Tag Archive - The Irish Independent

Eircom a low speed provider of high speed internet

The Irish Independent
Eddie Lennon, May 12th, 2005

Consumer groups query why one person in a building can have broadband while another can’t.
A SPECTRUM of consumer bodies say they are receiving complaints from individuals demanding to know why Eircom can’t provide them with broadband internet service when their immediate neighbours have it.

Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers Association of Ireland, said: “Not a week goes by without two or three people contacting the Consumers Association to ask why they can’t get broadband from Eircom, while their friends who live in the same area can.”

Telecoms regulator ComReg and the Direct of Consumer Affairs also have received complaints about problems signing up for Eircom broadband, while Ireland Offline, a campaign group for better internet access here, reports “huge” consumer frustration.

The Consumer Association said it has not received similar complaints about any broadband provider other than Eircom, on whose lines most other operators’ broadband service is based.
“One of our members has Eircom broadband but his next-door neighbour can’t get it,” Mr Jewell said. “Eircom told the neighbour they would investigate the matter, but more than a week later he had no explanation.”

This is “just one small example”, he said. “It defies the whole logic of trying to get a fast internet connection if the provider can’t respond fast enough.”

Eircom’s “hard sell and lovely marketing spin” around broadband is merely adding to the frustration, Mr Jewell said.

Telecoms regulator ComReg said it too had received complaints about problems signing up for Eircom broadband.

Director of Consumer Affairs Carmel Foley echoed this: “The fact Eircom is advertising its high-speed products so aggressively seems ironic.” Her office has received about 10 complaints from people whose phone lines Eircom deemed ineligible for broadband.

Diarmuid MacShane, who runs consumer information website valueireland.com, said he found trying to sign up to Eircom broadband “an absolute nightmare. I was told they needed to test my line from a local exchange. But since the exchange was unmanned, they could not send somebody there till there was a problem.

“After three weeks, nothing had happened. When I contacted Eircom they told me the test had been ‘inconclusive’, which meant I would probably not be able to get broadband, although my neighbour upstairs could.”

Mr MacShane got no satisfaction by phone. He was “bounced around” in vain before going to Eircom’s official complaints page on the internet. “Within two days I was told my phone line was broadband-enabled – after about a month trying to get the information,” he said.
John Timmons, committee member of Ireland Offline, said: “The general Eircom answer is ‘we’re sorry, it failed and that’s all we can do’.”

The level of frustration among consumers is “huge”, he said. “In an area with 20 houses, there could be eight or nine failing to get broadband. If your next-door-neighbour can get broadband and you can’t, it’s annoying, especially if you’re spending more money on a regular internet connection than you would with broadband.”

He added that despite assurances from Eircom to investigate, he saw no evidence of any action.
“In this day and age, I would have thought it was a relatively straightforward operation to test a line and send an engineer out. A delay of days would be understandable; but it is often a matter of several weeks.”

Ian Campbell, editor of Silicon Republic, Ireland’s technology news service, said: “Most people who can’t get broadband are told by Eircom that it’s because there’s a fault on their (phone) line. What the nature of those faults is and when will Eircom set about solving them is the million dollar question. A lot more people should be broadband-enabled.”

An Eircom spokesperson said some phone lines might not be suitable due to “exchange or line issues.

“We advise the customer as soon as we have determined the suitability of the line.”
He added: “We are continuously upgrading and improving the quality of our network so it is possible that lines which may have been deemed unsuitable, in time will be capable of supporting broadband.”

A comprehensive list of Ireland’s broadband providers is available at www.broadband.gov.ie.

Note from Value Ireland – When reviewing the above mentioned site regarding broadband providers, please be aware that most providers will only provide broadband to business customers. Be very careful when reviewing offerings to ensure that residential customers would be supplied.

Many are paying bills ‘blind’

The Irish Independent
Orla O’Sullivan, December 2nd, 2004

AT least one in six people pay their bills sight unseen – despite admissions of overcharging by 11 Irish companies this year alone – according to survey results shared exclusively with Your Money by Diarmuid MacShane, who runs the website www.valueireland.com.

Of 200 respondents to the survey, run online from October 1 to mid-November, 7pc said they never bother to check any bill, Mr MacShane said.

Another 8pc of the 200 respondents agreed to the statement: “I pay by direct debit and don’t know what I’m paying.” In reality, says, Mr MacShane, “I would think the number of people who pay their bills without looking at them is higher than 15pc because visitors to our site tend to be more aware consumers than the general population.” www.valueireland.com, a forum where consumers share their experiences of good and bad value received, gets about 5,000 visitors a month.

