Some good but some pointless changes proposed – New Consumer Protection Legislation (1 of 5)

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has proposed new consumer protection legislation changes (logo)Back in May 2015, some extensive changes to consumer protection rights legislation were announced by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton, TD. Given the usual legislative delays plus the interjection of an election, the proposals haven’t progressed into law yet, but should they be, there are some interesting implications for consumers – some positive, some negative and some downright meaningless.

Some of these proposed changes have received more media coverage than others – particularly those instituting some rules for the issuing of vouchers and gift cards – including some significant coverage over the Christmas period.  For the record, I’ve frequently written here on the evil that is buying vouchers as gifts, or at all – see here my listing of reasons not to buy vouchers for any reason, so if these proposals didn’t ban vouchers completely, I’m probably not inclined to be interested.

But I’ll come back to vouchers later. In the coming days, I’ll publish my thoughts on a few sections of the proposed legislation, including a post highlighting what I think is a major gap that I think could, or should, have been addressed, but wasn’t.

Obviously, the potential for a change in government (particularly now that it’s not even definite that Fine Gael will continue to be the main players in the relevant Department) could mean that these proposals might not go through in their current form. Though, it’s worth noting that the 2011 change in government didn’t impact on the Fianna Fail plans to merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency into the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, even though such a proposal was never previously on the cards for Fine Gael or Labour.

What might change?

In summary, the changes proposed in this legislation are as follows:

  • Expiry dates on gift vouchers and gift cards will be banned
  • Consumers who receive products or services as a gift will be entitled to the same rights as if they bought the product or service themselves
  • Consumers will get a standard 30-day period during which they will have the right to return a faulty product and get a full refund, without going through the repair / replace shenanigans
  • Consumers downloading or streamlining digital content will now receive statutory rights, similar to what they receive when buying physical items
  • Consumers purchasing services will have their rights strengthened, such as now receiving the right to a repair or a refund for crappy service
  • Consumers of certain services (healthcare, social services, gambling) will now be entitled to additional information regarding transactions they undertake – e.g. GP pricelists.

Summary Conclusions

In short, it’s my opinion that the gift vouchers changes are merely there for their headline grabbing appeal. It’s one of those consumer laws being brought in to protect people who can’t be bothered looking after themselves.

I don’t know enough to comment on how necessary the additional statutory rights for online downloads were, but I do think the changes with regards to strengthening consumer rights when purchasing services is to be welcomed, though is likely to prove very problematic for consumers to actually benefit from those particular changes. The key sticking point here is likely to be how a substandard service is defined / identified / proven.

Importantly, while the automatic 30-day refund period for faulty products could probably have the biggest impact on making consumers purchasing experiences significantly better, it is also likely to be opposed most rigorously by retailers who hide behind the existing repair / replace options within consumer legislation to ensure they never have to return money to consumers for crappy products.

Finally, I do see one glaring gap right now in the information rights proposals for the new legislation. I can’t argue with proposals such as requiring GPs to hang price lists on the wall. Though, in the interests of consumers looking after themselves – have we lost the ability to ask up front what the charges would be?

First up then, in my next blog post I’ll look more at the 30 day refund rule, the “consumer rights by proxy” for recipients of gifts, and the voucher / gift card changes.

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99% Invisible – Episode 196 – The Fresno Drop

This history on the origination of credit cards was published by the always interesting podcast 99% Invisible back in January. From the website introducing this podcast episode:

In September 1958, Bank of America began an experiment—one that would have far reaching effects on our lives and on the economy. After careful consideration, they decided to conduct this experiment in Fresno, California. The presumption was that no one was paying much attention to Fresno, so if the plan failed, it wouldn’t get a lot of media attention.

Bank of America sent out 60,000 pieces of mail to people in Fresno. Inside was a little plastic object that has become in equal parts emblematic of opportunity, convenience, and debt.

It was a card offering a $500 line of credit.

Have a listen below.

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What’s your normal bottled water buying routine?

Would you be able to save nearly €1000 over the course of a year by giving up on buying bottled water, and sticking to tap water? You’d be helping your pocket, as well as helping out the environment. Previously, I did a similar analysis asking “What’s your normal coffee buying routine at work?” which could you a further €1400 each year.

Single bottle of water can cost you up to €1.85.

The price of bottled water varies widely, from a few cents to a couple of euro per litre. For illustration purposes here, I’m using a well known sparkling water brand 500ml bottle which you’ll find in any shop in the country. The same 500ml of sparkling water, but from a different brand (imported) could cost you as “little” as €1.19.

A days supply of bottled water could cost you €3.70.

But 6 500ml bottles of sparkling water in Lidl would set you back €1.69 total. Strangely enough, 6 500ml bottles of sparkling water, no matter where you buy the pack in my recent experience, will cost you €1.69. Grocery competition? Where?

A weeks supply of bottled water could cost you up to €18.50

But it’s not just the cost to you or I that’s of interest in buying bottled water as frequently as this. There is the economic cost of shipping water from region to region, or even from country to country. Though, getting a glass of water from our tap these days isn’t cheap – we only need to see the costs incurred by Irish Water when it comes to fixing pipes.

