Home Money SALLY SORTS IT: Direct Line left us stranded in France with a £1,650 bill after holiday prang. What can I do?

SALLY SORTS IT: Direct Line left us stranded in France with a £1,650 bill after holiday prang. What can I do?

by Elijah
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A small bump on a car trip to the south of France turned into a huge headache

Last August we had an accident with our Volvo in the south of France. We had driven there for a family vacation and the accident occurred the day before we were due to return home. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the car was undriveable and two other cars were diverted in the incident.

Although we had car insurance with overseas use extension and Green Flag breakdown cover, both through Direct Line, we have had a very hard time getting the insurer to help us get us and our car home and deal with the claim. Can you help?

JM, London.

Sally Hamilton responds: A small bump turned into a big headache and resulted in a military style exercise to get you and your family, plus the West Highland Terrier Scout, back to the UK.

The first problem arose when Green Flag said it was not covered and that you needed to organize the recovery of the car yourself.

You couldn’t believe it. It was an August bank holiday and rental cars were in short supply, so a substitute could not be found to get home. And since you had your dog with you, you couldn’t take a plane. So you left the car in a French pound.

A small bump on a car trip to the south of France turned into a huge headache

His partner then crossed the English Channel three times in 24 hours (once by Eurostar, twice by Channel Tunnel) to collect his mother’s car in Hertfordshire and bring the rest back home from Lille.

The family embarked on a nine-step journey, which included a £70 taxi ride, two train rides and the only car hire they could get (Dijon to Lille).

When he contacted me, he had spent hours on the phone over several days going between Línea Directa departments (often getting interrupted and having to start from scratch). Three of those hours were spent in a parking lot in France in 41°C heat.

After five days, when he finally returned home, someone from Direct Line motor insurance told him that their overseas claims unit was handling his case, but nothing had yet been done to assess or repatriate the car. .

It was still unclear who would be able to foot the bill of more than £1,000 (if anyone) for the family’s repatriation.

You said you felt particularly aggrieved because you bought the foreign use extension on your auto policy at least once a year (and sometimes three times a year) for the last decade, and this was the first time you needed to use it.

This is not the first time I have received complaints from tourists after a traffic incident abroad. There is confusion about who is responsible when things go wrong.

If a car is immobilized due to an accident, I fear that the breakdown provider will wash his hands of a customer: an accident is not a breakdown, even if it seems like one.

Still, he thought he had all the bases covered, with the foreign extension of his car insurance in place. But a gap emerged in his coverage when he was told the policy would pay for repatriation only of the car and not its occupants. If the same incident had occurred in the UK, these costs would have been covered.

This was not clear in the document you received at the time of purchase, which you sent to me, which describes the seven coverage areas. All seven apply fully in the UK, but apparently not all apply in Europe.

Direct Line’s get-out clause is the use of the text at the bottom of this list: “Please refer to your policy booklet for full details of what is and is not covered in each section.”

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I felt this wasn’t fair, and neither did you, so I asked Direct Line to investigate. After several weeks of cajoling by both you and me and reviewing your complaint, Direct Line finally agreed that the information in the document was “confusing” and that you had received poor service.

He agreed to reimburse repatriation costs for you and your family of £1,250 plus £400 for residential parking permits you needed for your temporary hire car while your Volvo was being repaired. He also paid £750 as an apology.

This was in addition to the estimated £10,000 cost of the claim, which was not in dispute, and included the repatriation of the Volvo and its repair, and the management of the two other vehicles involved, as well as domestic car hire costs.

They were both delighted with this result and now have their car spotless again. He said that he had learned important lessons about insurance through this experience and that he will examine the coverages more closely in the future.

In fact, you have told me that you have already taken out a more expensive version of your foreign use coverage (even with Línea Directa) for future trips to France.

Direct Line customer service says it will provide feedback to your motor coverage business to help you improve your confusing coverage document. Meanwhile, you have discovered the existence of a pet taxi service (petmovesabroad.co.uk) that you could have used to take Scout across the Channel. Next time!

I’ve just bought my fifth Amazon Kindle e-reader, for £179, after my previous one stopped working. I asked Amazon to use a new email address for my account as the previous one was from my NHS job, which is now inaccessible as I recently retired after 44 years.

When my mother died in 2019, I lost interest in many things, including reading. Now I feel like reading again, but I can’t access my book library on the Kindle because I no longer have the email address they were attached to.

Amazon staff say they can’t do anything. Do they expect me to spend a fortune buying those books again?

AF, Sheffield.

Sally Hamilton responds: At my request, Amazon made a proper attempt to fix the problem. A few days later, he confirmed that his missing email had prevented him from recovering his old account. But she has now created a new account, using his personal email address, from which she says she can now access his 240 lost books, worth an estimated £1,000. She added a £10 gift card as an apology.

An Amazon spokesperson says: “We regret that the customer experience in this case did not meet the high standards we expect.” We apologize and have transferred your old Kindle books to your new account.’

There’s still another chapter to come, as you can currently only access the books through the Kindle app on your phone, which isn’t ideal. Technology bodies are still working to give you access through your new Kindle.

I suggest to you, dear readers, that it is best to avoid using a work email address when signing up for any service, as who knows when a job might end and leave access to important services in limbo.

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