Tag Archives | the fuckers

I was wrong about the National Consumer Agency

In A recent post, I asked: “What will it take for these fuckers* to actually do something to protect consumers?”. This was in response to the failure of the National Consumer Agency to prosecute and fine another car dealer who breached consumer legislation and ripped off consumers by selling 4 clocked cars.

It was pointed out to me that the NCA have recently actually prosecuted and fined publicans for selling watered down vodka.

As reported at the start of October, a publican in Kilkenny was convicted and fined €2,500 (with €1,000 in costs charged also) for the offence of selling watered down vodka following a complaint from a member of the public.

I stand corrected.

A publican sells a watered down vodka for €3 or €4 to a consumer and is convicted and has to pay over €3,500 to the NCA. But a car dealer sells a clocked car for possibly upwards on 1,000 times the cost of a vodka, but that rip off car dealer gets away with promising to be a good boy in future.

Did someone say useless pointless regulator? Maybe I wasn’t so wrong after all?

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NCA still failing to discourage car clocking

I had the post below drafted earlier this week. It’s still current, but given the recent budget, it does raise a key question.

How much better protected will Irish consumers be under the combined National Consumer Agency / Competition Authority than they are now under the separate entities?

This post below shows the complete inaction of the NCA to use the consumer protection legislation that they could use, while I’ve written before about the uselessness of the Competition Authority – witness the spectacular 2006 failure to act over the Shell / Statoil merger.

We can only wait and see. If the proposed amalgamation isn’t going to improve consumer protection, then we’ll have to see what cost savings are going to be implemented instead. Either way, I suppose consumer protection in Ireland can’t get any worse:

In July of this year we reported how the National Consumer Agency was taking it easy on garages that were ripping off consumers by selling them clocked cars. At the time we felt that the practice by the NCA of getting the garages to promise to be good wouldn’t be enough to get garages to stop this clocking of cars.

Despite this, Ann Fitzgerald claimed that this softly softly approach:

Sends a clear message to other dealers that they cannot mislead consumers by selling them clocked cars and expect to get away with it

Obviously not, given this report at the end of September that the Airport Used Cars Centre in Cloghran in Dublin was caught having sold 4 clocked cars to consumers.

An unbelievably, given this clear evidence that the NCA softly softly approach isn’t working, they still won’t prosecute and fine the car dealer for breaching consumer laws and ripping off consumers.

What will it take for these fuckers* to actually do something to protect consumers?

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National Consumer Agency to investigate the price of petrol

According to this article in todays Irish Independent, the National Consumer Agency are to investigate why the price of petrol hasn’t decreased in line with the price of a barrel of oil.

Yet again, it’s the NCA and Minister Coughlan jumping on the media generated bandwagon – this time about the price of petrol. We’ve all forgotten about the euro/sterling exchange rate difference, so now it’s on to petrol.

For free and for nothing, I can save them a massive amount of time, and a massive amount of money – let the fuckers* read this blog and my comments on the price of petrol and be done with it.

Just to show you how little these people know what’s going on around them, and seemingly don’t even communicate with each other, according to the article:

Minister Coughlan feels grocery prices have dropped since the NCA’s series of surveys of supermarket prices over the summer.

Yet the most recent NCA survey states:

In general, for Dunnes, Tesco and Superquinn the basket of branded goods has increased from December 2007 to August 2008. However, from June to August the level of the increase has slowed or in some cases decreased.

Hardly a ringing endorsement of their bosses feelings by the NCA.

Maybe we should have the Comptroller and Auditor General, who today released their annual report, carry out a “Value for Money” analysis on the activities of the National Consumer Agency?

Doing surveys and buying baskets of goods doesn’t do anything to bring down prices. All it does is make it look to consumers that the government is doing something about perceived high prices, while in reality they’re doing absolutely nothing. And now they’re going to apply the same logic to doing nothing about the price of petrol.

Pointless.

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IPSO misled consumers during credit card skimming fiasco

Back towards the end of August, I wondered what particular data protection regulations were being invoked by the Irish Payment Services Organisation (IPSO) following a number of credit card skimming incidents in the country. Data protection rules were used as the reason IPSO, nor the credit card providers, could not reveal the names of businesses targeted by scammers who installed bogus credit card terminals in a number of shops around the country.

As it turns out, IPSO were misleading Irish consumers. I have had this confirmed by the Data Protection Commissioners (DPC) office. There are no data protection regulations that would prevent the publication of the names of the impacted shops – unless the shops were sole traders, which the DPC doesn’t believe isn’t the case in any of the businesses impacted recently.