A months supply of bottled water could cost you up to €74.

There is also the cost to the environment through all the plastic used to bottle water. “Plastic water bottles can take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes. It is estimated that over 80% of all single-use water bottles used in the U.S. simply become “litter”.” Furthermore, “it is estimated that actually 3 liters of water is used to package 1 liter of bottled water”.

Buying bottled water for a year can set you back nearly €1000.

There are obviously some simple alternatives to buying water in plastic bottles. Well, you could buy one, and then reuse it which would save you a lot of money. Never one to advise spending money in an effort to save money, but you could purchase one of those high-quality reusable water bottles you see people using these days. While these bottles aren’t cheap, if you look after the bottle and keep it clean and hygienic, it should last you a long time. Or just use a glass.

And when you’re out, assuming it’s not one of the places starting to charge for it, don’t be shy to just ask for the house tap water.

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Whistleblowing in Ireland – an inconvenient threat to management

The GuardianThe quote below is from an article, “The sinister treatment of dissent at the BBC”, written by Nick Cohen and published in The Guardian. To me, it is a perfect description of the threat that senior people in organisations feel from whistleblowers who go public. It’s perfectly obvious in Ireland at the moment that whistleblowers are not seen as people out to do something good for an organisation. Instead, given some recent incidents here, management will mainly see whistleblowers as solely focused on trying to do something to slight management themselves.

But they’re missing the point – they see it as a personal slight because they KNOW that they probably already had the opportunity to do something, but most likely (given everything will have gone public) chose not to.

If whistleblowers are doing their job properly, they’ll already have raised their concerns to that same management. For the concerns to go public, it’s more than likely that management will have spurned the opportunity to do anything constructive or positive to address the concerns.

So, what starts as regular employees, inconveniently for whatever reason to management, doing their job and speaking up and highlighting when something is going wrong, eventually becomes a personal slight on management in charge when that employee doesn’t just stay in their cubicle when ignored / sidelined / silenced / fobbed off first time around.

In the banks, the NHS, the police or the BBC, the greatest threats to those in charge, however, are not threats to the institution but threats to their status. If subordinates can contradict them, how can they justify their salaries and the prestige that goes with them?

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The ValueIreland 52 Week Money Saving Challenge

There’s a money saving plan that’s circulated quite widely around the start of every new year. You might variously have seen it called the “52 Week Money Challenge” or the “52 Week Savings Plan”, or some variation of those. The idea of this savings plan is that you will save increasing amounts every week. You’ll start in week one by saving €1, and increase your weekly savings amount by €1 each subsequent week. So, you get to week 29, you’ll be saving away €29, and so on. The theory is that you make up a savings chart where you’d tick off each weeks savings, and put the money in a jar kept somewhere you’ll always be reminded to make your weekly deposit.

By the end of the year, you’ll end up saving €1378 – which would be quite nice to have in your pocket over the Christmas.

A plan with difficulties

This plan, while seeming nice, and starting off nice and easy, has two key difficulties that I can see. Firstly, coming towards the end of the year, you’re going to be expected to save away around €200 per month to keep to the plan. That’s a whole lot harder at that time of year compared to having to put away €10 to €25 per month at the start of the year.

Additionally, having the money visible and easily accessible somewhere means there’ll always be the temptation to dip in to the pot when money is tight – after an expensive weekend, or if you’re running out for messages with no cash in your pocket.

Savings Plans are still a good idea

Yet, it’d still be nice to be able to do something during the year (possibly even over and above your existing savings efforts) to give you a nice pot of cash for the Christmas, or to get you through January.

So, how about trying something slightly different – a variation on the original 52 week money saving challenges, but designed to make things a little bit easier through the year – particularly in November and December – and hopefully done in such a way as to ensure you don’t make withdrawals as easily as you’re supposed to make the deposits.

Take 6 minutes to check it out

Instead of saving €1, then €2, and so on, and ending the year on €51 followed by €52, how about saving in rising increments of €2 per week, getting to June 25th where you’d deposit €52, and then start decreasing the increments by €2 per week until your last deposit at Christmas is a simple €2 again? Actually, you’d need to have 2 weeks in the middle of the year – June 25th and July 2nd – where you’d be saving the maximum €52. Your saving plan would look something like the image below.

So, the start and end of the year are easier, and the tougher times are in the middle of the year where you’ve time to plan for them if necessary.

I’d also suggest finding a way – via your online banking if at all possible – to move the money to a savings account that’s not as easily accessible as jar on the counter in the kitchen. You could transfer the money to a credit union account, for example, or you could bulk up the savings over certain weeks and buy prize bonds. You could even simply spend a couple of quid in one of those thrift stores and buy yourself a savings tin that takes a tin-opener to access. Anything, really, so that you can’t easily spend the cash as you’re saving it.

