£3,000 fee for lit­tle more than a few emails

This reader is sure her agency didn’t have enough suit­able men on its books when it took her money, she tells Amelia Mur­ray

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Money -

Dat­ing agen­cies have been of­fer­ing sin­gle­tons look­ing for love a ray of hope for decades. But the quest for ro­mance isn’t cheap and the out­come isn’t al­ways suc­cess­ful. Match­mak­ers and dat­ing web­sites can charge thou­sands of pounds a year for mem­ber­ship and there’s no guar­an­tee you’ll ever meet “the one”.

The dat­ing in­dus­try has re­cently come un­der scru­tiny fol­low­ing con­cerns about un­fair con­tract terms and prac­tices. The Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Au­thor­ity launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into an on­line dat­ing firm last month to find out if con­sumer pro­tec­tion had been breached in a num­ber of ways, in­clud­ing how the ser­vices were ad­ver­tised and de­scribed.

Cit­i­zens Ad­vice has also seen an in­crease in com­plaints about dat­ing agen­cies this year. The most com­mon type of com­plaint re­lated to “sub­stan­dard ser­vice” and “breach of con­tract”.

Es­ther Povey is one of a num­ber of women who have ac­cused a dat­ing agency of not de­liv­er­ing the ser­vice it promised and “dup­ing” sin­gle­tons look­ing for love. She paid £2,950 to At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als, an “ex­clu­sive in­tro­duc­tion agency”, in 2013 be­cause she be­lieved that she was pay­ing for a high­qual­ity, be­spoke ser­vice of­fered by ex­pe­ri­enced match­mak­ers.

How­ever, she ac­cused the agency of not hav­ing enough suit­able men on its books and of do­ing lit­tle more than send­ing emails. Ms Povey, 42, from Worces­ter­shire, had been sin­gle for a num­ber of years and af­ter try­ing pop­u­lar dat­ing web­sites de­cided that she needed to “in­vest” in find­ing a re­la­tion­ship.

She said: “I was hop­ing that as I was pay­ing al­most £3,000 I’d get some guid­ance and in­put. I thought that the more I paid, the bet­ter ser­vice I’d get.”

But Ms Povey, and oth­ers on an on­line com­plaints board, al­lege that At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als didn’t de­liver what was promised.

She said she was told she’d be of­fered one “in­tro­duc­tion” a month. How­ever, “in­tro­duc­tion”, as de­fined by At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als in Ms Povey’s con­tract, was not a faceto-face meet­ing but an “ex­change be­tween the two par­ties with a re­quest ask­ing whether each would like to progress to­wards a tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion”.

Ms Povey said her ex­pe­ri­ence con­vinced her that At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als didn’t have enough suit­able men on its books.

She was also of­fered an in­tro­duc­tion to the same man twice – af­ter he turned her down the first time – and said she was told by an­other “match” that he had paid just £400 to join the agency be­cause “they needed more men his age”. An­other for­mer client, who wished to re­main anony­mous, paid £950 to join the agency in 2015 and was sent four pro­files. Three of the men said no and she wasn’t in­ter­ested in the other one.

The woman, a 57-year-old so­lic­i­tor from Chel­tenham, said she waited an­other six weeks for more in­tro­duc­tions but none came. When she raised the mat­ter she claimed that she was told it could take two or three years to find a part­ner and it was harder to meet some­one in later life.

The two women tried to com­plain to the agency but said they were met with “un­pleas­ant­ness”. In an email seen by

Tele­graph Money, Ms Povey was called a “moan­ing min­nie” and was told to “stop think­ing so neg­a­tively” and not to be an­tag­o­nis­tic. An­other woman on a com­plaints board was ac­cused of be­ing “dif­fi­cult and de­mand­ing”.

Ms Povey said: “I was new to this and felt quite vul­ner­a­ble be­cause it in­volved mat­ters of the heart. I felt as if no­body was lis­ten­ing to me.”

