Friday, 11 October 2013

e2save followup: the question so secret they couldn't ask it

I wrote (in August) about a mobile phone company called e2save, who repeatedly contacted me saying they had a “query” but refused to give me any way of responding to that query (or even finding out what the query was) without paying for the privilege. They emailed me from a no-reply address and sent me texts with the reply option disabled. I don’t like one-sided communication, so I took to Twitter.

I repeatedly refused to fill in the e2save webform, on the grounds that the webform forces you to choose a category and none of the categories included “You keep telling me you have a query but you won’t tell me what it is.” (Also, I just hate webforms.)

I also repeatedly asked for e2save to stop telling me they need to ask me a question and just ask me the question. Sadly the social media people didn’t have access to any of my info and they were a bit obsessed with “verifying” my details. It’s Kafkaesque: I’m repeatedly told that this organisation wants to ask me a question, but before I can find out what the question is, I must pay money and jump through hoops to verify my identity.

Anyway, I wore them down and got a real email address out of them: I’m publishing it here because it’s not anywhere visible on their own website. So let this blog post be a public record of e2save’s contact details.

e2save email address:
e2save phone number: 01509 611818

I emailed the address in question, forwarding on their original message to me.

Hello there,

You sent me the below email earlier. I can't reply to it. I have no idea what details you want to check and I don't understand why you can't just put that information in the email instead of asking me to ring you. You've also texted me asking me to ring you.

I am not going to ring you.

If you want me to answer some questions, ring me or put them in an email I can reply to. You have my contact details already.

Here’s an extract from the reply I got:

I\'m very sorry for the difficulties you’ve had with your order and I would very much like to look into this for you; however in order for me to access your account and comply with the Data Protection Act, please can you confirm the following information:

- Full name

- Home address including postal code

- Transaction number / customer number

- Date of birth

- Make and model of the phone purchased

- Name of the bank used to purchase your phone or to set up the direct debit request

Once we have this information I’ll be happy to look into your query for you.

(If my query is simply "What's your query?" is it really my query or their query?)

So, before I can find out what information they want from me, I need to supply seven different pieces of information. That’s not to get an answer to any question of my own – it’s simply to find out what their question is. Like I said, Kafkaesque.

As it happened, their reply arrived while I was away, so it got my out-of-office autoreply...which bounced. So even if I had painstakingly replied with those seven pieces of information, my message would have gone into the ether anyway.

Back to Twitter. I stuck to my position: I will not spend a penny of my own money trying to help them get an answer to their question if they won’t do me the courtesy of telling me what the question is. After a flurry of direct messages they agreed to ring me.

A woman from e2save phoned me, asked me a long series of “security” questions to “verify” my account and then finally, finally asked the actual question. It was...

What was your previous address?

Yep. That was the top-secret question they couldn’t possibly put into words in an email, on Twitter or in a text message. That was the question that could only be put to me after extensive verification of my identity.

The woman on the phone explained that my previous address was needed for the credit check, but couldn’t explain why the question was so sensitive it needed to be kept secret from the person who was expected to answer it.

Another thing she couldn’t explain: the checks were apparently being done by T-Mobile to make sure I was a legit, credit-worthy customer. But I was already a T-Mobile customer anyway; e2save was just the intermediary switching me from one T-Mobile contract to another.

By now I felt that e2save had taken quite enough of my time and energy and I didn’t want them to have my money as well. So I said I wanted to cancel the contract. The e2save woman said I didn’t even have a contract to cancel, because I hadn’t passed the credit check, because they didn’t know my previous address, because they were refusing to ask me for my previous address...

Enough already. But this painful process has furnished me with two pieces of valuable information: e2save’s email address and their real phone number (not the one you have to pay to ring).

e2save email address:
e2save phone number: 01509 611818

I hope anyone having similar trouble with e2save will find that info useful. But my advice would be just to avoid e2save completely.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Good news for Glastonbury fan

We recently wrote about problems with Glastonbury’s ticket registration system; one customer had her registration details mysteriously deleted from the system, then Glastonbury Ticketing said that she must have done it herself and refused to reinstate her registration. I’m delighted to announce a happy ending:  Lara’s registration has now been reinstated and she was able to buy tickets for herself and friends.

Not long after the Restless Consumer blog post was published, someone working for the ticketing system rang Lara and said: “Can you and your friends stop tweeting about us?” He agreed to reinstate the registration (something they had previously said wasn’t possible).

The odd aspect to this story is that the man from the ticketing system is absolutely certain no error was made at their end. He also says that they tried several times to reinstate Lara’s registration, but, every time, it received an instant request to delete it again, seemingly coming from Lara’s account.

If this is true, the repeated and instant nature of the requests sounds like an automated script rather than a human. What’s not clear is whose system was being hacked by this script – Lara’s email account or the ticketing system? We would need more information to know for sure and it’s not something this blog is going to investigate. But we would like to put on record that Glastonbury Ticketing did eventually respond to their customer’s problem and did something to put it right. Whether they would have done that without this blog and a lot of “tweeting about us”, we couldn’t possibly say.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Glastonbury gives ticket buyer the brush-off

It’s the festival of peace, love and mud. You’d expect the people running ticket sales for the Glastonbury Festival to reflect the general hippy ethos – but Restless Consumer reader Lara Hogan has seen a much harder side to the organisers.

Glastonbury tickets are now so in demand – and so vulnerable to being snapped up by touts – that you have to register in advance to be in with a chance of buying a ticket. That’s what Lara duly did, registering well in advance so she could try to buy tickets when they went on sale.

But then an unexpected email arrived.

"Glastonbury" <> wrote:


Your registration has been deleted from our system. Please note you will not be eligible to purchase tickets when they become available. You may register again using the link below.