Building a Savings Habit

If nothing else, trying to start a plan like this – particularly if you’re not the best saver anyway – would help greatly to build up your savings habit. The version of plan that I’m suggesting above should make it a little bit easier to stick to throughout the year – particularly towards the end of the year when you might be getting a little bored, and the temptation to spend the money grows, or even the availability of spare cash diminishes.

Putting the money out of reach should help with that as well.

Oh, and because of the slight change in schedule, if you were able to stick to this plan over the 52 weeks, you’d end up saving a little bit more as well – €1404 by the end of the year.

VI 52 Week Money Saving Challenge Schedule

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How much is walking that little bit extra worth to you?

A common New Year resolution money saving / healthy living tip you’ll regularly read in the newspapers is to change your daily bus / train commute a little so that you walk a little bit extra every day, and spend a little bit less on your ticket. So, in the morning you’d walk a bit closer to work and get on the bus or train a stop closer to your destination, while in the evening you’d get off a little bit further away from your house and walk the rest of the journey home.

Rather than just dismissing such advise with a “come on, Charlie / Conor / Sinead, what about us living in the real world where it’s hard to get up in the morning to get the time to walk more and where our jobs mean we need to get home to relax as quickly as possible”, have you ever seriously looked in to it?

Take 6 minutes to check it out
Can you make these changes to your daily commute? Can you quantify the benefit? Check out your transport timetable, check the stop locations, and check the ticket stages / costs. Is there a stop within walking distance in the morning that if you walked and boarded there, you could drop to a cheaper fare? And similarly in the evening, if you got off at that stop and walked, would you be on the cheaper fare as well.

I appreciate your commute might not entirely lend itself to such a discussion, but if you’re driving every morning, are there other things to investigate? Do you pay for parking – if so, is there a cheaper car park further away from your normal one that charges less, and you could walk the rest of the way to work? If parking costs not an issue, could you just park up somewhere else a distance from work anyway, and just walk the remainder.

Actual Benefits
I checked all this out for my daily commute. For me, it works out that I can walk to a stop closer to work for the morning bus journey, and can get off the bus two stops earlier in the evening. The walk in the morning is 800m, and 700m in the evening, and the cost saving is 55c each trip (based on current 2015 LEAP card charges).

Roll that up over a working year, that equates to walking an additional 375km per year and a cash saving of €275 for the full year.

Win. Win.

Okay, so it’s hard get up that bit earlier on cold freezing icy mornings to walk a bit more, and just as hard on dark wet evenings to get off the bus that bit earlier, but the bigger picture view should help. Maybe tracking my success in sticking to the plan, and potentially promising myself something nice with the money saved at the end of the year will help with that little bit of extra motivation as well.

In the 22 working days since the start of the new year, I’ve so far managed to stick to the plan for all 22 of those days. Not too shabby, so far.

Of course, if I was to be really practical, I wouldn’t be promising myself treats with the money saved, but I’d be planning to use the money saved during this year to top-up my LEAPcard next January when the Christmas induced financial squeeze kicks in.

With the savings to be made in 2015, I could pay for my travel daily all the way to Friday May 13th, 2015.

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Interested in helping create a SayNoTo1890 smartphone app?

If you’re interested in helping out in a project to create a SayNoTo1890 smartphone app in early 2015, please read more here.

Designing an appropriate SayNoTo1890 smartphone app will make it much easier to dial the geographic alternatives for the 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers, helping you save even more money. It will also facilitate the sharing of information to gather even more geographic alternatives as well as ensure those numbers are always as up to date as possible.

It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, and a smartphone app for the SayNoTo1890.com website is a regularly requested feature from the users of the website.

This detailed blog post over on the SayNoTo1890.com website explains how I’d like to go about building this smartphone app, and what assistance I’d like to get and will need to get the app built, hopefully early in 2015.

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SayNoTo1890.com is Now Available Again

If you’ve arrived here looking for the SayNoTo1890.com website, please note that because the site was hacked on Saturday, November 22nd, the site and numbers are temporarily available. I’m currently waiting for some technical support in order to be able to rebuild the site.

Given it’s the weekend, I’m afraid I probably won’t be able to get the site rebuilt now before Monday evening.

You can keep up to date on what’s happening through the @SayNoTo1890 Twitter feed. Or you can check back here later as well where I’ll provide updates as well.

UPDATE: Sunday November 23rdSayNoTo1890.com is now back up and running again. There are some recent updates missing, but the majority of the site is now there again.

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This Weeks Grocery Special Offers across Ireland

Every week you can access this weeks grocery special offers across Ireland from all of the main grocery chains from this single handy web page. On a weekly basis, sometimes monthly, all the Irish supermarket chains publish their special offers on their websites in various different formats.

You can use this webpage to click on any of the icons below to bring you directly to the this weeks grocery special offers across Ireland from the main supermarket chains.

This Weeks Grocery Special Offers across Ireland

These links are as up to date as I can make them. The supermarket chains, however, don’t make it easy to keep this listing up to date – they regularly change the links to their special offers pages for no apparent reason other than to make it hard to keep this webpage up to date.

If you notice any broken links, or have any suggestions on any other pages that should be added here, please let me know here.

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