Tag Archives | COMREG

Thoughts on the ComReg Consultation paper regarding 1890/1850/0818 numbers

I’ve written on Monday and Tuesday about the new ComReg consultation paper that is looking to deal with the reason behind this site – the increased cost of calling 1890/1850/0818 numbers from mobile phones and landline users using bundles of minutes.

Firstly, let me apologise for inviting you to read the consultation paper itself. Having read through it myself, it’s a nightmare to try to understand. Whether that’s done on purpose, or not, it’s hard to know.

However, the heart of the matter resides on page 40 out of 42 where the paper reviews “Impact assessment and preferred option”.

According to the paper, this is the preferred option:

9.6.1 Preferred option – Bundling
ComReg considers that the most appropriate and consumer-friendly way to address all of the issues associated with more transparent consumer call charges is to include calls to 1850, 1890, 0818 and 076 in tariff bundles offered by fixed and mobile operators.

This move would greatly enhance transparency as customers could then be able to call these numbers with confidence knowing that the cost would be deducted from their remaining minutes. ComReg considers that the issue of bundling lies within the realm of the operator‟s commercial freedom and it therefore limits itself, for the moment, to encouraging operators to implement this option without delay.

Are people in agreement? In what seems like the simplest solution in the document, a change is made that requires operators to include calls made to these numbers in bundled minutes rather than separately charge.

At least when it comes to 1850 and 1890 numbers? The fact that these were originally excluded from bundles was the key reason for setting up this website in the first place.

From my perspective, I would personally call for abolishing the 0818 numbers – these are basically a “poor mans” premium rate number. Consumers calling these numbers are paying money directly into the pocket of the company they’re calling, as well as paying for the cost of the call as well. Do away with it, prevent businesses from providing customer care lines on premium rate lines, and be done with the 0818 completed.

The impact analysis in the document doesn’t see any “down side” to this proposal for 1890 and 1850 numbers.

In fact, it highlights what could be a marketing opportunity for telecoms operators – “Consumers may opt to switch to those operators offering enhanced inclusive minutes bundles.”

Let me know your thoughts. If people are in agreement, I’ll submit a response on behalf of the users of this website in favour of their preferred option – with the extra suggestion that 0818 numbers be done away with completely.

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Call to action for ASAI, CAI, NCA and Fine Gael

In the three years since I set up the SayNoTo1890.com website, many people have talked a good game with regards to the misleading descriptions given to Lo Call and Call Save telephone numbers for those calling on landlines and mobiles using bundled minutes, and the extra costs incurred by consumers.

In the course of those 3 years, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, the Consumers Association of Ireland, the National Consumer Agency and Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael have all talked about this issue, generally passed the buck, and universally done nothing.

Now it their chance to actually do something concrete on behalf of Irish consumers. Obviously, given what I’ve written about all these organisations in the past, I’m not too hopeful that they’ll actually do anything, but sure let’s see.

I’m calling on these four organisations to follow the lead of SayNoTo1890.com and to submit their own feedback to ComReg on the back of the Consultation Paper that I wrote about here yesterday.

As users of this site, if you want to be part of the SayNoTo1890.com submission, please contact me here with your thoughts and comments on the proposals in the Consultation Paper and I’ll included them in the feedback I send ComReg.

 

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

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Good news (maybe) on the costs of calling 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers

Over on SayNoTo1890.com this morning, I’ve published an update that gave me a little buzz when I was writing it. After 3 years of providing geographical alternative numbers to 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers to save mobile and landline (with bundles of minutes) users money on their phone calls, it looks like ComReg might be about to do something.

ComReg have recently published a Consultation paper for review and response by interested parties before close of business, Friday September 17th. This consultation paper is extremely relevant to this particular site as it relates to the usage, advertising and charging related to 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers.

