Episode 10 Rip Off Britain


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Episode 10

The team unravels some of the mysterious phone and car hire charges viewers have been hit with either during or after their holidays.


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Transcript


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We asked you, who has left you feeling ripped off

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when it comes to your holidays, and you came back

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with a whole catalogue of travel disasters.

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Letting us come all this way to be told we're going home

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on the next day! Just furious!

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It has tainted the whole experience

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of booking holidays and trusting companies.

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Now, whether it's a deliberate rip-off,

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a simple mistake, or indeed a catch in the smallprint,

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we'll find out why you're out of pocket and what you can do about it.

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Your stories, your money. This is Rip-Off Britain.

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Hello, and it's a very warm and deliciously sunny welcome from here

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in Tenerife, where we're investigating some of the issues

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that you've asked us to look into, concerning holidays and travel.

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And today we'll be hearing about some trips that, I'm afraid,

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had a very nasty and expensive sting in the tail,

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thanks to unexpected charges

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that only came to light after you had returned home.

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Some of which arrived long after you'd got home from your holiday,

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by which point, of course, it can't really be established

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whether or not you do owe the money that's being demanded.

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Or, even worse,

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to know what might happen if you choose to take no notice at all.

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Especially if the letters that you've been sent suggest that,

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if you do ignore them, it may cause even more bother in the long run.

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Well, I can tell you that among the situations we'll be looking at

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is one that you'd never have seen coming,

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certainly one that we had never come across before.

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But another is one of the most frequent holiday complaints

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you contact us about. Well, either way, we'll have advice to make sure

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your holiday doesn't end with a thoroughly unwelcome souvenir.

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Mobile fees on the high seas - the loophole that means,

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even in Europe, you could still face unexpected bills on your phone.

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We all felt cheated,

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because suddenly these extra charges appeared from nowhere.

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Couldn't understand why these charges had suddenly been applied.

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And threatening letters, even fines, from courts overseas -

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what to do if you find yourself caught up in a foreign legal system,

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through no fault of your own.

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You feel as if you're paying for something which is not your fault,

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you didn't commit, and you just feel it's wrong.

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Now, very often in this programme we've featured cases of people

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who've returned from their lovely holidays only to find themselves

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landed with a sky-high phone bill,

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usually racked up by using apps or data abroad.

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So it was really good news indeed when, back in June 2017,

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the data roaming charges within the European Union

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were abolished altogether. I loved that.

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Meaning, of course, that at least on short-haul holidays,

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the cost of using your mobile phone should be the same as it is at home.

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Well, we were hopeful that would mean an end to the nasty surprises

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that so many of you have experienced with your bills,

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and whilst for the main part that does seem to have been the case,

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I'm afraid we're hearing from a number of people

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who are still getting stung by excessive charges,

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and it turns out that there's a very particular reason for that,

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one which, I guarantee,

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you would most likely have been caught out by as well.

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Using your phone on holiday has always felt a bit of a minefield,

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with many of you returning from trips abroad to find

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you've been hit with huge bills, not just for calls and texts,

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but for browsing the internet or checking social media.

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But, in Europe at least,

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those unwelcome charges should all have come to an end,

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when, in June 2017,

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data roaming charges were scrapped right across the EU.

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From today, so-called roaming charges for using mobile phones

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abroad are being outlawed by the EU,

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after a decade-long battle between Brussels and telecoms companies.

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The ruling meant the cost of using your mobile in European destinations

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should now be just the same as at home.

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And for Paul English from Kent,

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the change seemed great timing, as he was taking his family,

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and indeed his motorhome,

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on a trip to Europe around the period when it was due to come in.

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I heard that the EU had directed all of the phone companies that it was

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going to be the same charges all over Europe for roaming,

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but I wasn't sure on the date that it started, and I knew we were going

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at the beginning of June, so I decided to contact

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all of our mobile phone suppliers,

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to find out if we could use ours abroad and when it would start.

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Paul was told that the new rules would come into effect

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halfway through his holiday, so until that point on the trip,

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the family kept their phones out of action,

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to ensure there'd be no surprises on their bills when they got home.

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We all turned our phones off when we went on the ferry over to Europe,

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until the date they told us, which was the 15th of June.

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And we then turned the phones back on

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and used our free data roaming in Europe for the whole time.

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It was a really good feeling in Europe,

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to know that we could just use our phones as normal,

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as if we were at home. We were using it all the time, taking pictures,

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sending the pictures to our friends.

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Paul's teenage daughter Jessica was particularly pleased to be able to

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keep in touch with her friends back in the UK.

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I used my phone like I would at home, just on social media,

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talking to my friends, talking to my boyfriend,

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and I didn't think anything of it, cos I was still in Europe.

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The family was about to discover, however,

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that there's an exception to where the new rules apply.

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On the two-hour ferry journey from Dunkirk to Dover,

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Paul got an unexpected message from his mobile phone provider, Vodafone.

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Then, while on the ferry, I suddenly got a text.

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I looked at my phone and it said,

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"You're connected to maritime network."

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I assumed that maritime network was a Wi-Fi thing from the boat itself,

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from the actual ferry,

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and didn't take much notice.

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Unfortunately, as would soon become very clear,

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it meant something quite different,

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because Paul and his family were at sea,

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and technically neither in France nor the UK.

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Their mobile phones had switched over to a maritime network,

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which connects ships and their crew to each other, all around the world,

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via satellite.

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And although they provide vital lines of communication between

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all sorts of vessels, they don't count as being part of the EU,

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which means if you connect to one,

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the sort of data roaming charges you would still pay outside Europe

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will apply. To be on the safe side,

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Paul decided not to use his phone,

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but left it switched on for the rest of the journey.

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I then got a text, telling me that,

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"You may be charged international roaming", and I thought,

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"Well, I'm not on international roaming, I'm in Europe."