Regards, the Glastonbury team.

Lara replied within minutes to ask why her registration had been deleted. The helpful reply:

Your registration number [redacted] registered to postcode [redacted] has been deleted from our system. Please note you will no longer be eligible to purchase tickets for this year's festival.
You may register again using the link below.’s been deleted because it’s been deleted? Thanks for clearing that up, guys. Also, she couldn't really "register again using the link below" because registration was closed.

Lara asked for her original registration to be reinstated. After all, she didn’t ask them to delete it, she didn’t want them to delete it and she’s desperate to buy a Glastonbury ticket. Why should she miss out on buying a ticket because of their mistake? But computer says no:

We're sorry but it isn't possible to reinstated deleted accounts.

Registrations can only be deleted if the deletion is verified by the registered email account.

But this can’t possibly be true, because Lara did not verify the deletion of her registration. System errors do happen, but she shouldn’t have to miss out on tickets because of the ticketing system’s mistake. She asked if they can do anything to help. The reply:

There is nothing we can do Lara - registration is closed.

Lara asked to make a formal complaint and the ticketing team claimed that her complaint had been logged, but added:

Ultimately it is your responsibility to check you have a valid registration in time to submit a new one should that be necessary.

Yes, and Lara followed the steps to obtaining a valid registration. Then a system error deleted her registration, completely out of the blue, just two hours before the tickets went on sale and after registration had closed. How exactly was she supposed to “submit a new one”?

She pursued this but the last email she had from Glastonbury Ticketing said:

As we have explained, the verification of a deletion can only come from the registered email account. No one else could have deleted this other than you, Lara.

That’s quite a claim to make. Especially given that Glastonbury Ticketing can’t actually produce any evidence that she confirmed the deletion.

Thinking about it from the human angle, you can see there’s no reason why a longstanding fan who’s registered for tickets in advance would suddenly delete her registration hours before tickets go on sale.

And this is the problem: Glastonbury Ticketing are not behaving like human beings. Lara has reached out to them as a Glastonbury fan who loves the festival, goes every year and has tried her best to buy tickets. She’s asked for help. Their reaction has simply been to keep repeating that their systems couldn’t possibly make any kind of mistake. They’re ignoring everything Lara has told them about the situation and they haven’t showed a scrap of sympathy – sympathy which would be due even if the stupid mistake was hers and not theirs.

Almost all humans and organisations make mistakes. The real test is what you do about them. I would expect the fluffy, hippyish Glastonbury brand to admit any mistakes and try to help a true fan who’s been loyal for many years. Instead they’ve gone for the hard, nasty “computer says no” approach.

Friday, 16 August 2013

e2save: hard 2 contact

I recently switched to a new mobile phone contract, using the mobile phone comparison site BillMonitor. The contract recommended for me was through an intermediary called It’s a SIM-only t-mobile contract which will save me about £14 a month. So far, so good. I gave my direct debit details (and endless other details) and that was that.

But a few hours later, e2save texted me. Could I contact them regarding my order? I rang the number (0871 521 1420) and immediately heard a recorded message telling me it would cost me 10p a minute from my landline, then a second message saying the average waiting time would be 12 minutes.I hung up.

Let’s recap. They want to get in touch with me because they have a query. But instead of ringing me, they text me and ask me to ring them. Fair enough – it lets me return the call at my convenience. But I rang back immediately and still couldn’t get through. So they’re sending texts asking people to ring them, at a time when they know people will have to wait before they can speak to anyone, while paying for the privilege.

Also, I have no idea why they want to speak to me. I tried to reply to the text but replying was disabled.

A few minutes after the text arrived, I got an email.

Your order is currently being processed, however we need to check some final details with you before it can be despatched.

As we want to get your order out as soon as possible we’ll try to contact you on the numbers you have provided to us. However if it's easier you can contact us in one of the following ways:

- Calling our dedicated processing team on 0871 521 1434, our office hours are Monday - Friday 9am until 8pm (Tuesday 10am until 8pm) & Saturday 9.30am until 6pm

The intelligent reader will note that after the words “one of the following ways”, only one way is listed. 

The email they sent me said at the bottom:

Please do not respond directly to this email as it's automatically generated and you will not receive a reply from us.

Go to the e2save website and you will find the same total absence of contact details. The “Customer Service” section of the site is the same as the “Helpdesk” section of the site. It’s just an FAQ page with no way to contact the company.

Here’s the situation:
  • e2save has contacted me in two different ways to tell me that it needs to communicate with me.
  • e2save has chosen not to give me any hint as to what it needs to communicate with me about.
  • e2save has set things up so I can’t reply to the text or email I’ve been sent.
  • My only option for getting in touch is to pay 10p/minute without knowing how long I’ll have to wait on hold, how long the call will take or whether or not the call is even necessary.
  • If I don’t make that expensive call, I may not get the new SIM card and contract I’ve ordered.

What would you do?

When I got the message this morning saying “thanks for your order”, I thought the whole thing was done and dusted and the SIM card was in the post. I have an instinctive aversion to any company or any person who reopens an issue after I think it’s finished with, because I like to MOVE ON.

I also have a huge instinctive aversion to companies who set up one-sided communication, contact-harvesting the hell out of me without providing a scrap of contact info for themselves.

My next move: Twitter. Even the most contact-avoidant company often has a social media presence (one that they might not even need if it was easier to get in touch with them).

I asked them to tell me what they need to know, or ring me on the number they already have for me.

The e2save Twitter account responded within minutes, asking me to fill in a webform:

As far as I can tell, this webform isn’t findable anywhere on the site – you have to already know the URL for it. So it’s purely for people who are persistent enough to contact them on social media, I guess.

