Imagine being most of the way through building your 1:8 scale model of the Back to the Future DeLorean or perhaps the Star Wars Millennium Falcon only to find that critical pieces are missing.
Knowing your (or your child's) do-it-yourself project may never be finished is painful enough. Then there's the fact that you actually paid for those pieces.
Such has been the recent experience of about 15,000 Australian subscribers to hobbyist and crafts magazines from UK publishers including DeAgostini, Hatchet, and Eaglemoss, whose publications deliver the next model piece or crochet and knitting instruction with each new issue.
The business that managed subscriptions for these magazines in Australia, Victoria-based Bissett Magazine Services, officially went bust late last year, leaving subscribers not only with half-built projects but also credit, debit card and direct debit charges for which they received nothing in return.
Not surprisingly, non-delivery of products and services is a no-no under Australian Consumer Law, but when a business goes bust, enforcing that law gets a bit complicated.
Bissett has advised its customers to contact the publishers directly to seek a remedy (contact details should be on the inside front cover of the magazine), which appears to be the best course of action at this point.
The liquidator steps in
CHOICE spoke with the Victoria-based liquidator on the case, Roger Grant, who says subscribers are unlikely to get any money back through the liquidation process, mainly because there won't be much left after former employees are paid what they're owed.
"I have seen publisher agreements and other documentation which identify that the customers are the property of the respective publisher," Grant says.
"Given the very few inquiries I have received from the large quantity of subscribers, it is reasonable to assume that the publishers have taken appropriate steps to communicate with their clients."
"For the subscribers who have contacted me, I have directed them to contact their respective publisher. In relation to parties who have not received their goods, I would suggest they voice their concerns to the publishers directly. I am unable to assist further in this regard," Grant says.
Subscribers last in line
As we've pointed out in earlier stories, customers are generally at the end of the line as liquidators attempt to get their hands on whatever financial assets are left and pay back creditors.
The problem is that customers are considered unsecured creditors, while employees and lenders like banks and secured creditors. They get their money back first.
Getting the bank to pay you back
If you paid by debit or credit card, you may – or make that should – be able to get your money back (if not that missing Millennium Falcon tailfin) from the bank of the company that's gone under.
In this case, your card issuer should seek a refund – or chargeback – from whichever bank Bissett used to handle its finances. The right of chargeback also applies to debit card customers who chose the "credit" option at the time of purchase.
Bear in mind, though, that banks have different rules about chargebacks, mainly around how long you have to request one. The maximum is generally 120 days after the money was debited.
Your options if you've been affected
Given the advice from the liquidator, it's over to the UK publishers to do the right thing.
- Check the inside front cover of your magazine for the publisher's details, then get in touch and request a refund or back issues.
- If you just want a refund, get in touch with your bank and request a chargeback.