Separate to the survey, Mr MacShane reviewed media coverage this year, and found 25 reported incidents of overcharging by 11 companies. “There were 900,000 customers affected to the tune of €42m.”

These include the highly publicised cases involving Allied Irish Banks, National Irish Bank and mobile operators, O2 and Vodafone, plus others involving businesses such as Eircom and Esat BT. In total, 42pc of respondents said they do not check every bill they receive. Some check only certain bills from certain companies or individual bills with which they take issue.

“How can people expect the Government to help them if they don’t help themselves by keeping watch over their payments, especially when they’re dealing with companies that have been known to overcharge?” he asks.

There were also three reported incidents of companies undercharging their customers: NIB and its credit card customers; AIB and some student/graduate charges; and ESB, which will start to collect an average of €120 from each customer undercharged.

“We don’t want to be too negative,” said Mr MacShane, formerly a business analyst for investment banks. “If consumers focus on spending money with companies that offer good value, then those companies will prosper.”

Value Sites

The Irish Independent
Eddie Lennon, November 25th, 2004

Value Sites

www.Valueireland.com

www.oxfamireland.org

cdwow.com

splashdvd.com

www.dvdzone2.com

www.ezydvd.com

thedvdforums.com

dvdpricecheck.co.uk

cdwow.com

djangos.com

komplett.ie

elara.ie

amazon.com

pixmania.com

pricerunner.com

kelkoo.co.uk

strawberrynet.com

iwantoneofthose.com

boystoys.co.uk

ebid.ie

bargains.co.uk

Christmas Crackers

The Irish Independent
Eddie Lennon, November 25th, 2004

EDDIE LENNON goes searching for the best bargains in Yuletide shopping

IT’S that time of year again when everybody’s thinking what to buy their loved ones for Christmas.

On a range of likely Christmas purchases, we found savings of between €7 and €30 for the exact same item and savings of up to at least €27 for similar items, as the accompanying table shows.

The most extreme savings were by buying online – so it’s not surprising that an estimated that 60pc of people will do some of their Christmas shopping on the web.

However, retailers’ price wars also produce sudden and extreme variations. A case in point is Robosapien, this year’s ‘in’ toy for boys. Yesterday, Dublin’s ToyMaster shops dropped to €89.95 from €109, on a toy that three months ago it introduced at €150. (Regional Toymasters may be more.)

Argos, a few days ago, dropped its price to within 9c of Smyth’s €93.40 – down from €115 and €110, respectively, earlier this month.

Yet, Michael Culloty of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, says: “We don’t shop around. Many of us are money-ridden but time-poor, and decide to buy everything the one day.”

Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers Association, suggests Irish people belatedly are realising the surprising scope to get cheaper prices. “Growing numbers are travelling abroad, to New York for example, to avail of bargains, especially since the dollar is weak (lately at $1.30 to €1).

“Significant numbers are travelling North and finding great value there. Even those staying at home are more calmly looking around.”

CHRISTMAS STAPLES: If you buy direct from those who raise turkeys or Christmas trees, you can save up to €20 on turkeys and about €5 on trees, said producers who refused to be quoted for fear of openly undercutting the retailers they supply.

A good, large Christmas tree costs €29.99 at Dublin’s Newlands Home and Garden Centre.

According to Joe Flynn of the Irish Christmas Tree Growers Association, “some businesses sell trees at a loss to attract people in. The likes of Woodies and Spar sell them for €25 or sometimes even less.”

Christmas accessories can cost a pretty penny. At Oxfam’s shops in Dublin and Galway, you can pick them up for a fraction of what you could pay, plus it’s all for a good cause.

For example: 16 Christmas cards for €5, hand-embroidered decorations from €2.50; miniature nativity sets from €4.50; six Christmas crackers containing special Fair Trade gifts for €15. More gift details at www.oxfamireland.org.

ELECTRONICS: The Office Complete Box Set costs €41.50, including delivery, at cdwow.com; at HMV Grafton Street it costs €49.99.

Another good website for DVDs is the Australian one, www.ezydvd.com, which sells DVDs from €12.95 including delivery, which takes less than a week. The site also gives away good free gifts from time to time.

You should also check out splashdvd.com and www.dvdzone2.com which have some good offers.

Two interesting price-checker websites, thedvdforums.com and dvdpricecheck.co.uk, are useful chat forums for DVD bargain-hunters.

When buying DVDs, unless your DVD player is a ‘multi-region’ player, make sure they are compatible with your DVD player, most of which are ‘Region 2′ players. Norah Jones’ CD Come Away with Me costs over €20 at HMV in Dublin; but at cdwow.com it’s available for €13. Check out djangos.com for other CD bargains.

