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Ombudsman second investigation published

A second example of a report by an Ombudsman in response to a customer complaint about a removals firm.

Ombudsman second investigation published

Reallymoving.com recently received negative feedback regarding one of our removals firms. The customer and the removals firm could not come to an understanding so the matter was bought to the attention of our Ombudsman which is run by the UK’s largest ombudsman, Ombudsman Services.

We have published the full report below.

Use of our removals ombudsman is free to both our removals firms and the customer but only available if you registered with reallymoving.com.

The Ombudsman 2nd report - June 2016

This letter sets out my initial proposal, and establishes whether I consider that the removals firm should take any further action, or provide any remedy, to resolve the customers’ complaint. 

I have considered all of the information provided to me by both parties. This includes any photographs and written statements provided, as well as any telephone conversations that we have had.

I have summarised the complaint and proposed resolutions below.

From the information provided to me by the removals firm, I can confirm that the customer contracted with the removals firm for a full removal service to be provided on 24 March 2016, at a total cost of £500. From an email dated 19 February 2016, from the removals firm to the customer, I can see that this service was to include the use of an 18 tonne removal lorry and three removal porters, and was based upon all dismantling having been completed at the time of arrival, and the loft having been emptied.

The removals firm has stated to me that, upon arrival on 24 March 2016 at 9am, its porters discovered that the property had not been correctly prepared for removal. The removals firm has stated that they received a phone call from a manager at the site on the morning in question, who stated that the loft had not been emptied, and the main bed had not been dismantled. In addition, they stated that the dishwasher was running, and that the fridge/freezer had not been emptied. The removals firm has stated that, despite this, a decision was taken to continue the removal process and assist packing the remaining items, despite the fact that the company offers a packing service that was not taken up in this case. Following this assistance, the removal firm states that the removal lorry had been loaded and was ready to depart at 1:30pm. 

In the customer account of events, provided to Reallymoving.com by email on 6 May 2016, the customer does not, in general, provide clarification regarding the suitability of their belongings for loading onto the van and subsequent removal. The customer states that the removal van left the premises at 2:30pm, indicating that a considerable amount of time was taken up loading the van, which might suggest that, as the removals company have stated, a considerable amount of time was required by the removals firm to load the van. The removals firm have stated that the reason for this was that the customers’ belongings were not adequately prepared for removal, whereas the customer has not suggested a reason for this aspect of the delay.

Both parties have advised me that there was a delay in the customer arriving at the new property, as an unforeseeable issue occurred with the plumbing at the first property. As a consequence, though the removals firm arrived at the property between 2:30pm and 3:30pm if I consider both accounts of events on an equal footing, they have stated to me that they were delayed by some time in obtaining access to the new property. As a result, the removals company has stated that the tradespeople were not able to begin unloading the customers’ items into the property until much later, and because the customer was not present, they were only able to obtain entry into the garage initially. Accordingly, the removals firm has stated that access to the property was only granted upon the customers’ arrival at 4:45pm.

The customer has stated, in their email of 6 May 2016, that between their time of arrival at 4:45pm and the time the removals firm left the property, at 6:30pm, the removal was completed and all of their items placed in the house, though not necessarily in the intended place. The customer also states that they believe that this was done in a very rushed manner. The customer has stated that, having fully inspected the items some days later, they noticed that a number of pieces had been damaged. The customer has provided me with photographs confirming that a table, a picture frame, a bag of sand, a large packet of rice and a drill have suffered damage, and that they believe this damage occurred during the removal process. The customer has also stated that the removal of the fridge/freezer into the kitchen caused the floor to tear, that a number of items including sweets and alcohol were missing, and that there were indications that alcohol had been spilt in the garage.

Based upon the statements provided to me by both parties, given the amount of time that it took for the removals firm to load the customers’ belongings onto the removal vehicle, I consider it to be likely that removals firm conducted some extra preparation work at the property, as described by the removals company. I would not otherwise consider that the house contents would have taken 5.5 hours or longer to load, especially considering that the same items were later unloaded into a garage, and then into the house proper, within a time of less than 4 hours by the longest estimate provided. 

Referring to the removals firm terms and conditions, provided to me by the removals company on 16 May 2016, these state under section 3 that refrigerators and deep freezers are to be emptied, cleaned and properly defrosted before removal can take place. Under section 2 these also state that the removals firm will not undertake to remove items from the loft, unless it is properly lit and floored, and unless safe access is provided. Under section 2 the terms also state that, unless agreed prior to the service being carried out, the removals firm will not dismantle or assemble furniture. From evidence provided to me by the removals firm, in the form of an email sent to the customer on 19 February 2016 containing a quote, I can confirm that these terms and conditions were made available to the customer before the contract between the parties was concluded.

From my review of the terms and conditions provided by the removals firm, alongside my interpretation of the events that took place on 24 March 2016, I consider that the removals firm undertook to carry out several tasks for which it had expressly limited its liability in the terms and conditions provided. I base this statement on section 4.4 of the terms and conditions, where it states that when clauses 2.2 and 3.2 apply, which refer specifically to the situations I have discussed previously, that the removals firm will not be liable to pay compensation unless loss or damage occurs as a result of negligence or a breach of contract on the firms part.

