Tag Archives | Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI)

Gift voucher proposals not worth the effort – New Consumer Protection Legislation (2 of 5)

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has proposed some useless changes to consumer legislation around vouchersIn my summary blog post recently (Consumer Protection Legislation – some good but some pointless changes proposed) about the May 2015 announcement of some extensive changes to consumer rights legislation announced by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton, TD, I noted that I expected that the greatest impact for consumers would be those impacting gift vouchers and the 30 day refund period for faulty products.

And not by accident, those changes would likely have the biggest impact on retailers, endangering their enactment at all.

30 Day Refund

For me, of most interest proposal which will provide for a standard 30 day period in which consumers can return faulty goods and get a full refund. This would be huge for consumers if it was to be enacted – the current hazy legislation regarding “refund, repair, replace” which leaves it down to the retailer to decide which remedy to apply, and over an undetermined time period, is probably one of the biggest bugbears and cause for confusion among consumers.

It will be interesting to see if this does go through as it likely to be rigorously opposed 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.

It is likely also to generate some comic conversations where within 30 days of purchase, retailers will try to justify how a clearly broken product is in fact operating exactly as it should.

Your smartphone won’t connect to the mobile network? Well, that’s the new thing – this is actually really supposed to be viewed as a Wi-Fi phone. Yes, that’s right, there are the Wi-Fi tablets already, so obviously the next step is Wi-Fi phones.

Developments and progress towards implementing the proposals here, and whether or not they’ll eventually be watered down before passing into law, will be worth monitoring.

Rights by Proxy

The new proposals includes somewhat innovative clause that would allow consumers who receive products or services as a gift be entitled to the same rights as if they bought the product or service themselves.

When I say innovative, maybe I should have said “makey uppey”. I’ve no legal background but I’m not sure that creating such a right by proxy would be very easily achieved.

More importantly, I’m not sure we really need such a new right to be provided to gift recipients. Existing consumer rights can handle such scenarios perfectly well without providing such rights by proxy.

Gift Voucher Changes

As I mentioned in my original blog post, I think these are mainly included in the proposals for their headline grabbing capacity, and the proposal is largely futile in its wish to ban expiry dates for gift cards and vouchers.

Regular readers here will know that I’m not a fan of gift cards and vouchers. You can read here my thoughts on why you should avoid gifts vouchers and instead, gifts could and should be much better thought out rather than plumping for the gift voucher catch-all.

I accept that, yes, this new legislation will remove the danger of voucher expiry from that list of dangers, but many other will still remain – and many cannot be mitigated through legislation.

Buyer should still always beware

The Irish Examiner Survey Says 46% of consumers don't check voucher termsAs in most things, the first line of protection for the consumer is the consumer themselves – which was always the case anyway when it came to expired vouchers. This article from the Irish Examiner [Survey: 46% do not check gift card conditions] highlights research carried out on behalf of the National Consumer Agency (NCA) [now the Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (CPCC)] which indicates that almost half of people receiving vouchers or gift cards as Christmas presents do not check the conditions of use.

Worse, consumers in many cases won’t even use their gift vouchers, never mind read the terms and conditions. According to estimates in this US article [1$billion in gift cards goes unredeemed], at least in 2007 up to 10% of all gift vouchers purchased were never redeemed. Whereas this article [Half of us have left gift vouchers expire] tells us that further National Consumer Agency (NCA) research has found that 48% of Irish people let gift vouchers and cards expire.

If consumers in general were to read the terms and conditions of their vouchers, and were to actually follow up and spend those vouchers in a timely manner, then we’d have no need for this legislation. In fact, in this view, even the vice-chairman of the Consumers Association of Ireland (Mr. Michael Kilcoyne) and myself are in agreement. In a recent article, Mr. Kilcoyne is quoted as saying:

But all the legislation in the world is no use if we, as consumers, don’t shop around and get the best deal for ourselves.

Rare wise and useful words. Next up, I’ll write a little more on what I think would be potentially the most beneficial proposal for Irish consumers – the automatic right to a refund within 30 days of purchase for faulty products.

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What are our consumer watchdogs saying on our behalf?

I’ve noticed in the past couple of weeks that some of our consumer watchdogs, or their spokespersons at least, have been a bit more vocal than normal.

There’s more soundbites being published, more pithy remarks in response to journalist questions, and the odd radio and tv appearance here and there.

All reactionary! Nothing pro-active at all.

When was the last time you were aware of a consumer campaign being launched in the interests of Irish consumers by either the Consumers Association of Ireland or the National Consumer Agency?

I thought I’d do a little to keep track of what our consumer watchdogs are saying – just in case they might come up with anything interesting. Below, from now on, I’ll update the listing of links with anything that they’re quoted saying in the media.

