Tag Archives | National Consumer Agency (NCA)

Some help with saving money on your grocery shopping

There’s been a bit of focus on grocery shopping in general in the past few weeks, particularly with the renaming of the Superquinn stores to SuperValu, and the closure of 4 Marks & Spencer stores, but the opening of one other in Limerick.

The Irish Times in particular seems to have gone big on it in the past week, with what seems to me to be a pretty anti-Supervalu / Musgraves slant. I must go back through the PriceWatch articles (and particularly the “Value for Money” ones to see how Supervalu compares in mentions to the other chains.

On a more positive slant, here’s a few links that should help you save money on your weekly / monthly grocery shopping:

  1. I’ve updated the ValueIreland “This Weeks Grocery Special Offers” page with a couple of more outlets who provide weekly updates online to their grocery special offers available. It’s worth bookmarking that page to visit each week to see what’s out there.
  2. Don’t forget there’s the “Top Twitter Tips for Grocery Shopping” that I put together a couple of years ago now – it’s all still very relevant today.
  3. It’s worth remembering that there is no price comparison tool available in Ireland to help you compare prices of grocery items. This seems to be a very popular thing that people are looking for on Google, but it just doesn’t exist. The National Consumer Agency did try to do something some years ago, but went about it incorrectly and thus failed miserably.

Know Your Consumer Rights with Tina LeonadOne final link for you is from the (relatively) new website from Tina Leonard – consumer affairs journalist, radio and TV contributor, and director on the board of the aforementioned National Consumer Agency (though, strangely not declared on her website).

Tina’s website is a great resource with detailed tips and advice on all sorts of consumer stuff, with my suggested link now being her “Saving on your Groceries” article. There’s some great stuff in there, so check it out too.

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Government proposal to have NCT checks catch clocked cars is a joke

Though published on April 1st by Fiach Kelly in the Irish Independent, his story under the headline “NCT check will uncover ‘clocked’ cars in new plan” doesn’t appear to be an April Fool. I do think, however, that the proposals from the Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar, will be about as useful as an April Fool prank.

According to Mr. Kelly, the Irish Independent has learned that 10% of cars checked by the NCTS have been clocked, and that the Department of Transport has helpfully “suggested there is a problem”. This means that their response will be that:

Under new plans, cars will have their mileage cross-referenced with their NCT history every time they go in for the test.

The aim is to have the system rolled out within around two years, and motorists would be able to check mileage history.

Effectively, they will check your mileage each time you send your car for its NCT, and if the mileage is less than the previous NCT check, you – the car owner – will be prosecuted. According to the article:

And it would become a crime to have your car clocked. At the moment, it is a crime only to sell a clocked car.

Bear with me here, but I don’t think that these proposals are going to have much effect at all. And worse, they have the potential of penalising consumers a whole lot more than garages who clock cars who may actually do the car clocking.

Won’t work in all instances (1)

Let’s take an example car, owned by Joe Bloggs, a travelling salesman, who does 100k miles every year selling widgets to €1 stores. Joe has the car for 2 ½ years and has put up 275k hard miles on the car. He trades it in for the newest model, and the car is taken in and tidied up by the dealer.

“Tidied up” just so happens to involved rolling back the mileage to somewhat more than the average annual mileage for a car in Ireland – 60k miles (2.5 times 10,837, plus change for good measure). That’s still a damn site less than the actual mileage, and something that the NCT won’t catch after the car was bought by Mick Smith, driven only 5k miles for 6 months, and subjected to the first NCT.

Won’t work in all instances (2)

If you're reading this, you're probably on a PC with internet filtering, or a poor connections, so you're missing a picture of the odometer in a carLet’s assume instead that Mike Smith buys the car first. He owns it for 3 ½ years, and does his usual circa 5k miles per year, and decides to upgrade after successfully passing the first NCT on the car. The car is sold with 20k miles on the clock to Joe Bloggs who drives the wheels off the thing for 2 more years, putting up his circa 100k average each year before deciding to upgrade the car before the next NCT is due after 6 years.

Now, the car has circa 220k on the clock, is 5 ½ years old, and in “tidying up” the car, the less than scrupulous garage owner decides that he could only ever sell the car and make money on it if there’s less than 100k miles on the clock, needing to wipe off over 120k miles.

