Value for Money complaints

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Value for Money complaints

Historically, we Irish haven’t been all that keen on complaining. We normally wouldn’t like to draw attention to ourselves. For that reason, if we get poor service or a dodgy meal in a restaurant for example, we’re more likely to keep quiet rather than make our feelings known.

But I think that’s changing. More and more people are following up on dodgy quality products, bad service, and poor value for money. With money getting tighter and tighter these days, we’re starting to realise that if we don’t let business know that there’s a problem that we’ll end up wasting our hard earned cash.

Just in the last week, a large number of people sent in complaints to restaurants, garages, hotels, and shops and included ValueIreland.com on their complaint. As well allowing me share these complaints with you, it also puts a little extra pressure on the business through knowing that the complaint will be made public.

But there are a few things that people should always be doing when making their complaints to make sure they’re effective. In fact, if done properly, you can either save your money, or possibly even make some money.

Rules of Complaining

There are a couple of key rules you should follow when making a complaint that will help you be successful.

As soon as you have a problem, make your complaint. If you can, make your complaint in person straight away. It is also important that you complain in writing also – sent by registered post to make sure the business can’t deny receiving the complaint.

It is essential that you’re clear in what you’re complaining about. Provide as much detail as you can about what went wrong, when it happens and who was involved. Don’t be shy to ask for names of staff for example.

And finally, when you make your complaint, make sure that you explain what you want the business to do in order to make everything right for you.

In explaining to a business how they can fix things that you’ll be able to either save your money, or potentially make something for the future. If you’ve explained your problem clearly, genuinely and politely, and the business wants to keep your business, then they should be open to doing something to keep you happy.

Wherever you have a problem with a company you should complain to them to either get your money back or to get a discount or voucher for the future. Whether it be your bank, your credit card company, your mobile phone company or your management company, if you’re not happy, let them know. Here’s a few examples of how you can make a few quid from complaining.

Restaurants

Say you got a poor meal in a restaurant. Instead of meekly paying for it and saying nothing, ask to speak to a manager. Let them know that the meal wasn’t good value for money. You could ask for the meal to be taken off your bill, or maybe get a free meal or bottle of wine to the next time you visit. You could even ask for a voucher.

Supermarkets

What happens if you buy a product you’re not happy with from your local supermarket? Do you bring it back and ask for a refund, or just throw it out and forget about it.

Bring the item back to the supermarket the next time you’re there and ask for a refund, or replacement. Explain how unhappy you are and maybe they might even throw in a few vouchers.

If the local store doesn’t help you out, write to the head office explaining the situation and letting them know that their local store wasn’t very helpful and that if they don’t follow up that you’ll be taking your business elsewhere. You might find that you’ll get some vouchers or a gift card worth more than the original product, just to keep you happy.

North – South multiples

I’m not advising that everyone do this, but it’s a money maker none the less. A ValueIreland.com reader bought several items of clothing in a store in Northern Ireland significantly cheaper than they were in Dublin.

When she discovered some problems, she went to the version of the store in Dublin and demanded a refund. She got her refund, but at the more expensive Dublin prices rather than the cheaper Northern Ireland price. A nice little earner to get away with.

Holidays

If you’ve been away on a holiday but you weren’t happy, you should immediately make your complaint as soon as you get home. Many tour operators and holiday companies will hope that you put up and shut up long before they think about giving you any compensation.

Don’t let them away with it – fight for your due compensation by writing to head office. Persistence is the key to success with holiday complaints particularly if you’re case is legitimate, well put and politely argues. So keep at it. At the very least, you could get a voucher or a discount on your next years holidays.

Complain to the ESB

Something that a not a lot of people know, but if you complain to the ESB and for various reasons, if they don’t reply, they’ll give you €40. If they don’t respond to your complaint within 10 working days, they’ll pay you €40. If they promise you a refund for something, and they don’t within 10 days, they’ll give you an extra €40. Worth bearing in mind if you do have a problem with your electricity supplier.