The webform, like many webforms, required me to choose a category for my query. My actual query didn’t fit any of the categories – how could it, when I still have no idea what they were contacting me about? I pointed this out on Twitter but they are still insisting that I use the webform.

So my choice is to do nothing. If e2save really need to contact me that badly, they could...y’know....actually contact me. Actually use my mobile phone number to ring me, instead of sending a text I can’t reply to. Actually send me an email explaining what this is about, from an address I can reply to.

Maybe, by waiting, I’ll find out if they really do need an answer to this (still unspecified) query before they can go ahead and take my money using the direct debit I’ve already set up.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Run With It: boring ethical clothes

The garment industry has been in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. In April a Bangladesh clothing factory collapsed, killing over a thousand people. Some of the world’s biggest clothing brands signed a safety agreement designed to stop the same thing ever happening again in Bangladesh – and just hours later, there was another building collapse in Cambodia. More garment workers dead.

I love clothes as much as the next woman, but I don’t feel that any item of clothing justifies people working in sweatshop conditions or risking their lives. So I try to buy clothing from ethical brands: Nomads Clothing, BAM and so on. But I can’t buy my whole wardrobe from these places. I really like floaty, colourful clothes, but there comes a point when I have to go to a serious client meeting, or a funeral, and a low-cut kaftan made out of an upcycled sari just won’t cut it. (I have tried wearing a drapey daisy-print top from Nomads Clothing under a suit jacket, in an attempt to look interesting yet serious. A friend kindly took a photo and put it online, which is how I know it actually looked scrunched-up and weird.)

As for trousers, I’ve never been able to buy them from an ethical store, because they’re always too long. So I go to not-ethical-enough M&S instead. I’ll happily buy my tops from ethical online retailers, but it only recently dawned on me that “not dragging on the ground” does not equal “fits properly” when it comes to items designed to be worn on the top half of your body. It would be absolutely amazing if I could buy a basic white shirt that actually fitted me, from an ethical retailer.

I’d love it if a brand was brave enough to launch with a ridiculously limited range of clothing options and colours, but focused on diversity in sizing. Many ethical ranges just sell clothes in three sizes: small, medium and large. I can understand the business reasons behind this, but wouldn’t it be great if one shop broke the mould to sell a real range of sizes and lengths? Sizes 6-32, in a choice of lengths and fits. Perhaps with a petite fit available, and a Bravissimo-style Curvy fit for tops. You can’t do that if you’ve got 50 different items in your range. But what if you only sold black trousers? Or only sold dark-blue bootcut jeans? Or white shirts?

There is a serious gap in the market for a retailer selling boring, basic ethically-made clothes. I’m thinking of a price range that’s more expensive than M&S but cheaper than Howies. No frills, not much colour, just clothes that women think of as “the basics”, which are always much harder to buy than the frivolous extras. I mentioned this idea on Twitter and got a flood of responses from women saying they would definitely buy from this shop if it existed.

This is a Run With It! blog post. Anyone reading it is free to try the business idea described and attempt to make money out of it. If you do, please tell us about it!

Friday, 12 July 2013

Introducing: Run With It!

“I wish you could buy...” “I wish someone would invent a...”

Ever started a sentence that way? Had an idea for a product or service that would be really great, spent five seconds contemplating ditching your job to start a new business, then forgot all about it?

We have a new feature here on The Restless Consumer. The idea behind Run With It is that you share those ideas while giving implicit consent for anybody who reads the blog post to, well, run with it. Then maybe, just maybe, someone else could turn your idea into reality and make themselves some money out of it.

What kind of ideas do you mean?

Absolutely anything, really. To give a few examples from my own fizzing tank of ideas, it could be a system of traffic lights with a filter to give cyclists priority*, or a double-sided make-up stick with eye make-up remover on one side and concealer on the other so you can tidy up your make-up before going out after work, or a “nose cosy” to keep your nose warm while still allowing you to breathe...

Why should I give up my intellectual property on some stupid blog so someone else can make a fortune from my idea?

Well, obviously Run With It isn’t compulsory. But look: how much value does your idea really have while it’s still in your head? Run With It lets you get your idea out there, with a tiny chance that it might actually happen. You want a coffee bar serving “hot” drinks at room temperature so that busy professionals can drink them more quickly...but if you’re not going to set up that bar, how exactly does it benefit you that nobody else will set it up either?

Look, I’m a professional writer and a trade union member. Getting credit and payment for creative work is a subject dear to my heart. But most of that creativity isn’t about the initial idea. It’s about the hard work you put into actually creating something coherent and real. Anyone can talk about setting up a social networking site that’s “Facebook for nurses”, or making pyramid-shaped doughnuts to teach kids about three-dimensional shapes. But actually doing it: that’s the hard bit.

Any other rules?

The product or service idea can be as wild or wacky as you like. But it has to be something that you would personally hand over good money for if someone else made it.

Also, if you’re going to Run With It yourself and actually turn a stranger’s idea into a business, you should:

  • tell The Restless Consumer so we can blog about it
  • give the original idea-haver some credit somewhere on your website or promotional literature

A freebie to the idea-haver would be a nice gesture too. But you’re under no financial obligation to them whatsoever.

*Already exists in the Netherlands

Got an idea for Run With It? Get in touch!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Yodel: a quick follow-up

We blogged back in February about Yodel, telling the story of how they got a customer (my sister) to travel to their depot for no reason and then refused to reimburse her travel costs.

If anything new happens with a story, I do try to write a follow-up, not least because otherwise all the posts on this blog would be just moaning with no closure. But this follow-up was delayed, chiefly because it took me ages to get round to it.

Anyway: Yodel still refused to reimburse the customer’s travel costs, possibly because they don’t want to set a precedent. But they did send her a £10 voucher (something like this) which can be spent in various places.