As part of this, ComRegs “Sixth Review of the National Numbering Conventions”, the main issues on which views are sought in this current consultation includes:

Changes addressing tariff ceilings associated with the non-geographic number ranges 1850, 1890, 0818, 0700 and 076, in particular by being more specific about the tariffs affecting mobile callers;

In fact, the SayNoTo1890.com website gets a specific mention in the paper:

ComReg has received a continuous flow of complaints from service providers and consumers about the cost of 1850 and 1890 numbers in recent years and has engaged with industry to attempt to improve the situation, with very limited results. Eircom, which is one of the main hosts for 1850/1890, has adjusted its charges and this has brought some improvements that help service providers but the main problems remain.

Whilst service providers are dissatisfied with the cost burden associated with terminating 1850 calls, the apparent dissatisfaction amongst end-users is mainly with the origination9 charges associated with calling 1890 numbers when calls are made using a mobile phone. This dissatisfaction is exemplified by the rise over some years of a web-based campaign called “Say „No‟ to 1890”. This campaign identifies many major companies using 1890 and advises customers to ring alternative geographic numbers – which are provided on the web site – to reach those companies.

This is obviously a very welcome move if it addresses the issues that have necessitated the creation of the website in the first place. I’m still in the process of reviewing the documentation myself as it’s obviously of key importance to what the website was set up to address.

I’m not sure I fully appreciate, on first reading, what’s being proposed in this document, but more examination is necessary.

For users of this site, and anyone familiar with SayNoTo1890.com, I’d invite you to have a read through of the document also, and please contact me here and let me know your thoughts and feedback. I’ll compile a single response on behalf of the users of SayNoTo1890.com and ValueIreland.com readers.

The consultation paper can be downloaded from this link (pdf document).

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

Last week I received this e-mail from a ValueIreland.com 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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Say No To 1890, 1850 and 0818 Call Costs

Irish News of the World

Sunday March 29th, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Say No To 1890, 1850 and 0818 Call Costs

If you find yourself dialling an 1890 or 1850 number for a company, then you’re the one who should really be getting the wake up call.

Despite being called Lo-Call or Call Save numbers, you could find yourself paying up to 49c per minute to make a call that’s normally advertised as 5c per minute.

And worse, if you’re calling an 0818 number, then the company on the other end of the line are actually making money from your call. So, for these companies, it’s financially worth their while to keep you on the phone as long as possible, even if you’re making a complaint.

Lo Call and Call Save numbers were originally set up before mobiles came along to give consumers a number that would cost the same to call no matter where they were in the country compared to the location of the company.

But with the advent of mobile phones, and inclusive minute bundles on both landlines and mobile packages, they’re really just an excuse for the telecoms companies to print money.

This is done by excluding calls made to these numbers from your inclusive minute bundles you have with your phone contract – you basically pay extra from these calls no matter how many “free” minutes you get every month. And if you’re calling from a mobile phone, your Lo Call or Call Save number will cost you up to 9 times more than from a land line.

With the massive growth in the use of mobile phones in Ireland since these numbers were originally set up, less and less of us are making any calls from landlines. So more and more of us are getting stung by these ridiculous call charges, greatly adding to the mobile phone company profits.

It’s a poor show for many Irish companies and the customer service they provide when many don’t seem to realise the cost to their customers by only providing 1890 or 1850 contact numbers. And obviously, for companies providing 0818 numbers, they’re consciously trying to make an extra buck when you call them – taking a cut of the outrageous costs charged by the mobile companies.

And what’s worse, even though this country is riddled with regulators and government and so-called independent watchdogs, no one wants to know about this blatant rip off.

In the past, I’ve made complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, but they don’t want to know. They tell me to speak to ComReg who say it’s nothing to do with them. The National Consumer Agency say it’s nothing to do with them and pawn you off on the Competition Authority or the Consumers Association of Ireland. They merely published a letter in their magazine, while the Competition people said that there’s nothing for them to investigate.

Fine Gael have recently highlight the issue with these Lo Call and Call Save numbers – and in particular, highlighting the fact that many Government departments only providing these contact numbers.

So what can you do?