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I thought nothing of it and left my phone on.

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I didn't actually use the phone at all while we were on the boat.

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Paul's wife and son also got a text informing them they may face

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extra charges, but daughter Jessica, on the Three network,

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says she didn't, and it wasn't till the family was back on dry land

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that both Jessica and Paul discovered the true cost

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of leaving their phones switched on while at sea.

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Jessica had been charged £21 for data use during the ferry crossing,

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while Paul was hit with an extra £24 on his bill.

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I got my bill from Vodafone and I just glanced at it and I nearly had

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a heart attack. I thought, "They've charged me for two months!"

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So I went into the bill, and that's where it had

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these international roaming charges

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and receiving texts from Vodafone while we were on the ferry.

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Well, having no idea that ferry crossings posed such a risk,

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Paul wasn't happy at all.

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We all felt cheated,

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because suddenly these extra charges appeared from nowhere,

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and we'd never gone outside of Europe,

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so we couldn't understand why these charges had suddenly been applied.

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And still can't, to be honest.

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Paul got in touch with Vodafone and his daughter's network, Three,

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who explained why the charges were valid.

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I continually asked why we'd been charged this amount of money

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and I said, "We're in Europe.

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"If you're supposed to give us free roaming, why are you charging?"

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Just, "It's a legitimate charge. You've signed onto maritime network,

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"so you've got to pay for it."

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But, determined to get his money back, Paul persisted,

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and he did succeed in getting a refund for the charges

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from Vodafone, plus £5 in compensation,

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but his daughter Jessica, who was signed up to the Three network,

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didn't have the same luck.

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I was quite upset, seeing that I didn't really get any sort of

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warning that it was going to happen.

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No-one contacted me to tell me about this network on the ferry.

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I got charged for it.

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I'm very confused over this maritime network thing,

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I don't understand where it comes from,

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who owns it and how you can sign onto it

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without you having to give it permission.

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Well, you can see their point,

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so we took Paul and Jessica to meet telecoms expert Fevzi Turkalp,

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to see if he can shed any light on what's going on.

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Can you tell me why I was charged so much for just using social media

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-on my phone?

-So your phone was attached to

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what's called a maritime network.

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That will be an independent company that's been brought in to provide

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that service on board ships and oil rigs and other things out at sea,

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and those networks are not necessarily registered

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in the European Union, and they charge accordingly.

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The other thing to bear in mind is those networks often have to use

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satellite technology for them to work, and satellite technology,

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although it's cheaper than it used to be, is still expensive.

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So there are some real costs.

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But ultimately, it's your mobile phone provider which will decide

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how much they'll charge you for that.

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But with no standard amount for this sort of charge

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and no cap on them either, it's very easy to see

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how a ferry trip could leave you stuck with some hefty costs

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you didn't expect, so Fevzi has some advice on

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what the family could do next time.

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There's certain things that you can do.

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For example, you can go into your phone and, instead of letting it

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select a network automatically and just latch onto whatever network

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it finds, you can actually say, "No, I want this particular network,"

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but then you have to be sure that you know that that's a network

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that's going to charge you normal rates, not maritime rates.

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You can also switch off data roaming,

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so that will stop you being charged for data on a foreign network,

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be it a maritime network or any other network.

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The problem with that is that the charging isn't only data.

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If you receive a phone call, for example,

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just receiving a phone call, that could cost you £1.50, £2,

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without you having done anything.

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So it is difficult, there are steps that you can take,

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but the really belts and braces approach to this is to turn off.

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I tell you what, if I go on a ferry,

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I'll be following that last tip and switching my phone off.

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But with around 20 million passengers making short sea trips

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between the UK and Europe, clearly this is a problem likely to catch

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many other people out as well.

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As indeed it did Gareth Morgan.

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He's a keen motorcyclist and often rides abroad,

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and when planning a bike ride with his wife to Normandy,

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he bought a phone contract from Vodafone

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which had global data roaming included.

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Global data roaming, to me, means when that when you're

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roaming abroad and you want to use your phone to download data

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or stream music or whatever you want to do,

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you're not going to incur terrible surcharges for doing that.

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So, when Gareth boarded the ferry to Normandy,

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he thought nothing of using his phone as he normally would.

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I kept my phone on most of the time during the ferry trip.

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I was using my phone to find out a little bit more

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about the Normandy landings.

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I was doing my research before we got there,

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confident in the knowledge that I wasn't going to be

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paying a lot for roaming charges.

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But, like Paul and Jessica,

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Gareth didn't realise that, most of the time spent on the ferry,

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he was connected to a maritime network,

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which wasn't included in his data roaming package from Vodafone.

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As a result, he, too, was in for a shock when he got his bill.

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There was a surcharge there, which, when I looked at it in some detail,

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was the use data download from the time that I was on the ferry,

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and I'd been charged £12,

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which, quite frankly, I was astounded,

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given the fact that I'd supposedly got this global roaming contract.

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So Gareth immediately contacted Vodafone.

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They told me that it was a separate maritime agreement that they had

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and said, "No, it doesn't cover costs on ferries,

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"and as far as we're concerned,

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"you're not in the UK and you're not in France,"

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which I thought was ludicrous.

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Gareth kept insisting that the charge was just unfair,

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and in the end, Vodafone agreed to give him a refund,

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but he's been left very surprised by the whole experience.

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I can say, boy, am I glad I didn't use my phone for a greater period,

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because I would have really been angry had I gone back and found

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maybe a three figure sum I'd been billed for on my bill,

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and it would have been very easy to notch up three figures

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in addition to my contract price.

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Well, when we put all of this to Vodafone, it told us it understands

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that maritime charging is confusing for customers,

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but that, as the ships involved use their own satellite networks,

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it has no control over the charges.