You never know, we might actually find that they’re looking after our interests, rather than just their own.

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The Consumers Association of Ireland to go social?

Back in February, Krishna De blogged about a digital marketing tender published by the Consumers Association of Ireland, The Consumers Association of Ireland – Digital Marketing Tender, closing date 18 February 2011.

As a former director of the CAI, it’s going to be interesting to see how this aging “old media” magazine publishing organisation can adapt to a newer market.

It seems that the gist of their “digital marketing” requirements involves a review of their website (much better now than it used to be), and suggestions as to how the CAI can get involved with Twitter and Facebook.

The mainstay of the funding the CAI needs to survive is the €96 per year subscription for the monthly magazine. Any move to a digital platform will most likely (I expect) require online subscriptions in place of magazine subscribers, and many more of them to make up for the constantly falling magazine subscriptions.

I think it’s going to be an interesting challenge to see how the Association will manage this. People familiar with online publishing know the issues with charging for content – particularly for content which in most cases is available elsewhere online for free.

I presume that the CAI will maybe seek to mirror how the UK Which? magazine provides it’s online content. Which? currently charge £9.75 per month for its online access – which would actually prove a boost to the flagging CAI coffers. I can’t, however, find out how many online subscribers Which? has at that price.

All an interesting project to keep an eye on – particularly as the tender says that:

At this time they are unable to provide a guide on the budget for the investment in these changes but due to the nature of the organisation, their budget is limited and we will be therefore determining choice of provider from their ‘can-do’ approach matched with a realistic costing.

If this all works out, it could be an good case-study for others in jumping into the social media world.

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Why I’m calling the end of Irish consumer writing in Ireland

I wrote last week that I believed that we’d reached the end of Irish consumer writing and that unless businesses and service providers innovated by changing and increasing their service offerings, nothing much would change.

Because our economy is being squeezed from all sides, business are likely to contract and consolidate rather than expand and innovate in the near to medium term, so until then, we’re going to continue to get recycled “top tips” and “how to” articles.

Three things happened in the past couple of weeks that have reinforced this belief for me.

Waste of time

First of all, the National Consumer Agency were searching the internet, hoping probably, to copy other peoples hints, tips and advice in their preparations for this article published during November – “Christmas Value”.

This, as I’ve said before, is the statutory agency who has the ability to prosecute businesses for taking advantage of consumers but who decide their time is better spent googling for other peoples Christmas tips and advice and then publishing on their own website.

Waste of money

Secondly, the other useless bastion of faux consumer protection and representation, the Consumers Association of Ireland, published this gem in a press release announcing their November issue of Consumer Choice (cost €7, but you must buy all 12 for €96 in a year):

Keeping hens
Never buy another egg again with our complete guide on how to keep hens.
Consumer Choice also features an in-depth look at keeping hens. We publish a complete guide for anyone interested in having their own eggs including information on how too source the hens, as well as a survey of what’s on offer from companies that operate in this area.

Use this information wisely!

Waste of effort

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the normally wise Conor Pope, managed to get this published for his large audience through a national newspaper:

FREEZE YOUR ASSET Okay, we appreciate this may sound a little mad but we have heard of people who have done this with great success. Immerse your credit card in an ice tray full of water and freeze it. This is a great way of stopping spur-of-the-moment online spends as you have to wait until the ice melts before you can access the card. There is no point in trying to chip the card out as you’ll damage it and as for trying to defrost it in the microwave, don’t even think about it.

For someone who has such an audience with his weekly column (I’m assuming), such advise is more than a little mad – it’s downright idiotic – even if his audience is an Irish Times reader who’s scoffing at the premise that one would only have a single credit card.

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Maintaining independence and trust

I wrote a little last week how many well meaning organisations and campaigns can struggle between the need to maintain independence and trust versus earning money to keep the campaign going.

In my opinion, any organisation or campaign will always lose a level of credibility and trust when one starts to charge for services or accept payments from organisations who could be seen to have a vested interest in the success or failure of your campaign. The rule of “he who pays the piper, calls the tune” will always raise it’s head when one receives money when you’re trying to promote an agenda.

For 6 years, ValueIreland.com was advertising free until I placed some Google Adverts on the pages to try to make a little cash to cover costs (unsuccessfully unfortunately) to keep the show on the road. I have very little control over the content of the Google ads panel, but I appreciate that sometimes the adverts present may clash with the thoughts and contents of the website.

The question that should always be pursued when looking at the motives behind any campaign is, “follow the money”. Or in some cases, such as the Your Country, Your Call campaign, “in receiving sponsorship money from big business, what will the campaign be expected to do in return”.

If those questions cannot be answered clearly and unambiguously, then I believe one would be entitled to be wary of the campaign.