SayNoTo1890.com is a website set up to provide you with the “geographical alternative” numbers for many of these 1890, 1850 and 0818 telephone numbers.

A geographical alternative number is an 01, or 021 or 091 number that you can call instead of the Lo Call or Call Save numbers, but still get through to the company.

By calling these numbers, you’ll either save money by having the minutes used on the call taken from your minutes bundle on your phone contract, or at least you’ll only end up paying the 5-6c per minute rather than 35-49c.

Most of Irelands biggest companies are included in the website with geographical alternative numbers provided – including most of the banks, mobile phone and energy companies.

How can you help?

If you know of a geographic alternative phone number to any 1890, 1850 or 0818 numbers, then visit SayNoTo1890.com and share it with everyone else.

Even better, if you work for a company that only provides one of these numbers but you know an alternative, contact me at the website and I’ll share the number with everyone while maintaining your privacy.

Given that some surveys of the worst offenders when it comes to companies keeping people hanging on show that you could be on hold for anything from 10 minutes to an hour, you could be saving yourself a small fortune on your phone costs – especially since we should really be paying those high costs at all.

 

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

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Who YOU gonna call? Aid hard to track

Irish News of the World

February 15th, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Somebody should do something – but who you gonna call?

As a consumer, you’ve found that you have a problem with a business that you’re dealing with. They’re not helping you out, or they’re ignoring your calls, but you’ve still a problem with their product or service.

But who can help you out?

Since 1998, 200 different government quangos and regulatory organisations were set up with the aim, supposedly, of helping consumers with problems that they may have with product and service providers. There are those that would say that they were just set up so that the government could avoid having to do any actual work themselves – we have nearly 1000 quangos in total today.

As an example, there’s the National Consumer Agency, the Financial Regulator, Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Food Safety Authority, the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement and the National Property Services Regulatory Authority.

These all sound very grand and important, but when we have problems, which ones can help us get things sorted?

I’ve been very critical in the past on ValueIreland.com of many of these organisations because of the difficulty many consumers are finding in actually getting any help from these organisations. In fact, despite all those that exist, in many cases consumers are being left helpless. However, here’s where you can go with problems that you might have:

If you have a problem with any financial institution that you have dealings with, you are supposed to go through their full complaints procedure. If you still have a problem at the end of that, you need to speak to the Financial Services Ombudsman. http://www.financialombudsman.ie/ If your complaint is related to your pension, the Pensions Ombudsman is there for you. http://www.pensionsombudsman.ie/

So where does the Financial Regulator fit in? They are responsible for overseeing the financial industry in Ireland, supposedly, and will not accept complaints from consumers. The “consumer” arm of the regulator is only an information providing service. http://www.itsyourmoney.ie

Say you have problems with your mobile, land line or broadband, then again, you must first go through the complaints procedure of the company you have the problem with. If you still don’t get satisfaction, you should escalate your complaint to ComReg. Your should remember though, that ComReg will only deal with issues related to “electronic communications services” – meaning you can complain about your mobile network service, but not handset problems, or about your broadband service but not your TV signal even though they may come through the same wires.

What happens if you have a problem with the management company or the managing agent in your apartment block? This is a very murky area at the moment with the National Consumer Agency, the Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement and the National Property Services Regulatory Authority all getting involved.

The National Property Services Regulatory Authority has no powers at the moment, so you can pretty much forget about them. The National Consumer Agency produce booklets and have created a website, but they have no legislation to enforce, so you can ignore them here also.

When it comes to management agents – the companies hired by management companies to look after estates and apartment blocks – there is no actual legislation in place to control how they operate. So, if your management agent isn’t cutting the grass, is neglecting to maintain buildings, or they’re charging more than you think is fair for management fees, there’s not much you can do apart from follow up directly with the agents themselves.

The Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement can help you out if your management company isn’t following company law – for example not publishing accounts each year, or failing to hold an AGM. However, based on my own experience, they’ll treat you like a child for making the complaint, and then won’t do very much at all.

