Belfast Telegraph

When our data protection goes oh, so horribly wrong

By Paul Gosling

My daughter booked a holiday with a group of six friends through First Choice. All six paid individually - my daughter used her debit card.

Since then, the lead passenger has, without my daughter's consent, signed her ticket over to someone else, and that person has given my daughter's holiday to another person. This has left my daughter without any holiday, but £386 out of pocket. First Choice states it can only deal with the lead passenger for changes, and it is not liable for refunding the cost of my daughter's holiday. It has refused to reveal the lead passenger's name or address, citing the Data Protection Act. My daughter's friend is also not willing to pass this on, so my daughter cannot take a case to the small claims court. PS.

Answer: Your daughter's problem reveals a serious weakness in consumer protection. First Choice is adamant that it dealt with the complaint correctly and refuses to make a refund. A spokeswoman explains: "We can confirm that a number of amendments have been made to the booking. This has resulted in [the reader's daughter's] name being removed from the booking altogether, as per the instructions of the lead passenger. As per our terms and conditions, First Choice can only deal with the lead booking customer in all circumstances, including any additional charges, amendments or cancellations.

"The lead passenger is therefore wholly responsible for changes made in relation to all persons travelling and settling any financial disagreements there may be within the party. As this is now a matter that can only be rectified by the individuals themselves, we cannot assist any further with this dispute."

We attempted to argue that a contract existed between your daughter and First Choice, on the basis that your daughter had paid directly to First Choice by debit card, but First Choice rejects this argument.

We next pursued the matter through your daughter's bank, HSBC, requesting a chargeback through Visa. This took several weeks to progress, but First Choice rejected the application from HSBC, on the basis that it has now provided the holiday in return for the payment made. The appropriate option at this point might have been legal action, but this would have been difficult. First Choice is confident it has a strong legal defence to any claim - your daughter does not know the name of the new lead passenger, or the person who has taken her place on the holiday and there are practical and personal problems involved in suing the person who was originally nominated as lead passenger.

The story does have a happy ending though - some nine months after you raised the problem with us and three months after someone else had a free holiday at your daughter's expense, HSBC is refunding your daughter's costs in full, as a goodwill gesture on the basis that your daughter is a valued customer and it shares our view that her situation was outrageous. We suggest that your daughter, and other readers, take great care in similar situations in how they nominate a lead passenger for a group holiday.

Question: My daughter had fraudulent activity on her two Alliance -amp; Leicester accounts between September and November 2009. It has taken 13 months for Alliance -amp; Leicester to refund the transactions and accrued bank charges. The bank acknowledges in a letter that it is "deeply concerned about the time which we have taken to resolve this matter. As a result of this I have come to the final decision to refund the bank charges in full along with another £35.72 as a gesture of goodwill".

This adds up to a total refund of £125. But my daughter has been inconvenienced by being without a debit card and she has had to pay phone charges to sort this out. Alliance -amp; Leicester weren't slow to deduct four lots of £25 bank charges for being overdrawn by small amounts for a period of less than one month. Hence we think compensation in the region of £250 would be more appropriate. MA.

Answer: Santander, which now owns Alliance -amp; Leicester, has reviewed your case. It accepts a "goodwill payment of £35.72 does not reflect the disappointing service" your daughter received. It is therefore offering a compensation payment of £150, which you and your daughter are happy with.