Irish websites selling electronic goods at discount rates include elara.ie and komplett.ie, where Sony’s NW-HD1 20GB mp3 player costs €20 less than the €399 paid in Sony shops.

Digital cameras on pixmania.com are far cheaper than in Ireland, ditto at pricerunner.com and kelkoo.co.uk.

MISCELLANEOUS: Books are far cheaper to buy online than in store, but usually only if you buy several at a time.

Otherwise, we found savings on the two of the big Christmas titles almost wiped out by the €3.50 delivery charge, the Guinness Book of World Records 2005 coming in at €6 less than Eason’s €20 on amazon.com and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles autobiography just €1.70 less than Eason’s €20.50.

Amazon’s US site, amazon.com is often cheaper than its UK site, amazon.co.uk, especially now that the dollar is very weak.

Discount shops, such as Reads of Nassau Street, Dublin, offer cheaper alternatives to the major bookstores. There, the Guinness Book of World Records is €17.24, almost €3 cheaper than Easons. And Bob Dylan’s autobiography is €15.74, nearly €5 cheaper than Easons.

Bookbrain.co.uk, described by the Financial Times as “an invaluable site”, compares book prices across 14 online providers.

One contributor to the forum askaboutmoney.com claimed to have paid just €38, with free delivery, for 100ml of Calvin Klein Eternity after-shave from strawberrynet.com, while it costs €63 at Boots.

Going North may be cheaper. We found the Hot Wheels T-Rex Play Set for boys at Toys R Us Belfast for €7.05 less than the €49.95 Toymaster Dublin asks. However, Toys R Us worked out at marginally more for girls coveted Lil Bratz set, at £19.99, than €29.99 here.

Equally, there’s just €1.08 to be saved on Cecilia Ahern’s No 1 bestseller in Eason’s Belfast, compared to Eason’s discounted Republic price of €12.50.

Orla O’Sullivan also contributed to this story.

Pubs drinking in the last chance saloon

Irish Independent
Eddie Lennon, September 24th, 2004

We are changing our drinking habits now, opting for home rather than the pub

LAST week the national publicans’ body, the Vintners Federation of Ireland, described criticism of the price of drink as “totally unjustified”.

That view will certainly be a source of bemusement, if not amusement, to the many pub-goers in Ireland. But why is the price of the pint so extraordinarily high?

In March 2002, Diageo raised the price per pint of its draught products (Carlsberg, Budweiser, Harp, Smithwicks, Kilkenny and Cashel’s cider) by 4c. It did the same in March of last year, and raised the price again by 6c last June.

According to a spokesperson for Diageo, “most pubs translated the June price rise into an increase of between 10c and 15c”.

The Irish Brewers Association, which is part of IBEC and represents Ireland’s four major brewers, recently gave a breakdown of how the price of a pint is shared between the three main players: the brewer, the publican and the Exchequer.

The average price of a pint at the end of 2003 was €3.42. Of that, the brewers get 85c, the Exchequer gets €1.07 (in excise and VAT) and the publican gets €1.50, according to the Association, quoting figures from the Central Statistics Office.

In 1997, the publican got 39pc of the price of a pint; today they get 43pc.

Vintners Federation of Ireland spokesman David Hickey says that, while anti-competitive regulations prevent publicans from increasing prices en masse, publicans have hiked their prices in tandem with increases in the Budget and by the breweries “to protect our margins; otherwise we lose out”.

Paddy Jordan, director of the Irish Brewers Association, says publicans put up their prices more often than brewers do. This is largely the reason why the publicans’ slice of the action has increased by 5pc in the past seven years. If the Exchequer’s take is excluded, it emerges that the publican gets almost two-thirds (64pc) of the non-tax price of a pint, with the brewer getting just 36pc.

Vintners Federation chief executive Tadg O’Sullivan says that, with a raft of heavy and spiralling overheads including staff costs, tax, insurance and rates, publicans’ net profit is just 0.5pc.

However, this is contradicted by one leading publican, who asked not to be named. He says publicans’ net profit (after all liabilities) varies from nil to 10pc, depending on overdraft repayments, turnover and general cost control.

Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the Consumers Association of Ireland, believes publicans are going too far by invariably meeting price increases from the brewers with their own price hikes. “It’s an unwritten law.”

“If you look at the prices they have been charging for soft drinks and quarter bottles of wine, there is more than enough room for them to absorb at least some of the brewers’ price increases.”

Mr Jewell says publicans are now paying the price for their regular price increase. “Even before the smoking ban, they had seen a big loss of custom because customers could not afford the prices. People have changed their habits; they drink more wine and beer at home.”

