UPDATE: See the comment at the bottom – I have had contact from The Times who wish to resolve the situation if they can. I’ll keep you informed as to how this turns out. Now read on for the original story…
I am not the most well-organised of people – at least, not unless I have to be. If there isn’t a deadline to meet, I’m quite adept at putting things off. Unfortunately, this fault in my character has come back to bite me today.
I am a subscriber to The Times newspaper, which I have read regularly since I was at school (i.e. for over 40 years). The subscription scheme involves me paying a monthly fee, in return for which I receive a quarterly book of vouchers which can be exchanged at a newsagent for a copy of the newspaper. My papers are delivered daily to my door by our local newsagent, whom I pay in arrears. If I have left it a long time (usually 3 months or so), the newsagent generally staples a bill to the paper to remind me to come in and pay. For various reasons, I haven’t settled up for a long time, and I was surprised to find exactly how long – 10 months, and no reminders from the newsagent in between! Today, I went in to pay up and cash in my vouchers, only to be told that they wouldn’t accept them as they had ‘expired’.
They advised me to contact The Times, which I did on their ‘LiveChat’ service. This was the conversation I had:
Hello, you’re chatting with The Times and The Sunday Times Live Chat Team. How can we help?
You’re now connected to one of our online advisors.
Jemima: Hello, you’re chatting with Jemima. I’m here to help you with any questions you may have about The Times and The Sunday Times.
David: Hello – I subscribe to The Times and Sunday Times and receive quarterly voucher books. My newspapers are delivered daily by our local newsagent. For various reasons, I have not ‘cashed in’ my vouchers to ‘pay’ for my newspapers since last December! Today, I tried to settle up, but my newsagent said that the older vouchers were ‘out of date’ and I would have to send them back to be exchanged for new ones – is this true?
Jemima: Hi, David.
Jemima: You do not need to send in the older vouchers to be exchanged for new ones- the new ones will be generated automatically when you reach the end of your voucher cycle.
David: I don’t think this solves my problem. I have received copies of The Times and Sunday Times over the past 10 months, and my newsagent will not accept my current, dated vouchers as he says they have ‘expired’. Either I have to pay for a second time for the papers I have already received, or, he says, I should return the vouchers to you so that you can send replacements that are still ‘in-date’.
Jemima: However, it is at the discretion of the news agent whether or not they will accept the vouchers in arrears. This is why we encourage our members to exchange their vouchers in advance, or on the day they receive the paper, so there is no confusion.
David: I was not aware of this. Also, I have in the past attempted to hand in vouchers in advance, and was advised not to!
David: What do you advise me to do? If my newsagent can legitimately refuse to accept vouchers, are those vouchers now worthless? Have I paid 10 months of subscription to you for nothing?
Jemima: As I say, it is at the discretion of the news agent which they accept. It is best to check. Once we have distributed the vouchers, we cannot enforce how the news agent decides to accept them.
David: I understand that, but if I have already paid you for 10 months of vouchers which I am unable now to ‘cash in’, I have paid you about £300 for nothing.
Jemima: I’m sorry, David, but I cannot take responsibility for your news agent’s decision.
David: I don’t want you to. However, can you confirm that if I were to return the vouchers which I have been unable to use back to you, you would refund the money I have paid for them?
Jemima: Once we have provided our vouchers we have fulfilled our obligation.
Jemima: I’m afraid that will not be possible – as I say, we fulfilled our obligation by providing the vouchers.
David: It seems to me that this subscription scheme is a con. You provide a person with vouchers, but you do not guarantee that they have any value whatsoever. I think I will have to cancel my subscription and make the circumstances of the cancellation well-known, in case anyone else falls into this trap.
Jemima: I’m sorry you feel that way David. We have fulfilled our part of the contract by providing vouchers for the Times. These vouchers are meant to be exchanged on a day-by-day basis for papers, but some news agents choose to still accept vouchers after their date has passed. This is up to the news agent in question, and the Times cannot take responsibility for this decision.
David: I do not recall any explanation that vouchers must be cashed in within a certain period, even if it vaguely said ‘by arrangement with your newsagent’ – perhaps if it had said this, these circumstances would have been avoided. I have been a daily reader of The Times since 1973, so I will be very upset at being forced to forego my daily newspaper. Thank you for your assistance.
David: (I should have stated that I will, in the circumstances, be unwilling to purchase your newspapers at all after my subscription is cancelled).
Jemima: I’m sorry that you feel the need to do that David. And we shall be sad to lose a loyal subscriber. But as I have said, since we have provided you with the service, we do not consider that the fault lies with us.
Jemima: As I say, it is at the discretion of the news agent. If the vouchers have been provided to you then our obligation is fulfilled.
David: Thank you. Before I go, may I suggest that in future you print an expiry date on your vouchers, so people do not fall into this trap again.
Jemima: They do have an expiry date – it is the date of the day for which they can be used.
David: It doesn’t state that on the voucher! It just says on the back that the retailer should return it to News UK within seven days of them receiving it.
Jemima: I’m sorry, David. The date printed on the voucher is the date it is meant to be used. I don’t see how this can be any clearer.
Jemima: I am sorry that you are unhappy about this situation, and I wish I could be of help, but I suggest that you should take this up with your news agent rather than the Times.
David: You may be correct. To me, I simply read the date on the voucher as being the issue of the newspaper for which it was valid. I will indeed take it up with the newsagent. I will cash in as many vouchers as I can for which I have already paid you, and arrange to switch to another newspaper.
Jemima: Other newspaper voucher systems work in much the same way.
David: But now I have been warned that they work like this, I will not take so long to hand the vouchers in in future. Good news for another newspaper, who gain a subscriber, but bad for you, who lose one. Not your fault, I understand – thank you for your courtesy.
Jemima: Have a lovely evening, David.
So it would appear that when you subscribe to The Times, you aren’t actually guaranteed to receive a newspaper, only a voucher. And despite there being nothing which explicitly states an expiry date for the validity of the voucher, if you don’t cash it in soon enough to please your newsagent, it is worthless. I suppose if you buy a block of cheddar with a sell-by date on it, and leave it for some time after that date before you try to consume it, you have no excuse if it’s covered in mould. But a voucher for a newspaper? It doesn’t exactly go off, does it. Does it cost my newsagent or News UK additional money to process it just because it’s ten months old? Can’t see how. It’s just a con. And 40+ years of readership counts for nothing.