Gardening advice is at a premium as customer service helps itself to £25

I had to chase an order from Garden Gear, a sister company of Thompson & Morgan, and was directed to the customer service helpline. This turned out to be a premium rate number and I was billed £25. I pointed out it’s unlawful to use these numbers for after-sales service and asked for a refund. I was refused and told that the premium rate was stated in the terms and conditions.
GC, Sunningdale, Surrey

You’re right: it has been unlawful since 2014 to use these premium rate numbers, and yet both Garden Gear and one of its sister companies, Happy Beaks, still do. Garden Gear’s terms and conditions require all customers who need to return a faulty item to ring it to obtain an authorisation code. When you emailed to chase your order, an auto response referred you to the number without mentioning the charges. A 13p-a-minute service charge goes to the retailer, and an access charge of up to 65p a minute to the mobile phone provider. BVG Group, which owns the firms, along with a number of other big brands that use legitimate numbers, promised to change it immediately and duly did so, although it warned that its after-sales documentation would take longer to amend.

Two weeks later, Garden Gear’s terms and conditions still say that customers must ring the premium rate number to return faulty goods. The company refunded you after my intervention, but many others will have been left out of pocket, or still paying the price, if their order documents predate the number change.

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