Director of Consumer Affairs, Carmel Foley says: “The average pub customer gazes in disbelief at the prices achieved at auction for pubs, which seem to suggest that the returns publicans are getting are greater than other retailers.”

“Publicans are a privileged group: they hold a licence from the State and there are no more new licences given.” She believes pubs should be deregulated, with safeguards against the ongoing problem of alcohol abuse.

According to Diarmuid MacShane of consumer awareness website www.valueireland.com: “The high charges we’re suffering in pubs is definitely shameful profiteering by publicans. The treatment they mete out to their customers (via badly maintained toilets and service and rudeness from staff) stinks of crass disregard for their customers.

We asked the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents publicans in Dublin and Bray, to respond. They declined to comment.

Throw off the ‘rip-off’ yoke: go online for value

Irish Independent
Bill Tyson & Eddie Lennon, February 5th, 2004

The internet can prove a vital weapon in the war for better value, providing easily processed information and many cheaper deals at the touch of a button. Here’s a quick guide to the most useful sites.

THE main reason that Irish consumers are being ripped off is not just corporate greed.

It is because we are complicit in our own abuse. And so, in financial terms, we get what we deserve.

We are losing the war for better value, and will continue to lose if our new-found consumer awareness does not mature into action.

A classic example, borne out in repeated surveys in the Irish Independent, is buying CDs. In the shops, you can expect to pay up to €20, and sometimes even more, for a CD.

But at cdwow.ie, you can choose from a huge selection of CDs for just €16.95, including delivery.

Similarly, the plummeting dollar makes buying online from American-based websites such as amazon.com all the more attractive. You can also use the internet to get cheaper flights, not just with Ryanair but now with Aer Lingus too.

The latter came out cheaper than Ryanair recently when I sought quotes for a flight to London.

In the end, I chose Cityjet, again through the internet, because, while not the cheapest, it was close enough at €80 return and its host airport in London’s docklands is in the heart of the city.

Another useful online moneysaver is www.LAbrokers.ie (discounted life and mortgage protection cover).

And there are a host of websites where you can get cheap travel insurance instead of using your travel agent, whose prices are almost universally dearer (see Good Buys, left).

Their dominant position has not surprisingly led to higher pricing – and all too often the financially naive do not query it. The internet also offers some insightful overviews of how to get the bargains, and avoid the rip-offs, information that we really should ignore at our financial peril.

Askaboutmoney.com offers a truly impressive insight into dozens of areas where you can avoid being fleeced; and Ireland’s new consumer activity website www.valueireland.com similarly invites people to tell of their experiences about rip-offs and bargains in Ireland and submit review and value-conscious tips online.

New financial watchdog IFSRA provides surveys of car insurance and bank charges (with more surveys to come) as well as guides to your rights and many other products.

For investments, myadviser.ie has some good offers on occasion, but its main selling point is that it also offers personal advice, which is unusual in the often-impersonal world of dealing online.

The biggest bugbear with investments – and many other areas – is commission. Commission can pull the wool over your eyes because it is designed to just that.

You are quoted a low percentage that does not set off any alarm bells. Yet when a high capital sum is involved, it should.

For example, 3pc may not sound very much – but it amounts to €3,000 out of €100,000.

The commission-based system also compromises the quality of advice you are getting as many advisers are hardly going to recommend providers who pay little or no commission, such as the EBS range of Summit funds.

If you know what you want, the internet again offers the best way around this insidious system.

If web-based intermediaries can do enough business, they can afford to forego hefty commission in favour of reasonable fees in order to attract more business.

Take LAbrokers.ie, for example, using the example of a 35-year-old non-smoking female seeking mortgage protection insurance over 20 years.

LABrokers would charge just €11 in the first year because it refunds the commission it gets from the company it finds to be cheapest (Hibernian in this case). From then on, the premium would be €111 a year, which would still be the best around, so you win both ways.

Some of the best deals for investments can be also sourced through the internet. Many of the aforementioned websites often offer good “discount” deals – and even when they don’t flat fees beat commission almost all of the time.

Michael Kiernan of Myadviser.ie explains how commission works:

“Say you were investing €10,000 into your pension as a once-off lump sum payment. The sales person could tell you that you were getting 103pc allocation on your investment.”

“This would give you the impression that not only were you getting all of your money invested but your were also getting a bonus of 3pc on top – unfortunately that is not the case.

“What happens is your 103pc allocation is reduced to 98pc allocation to take account of the commission, in this case 5pc.

