The Sunday World
Des Ekin, September 26th, 2004
Alcohol. You can’t argue with the statistics – since 2001, the average price of a pint of stout has risen by over a sixth (from €3.06 to €3.54) and the price of whiskey by a quarter.
Irish pubs are now the second most dearest in the Euro-Zone. A combination of grasping price hikes and increased Government taxes was already forcing punters away from the pubs long before the smoke ban hit.
Now that the €5 pint is a reality in some bars, business is plummeting. Wexford bar owner Francis Dooley has slashed his pint price by €1.50 in a bid to lure back his customers. He says he’s “reacting to market demands”. At long long last.
Banks. The overcharging scandals involving AIB (a mere €34m) and NIB (just €7.5m) were a drop in the ocean compared to the estimated €1,000m that the Irish banks ripped off from their Irish customers and the late 90’s and early 00’s when European interest rates plummeted.
A damning report by the financial services watchdog IFSRA roasted the banks for failing to pass on these cuts to their customers. The charge is repeated in the latest report from the National Competitiveness Council (NCC).
The ripoffs continue on a daily basis. Charges for a current account are 17% higher than in the UK and, although shopping around could save an average user €220 a year, crippling penalties have (up until now) prevented us from switching accounts for the best deal.
CDs. I’ve just bought two top chart CDs (The Thrills and The Streets) and a classic album (Nirvana’s Nevermind) from the website cdwow for a total of €38, or less than €13 each, including delivery to my door. The same three albums would have cost €48-€66 in the High Street.
A recent survey by the European Consumer Centre in Dublin showed that buying 10 albums online could save €85 – the price of a budget CD player! It’s the same story with DVD’s: another survey showed that a DVD costing almost €30 in Galway cost €24.99 in Dublin and €22.99 on cdwow. In New York it was €16.40.
Doctors and Dentists. When the euro came in, doctors and dentists hiked their prices way beyond levels that could be explained by inflation and higher costs. (Forfas Report, 2002).
A GP consultation that used to cost £25 (€31.75), suddenly became €35 or even €38. Now the norm is €40, but according to the Health Department, some GP’s charge up to €50 and private patients restrict their visits to less than three a year instead of nearly five.
Meanwhile, the cost of a dental filling can vary from €60 up to an aching €200, forcing “dental tourists” to travel to Belfast, Budapest and even South Africa to save money on complex work.
Electricity. This may shock you, but by January, you’ll be paying an extra euro for every €8 you’re paying now. There’ll be a 9% rise next month followed by a probably 3.5% in the New Year. This means that the monopoly ESB has hiked its prices by a staggering FORTY per cent since 2001.
All due to the oil shocks? No, according to the NCC report, which says oil rises “do not justify the high level of price levels for electricity in Ireland” which have always been out of line with the rest of Europe.
Fuel. The entry of Tesco into the petrol market forced pump prices down and showed what true competition could do. Yet some stations are still ripping off their customers to the tune of €250 a year, according to a survey by the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs (ODCA).
This survey showed that some stations charged 15c a litre more than others nearby. For instance, in one area of north Dublin, the price varied from less than 95c to nearly 109c a litre.
ODCA also uncovered a flagrant practice in which customers were enticed into forecourts by low-price notices, only to be charged 4c more at the pump.
Garbage. Charges for disposing of household waste have soared all across the country. In Cork, charges have risen 380% in the last four years, and in Fingal by 264% (compared with just 9% in Kildare and 45% in South Dublin), giving rise to suspicions that some councils are using it as a smokescreen for general fundraising.
Hotels. In the past year alone, the cost of tourist accommodation has shot up by 10%, nearly four times the rate of inflation. Now, nearly 2 out of 3 visitors feel ripped off in Ireland (compared to just over half in the previous year) and a high-powered tourism action group blames the industry’s “opportunistic price increases” for driving visitors away.
Insurance. Where to begin? With the fact that insurance cover costing €1000 six years ago is now costing €2200 (compared to €1380 in the USA, and €1220 in Finland).
With the fact that only Poland has had larger increases? With the sky-high premiums charged for car insurance (example:€3,419 fully comp for a 22-year-old nurse to drive a Renault Clio)?
With the fact that Irish motor insurance companies have been raking in ten times the profit of their UK counterparts? With the practice of some mortgage providers charging €100 more for home insurance to their own customers, then cynically agreeing to match a lower rate when the customer finds out?
The message from IFSRA is: shop around. It can save you up to 50%.
Jacking Up Prices. Three publicans were left red-faced when an ODCA survey discovered they were jacking up prices for big sporting events. One pub near Croker increased its pint by 20c for a semi-final and two pubs in Galway hiked their prices by 10% for the Races.
Kwik-E Mart. Apu’s famous convenience store in The Simpsons may be fictional, but the real convenience stores in Ireland are charging up to 47% above supermarket prices for some branded items, according to the website www.shoppingbill.com. “If you spend €50 a week in convenience stores, you could be saving anywhere between €1,222 and €1,733 a year by making a trip to the supermarket”, the website advises.
Line Rental. There was public fury this year when Eircom, which has a monopoly on phone lines, increased its line rental to €48 every two months – the third hike in a year, bring us €10 higher than the Euro-average. “The public are angry because the price rise is well ahead of inflation”, said Dermot Ahern. And HE’s the Minister in charge.