And like magic, Mary Murphy who bought the car next, submits it innocently for NCT, and successfully passes the test with flying colours. There’s 95k miles on the clock, there was 20k on the clock at the last NCT, and no one is any the wiser.

Useless NCA must change approach too

Let’s now say that the car hadn’t passed the NCT, and Mary Murphy is told that the car she bought had been clocked. She’s now in possession of a clocked car, for which she’ll be liable for prosecution. By whom, we don’t know yet.

And for selling the car, the unscrupulous garage is also liable for prosecution. By the National Consumer Agency. Who rarely prosecute garages who clock cars, merely settling on “working with them” to make sure they don’t do it anymore.

So, there we have it. Yet another scenario in the making where big business, or any business for that matter, in Ireland will get away with anything, while it’s we, the ordinary punters, who always end up paying the price.

 

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Have you ever wondered at the return on investment from the National Consumer Agency websites?

Maybe I’m just a little bit geeky, or a little bit sad, but it’s crossed my mind a few times. This question, from Anthony Lawlor TD, or at least the answer to it if it wasn’t ducked by the Minister, would be the start of discovering if we’re getting value for money from the expenditure by the National Consumer Agency on websites.

Anthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael) – Question 81:

To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the development cost of the National Consumer Agency’s Economiser website page and the number of unique visitors to the site per month since its establishment.

Richard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)

The Deputy’s question relates to the development and operation of certain elements of the National Consumer Agency’s website. These are operational matters for the Agency itself in respect of which I have no direct function. Accordingly, I have referred the Deputy’s question to the Agency for direct reply.

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any follow up on this question. It’d be great to see what kind of traffic the NCA websites gets, and what return that is for the money invested in them.

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How much money is the National Consumer Agency costing us?

Via a Dail question from Anthony Lawlor, TD for Kildare North (from the always excellent KildareStreet.com):

Anthony Lawlor (Kildare North, Fine Gael) – Question 73:

To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the amount of funding received by the National Consumer Agency in the years 2009, 2010 and to date in 2011. [29327/11]

Richard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael):

The National Consumer Agency received €6.105 million and €5.578 million by way of public funds in the years 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Up to the end of September 2011 the Agency has received a total of €3.774 million in public funds. The Agency’s total allocation for 2011 is €6.366 million.

From 1st January 2011 the Agency assumed responsibility for the consumer education and information functions of the Financial Regulator.

The Agency has received additional public funds to cover the cost of the exercise of certain elements of this function, albeit that these funds and the further costs of exercising this function will be fully recouped by the imposition of a levy on prescribed regulated financial service entities later this year.

So, assuming we get an average of 10 crappy price comparison surveys per year, and a few meaningless prosecutions for failing to display prices, and a few slaps on the wrists for garages that clock cars, that’s on average €500,000 per activity from this shower per year.

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Some thoughts on the proposed Musgraves acquisition of Superquinn

Yesterday I wrote a follow up to some tweets on Tuesday morning regarding the proposed acquisition of Superquinn by Musgraves.

I think this is going to be an interesting proposition for the Competition Authority, and the government. It could also give us great insight into how the future super-quango combination of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency will operate.

While the Competition Authority will make the decision on the acquisition, it’s the National Consumer Agency at the moment who have all the information on pricing across the grocery market.

I personally don’t think that allowing the acquisition to go ahead will be good for Irish consumers.

I tweeted a few times yesterday morning about how the Competition Authority might handle the competition issues arising from the proposed purchase by Musgraves of Superquinn. From an employment perspective, it’s obviously important that as many of the 2,800 jobs are saved. However, jobs are not the responsibility of The Competition Authority.

Purely within the remit of TCA is the fact that competition in the Irish grocery market would be seriously diminished if Musgraves was allowed become the number 1 player via this acquisition. On average, according to the NCA, Supervalu (owned by Musgraves) is €9 more expensive for a basket of groceries than Superquinn, which is €3 more expensive than Dunned and Tesco. Allowing for the fact that the Superquinn outlets under Musgraves are likely to be priced at least as expensive as Supervalu, this takeover will only be bad for consumers.