“Your allocation is then hit again by a charge called the ‘Bid Offer Spread’, usually 5pc, leaving only 93.1pc (98pc x 95pc) actually being invested, i.e. €9,310. The sales person gets €500 upfront for their efforts.

“Obviously the higher the lump sum, the higher the amount of commission, despite the fact that it usually takes the same effort to advise and execute a €10k pension as it does for a €100k, but in the latter case the commission is €5,000.

“That’s how you move from 103pc of ‘Sales Talk’ to the ‘Real World’ of 93.1pc.”

Myadviser offers an alternative to losing thousands in this way – a fee-based system calculated on how much advice you want that replaces the 5pc commission deal.

The fees range from €100 for customers who know what they want up to €700 for those in need of the full financial advice service – which is pretty cheap compared to the thousands you would have to pay on commission.

Deals from stockbrokers can also be compared online (for the cheapest offers on Irish share dealing check out www.sharewatch.com, which has a minimum fee of €30 and a very low commission rate of 0.3pc.)

Doing your actual dealing online can also save you money with the likes of www.scottrade.com, which charges as little as $7 a deal, or even www.davy.ie, whose online service is cheaper than its ‘real world’ offering.

Contrast this with the 1.5pc commission charged by most Irish stockbrokers.

You can also keep track of your shares and get a host of useful information through sites such as www.nasdaq.com and www.ise.ie (for Irish shares).

Consumers have more information at their fingertips than ever before – all they have to do is ‘let their fingers do the walking’ across their keyboard.

Consumerism is about choice, and informed choice through the internet holds the greatest new weapon against the culture of the rip-off.

Smart Shopper

The Irish Independent
Ciaran Brennan, April 8th, 2008

A recent survey revealed how you can cut your grocery bill in half by shopping in discount stores for a better bargain, writes Ciaran Brennan

AS surveys go, the recent one by the National Consumer Agency into the retail market shouldn’t have been a big surprise.

Taking a basket of goods, it compared them across the supermarkets and found that when it came to own-market brands, shopping in Aldi and Lidl could actually cut your bill in half.

A basket of 28 own-brand goods was more than 50pc cheaper in Lidl than in Dunnes Stores or Tesco, the National Consumer Agency (NCA) survey found.

However, the NCA’s survey comes a year after the ValueIreland.com website found that Irish consumers could save up to €1,800 a year by shopping in Aldi or Lidl.

People misguidedly seem to be willing to pay a premium for better known branded items when in a lot of cases, the lesser known brands, such as those stocked by Aldi and Lidl are just as good — and cheaper as well, ValueIreland.com said last year.

But given that Aldi and Lidl still command less than 10pc of the Irish retail market, it seems clear that Irish shoppers are still paying dearly for loyalty to traditional supermarket multiples.
“Clearly, we are so heavily brand driven and so heavily brand loyal that it is taking quite a significant amount of time to challenge us to try other makes of the same product and to actually have trust in that make,” says Dermott Jewell of Consumers’ Association of Ireland.

“It is understandable though — whether it is tea or bread or milk or ice-cream — all the way across all of the brands we have grown up with since we were children. It’s incredible the power of marketing and how successful it has been.”

Irish consumers can save a packet by weaning themselves off their blind loyalty to branded goods, he says. But can they still find deals in the major multiples? Every day, householders across Ireland find leaflets from retailers in their letterboxes offering deals — two for one offers and half price deals. “Of course, there are pluses to looking at offers,” says Mr Jewell.

“But it needs to be borne in mind that there are some expert people behind the marketing of the major supermarket chains. “Offers will appeal to certain specific consumers but it won’t appeal to every consumer. “Why? Because there are thousands of products in a supermarket and whilst you may purchase three or four or five of those on a special offer, you will still purchase 20 or 30 of the others that are not on a special offer. “In other words, you will save on one but spend heavily on another.”

Likewise, loyalty cards can be a double-edged sword, he says. While consumers can get deals and money back through loyalty cards, essentially they tie a consumer to a certain store and makes it more unlikely that they will shop around. “Of course, there are smart consumers who will have a card for every shop and they are benefiting in that area,” says Mr Jewell.

“The other side of that coin realistically is there will be offers made throughout the year to the supermarket loyalty card holder and they are geared no more than to bring you in to the shop.”
But it doesn’t matter how much you actually save on your grocery shopping if you return home and immediately dump one bag in every three in the bin.

According to the ‘Love Food Hate Waste campaign’ in the UK, around one third of all the food consumers buy ends up being thrown away and most of this could have been eaten — it’s not just peelings, cores and bones.

It found that 90pc of consumers just don’t realise how much good food they actually throw out. Some households in the UK are wasting up to £400 (€507) each year on perfectly good food which ends up being thrown away.

