Tag Archives | Pricewatch

Watchdog Woes – What’s the story with Consumer Representation?

Paul Cullen wrote an interesting piece yesterday morning in the Pricewatch column in the Irish Times about how Irish consumer are, or more particularly aren’t really, represented very well at the moment.

In talking about the Consumers Association of Ireland, the article says:

So the CAI is likely to stagger on, small, independent and hamstrung – which, you suspect, is just the way many powerful forces in society would like it.

And of the National Consumer Agency:

but has been less effective in countering the power of big corporations, such as fuel companies, food retailers and telecoms operators.

but the NCA has been criticised for not going for the jugular where traders commit offences

The article refers to the issues that I had with the Consumers Association back in November when I submitted my resignation. The article expands a little on the issues I had back then regarding the supposedly voluntary members of the CAI council making money through their multiple nominations to other government agencies. It also details a little more the extra cash that Dermott Jewell makes from his multiple external appointments which in my view have to take from his ability to effectively run what is already an ailing Association.

I guess that this is a little tongue in cheek, but the article speaks of ValueIreland.com as follows:

MacShane, who has effectively set himself up in opposition to the CAI through his website, ValueIreland.com, is critical of the organisation’s failure to make a bigger impact on public consciousness.

Oh well, I didn’t expect my master plan to be exposed in this way quite yet 🙂


More silly bank charges – this time from NIB

Obviously the credit crunch and the banking crisis is having it’s impact on the banks in Ireland and their need to keep their profits up.

Following on from Conor Popes experience where Bank of Ireland charged him €5.90 for a new Laser card, I was this week charged €1.95 by National Irish Bank for them to re-issue me with a PIN number for my credit card.


Those so-called lo-calls

The Irish Times
Monday, November 24, 2008
Conor Pope

WHILE IT MAY sound peculiar that people who contact the National Consumer Agency (NCA) to complain about rip-off prices have to fork out as much as ¤3.50 for a 10-minute call to one of its agents, that can be the case if the call is made using a mobile phone rather than a landline.

Like many banks, insurance companies, Government departments and other State and semi-state bodies, the NCA advertises a so-called lo-call 1890 number on its main consumer contact page. Unlike ComReg, the Financial Regulator and the Data Protection Commissioner, to name just three organisations also representing the interests of consumers, the NCA does not list a landline contact number for consumer inquiries.

It is a peculiar oversight, as the lo-call 1890 number is anything but low cost when called from a mobile. The cost of making such a call from a landline is 5.1 cent a minute during peak hours and 1.3 cent off-peak from anywhere in the country. The cost of making the same call using a mobile can be as high as €0.35 a minute and, unlike landline numbers, which are routinely included in the bundled “free” minutes offered by the mobile phone and landline operators, calls to 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers are excluded from such deals.

While many large organisations advertise their lo-call numbers as if they were entirely to the consumer’s benefit, they don’t make any mention of the potential cost. To its credit, the NCA does at least carry a note on all its promotional literature alluding to the fact that the costs of calling the number from a mobile may vary, although they don’t say by how much.

Not only mobile phone users are penalised for calling lo-call numbers. Some landline customers also find themselves out of pocket, because landline deals offering unlimited calls for fixed monthly prices exclude 1890, 1850 and 0818 calls.

Given its role of protecting the Irish consumer, the NCA should be beyond reproach when it comes to consumer matters, so its failure to offer a choice of both landline and lo-call numbers is surprising. We contacted the agency and were told that it had initially considered using a freephone number as its main contact but had been cautioned against it as 1800 numbers tend to generate large volumes of “crank calls”, which, it said, would hamper it in its objective of handling a greater number of genuine consumer queries.

THE NCA SAYS its call centre in Cork will handle 90,000 calls this year and the number of complaints in connection with its 1890 number are “extremely low”. It told PriceWatch that its Dublin-based staff “are not trained to offer call-centre services” but consumers who call its corporate headquarters with inquiries are connected to the Cork-based call centre at no additional cost, making it a much cheaper, if little publicised, avenue for mobile phone users.

The NCA stresses that 1890 billing practices are “an issue of commercial practice by those operators concerned” and says the cost of the calls to its own number “remains under scrutiny internally”. It has plans to raise the inclusion of a landline as a potential option when tendering for call-centre services within the next month.

One person who would welcome such a move is consumer activist Diarmuid MacShane. A year ago, he was aghast when he opened his mobile bill and saw the “horrendous” charges associated with calling lo-call numbers. When he rang his operator to complain, a customer service representative empathised but said there was nothing that could be done about it.