When it is considered that the firm did in fact carry out these tasks, however, despite stating in these terms and conditions that they would not, and that the tradespeople it employs are not correctly trained to carry out such tasks as stated in the terms and conditions, I consider that the actions of the removals company may have constituted a breach of the implied term that the service be carried out with “reasonable care and skill”, as stated under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, section 49. In my view, by carrying out the removal service, despite clear indications that the complainant had not met the terms and conditions as laid out, and in a shorter amount of time than might have otherwise been recommended for a job of a much larger specification than had originally been contracted for, the removals firm did not exercise the level of judgement I might expect from competent tradespeople. I consider that this expansion of the task to be provided by the tradespeople present on the day could be considered to have led to the damage that the customer states has been done to their property. However, I also consider that the removals firm were acting in good faith by continuing to carry out the removal process, though from my analysis of the events that took place on the day, it would appear that the correct course of action would have been to suspend the removal process, until the customer had prepared the items to be removed to the proper standard, as set out in the terms and conditions provided. At the same time, given that it was the actions of the customer that led to the increased, unplanned, workload required of the removals company to complete the removal to schedule, I consider that the responsibility for any resulting detriment to the customer following from the increased demands upon the tradespeople of the removals company should be shared between the parties.

Regarding the specific damage to the customers’ property, I have not been provided with any information or evidence concerning the nature of the damage or the cost of a repair to the kitchen floor, or a repair or replacement of the other items. I also note that the terms and conditions as provided by the removals company, under section 9.2, limits the removals firm liability to a maximum of £40 per item where a detailed valuation of the goods to be moved has not been provided. As the customer has stated to me that a valuation of their items is not available, I can only assume, in the absence of any further evidence, that one was not provided to removals firm in this case. 

I am sure that both parties will appreciate that, without information concerning the value of the goods or furnishings damaged, or the potential cost of their repair, it is difficult for me to consider what a fair and reasonable settlement figure might constitute. Further to this, upon reviewing the evidence made available to me so far, whilst I accept that there has been damage to a bag of sand, a bag of rice, a drill, a picture frame and a table, I am only able to conclude at this stage that it was likely that the damage to the table and picture frame occurred during the removal process. This is on the basis that the bag of sand and the bag of rice had been torn open, quite severely, at the top of the bag, which suggests that the tears occurred after the items had been placed into the position that they were photographed in. To further reinforce this conclusion, the containers appear to be full in the photographs provided, and I consider that if the items were moved in this state, extensive spillage would have occurred. Accordingly I do not consider, from the evidence provided, that an award should be made for these items. 

Regarding the drill, the damage is to the power cable, and it appears that the protective cover has been dislodged near the location where the power cable enters the item. This damage would be caused by carrying the cable by the power cord, or by pulling the two items apart, and I do not consider that this would have been achieved during a normal removal process, where I would expect the cable to be tidied and the item placed into appropriate storage. Even if it was not, I do not consider it feasible that the removers would have carried the item in such a manner as would have caused this damage, and in my mind, with the limited evidence available to me and based upon the balance of probabilities, I believe this damage is much more likely to have occurred during everyday use of the item.

I have been provided with photographic evidence of a picture frame, where the glass sheet at the front has been cracked. Given the nature of this damage, likely to have been caused by an impact at the edge of the picture frame, I consider that this item was likely to have been damaged during the removal process. However, I have not been provided with any evidence concerning the value of the item, and in this case replacement may be more cost-effective than repair, or the item could be of a potentially high value, or a low value. Accordingly, for me to be able to make a reasonable determination in this regard, I will need to be provided with further evidence relating to the value of the item.

Inspecting the photographs provided to me of the coffee table, I can see that there is an area chipped away on the inside leg/base of the table. Given the nature of this damage, I consider that it could feasibly have been caused by the table being dropped, or another item being dropped against the table. Following my analysis of the item, based on the photographs provided to me by the customer, I consider that a repair or replacement of the item would exceed the £40 limit imposed on items where a detailed valuation has not been provided, prior to the removal taking place. Accordingly, I would consider it fair and reasonable for the removals company to provide the customer with the sum of £40 for this item, based on the evidence that has been made available to me.

As I explained previously in this report, given the circumstances surrounding the delay to the removal, and the further work that was required by the removals firm in order to complete the removal within the time originally allotted, I do not consider it fair and reasonable for the removals company to meet the full cost of the detriment experienced by the customer. This is on the basis that, by undertaking to carry out further work that had not been contracted for, as was required from my understanding to meet the short timescales originally envisaged, the removals company were put into a position where they would not have the appropriate time to carry out the service with as much care and skill as they might normally have been able to. Accordingly, given that I consider the customer to bear some responsibility for the removals firm being put into this situation, I consider that the award of £40 that I have suggested so far should be reduced to £20, on the basis that the liability for this damage should be shared between the parties to this dispute.

Following my investigation, it is my decision that the removals company should;

  • provide the customer with £20 for the repair or replacement of the coffee table that was damaged during the removal process.

What to do next

If either party accepts my decision in full and final settlement of the dispute, please let me know by email or telephone.

If both parties accept my decision at this stage, it will become binding upon the removals company. The removals company will then have 28 days, from the date that I confirm this acceptance with a further letter, to implement the remedies that I have laid out.

If either party does not accept my decision, they can let me know why in writing, but they must be able to:

  • show that there is a significant error in the facts which makes a material difference; or

  • produce significant new evidence which may make a material difference, along with an explanation of why that information was not previously made available.

Please respond by 12 July 2016. If either party does not respond to this proposal by this date I may issue my final decision without their input.

 

                

 

 

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