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However, it says that,

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to protect customers from unexpectedly high costs,

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it has now decided to bar data usage in such circumstances altogether.

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So, while making calls and sending texts on ferries

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will still be charged at maritime roaming rates, and it will

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be making its text notifications about that much clearer,

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from February 2018, data roaming at sea

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won't be possible for Vodafone customers.

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And it reiterated that, as a gesture of goodwill, it has refunded

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the charges that both Gareth and Paul incurred.

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Meanwhile, Three, Paul's daughter Jessica's network,

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also told us that it's reviewing the wording of the text messages

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it sends to customers on this,

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to ensure that any extra costs are made clear.

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It too has been in touch with the family

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to offer a gesture of goodwill.

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But if you're travelling by ferry any time soon,

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you might want to do what Paul and Jessica will be doing next time -

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turning their phones off and enjoying the view instead.

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We're going to tell the rest of the family, "Make sure the phones are

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"turned off before we even approach the port

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"and save any of these bill shocks."

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Receiving a letter that's stamped with a foreign postmark

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can mean exciting news from friends and family abroad.

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But, you know, for some people that we've heard from,

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it's meant something far less positive.

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Long after they've returned to normality after a nice,

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relaxing holiday, they've received a summons,

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ordering them to appear at a hearing in a European court,

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leaving them completely unsure about what to do next.

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After all, it's not always easy navigating our own legal system,

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so making sense of one in a different country,

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with all of the language barriers that that entails,

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is another thing altogether.

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So what should you do if you find yourself

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having to deal with the authorities abroad?

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Perhaps you've been accused of a driving offence

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and don't know how to respond.

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Do you agree to whatever it is they're asking you to do,

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or do you end up worrying that you just might face worse consequences

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if you don't?

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Holidays should be all about rest, relaxation

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and leaving your troubles behind,

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and coming back with a clutch of good memories

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to see you through to your next trip.

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But in 2015, a trip that Annie Hicks

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from Weston-Super-Mare took to Benidorm has stuck in her mind

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for some rather less positive reasons.

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She'd just arrived at her resort when, on the short walk

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from the airport bus to the hotel, disaster struck.

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She was pickpocketed.

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Both her and her husband's passports were stolen,

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along with around £1,000 in cash - their entire spending money!

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As you could imagine, I felt thoroughly sick and worried.

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The thought of no passports, no money,

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had never happened to me before, or my husband, so the shock was awful.

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Instead of relaxing,

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Annie spent the first couple of days of her trip reporting the crime

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to the local police and getting replacement passports.

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And when she returned home nine days later,

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she wanted nothing more than to put the whole matter behind her.

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And, indeed, for two years, that was mostly the case.

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But then, in January 2017,

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she received a letter with a Spanish postmark.

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When I opened it up,

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there was an A4 piece of paper with very little on,

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except to say, "Court case in Benidorm on the 29th of March."

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I'm told that I have to appear - if I don't, there could be a fine.

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Unsure what the letter meant, Annie contacted the British Consulate,

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who were able to confirm that she had been sent an official summons,

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asking her to be a witness to the crime that she'd fallen victim to

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all that time ago.

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The feel of, "Oh, dear, here we go again,"

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all back to Spain and the robbery and everything,

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which we'd left behind for two years, was just a horrible feeling.

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But going back to Benidorm for the case would cost hundreds of pounds,

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and with no guarantee of how long she'd need to stay out there,

0:17:280:17:32

and little understanding of either the language

0:17:320:17:34

or the Spanish court system,

0:17:340:17:36

Annie was reluctant to have to attend.

0:17:360:17:38

So, with the help of a lawyer in Spain,

0:17:380:17:41

she wrote to the court, asking if it was really necessary.

0:17:410:17:44

If I'd have turned up to the courts in Benidorm,

0:17:450:17:49

which I'd be a useless witness,

0:17:490:17:52

because I didn't see or feel the thieves rob me,

0:17:520:17:57

and also my lack of Spanish,

0:17:570:18:01

I didn't know if they could turn things around and say something that

0:18:010:18:06

I hadn't said with the language,

0:18:060:18:08

and I wouldn't know any difference.

0:18:080:18:11

Annie hoped contacting the court would result in her being told

0:18:130:18:17

that it wasn't necessary for her to attend after all.

0:18:170:18:20

And, while she heard nothing back,

0:18:200:18:22

when the date she was expected out there came and went,

0:18:220:18:25

she assumed all was resolved.

0:18:250:18:27

Until a week later,

0:18:270:18:29

when she received another official-looking letter from Spain.

0:18:290:18:33

It stated that the original court date had been postponed

0:18:330:18:37

and a new one had been set aside.

0:18:370:18:39

Annie's heart sank.

0:18:390:18:41

When we got the second telegram and found it had been postponed,

0:18:410:18:45

if we'd have spent money on flights, accommodation...

0:18:450:18:49

..an open ticket, because of not knowing how long we were going to be

0:18:510:18:54

in Benidorm, would have cost us an awful lot of money.

0:18:540:18:56

But it was clear that Annie was expected to attend the new date,

0:18:560:19:01

and there was once again a warning

0:19:010:19:03

that if she didn't, she'd face a fine,

0:19:030:19:06

although there was no clue as to how much that might be.

0:19:060:19:09

Five euros? Ten euros? 10,000 euros?

0:19:090:19:12

How much do you charge somebody for non-appearance at a court?

0:19:140:19:18

You just don't know.

0:19:180:19:20

The only way out she could see was to pay for more legal advice,

0:19:200:19:24

this time with a UK lawyer,

0:19:240:19:26

to negotiate her release from the Spanish court system entirely.

0:19:260:19:30

Annie, who'd been the victim of a crime,

0:19:300:19:32

now felt she was being treated like the perpetrator.