MacShane DISAGREED. Mirroring a similar campaign in the UK, he set up an anti-1890 website, www.saynoto1890.com. The site lists the alternative landline contact numbers for companies using 1890 numbers so people calling them from mobiles at least have the choice of saving themselves a few bob.

“The numbers are advertised by service providers as being lo-call and call-save. Unfortunately that only applies to landlines, and I don’t think that people who have these numbers actually realise the impact to mobile users,” he believes.

He says some businesses use these numbers because of their “national” non-regional nature while others “like them because they provide easy-to-remember numbers – so if it’s making it easier for people to call, and therefore to get business, they might not be too concerned about their cost to their customers. But I think that even more people would become annoyed through greater exposure of the cost implications, which many people probably aren’t aware of.”

We contacted the four mobile providers last week and all four confirmed that calls to 1890 numbers are not included in their bundled minutes. They charge a range of prices of up to €0.35 cent a minute.

When we asked why they were not included in bundles, we got broadly similar, if not entirely convincing, answers from all the providers. O2 said it excluded calls to 1890 numbers “on the basis that they are a non-standard call. The exclusion of certain non-standard calls from bundled minutes on price plans is standard industry practice,” a statement said, adding: “As a mobile operator, O2 facilitates access to 1890 numbers for its customers and charges a flat rate of 35c per minute to ensure transparency.”

For its part, Vodafone said it did not include calls to 1890 numbers because it was concentrated on “offering value where the customer needs it the most and in keeping our tariff plans as simple as possible for the consumer. Including non-standard calls makes the tariffs confusing,” Vodafone claimed.

The company doesn’t, however, find it confusing to vary the charges associated with calling 1890 numbers depending on the package consumers subscribe to – people with 600 free minutes pay €0.18, those with 400-minute bundles pay €0.20 up to a maximum of €0.30 a minute.

Meanwhile, 3 Mobile charges €0.30 a minute to dial 1890 numbers while Meteor told us it did not include calls to 1890 or 1850 numbers, again citing “standard industry practice” as the reason. To its credit, however, at €0.15 a minute it is the cheapest of the networks for such calls.

MacShane says there is no justification for the charges to be higher than normal calls to landlines, and he can see “no reason to not have them included in minutes bundles. Given that the aim of mobile companies is to reduce the total number of landline minutes used in the country, so more and more people will be calling these numbers from mobiles. It’s easy money”. He says the line trotted out by the phone companies that it is “standard industry practice” could be translated to mean “we charge what we do because we can, and people pay it”.


Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.


You still shouldn’t buy vouchers for Christmas

Following on from my original post a couple of weeks ago, 5 Reasons Not to Give Vouchers this Christmas, there was a fair bit of media coverage in recent weeks on the whole issue of giving vouchers.

Pat Kenny covered vouchers for Christmas a couple of times on his morning radio show. It might become available here sometime soon to listen to.

Conor Pope also covered vouchers recently in his PriceWatch column in The Irish Times. James Doorley, Chairman of the Consumers Association of Ireland has also covered vouchers on his blog.

Having read all that coverage on giving vouchers for Christmas, maybe you’ll think twice about it – the more you read about vouchers, the more it’s not all cut and dried.

It doesn’t take long to have a think about what your nearest and dearest would love to receive for Christmas. You know what they say, “it’s the thought that counts”.


Prime Time Investigates Customer Service, tonight RTE1, 9.35

In a programme subtitled, Service with a Snarl, Conor Pope of the excellent Irish Times PriceWatch column is fronting tonights Prime Time Investigates.

In a warm-up article in Saturdays Irish Times, Conor looked at some examples of problematic customer service experienced by Irish consumers. On the basis of that article, it looks like NTL/Chorus/UPC might be bearing the brunt of the coverage.

Lets hope this programme doesn’t unexpectedly and quietly get pulled like the last episode of Buyer Beware last Thursday night.


6 Reasons not to give Vouchers this Christmas

Though vouchers are really handy Christmas presents, there are a few good reasons not to give vouchers this Christmas.