What about electricity and gas suppliers? The Commission for Energy Regulations aim is to make sure that electricity and gas suppliers give their customers a reliable and quality service at a fair and reasonable price.  The main impact that the CER have on our consumer lives is their decisions to raise or decrease the prices we’re charged.

If you want to complain about your electricity or gas supplier, you can escalate your complaint to the CER only if you’ve gone through the companies own complaint procedures first.

And now to my friends in the National Consumer Agency who are responsible for the implementation of over 60 different pieces of legislation aimed at protecting consumers. These regulations cover advertising, unfair commercial practices, consumer information rules, food and other product labelling requirements, product safety laws and rules regarding the pricing of items and the display of prices.

The NCA are also responsible for overseeing the key consumer legislation which governs a lot of our day to day purchasing – the Sale of Good and Supply of Services Act – the law which gives us the “repair, replace or refund” rules of thumb.

You can contact the NCA through their website – http://www.irishconsumer.ie. The only thing to remember is that though they received 70,000 calls in 2007, with 2500 complaints that could have led to prosecutions for breaking the law, they only followed through on 1% of those complaints.

Many of the organisations described above will not get involved in specific contractual difficulties between a business and a consumer – and unfortunately these are the areas where we end up having most of our problems. We pay someone for something and they don’t provide the product or service to the standard that we expect.

That leaves us with probably one of the most effective weapons for consumers – The Small Claims Court. This is a service provided by District Court offices designed to handle consumer claims cheaply without involving a solicitor. This service is only for the “consumer” who has bought a good or service for private use from someone selling them in the course of their business. Claims can only be for up to €2000 in value.

Finally, some of the most common queries received at ValueIreland.com read like “who regulates the price of petrol”, or “who can I complain to about sterling to euro exchange rates”? The answer here is no one. We in Ireland don’t have price controls in place for these types of goods and services. Basically business can charge what they want so it’s down to us to be the regulators – if we don’t like the prices, we shouldn’t buy the products.

You’ll have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my old friends in the Consumers Association of Ireland. The CAI is a pressure group that occasionally provides a helpline for consumers, however they have no statutory powers and therefore can’t actually do anything for you.

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Investigations intended to fob off consumers

It’s been fairly obvious to me, and to many of you I think, that on many occasions when a government department or a government agency is questioned about something they’re supposed to know about, or be on top of, we’ll get fobbed of with the words, “we’ll carry out an investigation”.

This “fobbing off” response is intended to make us think that something is being done about our concerns, but in reality, by announcing an investigation, they’re hoping that we forget about everything until we get distracted by something else.

Here’s some of the pending investigations, when they were announced and who’s supposed to be carrying them out, that I’m interested in finding out the results of. We’ll keep an eye out here, and will publish the results when (or if) they’re ever published.

  1. FAS activities since 2000 with an emphasis on spending – September 23rd, 2008 – Comptroller and Auditor General
  2. FAS Expenses – October 10th, 2008 – Dail Public Accounts Committee
  3. Funeral Expenses – September 26th, 2008 – Consumer Association of Ireland
  4. Price of Petrol – September 22nd, 2008 – National Consumer Agency
  5. O2 Upgrades issues – September 26th, 2008 – National Consumer Agency
  6. 1890 Call Costs – September 25th, 2008 – Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland and ComReg
Are there any other investigations that you’re aware of that we can keep track of? E-mail us or post a comment to let us know.
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Consumers of Ireland – come together for the cause!

Are you a member of the Consumer Association of Ireland? Are you planning on going along to the Annual General Meeting of the Consumer Association of Ireland on October 30th in the Burlington Hotel at 1pm (not the Mansion House as originally advertised in the September edition of the Associations magazine, Consumer Choice).

As an Association member, council member, and a director of the Consumer Association of Ireland, I’ll be there. As will all the other directors and council members of the Association, including the Chairman James Doorley, the vice-Chairman Michael Kilcoyne and Chief Executive Dermott Jewell. You’ll get to hear speeches from Messrs. Doorley & Jewell letting you know about the activities and successes of the Association over the past 12 months.

