/ Home & Energy

Brief cases: full refund for heater that didn’t match claims

We helped a member get her money back when the heater she bought didn’t work as advertised. Have you ever had a company fail to resolve an issue?

Which? Legal member Linda Hanam paid £544.95 by credit card for a multi-season air conditioner/humidifier/heater unit from Airconcentre.

The first time she used it in heating mode, the internal water tank filled up, shutting off the machine. This also happened on several subsequent occasions.

She contacted Airconcentre, which checked the unit and said there was nothing wrong with it, but when she used it in heating mode again, the water had to be manually drained daily, or fitted with a hose. This wasn’t mentioned in the product description.

Our advice

We advised Linda that it’s an offence for a trader to mislead customers by presenting false or deceptive information about a product.

In her case, the description stated ‘…there is no need to periodically empty a water tank, which is typical of many other models,’ and ‘our evaporative technology uses any collected moisture to cool the unit, before it is eliminated through the exhaust ducts, leaving no water bucket to empty’.

As Airconcentre was not resolving the matter, we advised Linda to put in a claim with her credit card provider. The card provider refunded her in full.

Your rights explained

If someone is misled by the description of a product, they have rights to redress under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008; Regulation 5 makes it an offence for a trader to mislead a consumer in regards to the main characteristics of a product.

The consumer would be entitled to unwind the contract if it was still within 90 days of purchase. After that time they could seek a discount, which could be up to 100% of the purchase price, depending on the severity of the breach.

In addition, section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 applies where goods or services are bought using a credit card (even for only part of the price) and the total cost of the contract is between £100 and £30,000.

Where there is a misrepresentation or breach of contract by the trader, the credit card provider is deemed to be liable, either solely or jointly with the seller.

Have you ever been misled by a product’s description? How did the company resolve it?

Comments
Member

I do have one question. As a member of Which Legal I’ve had reason to use them four times in several years, but the Section 75 bit, which I assume was used in the above case, has always puzzled me.

The credit card company refunded the money, but do they then somehow reclaim that money from the trader concerned?

Member

I had always supposed that, because credit card companies have to continuously transfer customers’ payments to sellers, they are in a position whereby they can withhold payments if it has been necessary to reimburse a card-holder under S.75. They already deduct the merchant service charge on each transaction and could raise the rate if a trader was causing numerous reimbursements. The credit card company’s ultimate sanction is to withdraw the card payment facility. I think the credit card companies have a considerable hold over traders, with strict terms and conditions, which has a powerful regulatory effect on retailing and, exercised correctly, is a very good consumer safeguard.

Member

Section 75(2) gives the card issuer the legal right to claim back the amount from the deficient merchant, and you can be sure that card issuers exercise this right via a chargeback if the merchant is still solvent.

But your suggestion that the card issuer could withdraw the merchant’s ability to accept card payments, this is possible only with American Express, where the same party supplies services to both card holder and merchant. In nearly all other cases, the card issuer is a different party from the merchant services provider. And there’s usually a middleman between them, namely Visa or MasterCard.

Member

Does this mean that anyone can demand payment facilities by credit card and that facility can never be withdrawn? Seems extraordinary. Must have misunderstood. Surely a delinquent business can have its ability to take payments from credit card holders terminated?

Member

Malcolm, yes, the facility can be withdrawn, but it’s easy enough for the same merchant to set it up again via another provider. The point I’m making is that the facility won’t be withdrawn on the say-so of a card issuer, as they usually have no contract with the merchant.

Member

Thanks NFH. So if I have an M&S Mastercard then any complaint I raise with them would have to be referred on by them to Mastercard for any action. I understand that, it makes sense, but is that not a routine when unacceptable merchant behaviour is uncovered by the card issuer? I only know of Visa, M/card, Amex. Are there others? If not, delinquent merchants would soon run out of options.

Member

Yes, it would be up to MasterCard to ask the merchant services provider (acquirer) to take action. It’s very easy for a merchant to set themselves up with another provider. There’s a huge market now for this with very easy setup. The best I’ve seen is sumup.co.uk, which charges the merchant a flat 1.69% for all card types. This is in contrast to more established acquirers, which charge fixed monthly fees along with a lower percentage, which varies by card type.

Other card networks include Diners Club and JCB, but both of these have very few UK card holders.

Member
Patrick Taylor says:
8 October 2018

And does a consumer organisation press a case? Ask the relevant TSO to take action and provide a follow-up to the story?

” We advised Linda that it’s an offence for a trader to mislead customers by presenting false or deceptive information about a product.

In her case, the description stated ‘…there is no need to periodically empty a water tank, which is typical of many other models,’ and ‘our evaporative technology uses any collected moisture to cool the unit, before it is eliminated through the exhaust ducts, leaving no water bucket to empty’.

Member

It would be great if Which? would give us more detail in cases like this. I tried and failed to work out which product Linda had purchased, but I suspect that it is more likely to be a standalone unit rather than what is shown in the photo. Do we know if the problem was definitely an unsatisfactory description of the product rather than a faulty product?

Hopefully Which? Legal Service does help members report duff traders as well as help them claim refunds.

Member

Can confirm that the image is just a stock photo and unrelated to the specifics of the story. This convo appears here as it did in the most recent magazine. I’ll pass on all the feedback above to our Legal team.

Member

If the unit was shown to be deceptively advertised then why not name and show it for the benefit of other potential customers? Maybe AirCon centre could be asked to explain?

Member

Thanks George. Maybe the cases from Which? Legal are intended as a demonstration of how the service can help members sort out problems without going to the ombudsman or to court but some of us do try to understand the cases and think about how we would respond if we had the same problem. I wonder if the company has modified their product description following Linda’s claim.