Stick with it

With all these complaints, at some point, the companies will have to do something for you if you keep at them. If you have a legitimate complaint, you’d hope they’d do something sooner rather than later.

Remember though, it’s your money that you’re trying to get back, so stick with your complaints until you get what you’re looking for.

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Centra will stop giving receipts in order to “be green”

This e-mail question came through from a reader of ValueIreland.com recently. It’s an interesting twist that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else.

I was in my local Centra this evening and they had a notice up saying that they would be phasing out the provision of receipts from their tills over time “in the interests of being greener”.

Can they do that? I though it was obligatory that shops provide receipts for purchases. Any information you can provide would be appreciated.

I had to do a bit of checking on this, and here’s what I could find out. First of all, to clarify – the Centra signs referred to in the readers e-mail did actually specify that if shoppers wanted a receipt, they only had to ask for one.

As far as I can find out, shops are not legally obliged to give every customer a receipt. Fair enough, most big stores do, but lots of smaller convenience stores don’t already.

However, what shops are obliged to do is provide you with a receipt if you ask for one.

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National Consumer Agency – need more staff, or just need a clue?

The Annual report of the National Consumer Agency for 2008 was release recently. To cover up the fact that they’re not actually doing much at all to enforce consumer legislation, the mantra now is that they need more staff.

Would these staff actually enforce consumer legislation and prosecute offending businesses, or will they be doing more pointless grocery shopping around the country and up north?

Maybe they could work to improve the quality of staff they have working for them at the moment. One staff member in the NCA actually told a ValueIreland.com reader that they were not responsible for enforcing European consumer legislation and that their regulatory framework was limited to the 1980 Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act.

Clueless muppets!

The role of the NCA is to enforce Irish consumer legislation (all of it, and not just the Sale of Goods act above) and any European consumer legislation transcribed into Irish law.

Maybe now we’ve actually found out why the fuckers* do nothing? They don’t actually know what they’re supposed to be doing in the first place.

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Toolin Travel – what you’re not reading in the news coverage

I’m not sure if this is relevant with regards to Toolin Travel, but if you’ve booked a holiday with them but your departure is from outside of the Republic of Ireland, Belfast for example, then you may not get your money refunded.

That would depend on whether Toolin Travel were also registered with the Civil Aviation Authority in the UK (the equivalent to the Commission for Aviation Regulation here in Ireland).

Given that it’s a Dublin based travel agency, I guess that most people would be buying packages flying from Dublin, but given that some packages might be cheaper with a Belfast departure, there could be some people affected by this.

To read more about this type of scenario, read here – Beware when booking package holidays! Click here to read the official story from the Commission for Aviation Regulation website.

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Customer reaction to poor customer service and mistakes

There’s a right way and a wrong way to react to poor customer service and mistakes, and this letter from a couple of weeks ago in the Irish Independent highlights a few things done the wrong way in the face of E-Flow toll problems.

Sir — Your eFlow letter, (Sunday Independent, May 24, 2009) prompts me to relate my experience. I drove Southbound on the M50 on Bank Holiday Monday, May 4.

I returned Northbound. that evening, and paid the €6.00 toll on the website. Payment Number 440269.

Some days later, I received a request for payment of €6.00., which I ignored. Two weeks later, I received Unpaid Toll Notice, requesting €47.50, and advising that if this was not paid within 56 days, an additional charge of €104.50. would apply. I phoned and eventually got talking to a human (Tony). I explained the situation. He was not interested, and said that failure to discharge the Toll Violation Notice, would result in prosecution. As far as I am concerned I have a receipt.

They can eFlow off.

Martin Dunne,

Malahide, Co Dublin

First things first, if you have a problem with customer service or any issue with a company, you should not ignore it. I realise we’re dealing with E-Flow here, but I would hope that a quick phone call on the day when the next bill was received could have sorted all out.

If you get a bill from anyone, whether it’s paid or unpaid, you should always follow up to confirm that you’re understanding of the current situation (i.e. bill is paid) is the same as the company itself – and therefore they can update their records accordingly.

