Once I realised that writing letters to the company was taking me round and round in circles, the next stage was to get a bit stroppy. This is the 'Letter before Action' stage. Basically you set out your position, and tell them to hand this letter to their insurers. You then given them a set period of time - usually seven days from the date of this letter - otherwise you will commence proceedings without further notice.
I did this, and waited. On the seventh day (because these companies love their brinkmanship games) a letter arrived by special delivery. It stated that the insurers said they were not liable, and enclosed £100 worth of gift vouchers.
I sent them back. There was no way I would ever set foot in that store again even if hell froze over. And gift vouchers were a bloody cheek because essentially they were trying to force me to shop with them again. No way.
With my covering letter returning the vouchers I advised them to get new insurers who actuallly understood the legal obligations. And then I went online to start finding out what I needed to do.
Firstly, you need the small claims court. This deals with claims up to £5000 in value. You start proceedings usually in the town where the incident happened and if you are suing a company you must give the address of their registered office. There is plenty of advice about this on the internet - but go to the horse's mouth and use the official websites. You can also download the forms you need to complete.
A word of warning about the forms, you cannot save them although you can fill them in on the computer. You will need three copies for the court - one is kept by the court, one is served on the defendant and the other is returned to you.
There is a fee - but if you are in receipt of certain benefits this is waived. So do check everything out and don't be afraid to phone the court if you're not sure. I'm not putting links on this blog because forms and advice change so quicklly. But it is very easy to find.
And then you wait. The defendant has a set time to respond and and acknowledge receipt. If they don't then you enter judgement and automatically win your case. In my case, the defendant waited a while and then acknowledge receipt, after which there was a further period within which they had to put in their defence.
I was, to be honest, looking forward to this. I really wanted to see how they were going to try and defend the indefensible. They didn't. Shortly before the deadline someone from the company actually phoned to try and 'sort things out.'
This was a definite improvement. But of course, most of us are not used to negotiating like this, and it's easy to feel forced to back off in a way that we don't feel when we're writing letters. It's very important to stick to your guns and realise that you are in the driving seat here. You still have the 'adverse publicity' card tucked in your sleeve (which is why I said not to use it earlier). No firm wants bad publicity... and of course the court is open to the public, which means that once things go to a hearing you cannot stop bad publicity. (Admittedly journalists don't usually attend small claims hearings, but they can if they want to and if you invite them to....- that's a very important bargaining chip!)
I'll deal with how to handle phone calls and negotiate in my next post. Remember - we are not helpless. People just like us to think that we are.