Mobiles. Irish mobile phone rates cost more than the EU average on a range of call types, according to the latest NCC survey. This follows an earlier report by Comreg that we are among the highest in the world. Yet the two main networks make huge profits. Other complaints concern the punitive price of roaming abroad and a cost structure nobody can understand.
Nannies. With creche cost running at between €600 and €900 a month, a survey last month revealed that one in every three worker-parents now pay more for childcare than they pay for mortgage or rent. The poll by www.recruitireland.com said parents would be prepared to take wage cuts of up to 30% if they had free childcare. The Central Statistics Office reckons childcare prices have risen by 8.4% in the last year, more than three times inflation.
Overcharging. Not the blatant ripoffs, but secret overcharging. How many times have you checked your checkout receipt to find that the prices are higher than the labels? Since January, ODCA has prosecuted 14 trades. Examples: Jaffa cakes, display price €1.80, charged at €2.89., McVities biscuits, display €1.00, charged at €1.59.
Plastic Money. A report earlier this year showed that some credit card companies borrowed money at 2% and then lent it to their indebted cardholders at up to 18.9%. Nice work if you can get it.
Another survey by Consumer Choice magazine found that the average interest rate of our flexible friends was nearly 40% higher than
in other European countries. They found an average rate of 16.7%, nearly 2% higher than the UK rate.
And that’s before the crippling charges for cash advances and late payments. Then, as we lie bruised and battered on the ground, the Government puts the boot in further with its €40 tax.
Queasy? You may feel even worse when you buy pills and tablets. An ODCA survey showed that a pack of Alka Seltzer costing €2.56 in a chemist was being sold for €3.99 in a convenience store… a head-wrecking €1.43 extra. Last week, another survey by www.shoppingbill.com showed that headache tablets can cost up to 62% more in certain outlets.
Restaurants. Even the Restaurants Association of Ireland admits now that there are a “few unscrupulous players” who overcharge and give the industry a bad name. The fact is that Irish eateries are now the second most expensive in the Euro-Zone, with prices at restaurants, cafes and canteens having shot up by between 3.5% and 8% in the last year alone.
The Fine Gael website www.ripoff.ie has logged such cases as the €7.75 slice of quiche, the €4.50 scone and the €3 cup of tea.
Soft Drinks. We’re No.1 in the Hall of Shame – the most expensive country in the Euro-Zone for non-alcoholic drinks, with mark-ups ranging from 300% to 1000% over off-licence prices.
In Drogheda, a Sunday World reader was recently charged €1.15 for a glass of TAPWATER with a dash of cordial. In Dublin, a Fine Gael survey recorded prices of between €3.40 and €4.70 for a mineral water and lime.
Now one Cork pub, The Bodega, has shouted stop. The pub has cut its price for minerals like Coke and 7Up from €2 to €1.50 and slashed its mixers from €1.90 to €1.45. Will other pubs follow?
Trolley Traumas. We are now top of the Euro-Zone league for food. Our milk, cheese, eggs, fruit, vegetables and potatoes are now the most expensive in Europe. So no wonder many customers are redirecting their grocery trolleys to cheaper stores. There are huge savings to be made from shopping around. Let’s take just one example – bread. www.shoppingbill.com has discovered differences of 350%. “Man shall not live by bread alone – but could save €300 a year to be going on with”, says the website.
UK Stores. Repeated surveys have shown that some UK chain stores are charging their Irish customers more than they charge at home.
Earlier this year, Fine Gael accused these stores of “blatant ripoff” when its survey revealed that a random selection of five products in Tesco was 43% dearer on average than in Britain. There was a 25% mark-up at Habitat and 18% at Argos.
One bit of good news. www.shoppingbill.com, which exposed huge disparities in Tesco’s prices north and south last month, reports that the store has since slashed prices on some of those items.
Vehicle Registration Tax. Not just a rip-off, this is a cause for barricades in the street! A car dealer imports a small car for €9000; the Revenue adds 21% VAT to make it €10,900.
Wash and Blow Up. Customers at hairdressing salons are being clipped in more ways than one. Hair salons were identified as one of the worst culprits who hiked up their prices during the euro changeover (prices rose by a fifth within a few months) and they’ve kept going up. Charges have soared 5.3% in the last 12months alone.
A wash, cut and blow dry that cost €23.51 in 2001 is now €30.40, a rise of 29% in three years, and prices in some Dublin salons are much higher.
X-Box and other games consoles. Like many electronic devices, they cost a lot more in Ireland. A survey by the European Consumer Centre calculated that savings of almost a sixth could be made by buying abroad, even taking delivery charges into account.
Young Voters. Voters in their late teens and 20’s could hold the key to the future of the next government. They may not forgive such price rises as the increase in college registration fees (up 15% to €750 this year, following following a 70% increase two years ago), the rip-off in cinema tickets (up 4.3% in the last year alone), and entry charges to a nightclub-disco (up by a mind-numbing 27% since the euro).
Zero Tolerance. Have customers decided they’ve had enough? More and more customers are voting with their feed, abandoning pubs that charge ripoff prices and boycotting ripoff restaurants. Meanwhile, hundreds of disgruntled customers are making their voices heard through websites like www.valueireland.com, www.ripoffireland.org and Fine Gael’s www.ripoff.ie, and seeking better value with the help of price survey websites like www.shoppingbill.com. It may not be the end of Ripoff Ireland…but it could be the beginning of the end.