If you are a paid up member, come along and ask not what you can do for your Association, but ask what your Association did for you during 2008 with your €91 membership and the approximate €60,000 annual grant received from the Department of Enterprise Trade, and Employment (€63,000 in 2004 for example)?

Come along and find out if you are getting value for money from your Consumer Association? As well as producing your 12 monthly editions of the Consumer Choice magazine, did you know that the Consumer Association of Ireland represents its members interests on upwards of 25 different other organisations? From the Financial Regulator to ComReg, from the Taxi Regulator to An Bord Bia, the Consumer Association of Ireland is attending meetings, fighting the good fight, on your behalf. Come along to the AGM and ask about the value of this representation?

Since I joined the Association, the turnout at these AGMs has been very low – no more than 30 people attended last year for example. Let’s change things this year – if you’re a member, please try to come along. If you know someone who is a member, please forward them this link and ask them to go along. It would be great to see as many members as possible there this year.

It’s your Association. You’re paying for it to exist – through your membership and your taxes. Take an interest in what’s going on and come along and get involved. Make sure you’re getting value for your money from your Consumer Association.

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ComReg makes money when you call their 1890 number

This post from last week on the www.saynoto1890.com website created an enormous amount of interest. Some interesting implications I think if the statement included in it from the ComReg employee is accurate – though I have my doubts. Here’s the post:For some reason that doesn’t make sense to me yet, whenever you make a call to ComReg, be it looking for information or trying to complain about something, you’re helping ComReg make money for themselves. They’re there supposedly to be of service to consumers, yet you call them and they make money from your phone call.

From a SayNoTo1890.com reader, we were provided with the following snippet of an e-mail from a ComReg employee:

The Locall number we advertise is a minor source of revenue for us – the bulk comes from levies imposed on those firms we regulate.

If that’s the case, I wonder how much money other Government organisations are making from making us consumers ring them on their 1890 numbers.

I say I don’t understand this because normally businesses who have these 1890 numbers end up paying the balance of whatever the call would cost. It’s normally only 0818 numbers that a business would make money one.

 

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

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Why don’t Irish businesses try to keep their customers?

For years now it’s been my belief that Irish businesses treat all their customers on a “once 0ff” basis. Customers are screwed for as much as possible on initial dealings with a businesses, and after that, the businesses don’t really care what happens.

As an example, a colleague of mine has had an interesting experience with BT Ireland in the past week. He was a broadband customer of theirs in his house for a number of years before moving and passing on the contract to his tenants. He then rented accommodation and because a customer again of their broadband package.

So, in the space of a few years, he had given BT Ireland two customers each of whom was paying at least €56 per month.

Then, in the last couple of weeks, he canceled his contract in rented accommodation, moved back to his original house, and asked BT Ireland to be reconnected to his original connection. The connection was already still live in the house, but he just wanted his name on the bills again.

BT Ireland ignored him for a few months, then discovered that the connection and was still live, and disconnected it.

They then claimed they had no request for reconnection, but that they would gladly reconnect him at a cost of €121. Even though new customers can get connected for €45 (or free if they’re moving from another broadband provider).

What a crazy way to treat someone who had been a loyal customer of the company for a number of years. Unfortunately, there was nothing that BT Ireland were doing wrong legally since he didn’t have a current contract – he was just a prospective customer – but they knew he was a previous customer.

So, there was no one to complain to. COMREG will not get involved in customer-provider contract issues as I’ve found out in the past, and we’ve already seen here how useless the NCA can be – a pre-written PFO saying that they’d “work with the company” rather than do anything isn’t going to get broadband connected.

The final outcome – my colleague has found an alternative supplier for his broadband and will be getting connected to them later this week. Lost custom for BT Ireland, and he’s telling anyone who’s in the market for broadband about how they’ve treated him.

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