The campaign advises consumers to plan what they are eating, as well as planning when and how many people there will be to eat the meal — helping them to buy only what they will need.

  • Before you go to the supermarket, make a list to take with you — this can save you both time and money and in the long-run will help you to avoid buying foodstuffs that you don’t really need.
  • Make sure you store food correctly — keeping your fridge at between 1-5 degrees Celsius will help to get the best from your food.
  • Give your leftovers a new lease of life by turning them into something really tasty the next day and don’t forget you can compost all your vegetable and fruit peelings — turning rubbish into a resource for the garden and subsequently saving you from actually having to buy the compost at the garden centre.
‘I’m saving €40 by shopping weekly in a discount store’

JAMES O’Neill should know a thing or two about the savings to be made from shopping in discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl — he led a campaign to allow Lidl to build a store in his home town of Drogheda.

“I’m a loan parent. I am on a low income and when I was going to the local supermarket I was hoping I would have enough money to pay for groceries and was constantly worrying and constantly trying to juggle costs,” he says.

Mr O’Neill heard about the savings to be made in the Lidl in the neighbouring town of Balbriggan. “I got to the stage where I would get a taxi from Drogheda to Balbriggan, do my shop and get a taxi home and still save money,” he says.

That prompted him to start a campaign to allow Lidl to build a store in Drogheda. He collected more than 17,000 signatures which helped pave the way for the discounter to set up in the town.
Mr O’Neill says he is now saving on average around €40 every week on his grocery shopping.
He says he is often asked by locals how Lidl can sell food so cheaply.

“My answer to that is you’re asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is how can the others justify the prices they are charging?”

Check Please

The Irish Independent
Ciaran Brennan, April 15th, 2008

You wouldn’t pay a restaurant bill before examining it, yet people are placing blind faith in service providers and it’s costing them, writes Ciaran Brennan

IT’S highly unlikely that you would hand over money for a meal in a restaurant without asking for the bill and checking it thoroughly to make sure it seems reasonable and everything is in order.

But a huge number of householders and consumers pay off bills and file their bank statements without even a cursory look. And they could be paying dearly for it.
If the history of personal finance has show us anything, it’s that consumers have regularly been overcharged — by banks, insurance companies, brokers, utility providers and even the State bodies.

Despite the plethora of high-profile cases in the past number of years, consumers are still failing to check bills and are placing blind faith and trust in service providers when it comes to their money.

A recent survey by website Valueireland.com found that four out of every 10 Irish consumers surveyed did not check their bills before paying them.

“Given all of this startling evidence of overcharging by large, well-known Irish companies, widely reported in the media, it is confounding that upwards of 42pc of the surveyed visitors to www.valueireland.com admit they don’t check every bill they must pay,” says Diarmuid MacShane, who runs Valueireland.com.

“Why then, when we have these companies themselves telling us that they are overcharging their customers, do we as consumers not check every bill that we get through the door to ensure that we are only being charged for the services we have received?”

Habit

A key issue is the number of bills that are now paid by direct debit. With money being automatically deducted from consumers’ accounts for many services, many have got into the bad habit of not checking their bills. The situation is made worse if you don’t regularly check your bank statements.

“If you pay by direct debit and you don’t get you bank statements and you are not regular about checking online, you’re never going to know how much money is being taken from you,” says Mr MacShane.

“There is a tendency for bills to come in the door and for people never to look at them because the money automatically goes out.”

Utility bills can present other problems for consumers. Their meter readers visit your home three or four times a year to read your meter. The rest of the time — or when they can’t get access — your usage is estimated. This estimate is based on previous consumption, and any necessary adjustment is made when the next reading is obtained.

A frequent problem is where consumers get an estimated bill which is much bigger than what the meter is showing. In this case, you need to get your actual reading to the supplier.

“One of the things we have done in Valueireland is to encourage people, even on a monthly basis, to read their meters and dial it in. It’s a five minute thing to ring in with your bill. Always keep it up to date to get away from having the estimates all the time. It means you are paying out for your actual usage rather than getting an estimated bill, it gives you a better idea of how much it actually costs.”

Householders and consumers should not be lulled into a false sense of security by the size and reputations of companies, warns Mr MacShane.

“Just because a company is big and well known and is one of the leading companies in the market, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can trust it. Just because it’s big and well known does not mean it’s not going to rip you off and take money from you.”

Checking bills regularly will require a little time and effort on the part of consumers and may involve taking out a calculator and making a call or two for extra information.