A commenter did suggest taking Yodel to the small claims court, and this would be an interesting thing to try if you’ve got the time and energy, but my sister decided that’s she’s made her point and got a token of apology, so she doesn’t want to take this any further.

In more exciting news: The Restless Consumer has had some attention from the mainstream media. A researcher for Channel 4’s Dispatches phoned us wanting to speak to the person who had the bad experience with Yodel. We gave her my sister's phone number (with her permission) and I offered to talk to them myself too. But that’s kind of where the story ends because they didn’t interview her after all.

This seems to be a “thing” with TV researchers; they put out scattergun requests and they feel no obligation to say "thanks, but no thanks" to people who turn out to be no use to them. You’d think someone doing research for a consumer-rights documentary would realise that politeness costs nothing.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Misdeeds and security

We all know someone whose approach to security is a little bit different from our own. I think about the former colleague who locked an empty cupboard while leaving its contents strewn merrily around the room; I think about the office I used to work where an ear-splitting alarm went off every time someone opened the front door (so people used to leave it wide open most of the time, to avoid the noise).

And now I can add good old M&S to the list of entities whose approach to security is counterproductive and baffling. I recently ordered a pair of trousers from the website with a gift card. The gift card was a present from my in-laws. To use the card online, the serial number isn’t enough; you need to type in a PIN, which is hidden behind a scratch-off surface. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to scratch off the surface in a way that leaves the PIN intact. I’ve had this problem with every M&S gift card I’ve ever used, and it’s stressful. Because if you render it unusable trying to see the PIN, it’s your problem. M&S won’t take any responsibility for damaged cards.

Anyway, I arranged for in-store collection and ticked the box saying “Don't associate any credit cards with this payment”.  There was some blurb warning that if I ticked the box and my gift card was found wanting, there might be a delay with my order while they took my credit or debit card details. But I wasn't worried because I knew there were enough funds on the gift card.

The next thing that happened? They asked for my credit card details anyway. Why? Apparently I had triggered a security concern with my wildly out-of-character behaviour; I’d never ordered an item for in-store collection before, and I would have to enter my credit card details to prove I was me.

How wrong is this? Let me count the ways. For a start, if I walked into a physical store with the gift card, nobody would challenge my identity. Nobody would even ask about my identity. But because it’s a website, first they force me to register before I can buy anything, then they start keeping track of my buying behaviour. The “security” aspect of this breaks down if you expose it to the tiniest bit of sunlight: what exactly is the risk here? That someone has stolen my identity in order to log in to the Marks & Spencer website as me, buy a cheap pair of trousers in my size, order them to be delivered to a store near my house and pay with a gift card?

What stopped me abandoning the whole transaction? The sunk cost fallacy, I guess. I’d already spent time finding a nice item in the sale, going through the ordering process, trying to read the PIN on the gift card, etc. So I went ahead and supplied my credit card details. The transaction went through.

Then I got a confirmation email saying that there were two payment methods for the item. So my credit card had been charged after all? Or not?

I contacted M&S to complain. They don’t have the courtesy to supply you with a real email address; instead you have to fill in a hateful webform. So I don’t have a record of what I wrote. I just know that I mentioned:

  • the terrible design of the gift cards, where trying to use them online carries a high risk of damaging them so they can’t be used (and you won’t get the money back either).
  • my deep unhappiness at the fact that they required me to supply my credit card details to prove I was me. Because if they could use those details to verify my identity, that means they’ve been storing my credit card information without my consent.
  • the confusing email that didn’t make it clear how payment was eventually taken - I knew the text might have been boilerplate, but I have no way of differentiating "automatically generated boilerplate" from "stuff they're actually trying to tell me".
  • the confusing nature of the online purchase process. I begged them to do some user testing.
  • The fact that I was being forced to contact them through a webform at all, instead of being supplied with an email address.

I got a reply a few hours later that was quite impressive in its failure to address any of these concerns at all. Apparently my comments will be forwarded “to the e-commerce team for their consideration” but I didn’t get a response about any of the specific issues I raised, of which the biggest was my worry that they’ve been storing my credit card details without my knowledge or consent.

The person who replied obviously had sort-of-read my email because she confirmed that payment for the item would be taken from the gift card only, but it didn’t really address my comment about the lazy boilerplate text that said something different. She also advised me that I should have ticked the box saying “Don’t associate any credit cards with this payment”. Ah, that would be the box that I ticked, wouldn’t it?

And of course, I can’t follow up on this by replying to the email I received, because it was sent from a no-reply address (another sign that an organisation isn’t really willing to engage in dialogue). If I want to get in touch again, I have to do it through the webform or (as they suggest) through the even worse “Help” section of the website. This is their way of saying “Go away now, stop trying to tell us how we can improve things.” And this blog post, like most Restless Consumer blog posts, is my way of saying: “OK then – if you don’t want to hear it, at least I can warn other potential customers.”

I’ve always been a huge fan of the M&S brand. Have been for most of my adult life. That’s why I keep asking for M&S vouchers for Christmas and birthday presents. My experience today has really, really damaged how I feel about M&S.

Update: they emailed me to say my item was in-store. More stupid, misleading boilerplate text about how they'd taken payment from my card even though they hadn't.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

I'm gonna cherish that chicken 'neeth the green bay tree

So, in February, I saw some small bay trees in Tesco; they were meant as mother's day presents.  They looked a lot like this small bay tree from Trees Direct, even down to the sackcloth wrapping, although, as I recall, the ribbon was polka dotted.  "Shall I buy it?" I asked my neighbour, whom I had run into in Tesco that night and spoken to for the first time in three years.  "Yes, yes, do," he said, looking very abstracted.  He's had a baby in the interim.

