National Van Hire – 6-page complaint

National Car and Van Rental BX56JUE
Won’t be hiring from here again

[Quick update – “UK Van and Minibus Hire” is the same company as A1. Avoid!]

OK, this one’s a doozy and I can’t blame you if you don’t get to the end of it. Upshot is it’s these idiots who cost me the entire of the weekend of the 9th/10th, plus taking the Monday off uni. Not forgetting that Christina, my dad and I ended up spending 23 hours solid moving stuff. And then more time the next day after around 5 hours sleep.

And I just spotted this evening that they’ve over-billed by credit card as well.

UPDATE as people have asked for it, I’ve rediscovered the piece of paper with their head office phone number. It’s 0116 2565656 – the reception will give you the address to send complaints to.

Letter in the post in the morning, addressed to the MD (names abbreviated etc):

Dear Sir,

I am writing to complain in the strongest possible terms about the treatment myself and a friend (Ms C) received from your company on January 9th 2010. One piece of inept “customer care” snowballed into a complete nightmare of a weekend for myself and Ms C.

I am assuming that you or members of your staff have moved house at some point in the past. I therefore hope that you can appreciate that, at the best of times, it is a hugely stressful endeavour. National turned our weekend into one from the very depths of hell itself. Please be aware that I am, frankly, furious about the entire matter and that I have been very careful to refrain from profanity both while talking to your staff on the telephone and in drafting this letter. Believe me, I have not been so restrained when discussing the matter with friends and family.

On the preceding Thursday, we booked a van via your website. This was to be collected at midday from your Perth office and returned around 4pm on the Sunday. We promptly received a conformation email with the address, times and booking reference.

At 11:30 on the Saturday morning, I was stood in the snow outside the aforementioned office, which was unmanned. A large poster in the window told us to ring a number for attention as there was nobody there. At 11:55, I duly called this number… and received a pre-recorded message telling me that the phone was switched off. There was no option to leave a message. We both tried again until around 12:15 – quarter of an hour after we were supposed to collect the van.

We next tried the booking number emblazoned on the side of a van which was parked outside the office. Do note that this “lo-call” number involved a fairly large per-minute rate to ring from Ms C’s mobile as your company does not see fit to provide a proper telephone number for customers to ring.

After ten minutes or so we discovered that there was nobody to rent us a van as there was only one person working in Dundee so they couldn’t close the office to come down and rent one out in Perth. Our booking had been cancelled and nobody had seen fit to do anything simple, such as tell us. By the time another few pounds had dropped into your coffers via the premium telephone number, we discovered that some computer glitch had meant that someone in Dundee hadn’t been able to get our details on Friday to inform us. This same glitch obviously wasn’t still in effect so we were wondering why nobody had contacted us on Saturday morning. Or why they’d not contacted someone else in the company and asked them to do it.

We were given another (premium rate) number to call, which I duly did. I had to explain our situation all over again to another member of staff. They advised us to get a taxi to Dundee and get a van from there, for which you would refund us. Of course, by now we’d be cutting it close as your office in Dundee would be closing in little more than thirty minutes. I asked her to check with them first to see if a van was available. More coins dropped into your corporate piggy bank until she informed us that, no, there was not. A good job we hadn’t flagged down a cab, really.

She agreed to ring round some other offices and call us back. By now, we had no chance of booking from another agent. By the time we got back to my house, it would be past 1pm and everywhere would be shut. My friend was in floods of tears. By this stage, your company had reached the stage of behaving utterly unforgivably.

We finally got a call back where we were told to ring another number. I’ve lost track of the departments now, but more money was added to my mobile bill ringing this one. I demanded a number for the Dundee office, which I called… only to be re-routed back to head office as it was 13:00 and 5 seconds, so Dundee had obviously taken their phone off the hook.

I finally got to speak to a supervisor and informed him in no uncertain terms that National would be furnishing us with a vehicle. On the Saturday. And I did not care if someone had to drive it from London. I did not care if every van was stuck in a garage covered by snow. You would be digging it out. I did not care if it hadn’t been scrubbed clean, or the last renter had left their McDonald’s wrappers on the passenger seat. We would be getting a van.

Maybe fifteen minutes later he called back to say he’d spoken to the manager at Dundee and that there were no vans available. This was simply not good enough. I still had no explanation as to why nobody had contacted us 24-28 hours sooner, why their office had closed early, why the manager herself hadn’t deigned to phone us to apologise, why we couldn’t have the van which was parked outside the office in Perth…

Again I was informed that he would look into it. By now we were well over an hour past out original booking time. The friends who’d volunteered to help us move were getting impatient as they also had other matters to attend to.