Something that I noticed recently was that the Australian Consumer Choice organisation, whose tagline is “We exist to unlock the power of consumers” has started to charge companies for allowing them publicise the endorsement of certain products or services by Consumer Choice.

Consumer group CHOICE has issued the first licence for an endorsement scheme that will allow manufacturers to use the “CHOICE Recommended” logo on a range of products.

Subject to licence conditions and regulations, the logo can be used by companies which have a product that has met CHOICE’s strict testing standards for performance and excellence.

A licence fee will be charged for products in the “CHOICE Recommended” scheme to cover administration costs, with surplus funds to be re-invested into further CHOICE testing and research.

In my mind now, in this situation, I personally would view a “Choice Recommended” endorsement with less trust than one where the organisation wasn’t making money on the basis of the outcome of making the endorsement.

I wonder when the cash-strapped Consumers Association of Ireland are going to follow the lead of Australias Consumer Choice. With falling membership and struggling for funds, I’m sure the CAI would welcome this increase in income.

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Another reason not to get involved with gift vouchers – I’m losing count now

One of the more popular pages on this site is my constantly updated feature on reasons not to get involved in using gift vouchers – you can see the latest update here.

An oldish story in the Irish Times further highlights that recommendation – Consumers warned to redeem gift vouchers without delay.

The story refers to the policy of the then “about to close down” Hughes & Hughes to not honour any outstanding gift vouchers in the run up to their closing.

All you can say really is what complete and utter scumbags they are – seeing actions like this you’d have to say “no loss” to their closing down if that’s the way they’re going to do business.

Yes, yes, I know that circumstances were different then with their running out of money and shutting down, but in fairness, if that kind of stunt is symptomatic of how they normally ran their business, then we’re better off without them.

Still though, despite the bleating from the Consumers Association of Ireland (we haven’t heard from them in a while) and the National Consumer Agency, Hughes & Hughes were completely within their rights to do this as they had probably catered for it in the terms and conditions of using (or not using) their vouchers.

According to the article, the CAI had the following potentially misleading, and ultimately pointless comment to make:

Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) chief executive Dermott Jewell said it was “not acceptable” for Hughes Hughes not to redeem the book token while branches were still open. “The consumer holding the voucher would have a contract with that company as long as it is still trading.”

A contract, yes, where there are terms and conditions in place which the consumer would have signed up to by getting involved in the vouchers in the first place.

Maria Hurley from the NCA, apparently echoing someone from the receivers, Deloitte, at least had the factual – if not altogether helpful for the consumer – comments to make:

A company which goes into receivership does not have to honour gift vouchers, even if stores are still open. After a receiver is appointed, he or she is responsible for all subsequent decisions affecting the business, including whether gift vouchers are honoured, she explained.

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. In this current environment where you don’t know which businesses are ultimately going to survive, stay away from vouchers, credit notes, lay aways and even deposits – basically any situation where you give money up front to a business in expectation of a future delivery of a product or service.

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Fianna Fail & Consumer Protection – “more image than reality”

In recent days, the chairman of the Consumers Association of Ireland, James Doorley, has been critical of the proposal by the Department of Finance to scrap the Consumer Consultative Panel at the Financial Regulator once it’s merged back into the Central Bank.

Mr. Doorley believes that scrapping this committee appointed by the Minister for Finance would have the effect of preventing “meaningful input into the system of financial regulation”. According to Mr. Doorley:

those who pay should have a say and that the consumer voice should be at the heart of our new system of financial regulation, as it is consumers who are largely bearing the brunt of the financial crisis.

Mr. Doorley is speaking about a talking shop that didn’t meet at all during some of the most devastating months of this financial crisis at the end of 2008. As first reported here on ValueIreland.com, the panel only met once between July 2008 and March 2009.

There was an interesting exchange in the Dail earlier this week in reference to the abolition of this talking shop. Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fail TD for Meath East (one of the local TDs for Mr. Doorley as it happens) made this appeal to the Minister for Finance:

Last night, the Minister for Finance stated that he is consulting the various representative associations and interest groups. I would be keen for him to consult the Consumers Association of Ireland on this legislation and, if possible, to retain the Central Bank’s consumer panel in some form. It is included in the legislation in a different form, but perhaps it should be retained in a bid to keep the public’s confidence. The public is confident that we are looking after the consumer and doing the right thing.

However, more telling of the attitude of Fianna Fail to regulation and consumer protection in general, in response to a retort to James Bannon TD, Deputy Byrne went on to say:

However, keeping the panel would be more image than reality, since the reality is evident in terms of the regulator’s actions.

And there we have it. It’s more important to be seen to do something rather than actually doing anything at all – as I’ve said many times here before, the modus operandi of the current Fianna Fail government.