It is, however, quite likely that Musgraves will play up on the more upscale image that the Superquinn brand has. And with the fact that the group will be the leading market player now, it’s quite possible that the prices in Superquinn could be increased beyond the prices in Supervalu – potentially even worse for consumers.

I’m particularly interested in seeing how TCA will approach this takeover. In the UK, competition laws were set aside to save banks through takeovers. Given political pressure, this could be demanded here also. Alternatively, TCA could just ignore the whole issue as a tactic to allow the acquisition to happen by default – blissfully ignoring all competition laws and duties as the did with the Topaz takeover of Statoil in 2006.  This will be the more likely action – political pressures will be satisfied, jobs will be saved, and no one has to do anything. Except the Irish consumer, again, who’ll be left to foot the bill.

Here’s the start of the political pressure anyway, from Willie O’Dea in the Dail yesterday:

I seek the adjournment of the Dáil underStanding Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the sale of Superquinn to the Musgrave retail group, the competition issues that may arise from this agreement, the potential impact on the grocery sector across the country, the potential impact on the 2,800 workers employed by Superquinn and the need for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to make this a matter of priority.

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New government, same old guff in the Dail

I use the excellent KildareStreet.com to keep in touch with what’s being said in the Dail that’s related to the area of interest for this website – i.e. consumer affairs. (I’ve written about the site a few times before – see here).

It was a regular question from members of the opposition during the last Dail to ask Fianna Fail / Green ministers when the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority merger was going to actually go ahead.

This merger was announced first in the 2009 budget (way back in October 2008), but nothing has been done to progress this merger since. I wrote about this previous, guessing that it’s a merger that wasn’t welcomed by the Competition Authority in particular.

As an example of the previous opposition questioning, back in October 2010, Joe McHugh TD (FG -Donegal NE) asked the following question:

To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation his views on the changes in the organisation structures and delivery of back office support which have been made since the announcement of the merger of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority; the values of the savings made; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The then Minister responsible, Batt O’Keefe TD didn’t answer the question directly, merely filling space and time with a non-statement.

We’ve now been treated to a new government and thankfully, a new opposition, yet we’re still getting the same questions asked, and not answered.

On the 20th of April, Willie O’Dea TD (FF – Limerick City) asked the following question of the Taoiseach:

When can we expect to see the consumer and competition Bill that will merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency?

To which, Enda Kenny responded (or not really):

I cannot give the Deputy an accurate answer. We do not yet have a date for the Bill’s introduction. I shall report its progress as it moves through the system.

I think it’s enormously disappointing how poor Fine Gael have been in Government since they’ve taken over. They had such a great opportunity (in so many ways) to show they were different from Fianna Fail, yet they’ve shown nothing to prove that they’re any different in any way.

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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 National Consumer Agency don’t do rogue trader prosecutions…

That might sound like the start of a Carlsberg themed advert, but there is no punch line. The National Consumer Agency don’t. If I’m to read things correctly from a recent court case, only the Gardai do, properly at least.

I was particularly interested to read this story recently in the Irish Independent, Car dealer is jailed for ‘clocking’ UK imports.

Regular readers will be familiar with how the National Consumer Agency deals with those who sell clocked cars – they “work” with them, slap them on the wrists, and politely asks them not to do it again.

This story then, where someone is jailed looked like it was the first time, in any way, that the National Consumer Agency was getting tough on behalf of hard pressed consumers.

But I think, unfortunately, we don’t have the NCA to thank for this prosecution.

At least, after reading the story and checking the news section of the NCA website, it looks like our consumer protection agency had nothing to do with this prosecution, and that it was all down to the Gardai.

This version of the story seems to support my theory also – no mention of the NCA.

Interestingly, according to that article, the accused brought out this peach of a defense:

caveat emptor [let the buyer beware]

It looks like, then, that our statutory consumer protection organisation is seriously shown up by the Gardai and the courts on how to treat businesses that take advantage of Irish consumers. Obviously, if the NCA can claim a part in this action, I’m open to correction.

So why then do we need them?

If all they’re doing now is publishing “top tips” on the internet any more (a role I’m happy to take from them for free – they are using this site for inspiration already anyway) rather than prosecuting rogue traders (which the Gardai are having much more success at) then maybe they can be disbanded straight away for being a pointless, useless waste of money.

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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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