harassed by telephone. I said this on more than one occasion. I had not agreed to being contacted by mobile in the first place,” he writes.

Last week he received the first mail. “The address was wrong and the amount was wrong, and it assumed that the account was still live, when in fact it is closed and I have already returned the equipment supplied to the company (which they have not disputed),” he says.

He immediately wrote to them, saying he was happy to settle any outstanding issues, pointing out the errors and asking for an email response. “I received a pro-forma acknowledgement. But in the meantime they have called on my mobile on six more occasions. I have now logged more than 30 calls from these people, and, in spite of further email reminders, they have not stopped. Isn’t this harassment?”

We contacted 3 Mobile and were told there had been “a miscommunication. The customer cancelled his account and direct debit, with his last bill outstanding. Thirty days’ notice is required upon cancellation of all accounts, therefore the customer was billed for two months. If an account has an outstanding balance due, it is passed to our collections team. The collection process is largely automated, and customers are contacted by phone only. Three has contacted the customer, and, as a gesture of goodwill, will waive all outstanding charges.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast