Tiny PC owners hit by warranty row

Up to 80,000 people are caught up in a disagreement between Time and the credit card industry over the future of their technical support cover

Owners of Tiny PCs who bought a technical support warranty on their credit card have been urged to contact their credit card company to obtain a refund, after news emerged of a row between the credit card industry, Trading Standards officials and Time Computers.

Up to 80,000 people may be caught up in the wrangle. Sources suggest the key to the disagreement is that the credit card firms felt that Time wanted them to pay too much money in return for taking on the Tiny warranties.

Time Computers bought some of Tiny's assets after it went into administration earlier this year, but it did not take on liabilities. Time has said that it believed that Tiny's extended warranties were insured, but subsequently found that Tiny's management had not paid the necessary premiums in the preceeding six months.

This means that -- under the Consumer Credit Act -- the credit card companies are liable for any warranties bought by customers using a credit card.

The credit card firms are prepared to honour this, but they appear to have turned down an offer that would have seen Burnley-based Time take on the warranties. This means that individual customers will have to pursue the matter with their own credit card provider -- something that neither Time nor Trading Standards officials are happy about.

Julian Edward, senior fair trading officer at the Lancashire Trading Standards office, would like the credit card firms to work together to find a company -- possibly another PC manufacturer like Dell -- prepared to take on the warranties.

"There's no doubt that the credit card industry is in the wrong," Edward told ZDNet UK. "We can't force them to come to a deal with Time, but some arrangement should be put in place for the customers affected." Edward is concerned that if this doesn't happen, some people who have bought extended warranties will not get the protection they are entitled to.

Barclaycard, though, has said that credit card companies will not start brokering warranty agreements with third parties, but promised that it will meet its obligations. "Customers should get in touch with us as soon as possible," said the Barclaycard spokesman. "It should be very easy for them to go out and buy a new warranty."

The Barclaycard spokesman suggested that the row came about because the deal that Time offered to the credit card firms was somewhat on the steep side. "It may be that Time was asking for too much money in return for taking on the warranties," he speculated.

Time has claimed that customers might have to wait a long time to get their money back from the credit card firms -- a charge that Barclaycard denies. "It's not a particularly lengthy process, so it shouldn't take that long," the Barclaycard spokesman insisted.

In a statement, Time slammed the credit card industry for putting profits ahead of customers.

"The Time Group is issuing the warning to credit card customers because it is no longer able to support them without the help of the credit card companies," said Time. "These companies prefer that individual customers contact them directly and then go through a lengthy process, which may eventually end in a refund. Time Group and Trading Standards want the credit card companies to ensure that their customers get a comprehensive support service and peace of mind, with minimum of fuss. The alternative is that they claim a refund and have their PC out of action during this period. Time believes that this is not acceptable to customers."

Time also said that it was working with finance company First National Tricity to establish adequate protection for customers who bought a Tiny PC on "credit finance". It is thought to have also established a trust fund to cover the warranties of customers who paid in cash.

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