Pensioner pocketless in overseas move

Ali El-Hennawi says he has been set back by more than $50,000 of unexpected fees and lost belongings. 208006_04 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

An international removalist debacle has grounded disability pensioner Ali El-Hennawi’s grand retirement plans and allegedly set him back $51,000.

Late 2019, he hired Grace Removalists’ Hallam office to move his and his family of nine children’s belongings in a freight container from his Lysterfield home to Egypt.

The former high-school teacher’s plan was to retire and live with his family in his late father’s house – which they had inherited.

Mr El-Hennawi, 63, says he was verbally misled into believing the $16,000 bill would cover the entire transaction “door to door”.

On 20 January, the container docked in Alexandria. Mr El-Hennawi was billed by Grace’s partner Express International Group for a further $18,000 in customs fees.

It was a bill-doubling shock that he’d not budgeted for.

Thanks to a loan from a family member, the container of goods was released.

He says the contents were removed without his presence nor permission, and supposedly loaded into four delivery trucks.

The trucks arrived at his family’s address on 12 February.

To Mr El-Hennawi’s horror, it was later discovered that a third of his belongings were missing – worth an estimated $33,200.

They included antiques, lounge suite, electric drills and angle grinders, boxes of more than 200 LED lights, shoes, kitchen mixer, cookware, crystal cups, and tea sets.

“This was all the furniture, equipment, kitchen items and accessories that I have owned for the 35 years that I lived in Australia.”

He had been unable to afford $7000 of transit insurance to cover his goods, he says.

At the time of delivery, Mr El-Hennawi signed a declaration that he’d received his goods.

He argues that he felt rushed to sign, that it would have taken him days to check that all his property had arrived.

Mr El-Hennawi has returned to Australia in a bid for compensation but hit a legal dead end.

Grace Removalists should be held responsible for its overseas partner’s fees and conduct, he argues.

His signed contract covered the cost of delivery to the wharf, payment of ocean freight and outbound port fees, collection from the Alexandria port and delivery and unloading of the goods to the Egyptian address.

To Mr El-Hennawi’s surprise, “customs duties or tax” costs were expressly excluded in the contract.

“They’re deceiving people. They tell people that they will ship door-to-door but then they find something between the lines that we’re not responsible.

“They should tell you … that it will actually cost this (much).

“If you need to move anything with them, you need a lawyer as well.”

A manager at Grace Removalists’ Hallam office said the company had abided by its contract. The customs fee exclusion was “clear on the contract”.

She also pointed to Mr El-Hennawi “signing off” on receiving the full inventory of goods in Egypt.

The Egyptian-based Express International Group was accredited, including an affiliation with the FIDI global alliance of removalists, she said.

“It’s a storm in a tea cup, really.”

According to Consumer Affairs Victoria, Mr El-Hennawi may not have signed away all of his rights.

Furniture removalists, including those who use third-party companies overseas, have obligations under Australian consumer law not to mislead consumers on the total cost of the service.

However, customers should “read any contract very carefully, and ask that all additional charges be itemised and included”, a CAV spokesperson said.

“Anyone who believes a contract contains unfair terms can contact Consumer Affairs Victoria, or seek independent legal advice.”

Mr El-Hennawi may also access a dispute resolution scheme through the Australian Furniture Removers Association (AFRA).

This is due to Grace Removalists being a member of AFRA.

“It is highly recommended that consumers take out transit insurance from an authorised removalist or third-party company, to help protect their belongings,” the CAV spokesperson said.

FURNITURE REMOVALIST ADVICE

o Take out transit insurance from an authorised removalist or third-party company for peace of mind. Remember, you still have rights under the Australian Consumer Law, even if you have not taken out insurance.

o Get online and research the company. Find out what others are saying about them. Ask family and friends for their recommendations.

o Consider choosing a removalist company that is accredited with an industry body such as the Australian Furniture Removers Association (AFRA). AFRA members must meet certain standards of quality and service, and AFRA has a process to help resolve disputes involving its members.

o Take photos of items packed, particularly fragile and valuable ones.

o Read contracts very carefully and do not feel pressured to sign. If there is anything in the contract you do not agree with, or the contract is missing any details (such as when and what items are to be moved), either ask for it to be changed or do not choose that company.

o Ask about terms and conditions, including any possible extra costs, such as if the move takes longer than expected. Get clear information about whether the cost is flat or charged hourly.

Source: Consumer Affairs Victoria

Your first stop before buying a home. View the whole picture.