0:19:320:19:35

We basically feel as though we've been robbed twice,

0:19:350:19:40

but I think that this has been,

0:19:400:19:43

the court case has been far more stressful than the actual robbery.

0:19:430:19:47

Eventually, Annie was able to get out of the Spanish court system,

0:19:480:19:52

but after all the hassle,

0:19:520:19:53

she's even questioned whether she'd have been better

0:19:530:19:56

not reporting the crime in the first place.

0:19:560:19:59

Well, we've heard from others who've also had their holiday memories

0:19:590:20:02

soured by unexpected pressure from a foreign legal system.

0:20:020:20:06

Deb and Martin Lennon from Cardiff have been going

0:20:090:20:12

to tranquil Lake Bolsena in northern Italy since 2003.

0:20:120:20:16

Every year, they hire a car from Rome Airport and drive the 88 miles

0:20:160:20:20

to their favourite resort,

0:20:200:20:22

and a trip in 2016 followed the usual relaxing pattern -

0:20:220:20:26

cycling, walking and the occasional drive to the local shops and back.

0:20:260:20:30

But a couple of months after they arrived back home,

0:20:320:20:34

they received an invoice from their hire car company, Europcar,

0:20:340:20:38

demanding 45 euros.

0:20:380:20:40

The fee was for supplying their details to the Italian authorities,

0:20:400:20:44

who wanted the couple's information, as they'd apparently been caught

0:20:440:20:47

speeding in Padua, near Venice,

0:20:470:20:50

some 450 miles away from where they were staying -

0:20:500:20:53

an offence for which they faced a fine of 194 euros.

0:20:530:20:57

"Ooh, hang on a second, we haven't been there."

0:20:570:21:00

Because, you know, if we had been speeding,

0:21:000:21:04

we'd have put our hands up and said "Oh, God," you know,

0:21:040:21:07

"that's something we've done," and we'd have paid the fine for it.

0:21:070:21:12

But it very, very quickly became obvious to us

0:21:120:21:15

that it couldn't have been us.

0:21:150:21:18

To have committed the offence,

0:21:190:21:21

the couple would have had to drive around 900 miles from either

0:21:210:21:25

the airport or their holiday home, but as Europcar's own records show,

0:21:250:21:29

Deb and Martin's hire car had only travelled 363 miles

0:21:290:21:33

during their entire holiday.

0:21:330:21:35

Convinced they could prove it wasn't them that had committed the offence,

0:21:350:21:39

Deb sought help from the Italian Consulate in Cardiff,

0:21:390:21:42

but it was less sure.

0:21:420:21:45

His attitude seemed to be, was that we could fight it,

0:21:450:21:49

but at the end of the day it's probably going to be easier just to

0:21:490:21:53

pay the fine. The impression that I got from him was that

0:21:530:21:57

that was the system, that it was very, very difficult to fight,

0:21:570:22:02

you know, fight these cases.

0:22:020:22:04

Deb and Martin demanded to see the picture taken by the speed camera,

0:22:040:22:09

in a bid to prove their innocence,

0:22:090:22:11

but that led to another surprise.

0:22:110:22:13

When we had the e-mail back from Italy, showing us the offence,

0:22:130:22:17

we were rather shocked to see that it was exactly the same car.

0:22:170:22:21

It wasn't a great picture of the offence,

0:22:210:22:24

but the number plate looked the same.

0:22:240:22:27

And when the picture came through and it was identical to our car,

0:22:270:22:30

it was...it was really, really shocking.

0:22:300:22:33

It was the same colour, it had the same wheel trims,

0:22:330:22:36

it had the same... even the same mirrors.

0:22:360:22:39

The only thing that we could think of was that there was a fawn jacket

0:22:390:22:43

on the back-seat, and neither of us owned a fawn jacket.

0:22:430:22:47

Though confident the mileage point alone proved their case,

0:22:480:22:52

Martin and Deb knew that explaining away that photo wasn't going to be

0:22:520:22:56

simple, which left them in a difficult situation.

0:22:560:22:59

Should they pay the 194 euro fine, or fight it,

0:22:590:23:03

which risked a further heavier fine of over 1,000 euros?

0:23:030:23:07

With the deadline of the 60 days, you know, we just decided, "Well,

0:23:070:23:11

"we've got to bite the bullet, we've got to pay it, put it to one side."

0:23:110:23:16

And that's what we did, ultimately, was, you know,

0:23:160:23:20

we paid it and then just hoped that that was the end of it.

0:23:200:23:24

But paying a fee of nearly 200 euros to cover someone else's crime

0:23:260:23:30

has left Deb and Martin hugely frustrated.

0:23:300:23:33

The hardest part of, you know, this whole affair is the fact that,

0:23:330:23:38

knowing that we didn't do it,

0:23:380:23:41

we didn't speed up in Padua,

0:23:410:23:44

we'd never been there, we haven't driven up there,

0:23:440:23:48

and there was no way of actually proving that.

0:23:480:23:51

Well, when we contacted Europcar,

0:23:530:23:55

the company told us it's sorry that Deb and Martin feel it didn't assist

0:23:550:23:59

them on this matter, pointing out it did advise them to contact

0:23:590:24:02

the Italian authorities directly to dispute the fine.

0:24:020:24:06

It says, owing to the length of time since the rental,

0:24:060:24:09

it's unable to take up the case on the couple's behalf, but it has

0:24:090:24:12

sent them the e-mail address for the Venice Police Department,

0:24:120:24:16

so that they can send on their evidence if they wish to continue

0:24:160:24:19

disputing this fine, which Martin and Deb say they do plan to do.

0:24:190:24:23

When you feel as if you're paying for something which is not

0:24:240:24:28

your fault, you didn't commit, and somebody else is at it,

0:24:280:24:32

then you just feel it's wrong.

