Avoid rip-off car-hire charges on holiday

People driving a jeep on holiday © Alamy
You could be in for a nasty surprise when you take it back

Don’t pay through the nose for car-hire insurance you don’t need or fuel you won’t use, says Ruth Jackson.

If you’ve hired a car recently, you’ll know that the pricing structure has become a lot more complicated in recent years. You pay one price when you book the car, only to be faced with a load more charges when you collect the car and again when you drop it back.

The majority of problems with car-hire bookings concern reservations made by rental brokers who offer ultra-low prices online, says Claire Evans on What Car. What seems like a good deal is then made more expensive as you discover how much you will actually have to pay. This doesn’t mean you should just go for an expensive hire deal straightaway, but more that you should be aware of what you can confidently avoid when hiring a car.

You are less likely to encounter surprises if you book direct with a car-hire company or through an established broker such as Holiday Autos, says Evans. Once you’ve found a deal you are comfortable with, and which doesn’t include obviously unnecessary expenses in the fine print, consider taking out your own excess cover. This is one of the big add-ons that you’ll be presented with when you go to collect your car, with the warning that otherwise you will have to pay the first portion of the repair or replacement costs if you damage the vehicle. However, these policies can be expensive – up to £25 a day in some cases – when you can get your own cover for a fraction of that price. Standalone providers such as iCarHireInsurance.com or CarHireExcess will give you a policy for around £2 a day or annual worldwide cover for around £50.

Car-hire firms hate it when you refuse to take out their excess waiver, so watch out for a few tricks to force your hand. Make sure you pay with a credit card in the driver’s name, as the car-hire firm will want to put a hefty deposit on it in case there is any damage. Suppliers will sometimes claim the card has been declined if you’ve refused their insurance, says Nick Trend in The Daily Telegraph. So have a second card handy to put paid to this scam.

Before you sign anything, ensure you understand everything in the contract, especially items that have been ticked “accepted” or “declined”. Also check the fuel policy. Avoid policies that give you a full tank at the start, but which expect you to return it nigh on empty – you’ll probably be charged over the odds for the initial tank and you won’t get a refund for any fuel you don’t use. Instead, choose a policy where you agree to return the car with a full tank. Finally, if you have children, don’t get stung by rip-off prices charged for child seats. Some airports have separate shops offering child seat hire at a fraction of the cost, or you could hire a seat from a firm that will deliver it to the airport for you – try Little Rascals in Portugal or Baby’s Away in the US.

If you have problems that you can’t resolve with the hire company, you can seek help from a conciliation service, says Evans. For cars hired in the UK, try the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association, or the European Car Rental Conciliation Service elsewhere.


Pocket money… thousands pay for advice they don’t use

The government’s predictions for how much we will all save with a smart meter are “inflated, out of date and based on a number of questionable assumptions”, according to a group of MPs, reports The Guardian. The £11bn plan to put 53 million smart energy meters in 30 million houses by 2020 “risked going over budget, was past its deadline and must be reviewed immediately”.

The expected saving on an annual dual-fuel bill from a smart meter has halved from £26 to £11.14. Meanwhile, costs are rising, with spending on installation £1bn over budget and threatening eventually to outstrip the £16.7bn gross benefit the project was supposed to deliver.

As many as 400,000 “orphan” investors are paying rip-off investment fees, says the Financial Conduct Authority, the City regulator. This is due to the fact that they are on an advised investment platform that was recommended to them by a financial adviser that they are no longer in contact with, says Ali Hussain in The Sunday Times. The investors are still using “advised platforms”, rather than do-it-yourself services, despite the fact that they are no longer receiving the associated advice. People pay up to 0.55% a year for these platforms, more than double the amount charged by DIY platforms.

The number of judicial reviews (where a court reviews a decision made by a public body) faced by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is up 184% over the past three years, as people and businesses hit back against attempts to chase missing revenue, says David Byers in The Times. Last year it saw 122 judicial reviews, up from 43 in 2014. These judicial reviews usually relate to claims that the taxman overstepped its authority or acted unfairly, Adam Craggs of law firm RPC tells The Times.

This increase in judicial-review challenges would suggest that taxpayers are not prepared to be treated unfairly and are willing to seek redress from the High Court, says Craggs. Though HMRC says it has been victorious in most of the cases brought against it, the body frequently settles cases before they reach court. Many cases are “the result of simple errors by HMRC and a dogged refusal to correct them”.