The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business
£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
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.