She and the so­lic­i­tor were both of­fered free mem­ber­ship for an ex­tended term. But Ms Povey said by that time the trust was gone.

Both women con­tacted the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish In­tro­duc­tion Agen­cies (ABIA), a trade body. Ms Povey was told the per­son who han­dled com­plaints was re­tir­ing. The re­place­ment said a “back­log of com­plaints” from across the in­dus­try had to be han­dled.

By the time the ABIA picked up her com­plaint she had al­ready con­tacted the me­dia. She was told that it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate for the trade body to con­tinue “me­di­a­tion” un­der such cir­cum­stances.

The so­lic­i­tor was told the ABIA could not han­dle her com­plaint be­cause of new EU leg­is­la­tion re­lat­ing to com­plaints about the ser­vice in­dus­try. She even­tu­ally took At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als to court and re­ceived £500 with­out ad­mis­sion of li­a­bil­ity.

At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als said its busi­ness model had changed in the years since Ms Povey was a mem­ber and af­ter “all this time” it would be un­able to re­call de­tails of her mem­ber­ship. Lor­raine Mar­low, di­rec­tor of At­trac­tive Pro­fes­sion­als, said it was easy to see the dat­ing agency as “the bad guy” but it tried “re­ally hard to of­fer a good ser­vice in what can be a very chal­leng­ing busi­ness”.

She said: “It’s not as easy as sell­ing gro­ceries; we’re work­ing in a very per­sonal area. Every­one com­ing to us has had dis­ap­point­ments, even heartache, and we al­ways keep that in mind and try to make al­lowances. We get on well with 99pc of our clients be­cause they’re a plea­sure to deal with but there are times when, de­spite your best ef­forts, some peo­ple are im­pos­si­ble to please.”

Ms Mar­low, who runs the agency with her mother, said the terms and con­di­tions stated that the agency might of­fer dis­counts on fees in or­der to keep as close to a 50:50 male to fe­male ra­tio as pos­si­ble. She claimed all in­tro­duc­tion agen­cies that dealt with pro­fes­sion­als “have to of­fer re­duced or free mem­ber­ship to men be­cause they’ll re­ceive many more in­quiries”.

She de­nied the al­le­ga­tion that there were not enough men on the books. She also de­nied the agency had made “false prom­ises” or mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions and said it of­ten de­clined mem­ber­ship if it felt it could not meet a client’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

Can you get your money back if a dat­ing ser­vice doesn’t de­liver what you ex­pected?

If you paid a dat­ing agency by credit card you may be able to claim your money back us­ing Sec­tion 75 of the Con­sumer Credit Act.

This holds the credit card com­pany jointly li­able if there is a breach of con­tract or mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion by the re­tailer or trader. You must have paid be­tween £100 and £30,000 for the goods or ser­vice to be able to claim.

How­ever, Mar­tyn James from Re­solver, an on­line com­plaints ser­vice, said: “You can’t com­plain that you didn’t fancy some­one or you were dis­ap­pointed when you met up. The key word is ‘mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion’. If you feel that you have been mis­led by the dat­ing agency in any way, you may have a case.

“Have you been told one thing and given an­other? What was promised and what did the firm de­liver? Wher­ever pos­si­ble you need to sep­a­rate your dis­ap­point­ment from the ser­vice.” Mr James added that you shouldn’t have to change your pref­er­ences to in­crease your chances of find­ing a match and, if you do, that too could form part of your claim.

“If you’re pay­ing for a ser­vice that prom­ises it has enough com­pat­i­ble clients, why should you have to con­sider dat­ing peo­ple who don’t fit your cri­te­ria?” he said.

If your Sec­tion 75 claim is turned down you can ap­peal to the Fi­nan­cial Om­buds­man Ser­vice, the free res­o­lu­tion ser­vice.

Look­ing for love: Es­ther Povey at home in Worces­ter­shire with her dog Am­ber

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