I guess that this deception was primarily intended to protect the names of the idiotic shop owners and credit card providers, and their businesses, who were caught out by this scam – at the expense of protecting the consumer. I can only guess here because IPSO did not respond to 4 e-mail requests for information on this issue over the past couple of weeks.

What should have happened here was that the names of the impacted shops should have been published immediately to allow consumers check their credit card accounts, and take precautions to ensure that they weren’t scammed. Instead, the whole country was left wondering if they could have been impacted.

What should also happen now, is that the organisation that allegedly “aims to defend consumer interests and to embed a robust consumer culture in Ireland”, the National Consumer Agency, should follow up on this with IPSO and the banks to ensure that this misleading of consumers doesn’t happen again.

Well, that’s what should happen, but what are the chances the fuckers* will do anything?

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Michael O’Leary strikes out at the NCA again

Michael O’Leary has another go at the fuckers* at the National Consumer Agency today – you can see his comments about the “plonkers” and “noddies” from todays Evening Herald.

All funniness aside, he made a very important point – and in my mind clearly illustrates the populist nature of the actions of Ann Fitzgerald and the National Consumer Agency.

Ryanair announced it was cancelling flights booked through “screen scraper” websites and following the hoo-haa and publicity it was targeted (all be it through a pathetic letter only) by the NCA for what was perceived to be mistreatment of Irish consumers.

In response to the letter, Mr.O’Leary and Ryanair pointed out that in fact, consumers using such “screen scraper” websites were in fact being victimised by the operators of the websites who levied unclear and hidden charges themselves.

And what did the fuckers* do when presented with a way to actually act in the true interests of the Irish consumer?

The “noddies” took the weekend off, went for a nice drive in the country with their best friend.

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Consumer Protection versus Data Protection – and consumers lose!

I was listening to Newsbalk this morning where they were talking about another credit card skimming incident, this time in Galway.

What struck me again about this incident, as well as the original story last week, was the failure of the banks, the Gardai or IPSO – “the representative industry body, the voice and guardian of the payments industry” – to let potential victims of these scamming incidents know which credit card providers were impacted, and which shops the skimming took place in.

We were told that the banks would be following up with the impacted consumers – but we know what the banks are like here so you wouldn’t put much faith in that happening quickly.

So, the only way people will know that anything is up is through the limiting of their credit limits – presumably then when the customer rings up, the bank will inform them of what’s going on and what should happen next.

And why aren’t we told that our credit cards are at risk of being skimmed – data protection regulations apparently. I can’t find any information online at least as to why this is the case, but it seems highly ridiculous to me.

It’s apparently against data protection regulations to let consumers know that they are potentially at risk of having money stolen from them. It’s against data protection regulations to give consumers the information that they would need in order to allow them protect themselves against being ripped off by credit card skimmers.

Or is it that somewhere there’s an agreement that in the interests of protecting the businesses impacted and the credit card suppliers that their names won’t be published in the media. If a shop is announced in the media as having been stupid enough to allow scammers install a skimming mechanism right under their noses, how likely are customers to go back into the shop in the future – their business would go down. And if a credit card supplier is found to be susceptible to skimming, how likely are people to continue to be, or to continue to be, their customers.

This is nuts!!! Data protection is about protecting the data of individuals – not the reputation of businesses who are sloppy in their actual data protection responsibilities.

On the other hand, if there is some data protection law that is preventing this information from being published – someone should do something!!!

Maybe we could have the the fuckers* at the National Consumer Agency which was set up to “defend consumer interests at the highest levels of national and local decision making” write a nice letter to the Data Protection Commissioner to get changes made to allow the names of impacted shops and credit card providers be named in public.

This is something that would definitely be a positive move that would be of benefit to the consumer – but that would cause the first instance, I think, where one arm government would be expected to go up against another arm of government in order to defend the rights of consumers – something that from Day 1 I and many others never expected to happen.

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First groceries, now management companies – the useless NCA strikes again!

The National Consumer Agency recently communicated the publication of their “Guide to Buying and Living in a Multi-Unit Development Property in Ireland”. According to the Chief Executive of the fuckers* Ann Fitzgerald:

“We trust that they will be of great use and benefit to consumers in identifying and working through their commitments and responsibilities in terms of management companies”.

Ms. Fitzgerald also said:

“Rather than wait for the legislation to come through, we wanted to work immediately to provide consumers with as much information as possible to clearly communicate the scope of the commitment in which they engage when buying into a multi-unit development”.

So, we have an organisation, the fuckers* at the National Consumer Agency, who is becoming widely ridiculed for publishing pointless useless research rather than doing anything concrete and are now sticking their oar into the waters which is supposed to managed by the equally useless National Property Services Regulatory Authority (NPSRA).