“But it’s our money — shouldn’t we make sure we only hand it over when we’re sure everything is above board?” Checking your bills and statements when you get them allows you to rectify a problem early on, he says.
“The complaints procedures and the lengths you have to go through to try to get money back from these people are so complicated, the burden of proof, going back over paper work, having to write to them. You are better off catching it up front rather than trying to sort out things afterwards.”

Undercharging just never seems to happen

Companies usually refer to cases of overcharging consumers as “errors” which occur due to systems failure.

But Valueireland.com’s Diarmuid MacShane asks the pertinent question: “How is it that these errors are always in favour of the business, with undercharging being almost unheard of?” Here are examples:

- Just last month, the Financial Regulator warned consumers that some insurance brokers have been overcharging and failing to pay their clients rebates. The regulator carried out inspections of insurance brokers and found that some did not make full disclosure of fees for their services.

- In July 2004, AIB apologised to its customers following revelations of overcharging approximately 170,000 accounts of upwards on €25m for foreign-exchange transactions.

- In April 2005, Bank of Ireland admitted overcharging customers up to €15m for payment protection insurance.

- Ulster Bank announced last year it was to refund more than €4m to approximately 25,000 customers who were overcharged on payment protection policies taken out with loans from the bank.

- It was revealed in 2004 that 31,500 Eircom customers were overcharged by an estimated €409,000 over a 10-year period by being billed twice for call management services such as call waiting, mailbox facilities and diverting calls to another number.

- A total of €380m is expected to be repaid to patients illegally charged for their nursing home care, it was revealed earlier this year.

Why rip-off Ireland is a (web)site for sore eyes

The Irish Independent
Kim Bielenberg, December 6th, 2003

Angry Irish consumers are waging war on Ireland’s rip-off culture by naming and shaming the chief culprits on the internet.

There was little surprise among shoppers this week when a report by the National Competitiveness Council showed that we now share with Finland the distinction of being the most expensive country in the euro zone for goods and services.

Now the backlash against rip-off Ireland is well and truly under way on the internet. At its weekend party conference Fine Gael publicised its new consumer website, ripoff.ie. Although the Fine Gael venture has been inundated with complaints about rip-offs, it is still at the development stage and pales in comparison with some of the other Irish websites that are becoming popular.

Often set up by individuals who are appalled by Ireland’s soaring prices, these new consumer sites pull no punches. Disgruntled customers are encouraged to post messages giving details of where they suffered high prices and poor service. Shops, pubs and restaurants are named and shamed and consumers are pointed in the direction of cheaper alternatives.

Pubs and restaurants are top of the list when it comes to complaints at www.valueireland.com, a well-organised web site set up recently by Diarmuid MacShane.

On the site’s message board Aisling describes a named pub in Dublin city centre as a “rip-off” after she was charged €9 for a vodka, soda and lime. The dash of lime reportedly cost €2. Another complainant, Linda, moans about being charged over €25 for a main course of six crab claws and three tablespoons of rice at a Dublin eatery.

A visitor to a named hotel describes the prices as “astronomical”. “The experience was really terrible. The food was mediocre at best, the waiting staff rude and slow and the place was really grubby and stuck in the stone ages!”

Another consumer posting a message on the site tells readers how a computer on sale in one Dublin shop was half the price elsewhere in the capital. Readers are advised how they save over €400 on the price of a particular digital camera by buying it in the US.

Diarmuid MacShane set up the www.valueireland.com website after he returned to Ireland earlier this year. He previously worked in the computer industry in London and New York. “When I came back to Ireland I found it difficult to adjust to the high prices. I don’t just want it to be a site where people complain. I want to help people to find good value as well.”

A less politically correct site, drinkfeckgirls.com, is dedicated to “chasing down Ireland’s cheapest pints”. The cheapest price found so far is €2.50 for a pint of Guinness in The Glan Bar, Glangevlin, Co Cavan. The most expensive pint of beer listed on the site is €5.75 at Lillie’s Bordello in Dublin.

Another specialist site, irishfuelprices.com, points web surfers in the direction of Ireland’s cheapest petrol stations (the Rathass filling station in Tralee is listed as the cheapest in the country at 76.9c per litre).

“The internet helps people to gather information and compare prices,” says Mary Denise Fitzgerald of the European Consumer Centre in Dublin. “It is now much easier to compare prices in a number of countries as a result of the arrival of the euro. This has also helped to expose some of the rip-offs.”

Those who post messages on the consumer sites frequently compare the price of products, including supermarket groceries, in different European countries. At ripoffireland.org readers are advised by a contributor that they can buy 200 Marlboro cigarettes on the internet for a fraction of the Irish cigarette price; but other sceptical contributors to the site warn that the quality may be inferior.

