Filling prescriptions in Northern Ireland can save you money

A regular reader of has sent us in this e-mail about getting prescriptions filled in Northern Ireland – something I wasn’t aware of.

My husband gets 2 x 6 months prescriptions annually for tablets and I buy them this way rather than monthly. I imagine I make a saving but in reality that is probably not the case. Today we got the prescription and I decided to telephone a chemist in the North to enquire

1. If they would take a Southern Prescription
2. How much for the six months?

The answer – since last November new legislation provides that they can fill any prescription from any European country and they costed the prescription, here I pay €500 – there tomorrow, I will pay €374, a saving of €126.(€252 saving in a year and I have to earn €500 to pay this).

They also said they would welcome my business.

In addition they sell Celebrity Slim which I buy now and then at a saving of €4.50 a pack, so will stock up on them too. Its not all down to the currency exchange.

Now my tyres are nearing the legal limit so it’s a no-brainer…..


Shopping up north – watch out when withdrawing cash

Update: Check out the 2016 listing of Special Offers from the various Northern Ireland grocery chains.

Irish News of the World

May 31st, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Shopping up north – watch out when withdrawing cash

A reader e-mailed us a top tip for anyone withdrawing sterling cash when up north for their shopping.

The reader notices that when using an Ulster Bank ATM in Newry, they weren’t charged charged a foreign currency withdrawal fee by their bank.

However, when using using an Alliance & Leicester ATM when in Belfast, they were charged €3.17 in fees.

What the reader found most bizarre was that the foreign currency withdrawl fee wasn’t charged by Alliance & Leicester, but by their own bank, Permanent TSB.

So that you know exactly what to expect if you’re travelling north, give your bank a call before you ring and find out what they will charge you if you withdraw sterling while there.


Websites you can trust – what to watch out for?

In the past, I have compiled top tips to protect yourself when online – Avoid Online Scams, Protect your personal data, Avoid Financial Phishing, and Top Tips for Online Credit Card Security.

However, this top tips series will fill in some of the blanks not covered by the previous top tips – specifically, how can you check out a website to decide whether it can be trusted or not.

I’m putting these top tips together now due to the large number of new Irish consumer websites being set up at the moment, and particularly in light of the issues I’ve highlighted with some new consumer websites set up recently (here and here).

So, here are a few things to check out when deciding whether or not you can trust a website that you find interesting and would like to use:

1.    Find out who’s behind the website

Is it clear who is behind the website – are there the names of the people behind it, or the company name, available on the website? Don’t get involved with a website unless you’re sure that it’s real and you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

If it’s a company, then you should be provided with their company registration details. You can find out more about the company using the Company Registration Office website.

You could also check the website registration to see who’s behind the website – if it’s a .ie, you can go to to get the website details. will give you similar information for .com and other types of websites, but it’s easier to hide who’s behind these kinds of websites.

2.    Find out what other people are saying about the website

Do a web search for the name of the website and the name of the company or people behind to see what other people are saying about them. You may find comments, positive or negative, which will help you decide to use the site, or not.

3.    Find out how you can contact the people behind the website

Check the Contact Us page, and the About Us page to see what contact details are provided. Are there e-mail addresses or phone numbers? Or is there just an anonymous Contact Form?

When checking for contact details, consider how you’d fare if you had a problem and you needed your money back, or needed to actually speak to someone about a problem. Enough details now?

It is an EU Regulation that contact details be provided on a business’ website. If it’s not provided, ask yourself why they might want to make it hard for people to contact them.

4.    Find out where the people behind the website are based

In addition to the above contact details, if you’re handing over personal information, or making purchases, from a website, you should consider what you’ll need to actually find the business.

Say, for example, you’re having no luck with a product you bought that doesn’t work and you want to submit a claim in the Small Claims Court.

Is there a physical address for the people behind the website available? Is the address sufficient that you could actually find the place if you had to?

One tip – if there is a company name on the website, you can check the Companies Office website above – there should be an address available there.

It is also an EU Regulation that a business’ premises address is  provided on their website. If it’s not provided, ask yourself why they might want to make it hard for people to find them.

5.    Is the website secure?

The top tips referred to above include information on how to check if a website secure – i.e. look for the gold lock symbol, or the https:// before the website address.