0:24:320:24:34

And it really does, you know, it does, it does really get you,

0:24:340:24:38

but we just didn't feel like we had any choice.

0:24:380:24:40

If you find yourself hit with any sort of summons or fine from abroad,

0:24:420:24:46

solicitor Gabriele Giambrone says

0:24:460:24:49

the one thing you should never do is ignore it.

0:24:490:24:52

There is a very strong possibility that any fine or any issue

0:24:520:24:55

that people are facing overseas will come back and haunt you in the UK,

0:24:550:24:59

and when you're dealing with it,

0:24:590:25:01

the consequences and the cost will be probably ten times higher.

0:25:010:25:04

Gabriele suggests, as Deb and Martin have been doing,

0:25:050:25:09

you should gather as much evidence as possible and seek legal advice

0:25:090:25:12

from a specialist as soon as you can.

0:25:120:25:15

In the first instance, you should be able to get help

0:25:150:25:18

from the local consulate for free,

0:25:180:25:20

and if it looks like getting legal advice may rack up extra costs,

0:25:200:25:24

he points to an element of many insurance policies that's very often

0:25:240:25:28

-forgotten.

-We sometimes tend to remind clients that they may have

0:25:280:25:32

legal expenses insurance in their home insurance policy,

0:25:320:25:36

and most people don't seem to be aware about it.

0:25:360:25:39

More importantly, do not get defeated easily.

0:25:390:25:42

If you think you're in the right and something wrong has happened

0:25:420:25:45

overseas, do not be put off by the idea

0:25:450:25:47

that you're in a foreign country,

0:25:470:25:49

because ultimately there are solutions out there.

0:25:490:25:53

Well, despite the difficulties our holiday-makers faced whilst trying

0:25:540:25:58

to navigate foreign laws,

0:25:580:26:00

I'm pleased to say they've not been put off further travels,

0:26:000:26:03

and Annie would still report a crime should she need to,

0:26:030:26:06

even after all the stress that doing so has caused.

0:26:060:26:10

I think I would report it again,

0:26:100:26:13

although if I hadn't have done, we wouldn't have had all the stress,

0:26:130:26:18

but if people don't,

0:26:180:26:21

the criminals are going to get away with carrying on and doing this.

0:26:210:26:26

And for Deb and Martin,

0:26:270:26:29

the mysterious speeding fine wasn't enough

0:26:290:26:31

to put them off returning to Italy,

0:26:310:26:33

but they found a way to avoid surprises.

0:26:330:26:36

Let's get cracking!

0:26:360:26:37

We made a decision, instead of hiring a car,

0:26:380:26:41

we'd drive the 2,500 miles instead,

0:26:410:26:45

so it was kind of a holiday within a holiday.

0:26:450:26:47

Still to come on Rip-Off Britain...

0:26:540:26:56

How disputed damage to hire cars

0:26:560:26:58

could leave you with a serious dent...

0:26:580:27:01

in your wallet.

0:27:010:27:03

We had to pay way well over 1,200 euros, and, of course,

0:27:030:27:07

that was coming out of our savings.

0:27:070:27:09

Our travel expert Simon Calder is full of tips

0:27:140:27:17

to save you money on your travels.

0:27:170:27:19

He's got lots of ideas on everything from how to avoid the crowds,

0:27:190:27:22

to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.

0:27:220:27:25

This time, it's a top choice for a city break - Hamburg.

0:27:260:27:30

It's the largest city in the European Union

0:27:320:27:34

which isn't a capital.

0:27:340:27:35

Thanks to the spread of cheap flights,

0:27:350:27:38

Hamburg is easy to get to from eight UK airports, and once you arrive,

0:27:380:27:42

you'll find the city is just as simple to get around.

0:27:420:27:46

Go wherever you please with the 9-Uhr-Tageskarte,

0:27:460:27:51

the 9am day ticket,

0:27:510:27:53

which, guess what, is valid every working day from 9am,

0:27:530:27:57

and at any time at weekends.

0:27:570:27:59

Hamburg has some of the finest public transport systems anywhere,

0:28:010:28:05

and access to all areas comes at bargain prices.

0:28:050:28:08

Under seven euros covers an adult and up to three children,

0:28:090:28:13

and for just 12 euros,

0:28:130:28:16

up to five adults can travel together on the underground U-Bahn,

0:28:160:28:20

the overground S-Bahn, the buses and the fabulous ferry system.

0:28:200:28:24

Big network, small prices!

0:28:240:28:26

Well, given that the city has more canals

0:28:280:28:30

than Amsterdam and Venice combined,

0:28:300:28:32

it's a good job the ferry network is as fabulous as Simon says it is.

0:28:320:28:36

Stopping off at one of the city's museums

0:28:360:28:38

should be top of any tourist's to-do list

0:28:380:28:41

and one of Simon's favourites

0:28:410:28:43

is the beautifully restored Hamburger Kunsthalle,

0:28:430:28:46

taking you on a journey through the history of Western art,

0:28:460:28:49

but the price can vary,

0:28:490:28:50

so make sure you know when it's the cheapest time to go.

0:28:500:28:54

At weekends, the cost of admission is a couple of euros higher,

0:28:540:28:57

but come along on a Thursday evening, when it's open till 9,

0:28:570:29:01

and you'll get in for almost half price.

0:29:010:29:03

If that's still too much, well,

0:29:030:29:05

you can wander through the very elegant foyer and library for free.

0:29:050:29:09

For something more theatrical, visit the Elbphilharmonie Concert Hall,

0:29:100:29:14

a shrine to the Germans' love of music.

0:29:140:29:17

It may have cost a packet and been seven years behind schedule,

0:29:170:29:20

but the building is a powerful addition to the city's skyline

0:29:200:29:23

and Simon recommends taking a one-hour backstage tour.