Oh, that winter.  It felt like a thousand years.  Nonetheless, the bay happily stood in a window where it received sun for three hours or so a day and started sprouting leaves, keeping company with an over-wintering chilli bush.  I started using the odd leaf here and there; mainly for potatoes dauphinoise, but also in chicken stews and, most recently of all, in caramelised onion chutney.  Over the three months I learnt that the older leaves, not the newer ones, release more scent, and that you don't need to dry the leaves, merely warm them in your hands before using.  The bay has a cinammony, nutmeggy smell, with undertones of spice and warm rum.  It's become one of my favourite herbs, but the tree is growing faster than I can use it.

So, I am doing some research on how to dry bay leaves, thinking I can give them away for Christmas, somehow, and I come across a warning that culinary bay, laurus nobilis, can easily be confused with mountain bay, kalmia latifolia which is highly poisonous, and this is why people say bay is poisonous, but it isn't really, but do be careful to make sure you know which bay it is that you are eating, boys and girls.

I freaked out a bit at this point, because I didn't know if my bay was laurus nobilis or kalmia latifolia.  Wikipedia, as you can see, is not that helpful, the point being that the leaves from the two plants are actually incredibly similar-looking. So I sent a letter to Tesco, via their website.  They acknowledged receipt on April 24th.  I can't remember my exact wording, but as I recall, the thrust of my question was: "I bought this plant from you in February, I've been using this plant for cooking, but would like you to confirm that it is laurus nobilis and not something toxic."  Perhaps I said that I wanted to use the plant for cooking, giving the impression that I hadn't yet.  I'm not sure.

Anyway, I get no further contact from them, and in the meantime, make some onion chutney, heavy on the bay (three leaves to a pound of onions) and light on the red wine vinegar (that is, no red wine vinegar at all - I am experimenting with balsamic and cider vinegar to get an undertone of apples) and am contemplating further experiments with onion chutney, all of which feature the bay at the centre of the taste spectrum.  In fact, I go so far as to buy some Kilner jars and some apple balsamic vinegar to go with the cider, thinking that onion chutney might make nice Christmas presents, etc, etc, but it's going to be my onion chutney, with a difference (and a lot of bay). On Friday or Thursday, just after I had returned from work, via the shops, with the afore-mentioned vinegar, I get a phone call from Tesco. A woman.

"Oh," I said, delighted.  "Is it about my bay tree?"

"Has anyone else spoken to you about this?" asked the woman. She was very Welsh.

"No," I said.  "So, is it laurus nobilis or not?"

"Don't eat from it!" said the woman.

"What?" I asked.  "I already have," I said.

"How much?" asked the woman.

"Oh, you know," I said, hand waving with my voice.  "In some recipes, you know. Maybe about ten".

"Well, that should be OK," said the woman.  "But don't use it any more!"

"But, but, but ... " I said.  "Why?" I asked. "Is it poisonous?  Is it Mountain Bay and not laurus nobilis?"

"We don't sell it for culinary use," she said, and repeated that several times in between giving me instructions not to use it in cooking several times.

"What is it?" I asked.  I was a little suspicious by now; I seemed to be on the end of some corporate bollocks.  "Is it laurus nobilis?"

"I don't know what it is," said the woman.  "I've just got an instruction here that it is not for consumption.  Don't eat it!"

Curiouser and curiouser.  I'm a little upset.  I mean, I'm not dead, but if the plant is poisonous enough for me to be instructed not to use it for culinary purposes, and I have, I would like to know what the risks are, what the plant is, and what are the symptoms I should be looking for.  I get none of this information.

Plus, if the plant is so poisonous that I MUST NOT EAT IT, why take (counts) NINE DAYS to get back to me to tell me I must not eat it when that is clearly what I have in mind to do.

So I do some more research and put plaintive pleas up onto the internet for someone - anyone - to tell me if my Bay Tree is trying to kill me or not.  I use these two pictures:


I even send a tweet, or a series of them, to James Wong.  He's an ethnobotanist. 


 (I've had no answer yet, but I expect he's been busy with Countryfile)

One of my friends points out that if it smells like a culinary bay and hasn't killed me, then it is probably a culinary bay.  A different friend points out that, empirically, I haven't died yet, so there's a large chance that it's not toxic.  I can see, rationally, that they both have a point, but in my mind I counter this with tales of toxic build-up e.g. Mercury and also that I don't really know what a bay tree smells like; I just know what my tree smells like (cinnamon and nutmeg and days in the sun).  So I come up with a plan.

The plan is this.  I will go to Tesco and buy some real bay leaves and smell them and compare them with the smell of the leaves from my bay tree, because I want to use a bay leaf in some fish pie for a recipe I'm working on for Jack Sprat. So, off I pop.

In Tesco, I'm out of luck.  There are no bay leaves although, apparently, there are three types of Aussie conditioner, three for the price of two, Berocca soluble vitamins, also three for the price of two, and some super-cheap Parmesan.  As I am about to leave, I notice, in the 'summer' section, a small plant looking very much like my bay tree did when I first saw it.  In fact, it is labelled as shown:

It is clearly called laurus nobilis.  And do you see that Tesco Top Tip, there? "Any leaves cut off when pruning can be dried and used in the kitchen." Ha!

I 'pruned' the plant of one leaf and slipped it in my pocket. It doesn't smell of much, but then it has been inside, bathed with the weak commercial light of high capitalism for some days; nothing would smell of much, given those conditions.

So I bring my leave back home and compare it with a leaf from my bay tree.  Here's the front of the leaves.  My bay tree is on the right.


And here's the backs of the leaves.

