Air delays, allergy laws and water bills - a round-up

After a week of major consumer issues, we round up the big stories and what they mean for you…

This past week or so has been a busy one, with a major air-traffic meltdown in the UK, a new consumer law to help protect you against allergic reactions and a planned reduction in water bills announced. We also find out about Yvonne’s excessive bill from her council for her ex-council flat, and what your rights are if this happens to you.

Air traffic issues

A recent computer glitch in the UK’s NATS air traffic control system led to huge numbers of delayed planes all across the UK. This left a lot of frustrated passengers trying to get home on a Friday night. So can you claim compensation if you were delayed? Sadly the likely answer is no, as a delay like this is outside the control of the airline - the airlines cannot control air traffic control, therefore these delays cannot be deemed to be the airlines’ responsibility, however frustrating it may be.

Allergy information rules

A new consumer law has also come into force to help allergy sufferers dine out more safely. This has been given the catchy title of the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011.
This EU-wide law lists 14 allergens that need to be identified if they are used as ingredients in a dish. This means that, from 13 December, all food businesses will need to provide information about the allergenic ingredients used in foods sold or provided by them. The 14 ingredients are:


• Celery
• Cereals containing gluten
• Crustaceans (includes crabs, lobster, prawns and scampi. These are also often found in the shrimp paste used in Thai curries or salads)
• Eggs
• Fish
• Lupin (includes lupin seeds and flour, and can be found in some types of bread, pastries and pasta.)
• Milk
• Molluscs (includes mussels, land snails, squid and whelks. Often found in oyster sauce or as an ingredient in fish stews.)
• Mustard
• Nuts
• Peanuts
• Sesame seeds
• Soya
• Sulphur dioxide 


If you find you suffer an allergic reaction after a restaurant meal, and it hasn’t been clearly signposted to you that one of the above ingredients was in your dish, then you should complain via resolver.co.uk 

Water bills set to drop

It was also announced recently that water bills should reduce by an average of 5% by 2020, not including inflation. This is not perhaps quite as good news as it sounds since the water companies are allowed to add in inflation to this figure. This will apply to water bills from 2015 to 2019.
If you live in Bristol, you can expect to see a massive 21% drop in your bills, while if you and Bournemouth your drop will be around 12%. Sadly, if you are in Northumbria or Portsmouth, your water bill saving is likely to be just 1%.

In focus: Excessive costs for ex-council property repairs. What can you do?
Yvonne contacted me this week to ask what her rights are as she has received a £7,000 bill for external repairs to the block to which her flat belongs. This is the situation as we see it:

More than 280,000 council homes in London have been sold to former tenants under the Right to Buy scheme, most of them flats. Some residents faced with unexpected extra charges are turning to the courts to try to have their bills overturned because like Yvonne they are receiving dramatic bills for improvements to their council-owned block.
Once you have bought your council flat, you generally become responsible for the upkeep costs of the communal areas of the block your home is in, and these can be expensive.
You are not responsible for all the costs, but you will have to pay a proportional cost towards the upkeep of the flat and sometimes of the local area depending on your leasehold agreement.
Typical costs that you can be expected to pay for include:


• communal lifts and stairs
• floors and paths
• windows
• roofs
• gardens and play areas

Make sure you’re made aware

Before you buy the flat, the council must inform you of what these costs are planned to be. Also before undertaking any improvements the Council should consult you as to the costs so that you are aware and can budget for them. There are two main costs that you may incur. The first is an annual service charge and the second is occasional costs for key upgrade works.

When you buy the property, any planned upgrade costs must be provided for the next five years and the costs they provide can only go up in line with inflation. For the annual service charge, these will only be provided as estimates and can go up at a rate above inflation. 

After five years of owning the property…

The problem with being a leaseholder in a council-owned block is you have reduced rights over a ‘normal’ private tenant. If you wish to challenge the costs then you can ask for a summary of the costs associated with the service charge. Once these have been supplied under the Landlord and Tenant Act section 22 you can ask for a more detailed inspection of the accounts.

For improvement works, they must follow the consultation process before undertaking works. If you have a private landlord you have the right to nominate an alternative contractor, but for councils they do not have to take any action based on your feedback. 

You can look to raise the issue with the Local Government Ombudsman if you think the processes have not been followed correctly, but they are unlikely to be able to undertake a review of the costs.

Next time:
Preparing for Christmas returns

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