0:29:230:29:27

Book in advance for an English-language exploration

0:29:270:29:31

of the world's most modern concert venue.

0:29:310:29:34

The organisers warn, though,

0:29:340:29:35

that the tour is physically demanding

0:29:350:29:37

because of the number of steps involved.

0:29:370:29:40

Accessible guided tours are available, but only in German!

0:29:400:29:44

One of the biggest holiday bugbears you contact us about

0:29:490:29:51

is the cost of using a hire-car company abroad.

0:29:510:29:55

Our inbox is positively bulging

0:29:550:29:57

with complaints about unnecessary charges,

0:29:570:30:00

either when you pick your vehicle up or when you return it,

0:30:000:30:03

and it's some of those that are perhaps

0:30:030:30:05

the most difficult to challenge,

0:30:050:30:06

especially if the first you hear of it

0:30:060:30:09

is when you've returned home and suddenly find an unexpected charge

0:30:090:30:12

on your credit card bill for damage you're certain you didn't cause.

0:30:120:30:15

Hiring a car whilst abroad gives you flexibility and freedom

0:30:170:30:21

and can really make a big difference to your holiday.

0:30:210:30:24

You can explore whenever you want,

0:30:240:30:26

and you're not reliant on anyone else to get about.

0:30:260:30:28

And it's for all these reasons

0:30:300:30:32

that retired vicar Neil Rob likes to book a hire car on his holidays.

0:30:320:30:36

We go to Malta every year for two to three, sometimes four weeks.

0:30:360:30:40

Where we stay is away from the main part of the island

0:30:420:30:46

and the bus service is not particularly good...

0:30:460:30:50

..so the car gives you...

0:30:510:30:52

..flexibility.

0:30:530:30:55

Neil and his wife Marlene's most recent trip to Malta

0:30:550:30:58

was in May 2017, and, as he's done countless times before,

0:30:580:31:03

Neil used an online comparison site to find his hire car.

0:31:030:31:07

On this occasion, opting for a company he hadn't used before,

0:31:070:31:10

but which seemed to offer a good deal.

0:31:100:31:13

The star rating that was given on the site

0:31:130:31:16

seemed to be as good as any other,

0:31:160:31:19

and it was a relatively good rate, so...

0:31:190:31:23

..not wanting to spend too much...

0:31:240:31:26

..being a Scotsman, I went for Goldcar.

0:31:270:31:30

Neil paid just over £185 for three weeks' rental,

0:31:300:31:35

and for extra peace of mind,

0:31:350:31:37

as he'd done on previous trips,

0:31:370:31:38

he took out an extra insurance policy costing nearly £170,

0:31:380:31:43

which meant that if he had an accident,

0:31:430:31:45

he wouldn't face a big bill for repairs

0:31:450:31:48

or need to pay any excess towards the damages.

0:31:480:31:51

Having done that, you had the feeling that, well,

0:31:510:31:56

that was covered,

0:31:560:31:57

um, no worries, you're going to have a good holiday,

0:31:570:32:02

a reasonable car to get around in and there was no problems with it.

0:32:020:32:08

So, it came as a shock when Neil and his wife got to the rental desk

0:32:090:32:13

at the airport only to be told that as far as Goldcar was concerned,

0:32:130:32:17

that extra insurance he'd bought wasn't enough.

0:32:170:32:19

She asked me for the car insurance and I said,

0:32:200:32:24

"I've got full insurance cover."

0:32:240:32:26

She said, but that's not our insurance,

0:32:260:32:29

you need to have our insurance.

0:32:290:32:31

I said, "No, I've got full cover for the three weeks

0:32:310:32:35

"that I've got the car."

0:32:350:32:37

And she said, "No."

0:32:370:32:38

I said, "Well, I'm not taking out another insurance cover,

0:32:380:32:41

"I've already paid."

0:32:410:32:43

But Goldcar insisted

0:32:430:32:44

that Neil needed to buy its own insurance policy

0:32:440:32:47

and if he didn't, a 1,350-euro deposit

0:32:470:32:49

would be held on his credit card

0:32:490:32:52

until he returned the vehicle undamaged.

0:32:520:32:54

What do you do?

0:32:550:32:56

You can't, at that point, really turn round and say, "Well, no."

0:32:560:33:00

Because they've got part of your money and...

0:33:000:33:04

..you want to get on with your holiday.

0:33:050:33:07

Worried about being charged for any damage he hadn't caused,

0:33:080:33:11

Neil took special care to check over the car before driving off.

0:33:110:33:15

When I got into the car, I wasn't impressed

0:33:150:33:18

by the state of the interior of the car.

0:33:180:33:20

It could have done with a good clean,

0:33:200:33:23

particularly the seats.

0:33:230:33:25

Neil says that from the off,

0:33:250:33:27

there was also a mysterious knocking sound on the driver's side,

0:33:270:33:30

and when that got worse over the next few days,

0:33:300:33:32

Neil contacted Goldcar in case it was something serious.

0:33:320:33:36

Later that day, two men arrived to assess the car,

0:33:360:33:38

and after a drive around the block,

0:33:380:33:40

confirmed that there was a problem with the clutch.

0:33:400:33:42

They took the faulty car away and returned with a replacement vehicle,

0:33:420:33:46

plus - to Neil's astonishment -

0:33:460:33:48

a bill for a new clutch to the tune of just over 1,250 euros.

0:33:480:33:53

I refused to pay, and I was told I had to pay it,

0:33:540:33:59

so we had a bit of a confrontation and I asked to speak to his manager.

0:33:590:34:04

He phoned his manager and his manager said that I had to...

0:34:050:34:09

..pay this.