Now, to my mind, the confirmed laurus nobilis has veins leaving the central vein in a generally symmetrical mode, and my bay tree leaf, not so much.  The confirmed laurus nobilis leaf has very crinkly edges, and my bay tree leaf, not so much.  My bay tree leaf is a darker green. Both leaves smell similar, when I can coax something out of the confirmed leaf.   See above.  I'm not sure, however, that my hands haven't spread the smell from my bay leaf onto the confirmed leaf.  Both leaves are that strange combination of leathery and brittle that I have come to associate with my bay tree.

So I make the fish pie, using the purloined bay leaf, anyway.

What do you think, boys and girls?  Do I have a culinary bay or not?  Are the differences simply due to intra-species variation?  Am I in danger of poisoning myself with a residual insecticide?  Why could Tesco not simply tell me what the name of my tree is?  And would anyone like some caramelised onion chutney? It's going to be special.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Oh, Santander

A guest post  - or perhaps a warning tale - from hip young gunslinger Caramel Betty, relating what happened when he tried to change his mortgage provider from one branch of the Santander* organisational tree to another. 


When I bought my flat, it took me 35 days from end to end. I walked into the flat, looked round, and made an offer (conditional on the valuation etc. not showing up any major faults). The flat was vacant and the owner was a buy-to-let landlord who wanted out of it quickly. If I could do it in a month, he'd knock a "small" amount off the price, which more than covered some of the additional hassle - like paying rent on my old flat while also accruing interest, that sort of thing. These 35 days covered an inspection/valuation, choosing a mortgage, sorting out exchange and completion of contracts, document searches, my solicitors having to ask their solicitors to clarify things at least once, and being given the keys.

In the interests of being totally honest, I was going through a mortgage broker (who lived in a cubbyhole in the estate agents I used). I had looked at another flat about a week before, and decided not to go through with it in the end - the flat was gorgeous, but it had a very short leasehold, and extending it would have potentially put the price up quite a lot, with some uncertainty. This meant the mortgage broker did already have a photocopy of a few important documents (payslips, some ID), but at the very most that would have taken another 24 hours to sort out. I could easily have taken them along to the flat viewing, anyway.

The mortgage was all sorted out, and in the end I went with the Alliance and Leicester. I can honestly say I had no trouble from them at all throughout the mortgage, including swift and efficient handling of the occasional overpayment.


The deal I was on expired, and for a fair while I was on the Standard Variable Rate. Sorting things out involved effort and hassle, and like a lot of people I'm probably very bad at really thinking through the real effects of compound interest. Sorting out a new mortgage would only save me, what, mumble pounds per month, right? But if you put that through a compound interest, over the lifetime of the mortgage, that'd save me enough money to buy, I don't know, Saturn, right? I know the principles and can actually do the calculations if I need to, but, you know, effort.

I finally got round to choosing a new mortgage. I wanted an Offset mortgage, because it meets my needs which are, basically: I want somewhere to stash my cash savings where I still have relatively easy access to them. I'm not about to buy a yacht and have champagne parties with the Abramoviches, but I have sufficient cash savings that it's worthwhile. For personal reasons, locking things up for five years in some investment or other doesn't suit me.


Looking around the market at offset mortgages, I decided to stay with Santander. It wasn't the best product on the market, but other options seemed to strongly encourage me moving my current account to them. I'm happy with that where it is. Also, sorting out valuations and things involves money and hassle, as do exit fees. Alliance and Leicester are part of the Santander group, so this is going to be easy, right? Read the website (done). Phone up and talk through a bunch of stuff with some eager sales bunny who needs to read me a bunch of disclaimers and waffle. Probably some paperwork to prove it's really me. But fundamentally, one bit of Santander already loans me a large sum for my mortgage, and I'm just moving it to another bit. This can't be hard, surely?

(I don't have the exact dates written down, so one or two of the dates that follow might be off by a day or so.)

Phonecall 1 - Day 1 (February 16): I phone up and talk to a lovely guy, who is friendly, charming, and has a lovely accent. Think a male equivalent of Ruth Archer, who's less inclined to tell you off for tracking in mud from the milking shed. If this was Blind Date, I would pick him. He has a long script to cover, and he does it in an efficient manner without turning into a robot. The offer is valid for 14 days, and he'll get it in the post ASAP. I need to send that set of papers back ASAP, then they'll send a second which I'll need to get witnessed and send those back, and then they'll send a third set of papers.

Phonecall 2 - approx Day 10 (February 25): The papers still haven't turned up. Even if they went out second-class, they should be here. The woman I speak to is apologetic, and arranges to have them sent out again.

Phonecall 3 - approx Day 15 (March 2): Still no sign. The woman I speak to explains that because I wanted an offset mortgage, her colleagues would have needed to change their printer settings. Offset mortgages use a different printer, and they're a fair bit rarer than the other mortgage types, so maybe it screwed up. At some point, the mortgage offer got extended - maybe it was phonecall 2 or 3, I forget which.

Phonecall 4 - Day 21 (March 8): I call back, and each of the people on phonecalls 1, 2 and 3 have told me to call back and press a particular sequence of keys on the telephone prompt system, so I press the sequence they gave me. This sends me to Santander mortgages, not Alliance and Leicester. Santander mortgages cannot access the A&L system - even though the offer I've been given is for a Santander mortgage! It is now apparently too late to talk to someone from Alliance and Leicester, so I get to call back tomorrow. Yay.

Phonecall 5 - Day 22 (March 9 - Saturday): I call up again. It's very unlikely to be a problem with printer settings, they explain, because if you try to print out an offset mortgage to the wrong printer, the system stops you. (Handy!) Very sorry, we'll send these papers out by recorded delivery. It's a Saturday lunchtime now, as I've waited for the post to come, so the papers might not get sent out until Monday. Because people sometimes use terms like 'recorded delivery' to mean a couple of different things the post office do, I specifically check that this will mean I can phone up and ask for a tracking number. Yes, it will.

