By James Walker, founder of resolver.co.uk
With today's news that both Toys R Us and Maplin have gone into administration, many customers will be left wondering what are their rights when firms go bust.
Here's a quick consumer guide for people worried about any kind of business going bust.
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The past few years have seen some pretty big names bite the dust '“ from retailers to airlines.
Here's a quick overview on what '˜going bust' means and a few tips on how to get your money back '“ and what to beware of if you're making a significant purchase.
Boom or bust?
There are loads of technical terms that can be applied when a firm ceases trading. Don't worry about these too much. The key thing is to act quickly. The longer you wait, the harder it becomes to get your cash back.
Liquidation is the process where a business is '˜wrapped-up' and its remaining assets are redistributed to the people and other businesses it owes money to. Â It's a very bureaucratic procedure with lots of rules governing it, but it can take some time. A business can cease trading or be sold on without having to file for liquidation. It can go also in to administration '“ which basically involves bringing in people to keep the business running and help it survive.
When a firm goes bust owing you money, goods or services, then you join a queue of people known as creditors. As a consumer, you're generally last in the queue for cash and in practice, once investors, insolvency fees and employees have been paid, there's little money left.
How do I get my cash?
First things first, check to see if you have any statutory protection, through schemes organised by regulators. These vary and can involve trade bodies or official industry-funded schemes like the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) for financial firms. If a big firm goes bust, Resolver will tell you who's best to contact. I'm afraid that there is no scheme at present to compensate shoppers when a firm goes bust.
If you've paid by credit card: You've got lots of statutory protection if you pay for goods or services using a credit card. There's a nifty law called the Consumer Credit Act that says if you pay for things on a card that cost over Â£100 and less than Â£30,000 you could claim the money back from the card provider. You don't even need to have spent the whole amount on the card as long as the deposit falls within the limits. This is known as making a claim under '˜section 75'. Credit providers aren't really thrilled about this as they can end up forking out for businesses that go bust. But it's your first line of defence. They may try to recall your payment first '“ which is just as good.
If you've paid by debit card: It's not a legal right, but the card providers run a scheme called '˜chargeback' which means you might be able to ask them to recall your money if there's a problem. The schemes all have slightly different rules depending on the service provider. Â But act quickly: if a firm has already gone bust it may be too late. Give the debit card provider a call and ask them to charge back the money as soon as possible.
If you've paid electronically (PayPal, Skrill, etc): Using electronic money services like PayPal also gives you some rights, so lodge a claim using the firm's dispute resolution rules. Like credit and debit cards, you can go to the Financial Ombudsman Service for free if you're still unhappy with the way the claim is handled.
Insurance: The majority of insurance policies don't cover firms going bust '“ which comes as a surprise to many people. Where there is cover we've heard of some people being bounced back to card providers first by their insurers. While you should try this regardless, if you have a warranty or other insurance policy that does seem to cover bankruptcy, there's no reason why you can't claim on your insurance policy so don't be dissuaded. Of course, you can't get '˜double compensation'.
Other payment methods: If you've paid by cash, cheque or direct transfer, you've got no rights to recall your money if a firm goes bust. Always question businesses that ask for payments this way and don't pay if you can't afford to lose it
Vouchers and gift cards: If a firm goes bust, then often vouchers you may have with them become invalid. They are generally treated as cash you are owed. Some firms that have gone in to administration have honoured their vouchers. But if you hear rumours that a business is in trouble, don't delay '“ use your vouchers and gift cards before it's too late.
What about smaller firms?
If the firm that's gone bust is a smaller business and isn't covered by a regulatory scheme, speak to your local Trading Standards officer '“ they're based in your local council offices. They can let you know if there's a wider problem and can investigate the business if they think there's a cause for concern.
The best way you can protect yourself is to keep your eye on the news. If it sounds like a firm is in trouble contact them asap. But act quickly '“ it's the best way to safeguard your hard-earned cash
If you've got a problem with a shop, a credit card claim or any other situation, Resolver can help you sort it out for free. Check out www.resolver.co.uk