Rather than doing serious and effective work in their own realm of consumer affairs, the fuckers* are now deciding that they want to do an equally useless and half arsed job in the area of property management companies.

And trust me, having read their new guide, it truly is a waste of time. This guide is intended to “supplement and enhance” a document they provided previously in December 2006, as well as being significantly similar to documentation provided by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. And all this documentation is being provided in advance of the NPSRA getting it’s full authority from the government, and presumably commissioning it’s own reports and producing it’s own version of all this same documentation.

Are you confused yet? You live in an apartment with a management company and a management agent, and you’ve got problems – which of these three regulators do you actually go to get help from?

  • The National Consumer Agency – nope, they’re only providing guidance documents.
  • The Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement – nope, as I’ve personally found, they won’t do anything.
  • How about the National Property Service Regulatory Authority – nope, they don’t actually have any powers.
Therefore, we have three government agencies all getting involved in the area of management companies and management agencies, yet none of them will help you with any of the following problems (which are the most common difficulties raised that I’ve read about):
  1. My management company have set a service charge for the following year of 60% more than the previous year, with no extra services provided. How can they justify such fees, or are they just ripping us off?
  2. My management company are taking our service charges and paying the management agent who’re not actually providing the services they’re contracted to provide. What can I do to get my value for money?
  3. The developer of my apartment complex won’t hand over the complex to the residents, even though the complex has been finished for two years? I know they still own two apartments in order to stay on the management company. How can we get control moved to the residents?
  4. The NCA paperwork says that boards of a management company shouldn’t have a management structure set to favour the development at the expense of the residents. Yet, most of them are set up that way. Why don’t these useless regulators do something to prevent that instead of pussy-footing around the issues by producing reams of documentation.
  5. Why are the fuckers* endorsing the Irish Home Builders Association Code of Practice for Management Companies which I’ve discussed here before. This code of practice only applies to any management companies created after September 2008. Any management companies that exist at the moment are not subject to these so for most people they’re not relevant at all. And since there’s shag all being built at the moment, they won’t apply to anyone in the future either.

There we have three useless regulators and not a bit of help for the poor unfortunate consumer. What a waste of our money!

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NCA and consumer legislation nothing more than a charade

In a freaky sense of timing, this article was published in todays Irish Times, available here on the new free Irish Times on the web. I was particularly drawn to Dr. Caseys last line:

In any case, we don’t need costly institutions to give us advice our grandmothers used to give us for free. It seems as if taxpayers’ money will continue to be spent without achieving any return.

Which is awfully close to the title of my post yesterday, and the closing sentence of the first paragraph about the National Consumer Agency:

National Consumer Agency Surveys – Tell us something we don’t know…… Did we really need our National Consumer Agency to spend our money on a survey to tell us what we already knew?

I can confirm, despite some people wondering, that I am not writing for the Irish Times opinion section under the pseudonym of Dr. Michael Casey. And with deference to Carlsberg, I don’t do national newspaper opinion pieces (sadly), but if I did, it might go something like this:

NCA and consumer legislation nothing more than a charade
Wed, Jul 09, 2008

The law, as interpreted by the National Consumer Agency, completely safeguards monopolies, writes MICHAEL CASEY

THERE IS A tendency in this country to bring in what looks like state-of-the-art legislation and to set up lots of institutions with statutory underpinning. The outsider observing Ireland Inc might well conclude that we have quite sophisticated and comprehensive institutions, legislation and governance. There is only one thing wrong with this view. Fundamentally there is no desire to change anything.

The laws and institutions look good on paper but there is no real intention to implement the purported reforms. It is all part of our peculiar approach to governance by spin. It’s like the old Hollywood recipe for success: If you can feign sincerity you’ve got it made.

Like many others, I welcomed the introduction of what looked like up-to-date consumer legislation and the establishment of the new National Consumer Agency, which, despite political appointees, seemed like a body that meant to do business.

Like thousands of other commuters I had suffered the tender mercies of Dublin Bus, a State monopoly which treats passengers (aka consumers) with indifference. One bus route attracted so many complaints that, instead of trying to improve the service, Dublin Bus scrapped the route entirely. Not infrequently, buses leave early so as to avoid picking up any passengers. Individual acts of kindness are shown to older people, but in general the bus service is way below what is needed in a modern economy.

The new consumer legislation seemed to provide reassurance that bus users could at last do something to effect improvements in the service. On many routes buses are often less than half as frequent as the timetable indicates – ie passengers have to wait over twice as long on average as they should. On some routes the lateness factor is far worse.

