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TMCNet:  Saturday Money: Consumer champions: Miles Brignall and Rebecca Smithers fight for your rights

[May 03, 2014]

Saturday Money: Consumer champions: Miles Brignall and Rebecca Smithers fight for your rights

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) A 55p fare shortfall could land me in court I am being threatened with a criminal record by Arriva Trains Wales over a 55p fare evasion. Back in February, I took a five-minute journey between Cardiff Queen Street and Cardiff Bay that costs pounds 1.70, or pounds 1.15 with a Railcard. I held a 16-25 Railcard for a three-year period, which I was unaware had expired. I bought a ticket from a self-serve machine, with the Railcard discount - saving the 55p.


At the barrier to enter the station, my ticket was checked. We then discovered my Railcard was out of date. I offered to buy a new ticket but this was refused. Instead, I was held for 20 minutes and interrogated. Eventually, the member of staff seized my Railcard and ticket and let me on to the train with a "ticket seized" voucher.

I have since received a letter from Transport Investigations Ltd, a company that deals with train penalties on behalf of Arriva Trains Wales. I sent my explanation of not knowing my Railcard had expired, and told them how I had since purchased a new one. I also again offered to pay the difference in tickets.

They replied that a charge of "intent to avoid a fare" could be alleged and an application to issue of a summons made. The letters are incomprehensible legalese.

Can they really go to court over 55p, that I offered to pay on the day anyway? LT, Cardiff The problem with Railcards is that no reminder is sent when it runs out. However, it seems incredible that a train company would threaten its customers with a criminal record over 55p - but that is the world we live in. Firstly, you came up against a tough ticket inspector. Then Transport Investigations sent you several letters with stamps that will have cost more than the evasion.

Arriva Trains told us that your Railcard was three months out of date. It has, though, refused to say why it has chased you in this way for 55p.

"Our standard procedure for dealing with any passenger found to be travelling without a valid ticket is to write offering an opportunity to pay the fare due, plus an administration fee. Should this not be resolved in the first instance this offer may be repeated before the situation is considered for escalation. All customers contacted are advised of the potential for court action but this would only be undertaken as a last resort." You say you have not seen such a letter. Happily, if you pay the 55p plus the admin fee of pounds 31, it will be the end of the matter.

All talk but no mobile during a visit to Boston I took out a 24-month contract with Talkmobile in October 2013 through Carphone Warehouse.

I frequently travel to the US, but on the most recent occasion, as soon as I arrived in Boston I realised my phone did not work and was not roaming. I couldn't make or receive calls. I could text to UK numbers only. The phone would try to dial and then immediately hang up.

My partner, who has exactly the same model (Samsung Galaxy SIII) and was on another network, was fine. I have never had this problem when previously with Orange, and that was on an old banger of a phone that barely functioned.

I spoke several times to Talkmobile customer services (at the expense of my US relatives), which told me to switch it off and on again, and tried to fix it. Nothing worked. After more than 50 attempts trying to dial various numbers with different codes (just in case), trying my sim card in my partner's phone to check it wasn't my phone (it wasn't) and half a dozen fruitless calls to Talkmobile, I gave up. I was without a phone for the whole two weeks, which was highly inconvenient.

As I'm due to go to New York and Boston again in May, I recently called Talkmobile customer services to see if there was any update on my situation or, if there were still likely to be issues with using my phone abroad, whether I could end my contract. They have said they will charge me pounds 380 to cancel.

AC, by email This sounded to us like a problem with your sim card - confirmed by the fact that your partner's worked in your handset, but not the other way round. Talkmobile, which is Carphone's own-brand mobile service provider, hasn't exactly covered itself in glory over this case, taking ages to come up with a resolution even after we got involved.

Finally, it agreed to replace your sim, which should resolve the matter. As an additional precautionary measure, it has given you a pay as you go sim card with pounds 40 credit, to ensure you have a backup in the unlikely event that the issue persists. It has also apologised. Note, though, if it does happen again there is nothing to stop you buying a local sim card and popping it into your handset to use in the US.

If you travel there regularly it may be worth doing this anyway, as it will be much cheaper than paying roaming charges, although you won't get calls to your UK number. Make sure you keep the UK one very secure.

I may have to cancel a trip if my husband falls ill I am 73 with no existing medical conditions, and am travelling to the United States for a family wedding in October. My husband has diabetes and neuropathy and would not be able to make such a long journey, so is staying at home.

I am unable to find any insurance company willing to cover me for cancellation or curtailment of the trip should my husband's condition deteriorate. Do I have to take a chance that all will be well at home? JA, Ayr, Scotland We are not sure that you need to tell the insurer of your husband's condition. If you book the flight and buy your own travel insurance - and at the time there is no reason to assume that his condition will worsen - then that is perfectly reasonable. If the worst happens, you will have to prove he was fine at the time of purchase, and provide medical evidence. Go with one of the better, more expensive policies, and check the cancellation terms very carefully.

However, if at the time of booking, you think there is a significant risk of him deteriorating, you are on shakier ground. In that case, try to limit the expense by buying the absolute cheapest airfare and booking cancellable hotel rooms. Booking.com will often let you cancel hotels up until the day before. Note: refundable air tickets add around pounds 1,000 to the price when flying to the US. The final option is to leave the flight booking until the very last minute and accept you will pay more.

A Tesco failure seems to be on the cards I decided to use my Tesco Clubcard vouchers for wine. I logged into my Tesco account but, at the checkout, found that there was zero value against my vouchers, despite having received pounds 86-worth. Tesco told me I'd used the vouchers five days previously. I assured the lady I hadn't, and she said that I must be the victim of a fraud and that my account would be credited with the missing amount.

I recall Guardian Money mentioning Clubcard vouchers being "hijacked" and users' accounts emptied. The fact that my account was credited without question, leads me to believe that Tesco may be well aware of the problem but hasn't been able to fix it. Keep a close eye on Clubcard accounts and check voucher spends are genuine.

KG, by email When we wrote about another reader losing their Clubcard points last November, Tesco was keen to play this down. At the time, it said that it was "actively looking at new ways to improve customers' security", and had recently introduced additional steps online.

Your tale suggests this is still going on. Keen collectors of Clubcard points take note. And if you have always used the same password on your account, it might be a good idea to change it.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Consumer Champions, Money, the Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Please include a daytime phone number Captions: Just pennies away from receiving a summons from Ariva Trains Wales (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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