One thing you should also confirm is that following clicking on links around the site that when you do actually begin to provide personal details, are you still on the same website you originally visited, or have you been redirected to a different URL.

6.    Check the small print before handing over details

Before giving away any of your details, you should check for pages such as Terms & Conditions, Disclaimers and Notices. Are you happy with their contents – are there any conditions that you don’t understand, or that you find suspicious?

7.    Don’t hand over unnecessary information

When you’re filling in forms on websites you’re using, always bear in mind the reason that you’re at the website and whether or not the information you’re being asked for is suitable and relevant.

For example, if you’re buying some books online, would it be appropriate for someone to ask you for your bank account details or your PPS number?

Check the Privacy Policy on the site to see what they’re going to do with any information they’re asking for that you are actually willing to give.

8.    If in doubt, don’t

At any point, if you’re not sure about what’s happening or what you’re seeing in front of you, stop.


Product Warranties – more information

Last week, I wrote this post “How long is my purchase guaranteed for? 1 Year? 2 Years?” where I advised that European legislation now meant that in some situations, consumers could expect their consumer rights to last 2 years rather than the 1 year we mostly expect.

I received a follow up e-mail from the original reader which provided further information, and while my advice still stands, their situation is actually now somewhat different.

They bought the Sony Playstation in question from Virgin Megastores which since went out of business. It’s something we should all remember, but when we buy items from a retailer, our contract is with them and not the manufacturer of the item.

So, in this readers case, as Virgin Megastore went out of business, they were simply out of luck and there was no grounds for them to have their rights enforced.

The reader had contacted Sony directly and attempted to have their European 2 year rights enforced, but as Sony correctly pointed out, that 2 year period is only enforceable on the retailer, not the manufacturer.


Government cuts – the government still don’t get how to go about it

This goings on in this article from the Irish Independent last week really frustrates me – TDs snub bid to cut minister pensions.

HALF of sitting TDs getting ministerial pensions have snubbed government attempts to get them to agree the amount their payments should be cut by.
The Department of Finance received replies from only 16 of 31 sitting Oireachtas members who still enjoy ministerial pensions after it wrote to them more than a month ago to seek agreement on a reduction. The others appear to have ignored the letter.

To be fair to anyone who’s been approached and asked to accept these cuts voluntarily, I’d have a little sympathy. At a certain point in time, it was deemed right and acceptable for the current situation to exist. An entitlement was created (as childrens allowance and over 70’s medical cards, and the old age pensions are entitlements) so to ask someone to give up their entitlement isn’t the way to get what you want.

As the government are trying to do with many other entitlements, they do have an option to remove them, as pointed out in the article:

In another embarrassing blow to his authority, Taoiseach Brian Cowen will now have to force through the pension cuts after failing to get the co-operation of some recipients.

But, as I pointed out before, these kinds of cuts are short term in nature and so small that they won’t have any major impact on our budget deficit this year, or any other year.

Such cuts are for show, and there’ll be a bigger show if the government did actually bring in legislation to make the cuts obligatory. But it’s all still show.

As I suggested here previously – why not do something constructive about this, and for the longer term:

Instead of cutting benefits for everyone in one go, why not cut the benefits for anyone who doesn’t have them at the moment? Remove the entitlements to benefits for anyone may in the future who expects to get something rather than taking it from someone who has it already.


To my mind, this is a simple way to get something accepted by the government without so much opposition, but I obviously accept that it’s a longer term thing. However, with less opposition at the time of making decisions in this way, it’s alternatively possible that they could make cuts across a wider range of areas in one go – without the piece meal tinkering about the edges they’ve been involved in for the past 6 months.

I see that since I originally composed this post, Brian Cowen has made his move on this and is proposing a 25% cut in pensions entitlement. Which just goes to show how pointless the cuts are in the first place. All for show!


Useless quango reorganisations – Financial Regulator and National Consumer Agency

This story went up on the RTE website yesterday evening – Commission to replace Financial Regulator. The main point of the article is the planned realignment of the industry regulating responsibilities of the Financial Regulator back into the Central Bank (where it resided originally anyway).

However, of more interest to consumers will be the following statement:

The role of informing consumers, currently carried out by the Financial Regulator’s consumer director, will be transferred to the National Consumer Agency, which is being merged with the Competition Authority.