On another note, despite any and all provocation, you should also be polite when you’re dealing with customer service people. In this particular situation, I can’t say how the interactions went, but I’m willing to guess that if the writer of the letter is willing to have their “e-flow off” statement attributed to themselves in a national newspaper, then things might not have gone swimmingly between himself and Tony over the phone.

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Mortgage companies, Insurance companies and re-build costs – what’s going on?

You’ll have read three posts already today (here, here and here) about how insurance companies and mortgage providers are trying to force Irish consumers to overstate their rebuild costs for their home insurance policies.

For the insurance companies, I can see the motivation – if the rebuild costs are overstated, then the risk is higher, and therefore they can charge higher premiums at a time when they’re losing money elsewhere.

I’m kind of at a lost as to why mortgage providers are insisting that rebuild costs are boosted over and above the values they should actually be according to the Society of Chartered Surveyors (SCS) rebuild costs documentation.

In the mean time, there are a few questions that I have on this whole thing (but remember, I love a conspiracy, so none of these might have any relationship to reality):

  1. Cross selling – if the mortgage provider and the home insurance provider are the same company, then you could understand that one division of the organisation that is unlikely to be making much money these days (mortgages) is doing its best to boost revenue for other divisions (insurance).
  2. Past profits – The focus these days has been for people to find out the rebuild cost rather than the actual value. I wonder in the past how many people insured their homes at the market value – and therefore provide an overstated windfall for insurance companies. So, not only are the losing money now on the premium difference between rebuild costs in the past, and rebuild costs now – but they’re actually losing on the difference between rebuild costs today and the market value at the height of the property boom.
  3. What happens when there’s a claim – If my mortgage company insists on a rebuild cost of €400,000 for my house, but the actual cost is only €290,000, and my house burns down. If the insurance company pays out €400,000, and my house is rebuilt for €290,000 – who gets the €110,000?

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.

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Another mortgage company looking to overstate re-build costs for insurance

Here’s a comment posted recently by a ValueIreland.com reader which is linked to todays topic – rebuild costs for the purposes of insurance policies:

I recently renewed my home insurance with a different provider and amended the building sum insured in accordance with the Society of Chartered Surveyors (SCS) Guide to House Rebuilding Costs published.

I forwarded details to my mortgage provider of the renewed policy and received a response suggesting I reassess the current building sum insured.

I responded and advised that I had used the SCS’s Guide.

I received a further response from the mortgage provider advising that in order to change the building sum insured for your property, the mortgage provider will require a current valuation report drawn up and sent to us by your Valuer/Estate Agent.

The Financial Regulators – Guide Home Insurance Made Easy,on Page 4 advises:

“You should insure your home for the amount it would cost to rebuild it. This is called the reinstatement value. It is different to the market value of your home, which is the amount you could get if you sold it. The market value includes the value of the land your home is built on and the location it is in, but the reinstatement value of your home only covers the cost of rebuilding it. To get a rough estimate of the cost of rebuilding your home, use the home-building cost figures in the ‘Guide to House Rebuilding Insurance’ available from the Society of Chartered Surveyors”

Requiring a valuation report to amend the reistatement value of a property is an onerous and costly requirement.

I have lodged a formal complaint with the mortgage provider and I am still awaiting a response.

So basically I am required to over insure my property or get a valuation report which would cancel the savings I have made on updating my insurance policy!!

The requirement above to get an actual market valuation rather than using the SCS rebuild costs valuations is particularly strange.

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Rebuild costs – mortgage company overstating rebuild costs

Following on from this mornings post about home insurance premiums and re-build costs, here’s one e-mail that I received from a ValueIreland.com reader:

I have a query regarding re-building costs and hope you may be able to offer some advice.

We have a 4 bedroom bungalow, approximately 3,200 sq ft, in Connemara, Co. Galway.  We have a mortgage of €220,000 and our now 5   year old home was valued at €290,000 roughly 3 years ago.

