Many are paying bills ‘blind’

The Irish Independent
Orla O’Sullivan, December 2nd, 2004

AT least one in six people pay their bills sight unseen – despite admissions of overcharging by 11 Irish companies this year alone – according to survey results shared exclusively with Your Money by Diarmuid MacShane, who runs the website www.valueireland.com.

Of 200 respondents to the survey, run online from October 1 to mid-November, 7pc said they never bother to check any bill, Mr MacShane said.

Another 8pc of the 200 respondents agreed to the statement: “I pay by direct debit and don’t know what I’m paying.” In reality, says, Mr MacShane, “I would think the number of people who pay their bills without looking at them is higher than 15pc because visitors to our site tend to be more aware consumers than the general population.” www.valueireland.com, a forum where consumers share their experiences of good and bad value received, gets about 5,000 visitors a month.

Separate to the survey, Mr MacShane reviewed media coverage this year, and found 25 reported incidents of overcharging by 11 companies. “There were 900,000 customers affected to the tune of €42m.”

These include the highly publicised cases involving Allied Irish Banks, National Irish Bank and mobile operators, O2 and Vodafone, plus others involving businesses such as Eircom and Esat BT. In total, 42pc of respondents said they do not check every bill they receive. Some check only certain bills from certain companies or individual bills with which they take issue.

“How can people expect the Government to help them if they don’t help themselves by keeping watch over their payments, especially when they’re dealing with companies that have been known to overcharge?” he asks.

There were also three reported incidents of companies undercharging their customers: NIB and its credit card customers; AIB and some student/graduate charges; and ESB, which will start to collect an average of €120 from each customer undercharged.

“We don’t want to be too negative,” said Mr MacShane, formerly a business analyst for investment banks. “If consumers focus on spending money with companies that offer good value, then those companies will prosper.”

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