Planning a trip to the UK on your SA passport? Get your visa before your ticket

In this weekly segment of bite-sized chunks of useful information, consumer journalist Wendy Knowler summarises news you can use:

Are you dealing with a rental agent or a fraudster?

While there is no legislation preventing estate agents from charging an “application fee” to those who respond to adverts for rental units, predictably fraudsters appear to have latched on to this new fee as means to con unsuspecting accommodation seekers.

Commenting on the charging of such “application fees”, Cape Town-based rental housing attorney Marlon Shevelew said: “Since the ability to pay is an essential part of finding desirable tenants, and discrimination on the basis of ability to pay is not prohibited, such fees are, in principle, permissible.”

So that in itself is not a red flag. But when Meryl responded to an advert for a Claremont apartment and was sent an email asking her to pay a R1,000 application fee into a private account, she was extremely wary. “I’m so hesitant to do the EFT as I have not met the man — he claims to be managing the unit on behalf of the owner,” she told me.

Her instincts were spot on.  Here’s why I urged her not to pay that R1,000: the language in “Dennis’” email was a little off, the only contact detail he supplied was a cellphone number,  he used a Gmail address and the fee was to be paid into a personal account in a name which bore no relation to the name he assumed in his dealings with Meryl. Plus, the apartment number was not provided, so Meryl had no way of checking with the owner. 

When asked to pay money to a complete stranger, please be ultra suspicious — the internet is crawling with fakers.

First get your visa

If you have a South African passport and you’re planning a trip to the UK, do not buy your ticket first. The “travel ban” which the UK imposed on those travelling from Southern African countries in November, lifting it only from December 15, played havoc with people’s travel plans. 

It also led to the UK high commission in SA halting the processing of all SA passport holders’ visa applications during those three weeks.

The result? A huge backlog. And all those applicants can’t leave SA for any other destination as long as the commission has possession of their passports. The high commission’s head of communications, Isabel Potgieter, told TimesLIVE that visa processing teams had been working through weekends and public holidays to clear the backlog.

“We hope to be able to return to our usual processing times soon,” she said. “We advise applicants not to book flights before they receive their visa, not least so they can avoid extra expense in having to change their plans.”

Only “urgent, compassionate” cases would be escalated, Potgieter said. “If an applicant wishes to withdraw their application and have their passport returned, they can visit our contact page on gov.uk and complete a form to withdraw or visit the visa application centre where they made their original submission to request a withdrawal.” But there will be no refunds for visa fees for those who have already submitted their biometrics.

Best it breaks when it’s new

If something’s going to go wrong with something you’ve bought, for your sake that should happen sooner rather than later. That’s because you only have the upper hand when it comes to warranties for six months from date of purchase — that’s the Consumer Protection Act’s “implied warranty” and it gives you the right to choose the remedy — refund, replacement or repair – at no extra cost.

After that, the supplier has total control over their own, voluntary warranty. Cheryl is in just that situation. “About three years ago, we bought a pocket coil mattress from a well known bedding retailer, and it’s a hopeless disaster, clumping and bunching up,” she said. “The retailer says I must pay R2,080 to exchange it, in terms of their warranty.  Should I accept this condition?”

Unfortunately, she must either pay up or write off that clumpy mattress.

CONTACT WENDY: E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer

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