This blog entry has two purposes: to bring the reader up to date with my battle to have an unlawful and inaccurate default removed; and to appear on search engine results when people search for Ashbourne Management Services Limited. In fact, I’ll ask your forgivness in advance for using the company’s full name so often, but I hope it will help this page’s prominence on the internet!
Some background first. I joined a local gym a few years back, and very good it was too. The facilities were on a par with a large chain but without the horrible impersonal atmosphere which pervades the well-known large players in the market. The price was reasonable too, partly because I’d signed a two-year agreement.
But then I had a spell in hospital and after a while it became apparent that I would not be able to use the gym in the near future. Thankfully the terms and conditions stated that I could cancel if a medical condition prevented me from safely attending or using the equipment – which certainly applied in my case as I could barely walk.
Like many small gyms, mine used Ashbourne Management Services Ltd to process it’s payments, so I wrote to them explaining my position and giving notice that I was cancelling my membership. The wrote back and – not unreasonably – asked for medical proof. My doctor had written out a certificate so that I might claim incapaity benefit, so I forwarded a copy to Ashbourne and heard nothing for a few months.
Then the letters started. In late 2005 I received a demand for £285, along with “confirmation that a bad debt has been registered against you and has already affected your credit status”. Naturally I wrote back telling Ashbourne Management that they had agreed to cancel my membership on receipt of medical proof.
They wrote again in January and April 2006, the exact same letter along with a demand for payment. I was shocked to read that Ashbourne were seriously advising taking out a consolodation loan to raise the money – probably the worst advice for somebody in debt, let alone the victim of incompetence! Anyway, I wrote back both times repeating my position and enclosing a copy of my doctor’s letter.
A different response came in May when Ashbourne Management Services informed me that a default could only be removed upon payment of £57; followed a few weeks later by the now-standard threat-o-gram demanding £285.
Finding it difficult to keep my composure, I basically invited Ashbourne to “put up or shut up”, saying that if they genuinely believed I owed them money they should take me to Court for it where I’d be more than happy to explain myself in front of a judge.
October saw the arrival of their standard letter, so did November. Clearly Ashbourne Management Services were either incapable of reading my letters or simply so ignorant they thought I give in and pay them money I didn’t owe.
At the end of November I tried a new tactic: asking for a copy of any credit agreement under which they claimed I was bound. I sent a CCA request under section 78 of the Consumer Credit Act along with the required £1 fee. My accompanying letter gave them two choices: provide proof of the debt or admit there is none.
A few days later the cheque was returned without any accompanying explanation, and I decided to keep the envelope and the cheque safe. It would turn out to be a prophetic decision…
I heard no more from Ashbourne Management Services after that, but in March 2007 I noticed that the default was still on my credit file. Some reserarch on the Consumer Action Group website led me to send Ashbourne a Section 10 Data Subject Notice requiring that they stop processing my data on the grounds that it was inaccurate, and that they also contact anybody with whom they had shared this inaccurate data (i.e. the Credit Reference Agencies) and instruct them to erase the data.
If you’re familiar with Data Protection Law at all (and if not there’s a wealth of useful literature on the Information Commissioner’s website) you’ll know that a data controller has 21 days to respond to such a notice, even if they don’t agree with it. Basically the choices are: comply with the notice, or tell the data subject why not. Simple, hey?
So why, exactly 9 months to the day since Ashbourne Management Services signed to say they’d received this notice, are we no further forward?
I’d done everything by the book, and more besides. I’d sent Ashbourne a reminder after three weeks, and a letter before action a few weeks later – but still did not receive any reply. I know that my letters arrived – I’d sent them all Recorded Delivery and the same D.B. Thomas had signed for them all.
Undeterred, I made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office, hoping that their involvement would prompt Ashbourne Management out of their slumber and into action. Sadly the ICO was (and still is) snowed under with work so took quite a while to respond.
When they eventually did reply, though, it seemed like good news. A casework and advice officer had agreed with me that “Ashbourne Management Services’ failure to respond with my Notice appeared to constitute a breach of the sixth principal of the Act which requires that personal data be processed in accordance with the rights of data subjects”.
The ICO went on to inform me that they would write to Ashbourne instructing them to comply with my section 10 notice. Hooray! Surely Ashbourne wouldn’t be so ignorant as to ignore an instruction from the ICO! Would they?
Then things got really interesting. Ashbourne’s solicitors, Williamson & Soden, got in touch saying that their client “had not forwarded the information as it believed that it did not have your current address in circumstances where its last correspondence was returned to it marked ‘not at this address’.”
Reeeaaaaly? So even though I’d written to them three times since then, and even though I’d never moved, Ashbourne thought I’d done a runner. How odd then that they hadn’t made any effort to find me when not so long ago they were convinced I owed them money!
No matter, I was happy to confirm my address to Williamson & Soden, who in turn wrote back reminding me that I still owed £285 (no I don’t!) and enclosing a one-page photocopy of a screenshot of my entry in Ashbourne’s database.
Now this should have made me really angry, as it clearly wasn’t what I’d asked for. But it proved quite revealling as it proved that Ashbourne didn’t have a leg to stand on. In the “additional information” field they had recorded receiving my medical proof (although they also wrote “blah blah”); and noted receipt of all the letters I’d sent since they claimed they didn’t know my address.
Their screenshot also revealed that the letter returned as “not known at this address” was the £1 cheque which I’d so carefully kept safe. Now I’ll stop short of calling them liars…
Back to the plot, I wrote a carefully worded letter to Williamson & Soden explaining the difference between a Data Subject Notice and a Subject Access Request, detailing exactly what was now required of Ashbourne Management and repeating my intention to start Court proceedings for non-compliance.
They wrote straight back insisting that their client had complied with my notice (oh and by the way still want £285), bless ’em. Now I can understand Ashbourne being pig ignorant of the law, but for a firm of solicitors to share this ignorance is frustrating and unforgivable.
I got in touch with a very helpful person at the Legal Complaints Service who confirmed that even though Williamson & Soden weren’t acting for me, I was within my rights to make a formal complaint about them. So I wrote letting W&S know that their actions were unacceptable as their ignorance of the law was leaving their client open to regulatory and legal action as well as causing me considerable distress and worry.
With amazing arrogance Williamson & Soden wrote back by return of post stating that “the position is as previously stated” and that “we cannot see that our correspondence constitutes grounds for a complaint”.
I want nothing more to do with this ignorant and arrogant shower, so wasted no time making a formal complaint to the Legal Complaints Service about Williamson & Soden’s behaviour. I’ve also made one final attempt at writing directly to Ashbourne Management Services explaining in some detail what they need to do to comply with the Data Protection Act, and how their solicitors are giving them advice which I consider to be poor – dangerous in fact.
They’ve got this one last chance. I’ve followed their T&C’s to the letter and should not have this unlawful and unjust default on my credit file. Ashbourne Management Services Limited have got until the end of November to fully comply with my Data Subject Notice, otherwise I’ll be submitting the N1 County Court form I’ve already filled in. And to tell the truth, I’ll probably enjoy doing that!
Well thanks for reading this, I hope to update this soon with a happy ending but I’ve got a feeling it will run and run!