So, why you should think six times before buying a gift voucher as a Christmas present:

  • It is always be a nicer touch to put a bit of thought into a present for someone rather than the somewhat lazy voucher option.
  • Some generic voucher schemes might not be redeemable in as many stores as you expect, or as many stores as the recipient might actually want. There’s nothing worse than getting a voucher for somewhere you’ve no interest in buying something.
  • Certain vouchers that you might think are a good idea (such as Ryanair for example) are reputed to be very difficult to actually cash in – and in some cases have cost more to use than the value of the gift itself.
  • Some vouchers have an expiry date which makes them useless once passed. While it’s not your fault as the “giver”, it could mean that the receiver is under pressure to use the vouchers before they expire. They might end up using them on something they don’t really want that much.
  • Sometimes, if you buy a voucher from a proper shop outlet, it might not be usable in a concession version of the same shop. This was illustrated through the experience of a reader of Pricewatch in the Irish Times. This issue, however, could have been seen in the terms & conditions, if they’d been read beforehand.
  • And finally, and most importantly, In the current economic climate, if you buy vouchers from a business that closes down in the new year, the vouchers will most likely be worthless depending on how badly strapped for cash the shop is when it shuts.

NCA provide a geographical alternative number

Fair play to Conor Pope from PriceWatch in the Irish Times. Following from his article about our  SayNoTo1890.com site and geographical alternative phone numbers, the National Consumer Agency have now provided an 01 alternative to their 1890 number.

Hats off to the National Consumer Agency for its speedy response to our piece pointing out that calling its 1890 helpline from a mobile could cost people a lot more than they bargained for.

While calling the 1890 432 432 number from a landline costs five cent a minute at peak times, calling from a mobile can cost 35 cent. Last week, the agency organised a landline number in addition to its 1890 number and both will feed directly into its call centre. The landline contact number is 01-4025555 and it should be up and running from this week.

By providing this number, anyone who now needs to call the NCA, particularly from a mobile phone, will save themselves upwards of 35c per minute by having the calls subtracted from their minutes bundles rather than being charged extra calling the 1890 number.


Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.

Click here for the SayNoTo1890.com Website.


Euro / Sterling Dual-Pricing – A different angle

I read with interest this piece from Conor Pope in Pricewatch on Monday morning regarding one of his readers observations about the dual-pricing that we experience in many stores at the moment.

A reader by the name of Helen was shopping in Wallis recently when she noticed they had torn off the sterling price, which had been attached to the price tags on the clothes along with the euro price – not the only shop operating in both the Republic of Ireland and the UK that has adopted such a policy in recent months.

“We all know that we are being ripped off in the Republic – the mark up between the sterling price and the euro price is blatantly obvious, even though the euro-sterling exchange rate has been trading consistently at around €0.78 for the past year. By tearing off the sterling price, does Wallis think that we won’t notice we are being ripped off?”

I was in a Boots store on Sunday where I saw a different perspective to this euro/sterling dual-pricing problem.

There was a small kid in the queue in front of me with some sort of Christmas present for his mother. He had his change counted out, and re-counted it a couple of times before he got to the top of the queue.

When he got to the cashier, he popped the gift on the counter, and unloaded his bundle of change for the cashier.

The cashier smiled at him, scanned the item, and asked him for €10.

“But it’s €8 on the label, I checked it myself” said the little lad, visibly gutted.

“No, it’s £8 I’m afraid. So that’s €10” said the cashier.

I don’t think we’re teaching our 6 and 7 year olds about dual-priced labels and exchange rates, are we?


Stop Wasting Your Money, from Conor Pope

Having just finished Twenty Majors The Order of the Phoenix Park, I’m moving onto another book by a blogger. I’ll leave the introductions to the authors journalistic colleague Paul Cullen, also of the Irish Times, from Saturdays Irish Times Magazine (sub required):

For more than five years, the PriceWatch column in this newspaper has been guiding readers through the pitfalls of shopping, as well as seeking out the best in value and quality for consumers. Now that its editor, Conor Pope, has distilled his wisdom in book form, there’s really no excuse for not making some changes to your finances that can result in serious money savings.

Stop Wasting Your Money promises to cut your bills by anywhere between €1,000 and €3,000 in a year, simply by following Conor’s month-by-month advice. It’s a mixture of the so-obvious-we-don’t-do it, such as shaving hundreds of euro off your insurance or health bills by one phone call, to the oh-really!-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that-before?

In the latter vein, I didn’t know you could access freeview TV satellite stations including all the BBCs and ITVs for the price of a €100 dish and a bit of wiring. Or that chicken pieces with the skin on are half the price of skinless pieces. Ok, maybe I did know the last one but just don’t want to get my hands dirty.

Written with a light touch, Stop… isn’t hectoring or judgmental (as Conor writes, “that’s what Eddie Hobbs is for”). At the end of your year’s belt-tightening, he reckons you deserve to blow the savings on a nice holiday. That we like. A snip at €9.99.


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