Phonecall 6 - Day 25 (March 12 - Tuesday):  I'm at home today, by random chance. The post arrives and nothing has turned up. I phone up and ask if I can have the tracking number. "No, because it wasn't sent out." Uh... helpful. This phonecall actually turns into a couple of phonecalls, but they're initiated by the person I called. She explains that she works in Leicester. When she prints things out to be sent to me, they go to a different office. This used to be in Bradford. It has very recently changed to Glasgow. There are apparently some issues in the handover. She phones up Glasgow, frogmarches them through printing out and sending out my offer. She phones me to confirm that Glasgow have an envelope in their sweaty mits. They can't confirm the tracking number yet. She phones me back a couple of hours later (presumably when the post guy turned up, or something), and gives me the tracking number. After a while, the Royal Mail tracker site knows the number really exists. All good.

While talking to her (during the first phonecall, I believe), I express extreme unhappiness with the way this has all gone, and she raises a "customer dissatisfaction" (!), which includes texting my mobile. Hence I know this date. (The resolution of this customer dissatisfaction is, roughly, "Well, you've got it by recorded delivery now, so shut your cake hole.")

Still Day 25 - The offer had been extended at some point in this process to 28 days. Even had it been sent on Day 22, that could still be quite tight. I ask if it can be extended again. Alas, no - but she can work around that by creating a new offer for me with the same details.

Day 26 (March 13): The letter turns up! But I am at work, so I get the "While you were out" card through the door.

Day 27 (March 14): I go to the sorting office on the way to work, and get the offer. I read it overnight, sign it, and send it back on Day 28. By and large, it is correct. Interestingly, at a couple of points in the process, they've checked that they definitely, definitely have the right address for me. It would be upsetting if you didn't, because that would mean you valued the wrong flat. The offer I get says words to the effect of "You have asked us to send correspondence to 29 Acacia Road, and not the address of the mortgaged property." Except: a) that is the address of the mortgaged property and b) it doesn't state anywhere what the address of the mortgaged property is, if that's not it. I imagine that the person I spoke to manually typed in my address, which triggered some system or other, but it's still a weird letter to get.

Day 28 (March 15): Send it back, with a cheque.

Day 33 (March 20): The cheque clears.

Approx. Day 40 (March 27): The second lot of paperwork turns up. No recorded delivery, but it does get here. This is the one that needs to be witnessed. The Easter weekend is rapidly approaching and I've taken a day or two extra, and visit family for the Easter weekend. I take the paperwork with me, but everyone I see for more than five minutes is close family and I'd rather get someone less connected with me to witness it, so I end up waiting until April 2 (Day 46) before I can send it back.

Day 52/53 (April 8/9): Unbeknownst to me, Santander finally set up my mortgage.

Day 53 (April 9): I get a letter from the Alliance and Leicester half of Santander. It thanks me politely for my enquiry of how the redemption amount of my mortgage has been calculated. (I have not explicitly made any such enquiry. I assume it's an automated thing provoked by some activity in the system somehow.) The first page very explicitly tells me to send it back when redeeming my mortgage. The back page has four options to fill in, none of which apply to me. The closest is to the effect of "At the same time as shutting down this Alliance and Leicester mortgage, I have a new Alliance and Leicester mortgage, with the account number: __________________" for me to fill in. This isn't quite what I'm doing, but seems plausible.

Phonecall 7 - Day 54 (April 10): I phone up and query how I should fill in this form, since it doesn't appear to apply to me, but is also quite insistent I should send it back. "Oh, you don't need to send that back. Your mortgage was closed a couple of days ago, Santander should be sending you the paperwork imminently." During this phone call, I also point out that they have not only sent me my redemption statement, they have also sent me the redemption statement for a Mr and Mrs Powell's property. The person on the phone immediately freaks out and is completely unable to discuss this at all, so I send the paperwork back with a letter encouraging them to improve their data protection compliance.

Approx Day 57 (April 13): The paperwork confirming the account turns up.

At this point, I want to log in to the online banking system. In the past, I had a Santander cash ISA - it was good value that year. I no longer have it, but the e-banking login still works. (I'd checked before.) It knows who I am and would let me, say, apply for a credit card - it's just I have no accounts to manage. Logging in now, it knows I have a mortgage! Presumably it connects up the names and addresses. It will tell me the mortgage account number, it won't tell me the balance, and I can't get any other details out of it. At this point, I wonder if it still needs a day or two to catch up, so I choose not to harass them immediately.

Phonecall 8 - The morning of Day 62 (April 18):  I phone up and explain that I can see the account in my login, but it doesn't work. I want to manage the mortgage online. They can set up some new online banking details for me! Can't you just activate it on this one? No, you have to have a different login for a mortgage. (Santander's website explicitly tells you you can manage all your accounts from one login.) Sigh. If you want to manage your mortgage online, I can arrange that for you now. Yes, please, that's why I have this mortgage. So take down this number, and we'll send you a passcode in the post.

Turns out there are actually three things I need - the registration number they gave me on the phone, and two random other numbers. The first envelope I get several days later has the registration number in it and one of the other two numbers, and warns me the third number will come soon. The third number arrives on...

Day 68 (April 24): I finally have all three numbers. Let's log in and see all this whizzy shininess! It'll be awesome, right? It looks... exactly the same. It shows me I don't have a bank account, I don't have a credit card, and I do have borrowings. It shows me the account number and the sort-code, but no details. No balance, no contents of the savings pot, no ability to tweak payments, no ability to do anything. It is entirely identical to the login I already had.