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Interesting dilemma for Taxi Advisory Council member, Michael Kilcoyne of SIPTU

The Advisory Council of the Taxi Regulator is made up of members appointed by various different interest groups who are appointed by the Minister for Transport to advise the Commission for Taxi Regulation or the Minister himself as appropriate in relation to issues relevant to small public service vehicles and their drivers.

You can see the current membership of the Advisory Council here.

Breaking news last Friday evening was that SIPTU was to withdraw from this Advisory Council and would be boycotting further meetings of the body. This presumably is related to the ongoing taxi dispute and protests. This news story from The Irish Times explains:

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2010/0319/breaking57.html

The decision follows yesterday’s meeting of the Siptu taxi drivers branch where members complained they have derived no benefit from participation on the Advisory Council over the past six years.

“The decision to boycott the Council is based on the evidence that at no time have our members or taxi drivers generally derived any benefit from participation on this body,” said Siptu branch official Jerry Brennan.

“Nothing of any benefit has emerged from the Advisory Council. Any positive recommendations we have made have never progressed to any form of action,” he added.

The SIPTU appointee on the Advisory Council is Mr Peter Rogers – who as far as I can find out is the vice president of the SIPTU taxi branch.

I wonder what the other member SIPTU on the Advisory Council will be doing?

Though a nominee to the Taxi Advisory Council on behalf of the  Consumers Association of Ireland, Michael Kilcoyne is also a member of SIPTU – being the Sectoral Organiser of the Galway No. 1 Branch.

I wonder will Mr. Kilcoyne be standing beside his SIPTU brethren and also leave the Advisory Council and boycott future meetings, or will he stay on and continue to represent consumers (and keep pocketing the cash that he (and the CAI) gets for the gig)?

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What did you do for World Consumers Day?

Yesterday was World Consumers Day. Personally, I wouldn’t have known about it except for someone forwarded to me a Consumers Association of Ireland press release sent out last week marking the occasion. I didn’t get it as they seem to have removed me from their mailing list for some reason.

As an aside, from the release I see they’re starting to use the old “truly independent” tagline from ValueIreland.com as well – they used to be plain old independent. You’re hardly “truly independent” however if you’re depending on a Government subvention every year to survive, and where some of your board members rake in directors fees from many state and semi-state organisations and quangos.

This is the Press Release:

CAI mark Consumer Rights Day with re-launch of Website WWW. THECAI.IE

The Consumer’s Association of Ireland (CAI) re-launched its new look website today and in doing so set out its stall in celebration of World Consumer Rights Day 2010.

Dermott Jewell, CEO of the Association, said that “The CAI, as a truly independent consumer Association, struggles to survive at the best of times. In times of recession it becomes almost impossible. We are hoping that consumers, by visiting the site, will see what we are about and support us in supporting them and their families.

We know – and guarantee – that any one becoming a Member and supporter will save the cost of their subscription and more through our recommended independent product tests and money and lifestyle advice. That – what consumers need – all day every day! Jewell concluded.

World Consumer Rights Day has its origins in former US President John F. Kennedy’s declaration to US Congress on March 15th 1962 of the 4 basic consumer rights:

The right to safety;

The right to be informed;

The right to choose and

The right to be heard.

“Consumers by definition, include us all. They are the largest economic group, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Yet they are the only important group… whose views are often not heard.”

The site is a definite improvement over the previous incarnation – much clearer and somewhat easier to navigate.

Head over there and check it out – they are now providing access online to their back catalogue of product testing reviews from their Consumer Choice magazine – available at €96 per year.

If you head over there now, you can get 12-hours free access to the membership areas of the site – get a look at some of those product testing articles maybe.

This new site, and the above press release, seems to indicate the renewal of the annual efforts to boost what is a consistently falling membership base (according to the most recent accounts lodged with the Companies Office).

Unfortunately for the Irish consumer, the CAI, despite it’s slogans and aims, is no longer a consumer advocacy organisation. Can anyone remember what their most recent “campaign” was? And I don’t mean a reactionary soundbite on the radio.

I believe it’s three years now since a significant chunk of work was done to identify campaign items that the Association would stand work on.  I have not seen a single proactive measure coming from the Association in that time – despite there being some pretty good ideas on that campaign items list.

As was raised at the last AGM I attended – 2008 – it’s clear that the CAI is now no more than a magazine publication organisation that charges a ridiculous €96 per year subscription  – exactly three times that of Eddie Hobbs Your and Your Money magazine.

It’s interesting then, that as per the press release above, they “guarantee” that you’ll save at least €96 per year by subscribing to their magazine. One wonders what the small print is on that guarantee – “or your money back?” I wonder?

I can guarantee you a €96 saving right here and now, but you already know what I’m going to say now.

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