Thursday 4 February 2010

The Voice - Dear Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

On 27th October 2009 I booked accommodation for my wife to stay in Kenya in January 2010 through a local travel agent - New Era Travel (Pty) Ltd and operating under the Uniglobe Travel Agent brand. I paid them a total of P7,695 on 13th November and the booking was confirmed by the travel agent.

My wife arrived in Kenya only to be told that the room was available but that payment had never been received and she couldn’t stay unless she paid for the accommodation which she was forced to do.

When she told me I contacted New Era Travel and they confirmed that the booking had been made but the employee there had no way of knowing whether her boss had actually sent the money to the agent in Kenya as she was on holiday in SA, did not have cellular roaming and had locked all financial information in the safe before leaving for her holiday.

Needless to say the first two days of my wife's holiday were ruined with the stress of the affair. Luckily a fellow colleague paid for my wife with her credit card. I have since reimbursed the kind colleague for her assistance.

When I eventually managed to speak to the manager on her return from her holiday in SA, she simply told me that there were many money transfers that period and that my transfer had not been done. She offered me no apology, nor did she suggest that I would be refunded.

I demanded that she pay me back and I went to her office the same day and was handed a cheque signed by her. I went directly to the bank and attempted to cash the cheque only to be advised that there were insufficient funds.

When I called her she admitted that the bank could not transfer funds from her credit card to her current account to meet the cheque but promised she would have money for me on Friday as she was expecting a payment from government.

Needless to say she received no cheque from government and I still haven’t had a refund.

I have now received a letter of apology from the manager but I don’t think this is enough.

Can you help?

We can try!

This really is outrageous. Your travel agent has breached numerous Consumer Protection Regulations. She’s failed to deliver a service “of merchantable quality”, with “suitable care and skill” and has failed to restore to you the payment you made. Clearly she’s also broken any contract she had with you, and, who knows, she might even have broken her franchise agreement with Uniglobe. Well, I hope she has. I hope that Uniglobe, an international company who franchise their brand to companies like New Era Travel, have some basic standards that they require their franchise operators to abide by.

However, perhaps more importantly, and perhaps more usefully, New Era have also committed a serious offence in this case. As most of us know by now it is illegal to write a cheque when you know you don’t have enough money.

Section 23 of the National Clearance and Settlement Systems Act 2003 states that:
"Any person who knowingly draws or issues a cheque… against which there are no sufficient funds in his account at a financial institution on which the cheque or other payment instrument is drawn shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding P1500 or 3 months imprisonment or to both."
That’s simple enough. Write a cheque that you KNOW won’t be honoured and you really might end up in prison.

We emailed New Era Travel outlining our understanding of your complaint and asking for a response. Their reply was simple. It said:
“We acknowledge receipt of your email. We will advise Mr XXX when his refund is ready.”
In other words they will refund his money when they feel like it. But that’s not good enough, is it? New Era have P7,695 of the consumer’s money and they can’t or won’t give it back to him. It’s really unacceptable.

We got back in touch with New Era Travel and asked them simply to give us a date on which the consumer would get his refund but it seems that they aren’t responding to us any more.

Our advice is that the time for fooling around has ended. It’s now time for action. Write New Era a letter which you should fax to them. Tell them that they have 72 hours in which they must make a full refund or you will be visiting the Police to lay a charge either for the bounced cheque and for “cheating” as outlawed by Section 310 of the Penal Code.

I’m not sure whether either of these charges would actually stick in these circumstances but ask yourself this. How many companies would like to be seen receiving a delegation of cops wielding lots of paper work and handcuffs? What is that going to do for the company’s reputation?

We all understand that business is hard these days but that’s no excuse at all for just taking someone’s money and spending it, leaving them stranded in a foreign country with nowhere to stay.

New Era must return this consumer’s money without delay.

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