The new legislation offered some prospect of getting Dublin Bus to bring out a timetable which was not a work of fiction. This was because the legislation outlawed descriptions of services, including timetabling, which bore no relationship to the actual services provided.

Urged on by fellow sufferers, I brought a case to the NCA about huge discrepancies between bus timetables and actual arrivals. This was after several recent experiences of waiting in pouring rain at bus-stops for buses which time after time failed to arrive even within 20 minutes of the appointed time.

To make matters worse, the State has given a huge national asset free gratis to this transport monopoly – ie about half of the road space in Dublin for its exclusive use. Has the provision of bus lanes made any difference to the service provided by Dublin Bus? Little or none. It merely reinforces its monopoly power by forcing more private cars off the road without providing a reasonable alternative.

For about four months the NCA tried to pass the buck. It said that the matter was one for the Department of Transport. The department said it would be happy to pass on the complaint to Dublin Bus. I pointed out that I had already contacted Dublin Bus without success.

The department admitted that, in that case, there was nothing it could do since Dublin Bus is an autonomous body. (Incidentally, this is always the answer you get from any Government department – you’re referred to the semi-State body in question, which is described as autonomous. This means that the Minister can’t be held responsible for any mistakes the semi-State body might make.)

I went back to the NCA and asked it again why Dublin Bus was beyond its remit. If it really believed that, didn’t it mean that all of our 800 public bodies were outside the remit of the NCA? How could this be since it was clearly intended that the new consumer legislation was to be fully comprehensive?

I finally got the answer I most feared. The new and much-hyped consumer legislation and the NCA are a charade.

Section 43 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 defines a misleading commercial practice as one which would be likely “to cause the average consumer to make a transactional decision that the average consumer would not otherwise make”.

The NCA then goes on to say: “As the average consumer would not stop using the Dublin Bus service because the bus does not arrive on time, this would not be considered a breach of the Act.” This is quite extraordinary.

I’m not sure that the NCA’s interpretation of the Act is correct but if it is, it is bizarre. What it is saying is that Dublin Bus can do what it likes because the average consumer has no alternative. He or she cannot make any other “transactional decision”.

It is impossible. And why is that? Because Dublin Bus is a monopoly. There are no alternatives for consumers. As a monopoly, Dublin Bus has complete carte blanche to continue treating passengers with indifference and all the other State monopolies have the same divine right.

The much-vaunted consumer legislation and the much-heralded NCA have absolutely no bearing on the matter. In fact the law, as interpreted by the NCA, completely safeguards monopolies in this country. This proves, if proof were needed, that consumer rights do not exist – and there’s no point in asking Ministers to intervene since they accept no responsibility in these matters.

Then, in a final desperate attempt to pass the buck, the NCA states: “As I’m sure you understand, consumer issues are wide- ranging and there are many departments and public bodies that assume some responsibility in area (sic) of consumer affairs.”

Out of the mouths of babes. In my innocence I had thought the NCA was now the main agency, deliberately set up to look after the interests of consumers. Not a bit of it; fragmentation and duplication and buck- passing are all still alive and well in the public sector.

No doubt the NCA will intervene in some cases, especially those which attract media attention, especially those involving the frail and the elderly. No doubt the NCA will publish a nice glossy annual report, but like many other public bodies, there is little committed effort to make significant improvements.

The oft-repeated advice to consumers to “shop around” is banal and irritating. Mary O’Rourke is right: how can hard-working women with young children shop around?

In any case, we don’t need costly institutions to give us advice our grandmothers used to give us for free. It seems as if taxpayers’ money will continue to be spent without achieving any return.

• Dr Michael Casey is a former senior official with the Central Bank and a former member of the board of the International Monetary Fund.

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National Consumer Agency Surveys – tell us something we don’t know

Right! Let’s get one thing out of the way here. I don’t think we needed the fuckers* to tell us last week that things were cheaper in Northern Ireland relatively speaking than they are down here. We’ve been travelling north for our shopping in our droves. We’ve been stocking up on our Christmas treats and booze, and our all year round weekly shopping in Newry, and Derry, and Enniskillen and all points just over the border for years. Did we really need our National Consumer Agency to spend our money on a survey to tell us what we already knew?

I had this composed immediately after the initial press release and newspaper coverage, but I decided to hold fire just in case something different happened after this recent survey compared to the non-events that followed the other press releases telling us the blatantly bloody obvious from the National Consumer Agency.

Well, there were a couple of days of hoo-haa, people shouted, there was gnashing of teeth, and general disquiet. And then, nothing. Nothing changed. No one did anything. Everything stayed the same. I’d have to agree with An Fear Bolg who commented on Pricewatch earlier today – “the NCA seems to be on a crazed campaign that may yield little or no results.”