We  recently re-insured with a re-building cost of €350,000.  However, our mortgage providers will not accept this and want us to up this to €400,715.00 when I queried this they came back with 423,000?!

In the current climate we feel that this is way to much as we feel building costs have gone down not up as they have suggested!

This will up our insurance and unfortunately as with most of the country we’re doing our very best to keep head above water and every penny is needed and we don’t feel we should have to back down on this matter.

This kind of behaviour by mortgage companies is unforgivable. In very few scenarios will the rebuild costs of a house increase by such a margin in the current property climate.

Given the difficulties people may have in meeting current mortgage commitments and possibly not getting mortgages elsewhere in the current economic climate, these people are essentially putting a gun to the head of the home owner.

They won’t want to <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –>

jeopardise their current mortgage arrangement and many are likely to comply rather than kick up a fuss.

What odds that this mortgage provider also provides the home insurance for this particular consumer?

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More on home insurance re-building costs

I’ve written in the past about the re-building costs of houses in 2009 and the impact that it should have on home insurance premium quotes.

The essential premise is that with the fall in the property market, the actual cost to rebuild your house should have fallen, and since that is part of what your home insurance premium is based on, your premium costs should actually be falling.

The Financial Regulator states that:

You should insure your home for the amount it would cost to rebuild it, or the reinstatement value. This is different to the market value of your home, which is what you would get if you sold it. You can get details of current rebuilding costs from the Society of Chartered Surveyors.

Yet, I have recently received three different complaints from people where their insurance company (or their mortgage company who requires the insurance as part of their T’s & C’s) have actually insisted that the person INCREASE the value of the property for insurance purposes.

I’m struggling to work out why mortgage providers would want to have these values overstated. Obviously they’d want to make sure they’re covered themselves, but if standard practice in the past was to accept the SCS rebuild cost values in the past, what’s changed now?

I know probably why are insurance companies doing this? They’re doing it so that they can charge higher premiums to bolster their profits (or reduce their losses).

What can you do?

  1. First of all, ask your insurance company for a written confirmation of their justification for seeking an increase in the value of the property being insured. You may need this later.
  2. Now check the updated Society of Chartered Surveyors Guide to House Rebuilding Costs for 2009. Work out the rebuild costs for your house, and ask the insurance company to insure your house on the basis of that value – explain where you got this value from, and confirm that this is what the Financial Regulator says that home insurance costs should be based on.
  3. If the insurance company still won’t insure for that value, then ask them again in writing to confirm why they won’t insure the house at that particular value.
  4. Submit an official complaint to your insurance provider along the lines of the fact that they’re going against the recommendations of the Financial Regulator with regards to how they should be valuing the house for rebuild cost purposes.
  5. If you don’t get anywhere with your complaint with your insurance provider, they you should raise a complaint with the Financial Services Ombudsman office.

Of course, you could just find the rebuild cost from the SCS documentation linked above and just go to a few other different insurance companies with the new numbers and get quotes from them. You’re likely to get a better quote from at least one of them, and you won’t have to deal with the crap above.

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Dublin Airport Authority plastic bag charges – there’s no reason to pay

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Question

Can the Dublin Airport Authority really get away with charging us €1 for those little plastic bags at their security checks? It’s them who make us use them in the first place so surely they should provide them?

Answer

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “it’s their game so their rules apply”. When you think of it, €1 for a clear plastic bag is a bit steep – when bigger plastic bags only cost 22c in the supermarket thanks to the bag tax.

The trick is to be prepared. From here on in now, as part of your packing preparations, just get a freezer bag to put your toiletries in. For up to €3 in your local supermarket you can buy anything from 20 to 40 of these freezer bags which would be perfectly acceptable.

But make sure they’re completely clear – I’ve seen reports where any type of sticker or greyed out area used to write a description on is deemed unacceptable by some airports.

If you want the fancy resealable Ziploc clear bags, Ebay.ie have loads of options to buy these for as little as 1c each depending on the size.

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