Between calls from the gentleman in head office telling me you could do nothing, I received a phone call from Jonathan in Stirling. He, completely at odds to the rest of your company, seemed genuinely sympathetic and interested in helping. I hope you don’t even think of chastising him for this, but he agreed that your other employees had acted unprofessionally and selfishly in trying to fob us off and agreed to make some phone calls. I believe that Jonathan had already finished for the day, but was prepared to put the effort in to resolve the awful situation that Ms C and I were now sliding into.

He contacted the manager of Dundee directly and she, finally, called us. She explained that she was sending someone down to Edinburgh airport to retrieve a van and bring it up to Perth for us. This would take a couple of hours.

This raised some questions:

1)      Why couldn’t this have been organised sooner so that the van had been available earlier?

2)      Where did this mysterious person come from seeing as there was nobody to man the Perth office?

3)      Why couldn’t we have the van that was already there in Perth so that we could get on with moving stuff?

I think I managed to get answers:

1)      Because the manager at Dundee is inept.

2)      He had been brought in on his day off to run a stupid errand which could have been avoided had answer “1” not been the case.

3)      Because it was stuck in snow. Until I pointed out that it was no longer stuck as the snow had melted. At which point it became “too big” as we had booked a smaller van. How incredibly helpful.

Answer three there, really stuck in my throat. I had to, and I do not exaggerate, physically bite my tongue to refrain from shouting at the Dundee manager when she told me that. We were being made to wait what turned out to be five hours for a van to be driven up from Edinburgh because the one already available was too big?! In particular the way that the van switched in the space of one sentence from “stuck” to “big” really galled me. It smacked of someone making up excuses.

I gather that said van had been there for a booking on the 8th, but at that time was bogged down and immobile. However, that booking was no longer relevant. The van was there. And I didn’t give a hoot if it was too large or not. The fact was, we’d booked a van for midday on Saturday and by the time we got one it was after 5pm.

The gentleman who we eventually met at Perth was polite and helped us melt the ice in the windscreen wash bottle before we set off. It was obvious, though, that he wasn’t too happy about being called in on his day off.

Sorted? No. Not in the slightest. It was now dark. Everyone who was due to help us move house had left. Instead of eight people moving things from one second floor flat to another, there were now two. We managed to shift some of the smaller items, but due to the lights in the closes at both locations being broken, we had to give in otherwise we would have risked injury on the stairs.

The next morning we began at 8am. By mid-afternoon it was apparent that with just two people, this was going to be impossible. My father very kindly volunteered to help us move some of the heavier items.

I would like to point out that my father is 64 years old. He had pneumonia 3 years ago, never completely recovered and is asthmatic. He is also, stubborn, helpful and prepared to go out of his way to make sure that people aren’t stuck in a hole they can’t get out of. Unlike many of your staff.

Despite his help, we were forced to continue on into the night regardless of the fact that we were walking blind at times due to the aforementioned broken lights. At 4am (I kid you not) I was questioned outside Ms C’s old flat by the police as they couldn’t believe someone would be moving at that time in the morning.

At some point, I can’t recall when, I received a phone call from one of your staff asking when the van would be returned. I told him “6am tomorrow, if we get finished” to which his response was “That’s fine”. I thought nothing else of it. I had been informed that there would be nobody to check the vehicle until Monday morning anyway.

We finally returned to my house to bed down at 6:30am on Monday. By the time we got to bed, we had been working almost non-stop for 23 hours.

It gets worse.

Late on the Sunday night, Ms C’s sister had informed us that she could no longer stay awake for us to deliver some things to her house for storage. It was simply too late. She had been expecting us earlier on the Sunday, but we couldn’t get the things to her then as we still hadn’t moved other items due to wasting the entire of Saturday sorting out your mess.

At this point, Ms C physically broke down. Prior to this time I was angry with your company. This, however, was crossing a line. She was, for almost half an hour, inconsolable. 11:15pm on Sunday night was when I decided that I would be doing everything in my power to make National pay for what they had done. Things were now far beyond a financial issue or a simple apology.

The above phone call meant that we’d stored all the things due at Ms C’s sister’s at her friend’s flat instead. She was expecting a few boxes and some furniture. When she arrived on Monday morning to find the flat full, she understandably asked for a large amount of it to be removed.

Monday, then, was spent moving a goodly number of boxes plus a freezer and a tumble dryer across Perth using my Renault Clio. Obviously, this took a vastly larger number of trips than in a van – which by now had been returned.