To a certain extent, I think that the principle of this move is to be welcomed. That is, that advice for consumers comes from a centralised organisation – rather than disparate organisations giving frequently overlapping advice to consumers which only serves to further confuse rather than clarify and inform.

But why not go further?

The National Consumer Agency doesn’t always prosecute when it comes to breaches of consumer legislation, but when it does, it names and shames.

The Financial Services Ombudsman does follow up and make judgements in favour of consumers, but they don’t release names of the offending businesses.

Why now, as well as amalgamating the information provision services, bring the consumer protection legislation enforcement responsibilities together into one place as well?

Throw the Financial Services Ombudsman into the mix proposed above, and provide one less place for consumers to have to worry about when it comes to knowing where to go to make their complaints.

That in itself would reduce much of the potential consumer confusion when it comes to who is actually supposed to look after their interests.


Travel Insurance – shop around for the best value

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Travel Insurance

The past week has seen some dire warnings about the dangers of going abroad without being adequately covered by suitable travel insurance.

There have been horror stories about having to pay tens of thousands of euros in hospital costs for even something as simple as a broken arm.

While all the well known insurance companies will sell you travel insurances, and a number of specialists as well, there are a few tricks you should know that will save you money.

There are some credit cards, such as available from National Irish Bank, that provide you with free travel insurance on any holidays that you book and pay for using the card.

Watch out too for travel companies, such as James’ Villas, that will offer you free travel insurance when you book your holiday with them.

Finally, Quinn Direct offers its customers who already have car and health insurance the benefit of free travel insurance until the end of 2010.

While anything free is great, make sure though that you read the small print to make sure all eventualities are covered.


How long is my purchase guaranteed? 1 year? 2 years?

This e-mail came through from a reader in the last week or so:

I bought a Sony Playstation 3, 60 Gb model for my sons, which has stopped working two weeks ago.  I have just found receipt which confirms that it is less than 2 years old.  We heard recently that all goods are covered by 2 year statutory warranty.  (This legislation emanates from EU Directive.)  Can you provide more information about this Irish legislation and also tell me what our rights are with the Playstation 3.. My sons saved quite a while to purchase same.

First things first, the specific organisation for allegedly responsible for overseeing the legislation the reader is referring to here is the National Consumer Agency. If they have any specific follow ups, or wish to progress their complaint any further, these are the people to contact.

However, the reader is correct that there is EU legislation – Directive 1999/44/EC, Article 5 – that provides for a minimum guarantee of 2 years on products bought. The regulation was eventually put into place by Statutory Instrument No. 11 of 2003, signed into effect by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Mary Harney.

The actual text of the EU regulation, Article 5, states that:

Time limits

1. The seller shall be held liable under Article 3 where the lack of conformity becomes apparent within two years as from delivery of the goods. If, under national legislation, the rights laid down in Article 3(2) are subject to a limitation period, that period shall not expire within a period of two years from the time of delivery.

It is also worth noting though that according to the European Consumer Centre Dublin, provide this extra bit of relevant information:

Also important for consumers is that after this period of six months they are still protected against faulty products. In Ireland within six years from delivery of the goods the trader still can be held liable for any lack of conformity. However, it is then up to the consumer to prove that the lack of conformity existed at the time of delivery.

There is, unfortunately, a bit of ambiguity in these rules and legislation – as referred to by the last sentence of the ECC Dublin comment above. This is to do with the fact that the “lack of conformity” (i.e. the fault) must have existed at the time of purchase.

It is assumed in legislation that any fault found in the first 6 months is assumed to have existed at the time of purchase. However, there is a burden of proof on either side subsequently to prove that any fault that becomes visible actually existed at purchase, and didn’t develop because of use, age, maintenance, storage issues etc.


Mean garage wouldn’t even pay for petrol for replacement car

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane


When I left my car in to be repaired in a garage in Kildare last week they gave me a replacement car that turned out to have no petrol in it whatsoever – the red light came on before I even got to the petrol station.

When I complained, they told me I was lucky to get a car at all because they normally charged for one, and they refused to pay for any petrol for the time I had the car.

