Hiring A Car

A Car Hire Millionaire and the Empty Refund Pledges

I booked a car for collection in Los Angeles. On arrival at the Dollar car rental desk I was told it would not honour the Hire for Lower voucher. I phoned London and was told there was ‘a contractual problem’, that I should hire my own car and by the time I got home the US payment would be cancelled.

It wasn’t and I have been charged $1,041 (about [pounds sterling]650). Hire for Lower promised to repay me within 28 days but didn’t.

Michael Greig in customer services told me my repayment had been stopped by chairman Nick Stolberg as he was ‘arranging payment direct from Dollar’.

VERYbad news I am afraid, particularly for anyone who has yet to take their holiday and has booked car hire through Hire for Lower, which also calls itself American Car Hire, Autos Abroad, Direct Car Hire, and USA Rent-A-Car.

This company has locked its doors in Archer Street, in London’s Soho, and vanished. A sign on the door asks

people to phone, but its main administration number has a taped message which says you are being connected. Then you get no further while the reservations number simply plays music.

Your letter is one of ten I have received. Some people have the impression that there is an isolated dispute between Hire for Lower and Dollar. Wrong.

A doctor from Eastbourne, East Sussex, told me he flew to Dublin, only to be told by Budget that he could not have the car he had booked through the Archer Street office. Similar tales involved San Francisco, Atlanta, Jacksonville and Spain. Hire for Lower’s vouchers bounce and families are then given false promises of refunds.

The scale of the problem is shocking.

Sue Jones, Trading Standards manager at Westminster City Council, which covers Archer Street, told me: ‘We have received more than 500 complaints, the majority from customers who purchased car hire vouchers from Hire for Lower, only to discover that they were not accepted by car hire providers overseas.’ Companies House records show Hire for Lower is still in business, but Jones believes the company has collapsed and liquidators have been appointed. She says the best bet is to reclaim money from your credit card company, assuming you paid with plastic.

I understand that some customers have been told by their card companies that it is too late to reclaim, since they booked their cars months ago and credit card chargeback rules cover only 90 days from the date of the deal.

This is a red herring.

Card companies are obliged under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act to repay customers if a company goes bust before delivering the goods and more than [pounds sterling]100 is involved.

Hire for Lower is headed by Nick Johann Stolberg, a 43-yearold millionaire with a list of directorships running to eight pages, if you include the 26 companies he ran that have been dissolved.

Last year he bought a six-bedroom villa in St Tropez, next door to Joan Collins. Stolberg did not respond to my repeated invitations to comment on the plight of his customers.


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