I’m currently a student on a post-graduate course at Strathclyde University. I must maintain an 80% attendance on each module or risk being unable to collect my diploma in June. One of those modules is on a Monday. However, I could not leave Ms C to move everything herself, especially as she had no transport. As such I was forced to miss a tutorial, which displeases me immensely.

In addition, I didn’t make it back to Glasgow until 1am on Tuesday morning after dropping Ms C off in Stirling. Ms C had to return to Perth the following morning by train and then hire a taxi to move the last few items out of her old flat. This, obviously, cost her money in addition to which she had to pay a penalty to the letting agency for leaving the property a day late – she was supposed to hand the keys over on Monday.

I appreciate this is a lengthy letter, but so much went wrong and every single part of it is down to National failing to contact us on Thursday or Friday, thus giving us the time needed to go to another company and rent another van. The complete failure of your staff, excepting Jonathan in Stirling, to give a damn about us or our situation utterly staggers me. For the Dundee manager to go off the radar for almost two hours, close the phone lines early, refuse to speak to me (until Jonathan contacted her), make up pathetic excuses about the van which was in Perth and then force some poor soul on an unnecessary 2½ hour errand is verging on unbelievable.

As well as the emotional and physical strain that your company put us through, you cost us a small packet. The phone calls mount up to slightly under £10. Then there is the fuel cost of driving my car around Perth on Monday. Plus Ms C’s transportation to and from Perth on Tuesday, along with the taxi fare to move her last items into storage and the letting agency’s “fine”. My 100% attendance on my university course has been wiped, though hopefully won’t affect my grade. It does, however, cause potential problems should I fall ill in the next 5 months and there is the fact that the hours at college I missed have actually been paid for. More money wasted courtesy of yourselves.

I went through all of the above as a favour to a friend in need. My father the same. Both of us would do it again. The thing is, neither of us should have had to if National had not acted in such a shoddy, pathetic, and ultimately childish manner. From a simple mistake, to fobbing us off and then spitefully running rings to make it look like you were doing us a favour when a simple solution sat on a driveway 10 minutes away.

And do you know what? It’s not finished. I have just checked my credit card and found that “EC VEHICLE RENTAL WATFORD” has charged £79.17 to my credit card. This comes as a huge surprise given that the bill was supposed to be under £50 as per the agreement I signed on the Saturday evening.

No damage was done to the van and the vehicle was returned with the fuel needle above the “F” mark. I shall, of course, be ringing someone tomorrow to discuss this little affair. So where this extra £30 or so comes from is a mystery. I’m sure someone will make up some pathetic excuse when I call them tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have contacted my credit card company and informed them that this payment is in dispute.

I have dealt with some pretty poor companies in the past. National, however, have caused more problems from one act of ineptitude than just about any other. Believe me, that’s actually quite impressive.

Obviously, I expect a full enquiry and prompt written explanation for all of these failings. I would also expect a reasonable level of financial recompense. I won’t throw figures around. I leave it to you to decide what you believe to be fair for the utter chaos and financial loss your company has caused.

Rest assured, though, that you aren’t trying to buy back my custom. You won’t be getting it again.

I await your prompt and full reply in short order.

Yours faithfully (etc.)

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166 thoughts on “National Van Hire – 6-page complaint”

  1. Short story;
    Hire a people carrier for DD birthday.
    Return car following day after replacing fuel in car until pump cuts out.
    Just checked bank account and found £70 taken from my account.
    Bank advised and into disputes.
    Know what I’ll be doing……
    Note to self; google Alamo before hiring!!

  2. Part 2
    After being ‘robbed’ of £700 or so last November, and managing to get the money back from them in December – now another £500 pounds has just vanished 8 months later from my credit card account at the beginning of August (A1 National Van Hire. . . Amazing ! ! Definitely not allowed that one..
    Got to start all over again and sort that one out.

  3. ANdy – bloody hell. At least your credit card company should be able to deal with it swiftly. Log it as fraudulent. It is pathetic, though. How on earth a business with so many cockups can be allowed to accept credit cards is beyond me. If I were Visa or MasterCard I’d be tempted to withdraw the facility.

  4. Just got a letter from police in Leicestershire that he’s been arrested again.

  5. THIS IS A1 NATIONAL HAMMOND KUMAR AGAIN – but registered as by one of his acolytes, the address in Exeter is a Regus facility and they not longer rent a space there – the domain was registered to an address in Leicester but it has since been changed.

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