0:34:100:34:12

Neil refused to accept that the damage to the original car

0:34:120:34:14

was his fault, but he says Goldcar insisted

0:34:140:34:17

that unless he paid the 1,250 euros,

0:34:170:34:19

he wouldn't be able to have either the new replacement vehicle

0:34:190:34:22

or keep the old one. So, left with very little choice,

0:34:220:34:25

Neil reluctantly paid the bill for the clutch on his credit card -

0:34:250:34:29

money that he now plans to claim back

0:34:290:34:31

through the insurance policy that he bought in the first instance.

0:34:310:34:35

We had to pay well over 1,200 euros, and, of course,

0:34:350:34:40

that was coming out of our savings...

0:34:400:34:42

..which are not limitless, as pensioners.

0:34:440:34:47

Stories such as Neil's are worryingly familiar

0:34:480:34:51

to financial expert James Daley,

0:34:510:34:53

who's sceptical about the ways some hire-car companies operate.

0:34:530:34:57

There's no good reason why car-hire companies should be implementing

0:34:570:35:01

excesses of as high as £1,000 every time a customer rents a car.

0:35:010:35:06

None of us have that kind of excess

0:35:060:35:07

on a standard personal car insurance policy,

0:35:070:35:10

and I can't see any good reason why a car-hire company

0:35:100:35:13

would impose those levels on their customers either.

0:35:130:35:15

I think, perhaps, the more likely reason

0:35:150:35:17

is that it gives them a chance to sell this expensive excess insurance

0:35:170:35:22

on top of the regular car hire.

0:35:220:35:24

Despite what happened in Neil's case,

0:35:260:35:28

James says it is a good idea to buy in advance

0:35:280:35:30

the sort of insurance policy that he did,

0:35:300:35:32

reducing expensive excesses to zero in the event of any damage,

0:35:320:35:36

but it's worth shopping around for the best price.

0:35:360:35:39

There are lots of good independent insurance companies

0:35:400:35:43

that you can buy from,

0:35:430:35:45

and there are even car-hire insurance excess comparison sites

0:35:450:35:48

that will help you compare the best policy.

0:35:480:35:51

If you buy it from an independent third party,

0:35:510:35:53

it is often only a few pounds for your entire trip,

0:35:530:35:56

or a few tens of pounds for the entire year if you go away regularly.

0:35:560:36:00

But here at Rip-Off Britain,

0:36:010:36:02

we regularly hear from people

0:36:020:36:04

who've been hit with unexpected difficulties

0:36:040:36:06

after hiring a car abroad,

0:36:060:36:08

and among all the complaints we receive,

0:36:080:36:10

one name crops up more than most,

0:36:100:36:12

and that's the company Neil hired from, Goldcar.

0:36:120:36:16

With bases in over 90 tourist spots in Europe, and rising,

0:36:160:36:20

it's bound to get some unhappy customers now and again,

0:36:200:36:23

but from what you've been telling us,

0:36:230:36:25

among the complaints that keep cropping up -

0:36:250:36:27

extra charges for insurance that you neither wanted nor asked for,

0:36:270:36:31

and surprise amounts on your credit cards when you get home.

0:36:310:36:34

Bill Horner from Sheffield says that despite telling Goldcar

0:36:360:36:39

he didn't need its insurance, he was charged for it anyway.

0:36:390:36:43

When I was back in the United Kingdom,

0:36:440:36:46

I looked at my credit card statement and found, to my horror,

0:36:460:36:52

that they'd taken out 148.72 euros

0:36:520:36:58

as extra insurance.

0:36:580:37:01

I just want car-hire companies to be upfront with me.

0:37:010:37:04

That's the whole point of your contract with them,

0:37:040:37:08

that they tell you exactly what you are paying for.

0:37:080:37:11

Well, we wanted to see for ourselves just how Goldcar operate,

0:37:130:37:17

so we hired a car for three days

0:37:170:37:20

from Goldcar's branch at Palma Airport.

0:37:200:37:22

To be on the safe side,

0:37:220:37:24

we'd purchased in advance our own insurance policy for £11.96

0:37:240:37:28

to cover any excess we might be hit with in the event of damage,

0:37:280:37:32

but mirroring the experience of Neil,

0:37:320:37:34

and indeed some of the other complaints you've sent,

0:37:340:37:37

despite making it clear that we had this policy,

0:37:370:37:40

Goldcar said as per its T&Cs,

0:37:400:37:42

we would either have to purchase one of its policies,

0:37:420:37:45

costing nearly 85 euros,

0:37:450:37:47

or a deposit of 1,100 euros would be held on our card

0:37:470:37:51

until we returned the car undamaged.

0:37:510:37:54

And though that's not illegal,

0:37:540:37:56

and nor is it a practice confined to just one hire-car company,

0:37:560:37:59

James Daley says it can leave customers not just confused,

0:37:590:38:03

but potentially disadvantaged.

0:38:030:38:04

So some car hire companies will insist

0:38:060:38:08

that you buy their excess insurance and if you don't,

0:38:080:38:12

they will tell you that you have to put

0:38:120:38:13

a £1,200 reserve on your credit card.

0:38:130:38:16

They won't take that £1,200 from your card,

0:38:160:38:19

but they'll put a hold on it, so that if you do have an accident,

0:38:190:38:22

that money is there for them to reclaim if they need it.

0:38:220:38:25

Now, you might have bought your insurance already

0:38:250:38:28

from a third-party,

0:38:280:38:29

but the car-hire companies often say, "We don't care about that.

0:38:290:38:32

"If you don't buy your insurance from us,

0:38:320:38:34

"we're going to put this reserve on your card."

0:38:340:38:36

And, of course, for some people,

0:38:360:38:37

they may only have a £2,500 credit limit on their credit card.

0:38:370:38:41

If you've got £1,200 reserved by your car-hire company,

0:38:410:38:44

that could be eating up all the credit that you have.

0:38:440:38:47

So it's a very uncompetitive practice, not particularly fair,

0:38:470:38:50

but it's one that a lot of car hire companies do indulge in.