The enormous price of CDs and DVDs in Irish shops is now a hot topic of discussion among the self-appointed consumer watchdogs. The Irish Recorded Music Association may have shot itself in the foot by suing internet music retailer CD Wow. The legal move has given enormous free publicity to CD Wow, which sells CDs for up to €10 cheaper than Irish shop prices.

Fine Gael has received hundreds of messages from members of the public since it set up its website, ripoff.ie. However, the website has not published the specific details of the complaints on the web for legal reasons.

Among the complaints about Irish rip-offs sent by email to the Fine Gael site are:

* A 24-pack of beer on sale in an Irish supermarket was almost €8 more expensive than in a branch of the same supermarket chain in Britain.

* A 22-year-old was charged €5,000 for car insurance despite two years’ accident-free driving.

* A woman who purchased a cooker for over €3,000 here saw the same cooker on sale in Britain for €1,700.

* A young Dubliner was shocked that the make-up he bought for his girlfriend last Christmas is 60pc more expensive this year.

* A pub that charges €2.50 for a pint of tap water with a dash of blackcurrant.
* The same pair of jeans costs €33 in America and €80 here.

“We came up with the idea for the rip-off site because prices have gone mad in Ireland recently,” says Fine Gael Enterprise spokesman Phil Hogan. “We wanted to see how many of the rip-offs were down to the Government’s stealth taxes.”

In truth, the cost of living in Ireland would drive a man to drink – if only he could afford it.

TOP OF THE RIP-OFFS

CDs and DVDs

* Irish shoppers are paying a fortune for these small plastic discs. A survey by the European Consumer Centre (ECC) in Dublin said the 10 bestselling CDs would work out €85 cheaper at website cdwow.com than at a record shop in Dublin or €128.50 compared to €213.90.
Britney Spears’s In the Zone CD cost €21.99 in a music shop in Dublin and €12.85 on the net.
On a selection of five new DVD releases, website www.amazon.co.uk also proved to be €50 cheaper than a shop in Dublin, even when postage was included. Lord of the Rings: Two Towers cost €34.29 on the amazon website compared with €49.99 in an outlet in Dublin.

Groceries

* Irish consumers pay up to €49 more for their weekly grocery shop than their European neighbours, a recent survey by Forfas found.
Potatoes, eggs, cooked ham, mineral water, apples, shampoo and razor blades were among the items which were more expensive in Ireland than anywhere else surveyed, with a full trolley of goods ringing in at €218. The same shopping trolley of groceries would only cost €169 in Portugal and €177 in Germany.
Another recent survey by BBC Good Food magazine showed that 1kg of spuds was nine times dearer in Ireland than in Holland.

Car insurance

* Still wildly over-priced. Ireland is the fourth most expensive country in Europe for insurance premiums. A 20-year-old German driver can get insured for less than €400 while someone of the same age here may be quoted over €4,000.
In a message to Fine Gael website ripoff.ie, a van driver quoted €4,000 for insurance here says he was charged a paltry €90 in Australia.
Mobile phones

* Ireland’s telephone regulator, Etain Doyle, recently said Irish people spent an average of €46 a month on mobile phones, the highest amount in the EU.
Users of prepaid mobiles commonly pay double the charge for an equivalent call in the UK.
Roaming charges for using your mobile abroad can be 20 times dearer than domestic rates, according to the Consumers’ Association of Ireland.

Drink

* Don’t come to Dubli
n if you like a pint of Guinness – it’s cheaper in Berlin. Pubs in the capital now charge up to €5.30 for a pint of the black stuff.
If you think pints of beer are expensive, beware of the cocktails – a Bacardi and Coke costs up to €10 in city centre watering holes. A bottle of still water costs up to €2.60.

Rip Off Ireland is alive and well

I said earlier this week that I am of the opinion that we don’t really live in what many people call “Rip Off Ireland”. Yes, we have expensive shops, but we don’t always have to shop in them.

However, by the true definition of a “rip off”, the Irish Independent and Independent Newspapers (Evening Herald) seems to be singlehandedly keeping their own version of “Rip Off Ireland” going strong!

As you can see, from Answers.com, a rip-off can be defined as “something… such as a story… that is clearly imitative of or based on something else”.

I’ve already had my Charlie Weston experience, and Green Ink has highlighted a couple of more incidences in the last couple of days affecting Jazz Biscuit and Red Mum.

I reckon there must be enough regular content these days in our newspapers and magazines that’s plagiarised from blogs and uncredited by the publications concerned. I myself have 5 different incidences of journalists (and not all the Irish Independent) helping themselves to my own work without giving credit.

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