So, we didn’t really need the National Consumer Agency to travel to Newry or Enniskillen or Banbridge to buy baskets of 42 items and compare their prices to the same 42 items bought in Rathfarnham, Blanchardstown and Finglas. This is the same useless regulator who has 70,000 calls to their complaints line in 2007, yet only made 7 prosecutions during that year.

The full details of this pointless research is available here if you want to read more.

There is some useful background information on the application of VAT and Excise rates both here and in Northern Ireland. There is also some interesting information on the differences in rates applied to different products covered in the survey. However, it should also be noted that the price comparisons were made after the exclusion of the impact of VAT and Excise rates.

I just have a few of observations:

  • On the same day as the fuckers* released their research results, it was revealed by the CSO that an average basket of goods costs 5% more in Dublin than it does in the rest of the country. All of the Northern based supermarkets chosen for this current research can easily be described as “country based” – Newry, Enniskillen and Banbridge. Yet all the supermarkets visited down here were Dublin based. I guess it’s reasonable to assume that a similar city (Belfast) vs country divide is just as applicable up there as it is down here. So, let’s assume we add 5% to the northern prices so that we’re comparing like (city = Belfast) with like (city = Dublin) – the “headline” figures from the National Consumer Agency now drop by 5%.
  • Now, let’s look at the price of wages down here compared to Northern Ireland. There’s no mention of this comparison of this in the National Consumer Agency report. Lets assume that the majority of employees in these stores on a fulltime basis are aged 22 and over. The minimum hourly wage in Ireland is, as of July 2007, €8.65 per hour. The equivalent national minimum wage in Northern Ireland is £5.52 per hour. That’s a Euro equivalent of €6.99. Therefore the cost of labour in Ireland is 24% more expensive than it is in Northern Ireland. I guess that’d be a good reason for things to be more expensive down here than up there.
  • What about the price of property – to either buy or rent? Do you think the cost of having a retail premises in Finglas, Blanchardstown or Rathfarnham is equivalent to having one in Banbridge, Enniskillen or Newry? If we look at house prices, which everyone is familiar with – a 4 bed, 2 bath detached house with garage in Newry would cost you upwards on €650k while a similar type house in Rathfarnham would cost you double that. A recent CBRE survey on the cost of renting office property showed that Belfast had a rate of €304 per sq metre, while Dublin had a rate of over twice that amount at $860 per sq metre. And on top of that, our comparison shops up north are based in areas there are probably even cheaper to rent – and all in a market where rental rates are falling in the north, while they’re pretty stable down here, over the past 12 months. Again, a legitimate reason for prices to be more expensive down here.
However, we also know that Irish shoppers are more strongly tied to branded items than many of our European neighbours, and as such, we will naturally pay a premium for wanting these branded items. But that’s our choice – we’re not forced to buy these items, but we like them and we chose to.

I’ve written many times before about this whole euro sterling pricing differential, and each time my message is the same – no matter what retailers or regulators or governments are telling us, the one main factor that will in the long term influence the prices is the shopping behaviour we ourselves follow.

Irish based retailers will claim that the cost of doing business in Ireland is what causes the price differential we all know and see. While not trying to become an advocate for these businesses, I think that above 3 examples show how this can be somewhat justified.

Shouldn’t this type of information also have formed the basis of the research these fuckers* are carrying out in order to give us the full picture of what’s going on and the reasons behind the price differentials.

Unfortunately, we already know that all this is going to yield no results after the comments of John Shine, the NCA director of commercial practices “admitted there is little the organisation can do to help consumers get better value.” Well, apart from wasting time their time doing half arsed, incomplete and pointless research for crowd and press pleasing press releases.

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Who’s really wrong? Businesses or Consumers?

I loved this headline in todays Sunday Business Post – Restaurants charging 300% mark-ups on wine. It’s really a bit of a nothing story – we all know that the mark up on wines are pretty big compared to what we could buy the same bottles for in a supermarket or off licence.

It’s kind of a similar nothing story that the fuckers* released last week telling us that things are cheaper up north than they are down here – as if we didn’t know that already! Duh! But more on this tomorrow.

Here’s my version of the same headline for the Sunday Business Post – Irish consumers willing to pay 300% mark-ups on wine.

When will our National Consumer Agency and our media get it into their heads that the reason for many of what they’re describing as “rip offs” are because Irish consumers willing pay the prices being asked by Irish businesses.

No restaurant would be able to get away with a 300% mark up on a wine if none of their customers ordered that wine. We get what we pay for – we pay for what we want! No matter the cost!

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