No, our landlord issues have not gone away.  Our previous landlord issues remain unresolved, and we fear we may have others looming ahead.  However, that’s not something we can control and we will only be affected indirectly.  If that should amount to anything, I’ll be sure to mention it.

But, getting back to our previous landlord.  He has been an obstacle to getting the bills resolved.  And now he has conveniently gone on holiday.  But while he thinks he can escape his problems, we feel we have finally made some progress and have confidently swung the ball back in his court.

After many weeks of phone calls to the estate agents, to no avail, we put in a dispute.  I had forewarned them of it, so before they were forced to do anything, the agents sent us a partial refund of our deposit.  They’re still holding an amount equivalent to two-and-a-half times what we believe we owe on the water bill.  Despite knowing how much we used, neither they nor the landlord can figure out what we owe.  They seem to think they need to get all the bills and decide our portion.  I will be searching around the internet and make complaints on some landlord/estate agent forums.  No one should ever be put through the misery of working with any of these people. 

And the electric company finally came up with a figure that we can agree on, but it’s questionable whether the landlord will accept.  The figure given to us is just a little over what we had offered and he had turned it down.  Now, we have both the electric company and the estate agent agreeing to it, so if he won’t agree, we may have to take legal action.  We could have had this resolved sooner had the electric company agreed to look back at previous usage by the landlord as we had requested.  They finally did so, and came up with the figures.  Our portion is rather generous (all but the landlord will agree); however, we are willing to be generous just to get this resolved.

We do not have the ready cash to hire a lawyer.  We are also not the litigious type.  We have sought advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau several times, but they cannot give legal advice.  However, they do offer Legal Aid, a free legal service to those who are impoverished.  You have to be below a certain income level to qualify, and we do not.

We had tried the third party negotiation through the estate agent and it had not been going well.  Our next step was to go to an ombudsman.  There are several around – The Property Ombudsman (for estate agents) and the government Housing Ombudsman (for landlords).  However, they all want a protracted formal dispute process going through other channels first; i.e., through the landlord’s and agents’ in-house complaints procedures.  The ombudsman could take up to a year.

We have RAC membership and my husband knew he could get legal advice on motoring issues through the RAC.  So, he asked them about other legal services.  We were told that for an additional 15GBP per year, we could get legal advice on all other issues.  He was reluctant to join because it sounded like many of those internet services where you make an offer for advice and the advice will vary depending on how much you were willing to pay.  After exhausting all other avenues, we finally signed up for the RAC legal aid.  It sounds even better than we thought.  The advice comes from real practicing lawyers and if they take your case, they will even represent you in court.  All this is included.  They’ve given us a two-week trial and if we don’t use it, we can cancel it.

We called the lawyers first thing and they told us to start with EDF, the electric company.  It was funny because I was writing a letter to EDF while my husband had them on the line.  He repeated what the lawyers had advised us, and they denied any responsibility.  At that point, my husband called OfGem, the electric utilities ombudsman, who made a note of the complaint.  Shortly after, EDF called back and gave us a figure for what they felt we owed.  It was as if the call to the lawyers had set a string of events in motion.

If things work out well, we may not need the legal service after all and can cancel it.  However, given their usefulness, we may decide to try it out for a year.  It’s like having a lawyer on retention for only 15GBP a year.

With our recent car troubles, I’d like to thank all those marvelously decent British motorists and passers-by who asked if we needed help.  Not that there was much anyone could do, especially those out walking their dogs, but we do appreciate the kindness and thought that came with the questions.  And special thanks to the gentleman who came out of his house (in front of which we had parked once) and offered his tools.  Sorry, we didn’t catch your name.  Not only did you help us on our way, you provided some temporary entertainment.

When our car breaks down, I like to turn away and pretend everything’s OK.  I’d stare out at the grass, or whatever, to take my mind off the problem.  I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of cars that stopped to make sure we were OK and the walkers who asked if we needed help.  In the US, you’d have to wait for a cop, making his rounds, to stop and help.  Sometimes, truck drivers will stop or call for help for you.

Of course, things are different in the US.  You never know who might stop and hurt you.  You never know if you might get hurt trying to help.  So, it usually does fall to the policeman’s lot to check on you.  And, over there, you have cops and troopers driving around everywhere.  You don’t see a lot of cops on the roads here, unless they are responding to a call.  (Oh, yes, in Florida once, we had a ranger stop and help us out, just minutes after we had hung up with the AAA.  At first, we thought it was the AAA, but then we realised it wasn’t.  They have rangers patrolling the highways down there and they offer basic motorist services.  He gave us some gas and sent us on our way to the next service station.  If we had known we wouldn’t have had to call the AAA.)

We are members of the RAC, but it would not have been worth the call unless we needed them to tow us.  They have been helpful when we’ve called, and they are much better than the US AAA.  For now, we are just holding on until our parts come in.

If you get a car, you should join the AA or RAC immediately. The AA (Automobile Association) and the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) are the equivalents to the AAA in the US. They all offer similar services and they all have different levels of membership with different benefits. And they all cost about the same.

Unlike the AAA, the AA and RAC do not offer other retail services, such as a Travel Store, discount vouchers, etc. On the flip side, each also offers insurance plans, not just for cars, but also for home. Although AAA does not yet offer home insurance, it probably won’t be long before it does. Similarly, the AA and RAC will probably add more to their services, so that they will be in line with the US equivalent model.

Being a member of an automobile association is advantageous because you just never know when you might need roadside assistance, or even when your car won’t start at home. As a member, you would not have to pay for a call-out emergency. In fact, a single call-out may cost as much as a year’s membership. In addition, if your car needs towing, that would be more money out of pocket. So, a year’s membership pays for itself if you even use it once. Plus, you can get discounts for having a year without a call-out.

We learned almost too late about joining the RAC/AA. We had talked about joining but never got around to it. Then, one morning, our car wouldn’t start. Not knowing what to do because we were so isolated, we ended up taking a long walk to the local bus stop to go into the next big town. Incidentally, a car garage was located next to the bus stop. Unfortunately, this garage was for expensive sports cars. However, the owner was very nice and very willing to help out. It was with his advice, his cell phone and his computer that we were able to join the RAC and eventually get them to come out.

When the mechanic did come out, we were very surprised at what we got for our money. Not only was he able to diagnose the problem, he fixed it there and then. He also looked around to see if anything else was wrong and found something. He suggested we get a part (very cheap part) and call him back to have it installed. We saved a lot in time and money because if we had called to have our car towed to the nearest garage, we’re sure the mechanics there would have ripped us off. Unlike the AAA, the RAC/AA provides real roadside assistance. It isn’t a mere towing truck.

So don’t wait for an emergency to happen to join the RAC or AA. Do it now.