Could they refuse to give me a replacement car like that, and not give me any petrol? Am I supposed to sit there for a full day waiting for them to fix the car?


A garage is not obliged to provide a replacement car to their customers – but in the past it has been a goodwill gesture that garages have shown.

Given that things are tougher these days and garages are making less money selling cars, I have noticed myself that many garages will now charge for car rental if they provide a replacement car instead of letting customers have one for free.

In these tougher times unfortunately, it looks like you’ve found a garage who have taken this stingy attitude an even cheaper level by not even providing the petrol.

While the garage might see this as being prudent in counting every penny, if you rightly avoid using the garage again in protest, they’ll soon find that every customer counts more than every penny.


Can NTL give me free upgrades I don’t want and charge to downgrade?

Last week I received this e-mail from a reader complaining about a problem that I’ve only recently begun to follow up on myself as it affects me personally as well. Here’s the e-mail:

I want to find out about what I can do about what NTL are doing to me at the moment. In some ways you might say that I have nothing to complain about, but I’m not happy.

They recently upgraded both my TV and broadband packages – originally at no extra cost. They tell me that they’re doing this as part of improving the service that they provide to their customers. I get more channels (I think – I don’t really care if I get more kids channels) and I get faster broadband. I can’t even tell that I get faster broadband, so big deal.

After a couple of months, they then came along and started to charge me more for the packages that I’m getting.

When I started to check about saving money recently, I thought that I could downgrade my packages again back down to the versions that I was on previously.

The version of the service I was on now have different names though since since technically I’m on the package name (with extra benefits) that I asked for when I signed up to them last year.

This is the bit that really annoys me – when I try to downgrade my package, they are telling me that they’re going to charge me €10.

Can they do this? I only want to get the same service that I asked for and agreed to pay for originally, but now it’s going to cost me more to not change what I’m getting now, and will charge me more to go back to what I originally asked for.

There must be some consumer protection laws that they’re breaking in backing me into this costly corner? I tried contacting the Consumers Association, the Consumer Agency and COMREG about this, but its been 6 weeks now and none of them have answered me.

This was my response:

First of all, the main organisation that could do anything about this situation is the National Consumer Agency – if it were the case that NTL were breaking any consumer legislation. But as regular readers would know, I wouldn’t have any expectation that that would happen anyway.

The Consumers Association of Ireland is a pressure group that has no powers. COMREG, though they oversee NTL for phone and broadband services, isn’t responsible for overseeing their TV service – and anyway COMREG only deals with industry, not consumer related complaints.

So, to your complaint. I have been investigating this very issue myself recently as the same thing has happened to me.

As far as I have been able to find out so far, there is nothing that NTL have done here to break any consumer related legislation.

Looking at the three stages individually, you can see this a bit clearer:

1. They gave you an increased package for the same money. Albeit for a short period of time, you got more for your money. Something to be applauded if steps 2 and 3 didn’t actually follow.

2. They increased their prices. Since we don’t operate in a price controlled economy, businesses are allowed increase their prices as they chose. So, technically, there’s nothing in what NTL did here that’s against the law.

3. They’re charging you to downgrade your package. This is something that I’m still following up more on.

To be charged a fee by any company for them to do anything, you must be informed about that fee up front. It must be in their terms and conditions, or if they’re later added to their terms and conditions, you must be informed about those changes.

This is where I believe that NTL are taking the piss. This downgrade charge, as far as I can find out, was never in their original contracts – I signed up in 2003 and the charge wasn’t there.

With the recent availability of the infamous “boxes” that people used on NTL,it was quite common for people to downgrade their packages to the cheapest possible because they were getting everything for free – but just needed the basic NTL subscription.

In order to try to plug the hole in their revenues before they could come up with the necessary security to make these boxes useless (as they’ve done now), I reckon NTL brought in those downgrade charges.

I don’t remember ever seeing any notified change to their terms and conditions to announce these new charges. Yet, if you ring them, they’ll insist that you must pay it.

I don’t believe that they can do this. I’m going to follow up on this further, but in the meantime you should contact the Consumers Association of Ireland to get pressure put on NTL to get their T’s & C’s confirmed and updated, and follow up further with the National Consumer Agency to get them to confirm if these charges are not allowed based on the contract that you signed up to originally.


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