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Fergus Muirhead answers your consumer questions

Fergus Muirhead
Image caption Fergus answers your money questions on television, radio and online

I'm Fergus Muirhead and I'm here to answer any questions you may have about any money or consumer issues.

Please drop me a line here at fergus@bbc.co.uk with your questions.

You can also read more on money and consumer issues on my own blog .

Q. My Blackberry Torch's earpiece has stopped working, so it needs to be on loudspeaker or through headphones to hear anything. I took it in to a Vodafone shop and they weren't very surprised, saying it was a manufacturer fault, and it would need to be sent away to get fixed. I asked if I would receive a replacement for the duration of it being fixed, as I cannot be away from emails etc, and they said 'no' as I don't have insurance. They argued their contract was for the SIM only, and that they provide the network and capacity. When pushed, they said they might be able to source a basic courtesy phone, but that it wouldn't have data capability. I asked if this would mean a reduction in my contract since I would be paying for something I cannot use, through no fault of my own, and they said no - again, since I don't have insurance. In the ten years or so that I've been with Vodafone I've never had insurance, primarily because by now I will have reaped the benefits of not having it for that length of time, but also that I am very careful with the handsets. However, surely I shouldn't need insurance as they admitted that it was a manufacturer fault. They gave me the phone to sell the two-year contract, which I wouldn't have taken out without a phone that could handle it, so surely they should be providing a phone throughout that period (unless I cause damage to it, which they have said I didn't). My contract is with them, not Blackberry. Regardless of what their contract might say about only providing the SIM, would the same rules not apply to those where a shop selling something might try fobbing you off with "take it up with the manufacturer"? Craig Corse

A. This is pretty complicated, but interesting. Vodafone are right to say that they provide a contract only for airtime and the SIM. So your argument, that you can't use your contract while your phone is being repaired, doesn't stand up, in the same way that if your broadband service couldn't be used because your computer was faulty at home you wouldn't expect a refund while you waited to have your hardware repaired. Having said all of that, you did buy the handset and therefore you are protected under that Sale of Goods Act. As I understand it your handset is around 15 months old and so it is probably reasonable that Vodafone try to have it repaired first of all. I would think that if the repair is not satisfactory then you would be entitled to a new handset, although Vodafone may argue that after that period of time you should make a contribution to the cost.

Q. I bought a contract mobile phone on the Orange network from Phones4U. The problem I have is that I get a very poor signal at home and work where, according to Orange, I should have a brilliant signal. Phones4U won't take the handset back or cancel the contract as they have said they can't do anything about it. When I contacted Orange I waited for a return call but never got one. I currently have a different network's sim card in the handset and it is working fine, unlike Orange. Hazel Sturgeon

A. I have a feeling that you might face an uphill struggle here, Hazel, not because I don't think you have a case! It sounds as though the problem you are having is one of reception rather than an issue with the phone handset that you purchased and I am sure that this is what you will have been told when you asked for the contract to be cancelled. You say in your email that 'according to Orange I should have a brilliant signal' at home but that is not proving to be the case. If you have that in writing, or can prove that you were told that your home would have a very good signal on the Orange network then I can see that you might have a case for breach of contract and that is the line you should pursue. You should go back to the shop, or put something in writing to Phones4U, explaining that you were clearly told that you would be able to get good reception where you live, and explain who told you that and when. You should then explain that you consider Phones4U to be in breach of its contract with you.

Q. As interest rates are so low right now, and as most alternative investments can prove to be risky, I would appreciate your suggestion for a safe haven for me to place my 25% tax-free cash from my pension pot which I will receive in a few weeks' time. Currently I do have some money invested in gilts and I have a few FT250 shares which currently show only a small loss. Brian Levine

A. You are absolutely correct when you say that most 'alternative' investments can be risky, even allowing for the fact that one man's risk is another man's safe haven. The spectrum of risk runs from the money under the pillow to the 2.30pm at Newmarket with a few variables in between, and the starting point for you has to be to establish how far along that line you define 'safe haven'? It could be that you need the money to be in cash to avoid any prospect of loss, or it may be that you could tolerate a small amount of risk dependent on when you need to access the tax-free part of your pension fund. If cash, then you need to look for the best interest rate available from one of the money comparison websites - if a bit of risk, then a conversation about how much of your pot you would be happy to expose to a bit of loss, with the chance of bigger gains. There is, unfortunately, no one size fits all here and the starting point would be to determine when you needed the money and what you mean by 'safe haven'.

Q. What is the best way of making a PPI claim? Sandy Millen

A. If you are making regular payments for payment protection policies, then you should be able to trace the policy details through the reference numbers on the direct debits you pay regularly. So you need to establish first of all what policies you have and what cover they are providing. If you believe that you should not have been sold these policies in the first place then you need to write to the companies concerned and explain why you think that is the case. The most common reason for a policy being sold to the wrong people would be that you would be unable to make a claim because you were self-employed at the time, or unemployed, or had an existing illness that was not covered. But you do have to have a reason to make a claim. If the company rejects your complaint and you still think you were missold then you should address a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman. Whatever you do, you should follow up any claim yourself rather than using the services of 'claims management' companies that will offer you the earth.

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