0:38:500:38:53

Back in Palma, we also wanted to see if we'd be charged for any damage

0:38:550:38:58

that we hadn't caused, so when we took the car away,

0:38:580:39:01

we noted down any pre-existing damage that was already on the car

0:39:010:39:05

and took photos to prove what state it was in.

0:39:050:39:08

When we returned the car three days later,

0:39:080:39:10

we repeated the process again,

0:39:100:39:12

to make extra sure that we wouldn't be charged

0:39:120:39:14

and, on this occasion,

0:39:140:39:16

our 1,100 euro deposit was returned intact with no deductions.

0:39:160:39:20

But although we avoided any extra charges,

0:39:200:39:23

James Daley still sees too many examples across the industry

0:39:230:39:26

where this isn't the case,

0:39:260:39:27

which is why he'd like hire-car companies

0:39:270:39:29

to be far more transparent with their charges.

0:39:290:39:33

Once you've picked up your car,

0:39:330:39:34

the first thing you should do is give it a once over.

0:39:340:39:36

Check for any scratches or bumps

0:39:360:39:39

and take photos if you find anything.

0:39:390:39:41

Better still, get it all marked up on the paperwork

0:39:410:39:44

before you drive it off the forecourt,

0:39:440:39:46

and take a copy of the marked-up document

0:39:460:39:49

that shows where the damage is.

0:39:490:39:51

If you don't have the evidence

0:39:510:39:52

that there were scratches and bumps on the car

0:39:520:39:54

when you picked it up,

0:39:540:39:56

then you could end up being left to pay for them at the end.

0:39:560:39:59

Well, when we spoke to Goldcar,

0:39:590:40:01

it told us it's sorry that the customers we spoke to were unhappy

0:40:010:40:04

with their experience, but after reviewing their cases,

0:40:040:40:07

it is satisfied that the proper procedures were followed,

0:40:070:40:11

and that the charges were applied correctly in each instance.

0:40:110:40:14

It went on to say that it always gives customers the option

0:40:140:40:17

of either paying a refundable deposit of at least £1,100

0:40:170:40:21

to cover any damages,

0:40:210:40:22

or to take out Goldcar's own cover

0:40:220:40:25

which means that any damage will be covered

0:40:250:40:27

and that Goldcar will handle all the paperwork.

0:40:270:40:30

But with so many of you raising similar concerns about extra charges

0:40:300:40:34

you faced after hiring a car abroad,

0:40:340:40:36

perhaps the terms and conditions of some of the companies involved

0:40:360:40:39

aren't quite as clear as they'd like to think.

0:40:390:40:42

If charges are applied which you don't think are fair,

0:40:420:40:45

extras are added that you didn't sign up to, then do complain,

0:40:450:40:48

do appeal against them.

0:40:480:40:50

Customers that are persistent do often get their money back,

0:40:500:40:53

but it isn't easy.

0:40:530:40:54

And while stories like this are a reminder to get any charges

0:40:550:40:58

you don't understand fully explained before you drive off,

0:40:580:41:01

Neil's experience has put him off

0:41:010:41:03

returning to this particular hire-car company in the future.

0:41:030:41:06

The stress of it all made me quite ill, really.

0:41:060:41:10

The whole episode put a cloud over the holiday

0:41:100:41:13

because it took us a few days to recover from it.

0:41:130:41:17

Rip Off Britain wouldn't be here without your stories,

0:41:240:41:27

and we've got plenty of ways you can get in touch.

0:41:270:41:30

Send us an e-mail to...

0:41:300:41:31

Or write to us at...

0:41:340:41:36

But please, don't send original copies of any documents.

0:41:420:41:46

And even if you haven't got a story you'd like us to investigate,

0:41:480:41:51

you can join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

0:41:510:41:54

Just search BBC Rip Off Britain.

0:41:540:41:57

Well, I must admit, I was horrified by some of the charges

0:42:010:42:04

that we've heard about today, particularly in that hire-car story.

0:42:040:42:08

I'm sure if you've ever hired a car abroad,

0:42:080:42:10

you'll already have spent a few anxious moments

0:42:100:42:13

wondering if you are going to be accused

0:42:130:42:15

of causing any damage on its return,

0:42:150:42:16

so for that situation to happen when you got home

0:42:160:42:19

is up there amongst every driver's worst nightmare.

0:42:190:42:23

And I tell you, I was especially interested in finding out

0:42:230:42:25

what happens if you find yourself on the wrong end

0:42:250:42:28

of a summons or a fine for a driving offence abroad.

0:42:280:42:31

You know, I'm sure that an awful lot of people

0:42:310:42:33

will have wondered just what might happen

0:42:330:42:35

if they inadvertently break the law on holiday,

0:42:350:42:37

and what the end result might be if the situation was left unresolved.

0:42:370:42:41

Don't forget, if you've got something

0:42:410:42:43

you'd like us to look into, and not just to do with holidays,

0:42:430:42:46

please do drop us a line.

0:42:460:42:48

But for now, from all of us here in sunny Tenerife, it's goodbye.

0:42:480:42:51

-Bye-bye.

-Bye-bye.

0:42:510:42:52

Angela Rippon, Gloria Hunniford and Julia Somerville unravel some of the mysterious charges viewers have been hit with either during or after their holidays. Among the stories, the surprising loophole that means that even now data roaming charges have been scrapped in Europe, you could still end up with a much higher than expected mobile phone bill next time you pop over the Channel.

Also, the hidden costs of hiring a car abroad, and, after returning holidaymakers have received threatening letters - and even FINES - from courts overseas, what to do if you find yourself caught up in a foreign legal system, through no fault of your own.

Plus travel expert Simon Calder has money-saving tips for an increasingly popular city-break choice.