Phonecall 9 - Day 68 (April 24): I dig around the Santander website a lot, looking for anything I might be doing wrong. I can't find anything I'm doing wrong. I give in and call e-banking support. "Is it possible your account is set to View Only?" Well, I can see an option in the e-banking system to change it to View Only, but I can't see anything suggesting it already is View Only. "Ah, but have you filled in a View and Transact form?" I found that on the website before calling, and it says that's only necessary for mortgages in more than one name. *puts me on hold* "Yes, I think it's correct that you don't need to fill in one of those forms. I'll need to talk to the mortgages department to check your mortgage has been set up correctly, but they're not here at this time, so can you call back tomorrow?" Sigh.

Phonecall 10 - Day 69 (April 25): I call back. I explain what's happened, and say that the person I spoke to last night said she thought she'd need to talk to mortgages to check the account was set up properly. (I don't know what "properly" really means in this context.) I get put on hold, and then - to my surprise - transferred to the mortgage department. Oh, hi, sorry, wasn't expecting to be transferred to you, but this is the problem... and I assume I've been transferred to you to check it's configured properly. "Oh wait, did you say your mortgage is with Santander?" Yes, I did indeed. "You've been transferred to Alliance and Leicester mortages." Oh. "Let me transfer you." After being transferred, the person in Santander mortgages is able to flip the right switch. She says it's an overnight change, which is usually code in computer systems for "It won't happen immediately, so just give it some time, cheers." So I check a few hours later, and I can log in and see my balance and everything.

The menus and options aren't the best I've ever seen, but I do manage to kick off a transfer from my current account to the savings pot. It's called a "Lump Sum Deposit" and it doesn't say for certain when typing in the details whether it goes to the savings pot or a capital repayment. I manage to find an FAQ that covers this (you have to phone up to make capital repayments after a transfer, so...), and it does confirm this on the second screen. For reasons I don't understand, deposits like this take them a week to process, so some time on Day 76, I'll be able to check that the deposit has worked okay. Then I can move my savings into it properly.

But seriously: 35 days, an estate agent, a mortgage broker, an insurance company, two sets of solicitors, and a vendor to get myself into a vast amount of debt vs 69 days to get one bit of Santander to move a debt to another bit of Santander and let me actually put money into it. What?

Bonus fun: Throughout, I have to authenticate myself to Santander. One of the questions is about where the payments for my old mortgage come from, which is my current account with a different bank. In what feels like every phone call, I therefore get asked something like: "I notice your current account is with AnotherBank. Would you like to take out our Rory McIlroy-endorsed Santander 1-2-3 account?" After the first few times, I try very hard not to phrase my response as "Can you see the notes on my account about trying to get you guys to sort out my mortage? Can you imagine me letting you guys handle transferring my direct debits? Are you insane? I'd rather take a pint glass, put it in a blender, and gargle with the shards." I think my tone conveys a similar level of displeasure, however. 

* Nearly typed Satander there. Bad Glenghis.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Yodel: failing to deliver satisfaction

This isn't the first story we’ve had on The Restless Consumer about useless delivery companies, but it surely won’t be the last.

My sister recently ordered some trainers from Littlewoods, who use Yodel for their delivery. She was out when they first tried to deliver, so the driver put a card through the door with a handwritten note saying “I come back tomorrow”. But she was also out the following day, which is where things started to go wrong. The driver put another note through the door with the message “I take your parcel back” and a collection reference.

So she rang the 0800 number (free from landlines, extortionate for mobiles). No chance of getting through to a human even if you are paying for the privilege of ringing them, but she keyed in the collection reference and was told by a robot voice that her package was now in a depot. She had to confirm the date she would pick it up, again by pressing buttons rather than communicating with a human.

So, on the agreed day, she travelled all the way to the depot. The journey was from her home in Brixton to Vauxhall, which required taking the Tube and a bus. But when she arrived at the depot, the woman there told her that the parcel had been delivered to her home after all. On travelling all the way home again, she discovered that this was true – the parcel had been left with a neighbour.

So my sister’s 90-minute round trip, on a freezing day, had been completely pointless. She complained to Yodel and  pointed out that she’d wasted £6.40 of her own money on travel fares because of their mistake. She asked for compensation - not for her wasted time, just for the money she’d spent as a result of Yodel’s error.

So she contacted Yodel and complained. They apologised, but:

I must respectfully advise that Yodel do not reimburse travel costs.

That’s a reasonable stance to take... if Yodel hadn’t caused this customer to incur the travel costs in the first place. But the fact is that the unnecessary money she spent was entirely because of false information given to her by Yodel – and Yodel are happy to admit this.

She wrote back saying their response wasn’t good enough:

I am not satisfied with this response.

Clearly due to Yodel's mistake (collection ref no on card, automated message) I was told my parcel was at the depot. I wasted time and spent my own money to get there. You can't give me my time back but I am right to want my money back. It is up to you to reimburse me. I would not have spent that money if it wasn't for Yodel.

What if I had been elderly/disabled and I had spent up to 2 hours and my money on a return trip to Vauxhall in the cold on public transport?

Please think more about the customer and do the right thing.

I would like a response to this email with details of how you are going to reimburse me.

Yodel decided to completely ignore this follow-up email and she received no response at all. So she challenged them publicly by tweeting the Yodel twitter account. Of course, the goal of the Twitter account isn’t actually to help customers; it’s to shut them up and stop them slagging off Yodel on Twitter. The Twitter guy was sympathetic but didn’t actually do anything to help. The reason given for not helping? She has a complaint reference number. Yes, you read that right. She can't get any help through Twitter because if she's been given a complaint reference number, Yodel's sytems take that to mean that the problem is already being dealt with. Even though, as I've just explained, "dealt with" in this case means "completely ignored".

So she’s given me her permission to make her story public. Let this blogpost be a public record of Yodel’s unwillingness to compensate one customer for the costs incurred by their own uselessness. Turns out £6.40 can buy you quite a lot of bad publicity.