Tag Archive - useless quangos

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.

Irish tourism to go the way of Bulmers & Magners

ValueIreland.com notes that Maurice Pratt was yesterday nominated by the Tourism Minister Martin Cullen to chair the new 10-member Tourism Renewal Group. Another quango, or committee, to give the impression that something is being done without actually doing anything?

In typical Fianna Fail fashion, this new group was set up upon the recommendation of another groups report – the Tourism Strategy Implementation Group.

According to Minister Cullens statement, this Tourism Renewal Group will:

… examine the current tourism policy and programme priorities, with a focus on the challenges, and will set out a framework for action to assist in ensuring that tourism continues to be a major industry for Ireland.

It is hoped that Mr. Pratt can repeat the success in his new position that he had in his former position as Chief Executive of C&C.  It is thought that Mr. Pratt intends to follow a similar strategy as his C&C days to achieve this aim – including the sale of the Cliffs of Moher to the Netherlands to improve their dykes and sea defences, as well as the disposal of the Ring of Kerry, the Wicklow Mountains and the River Shannon. On a positive note, it is believed that Mr. Pratt will also sell off the Temple Bar area to a British Hen & Stag provider so that it can be rebuilt in the UK to save on transport costs.

By the time Mr. Pratt and his group have completed their work, similar to his success with C&C it is planned that the value of Irish tourism to the economy will be reduced by 90%, from the current €6.5bn to €0.65bn.

Buyer Beware! RTE1 8.30pm

Don’t forget that Philip Boucher-Hayes is on again tonight on RTE1 at 8.30pm with the 4th in his Buyer Beware! series. According to the RTE schedule, this is the sparce detail of what tonights show is about:

Consumer series in which Philip Boucher Hayes investigates companies and individuals who have left customers feeling dissatisfied.

I did manage to watch the full programme last week. In case you missed it, this is what was covered:

The feature story in Episode 3 of Buyer Beware! looks at the activities of a British-based company Community Concepts which has approached Irish businesses for money which, it claimed, would go to publish a drug awareness booklet for Irish schools. And, as we come into the Christmas shopping season, the second item examines the burgeoning phenomenon of online shopping, and looks at some do’s and don’ts for purchasers in the light of some cautionary tales.

To be honest, I found the programme quite disappointing. While there was probably some entertainment value in watching the presenter chasing around a dodgy geezer in the UK, its all a little bit abstract and a little bit irrelevant to Irish consumers.

Wouldn’t it be much more interesting and relevant if Philip was chasing Brian Goggin of Bank of Ireland or Eugene Sheehy of AIB around their housing estate (or leafy suburban roads) trying to find answers as to why they rip off Irish consumers so much, or chasing the Financial Regulator Pat Neary around and around the Central Bank on Dame Street trying to find out why he lets them away with it all the time.

Getting rid of the National Consumer Agency?

Regular readers are probably aware that I’m not a big fan of the actions of the National Consumer Agency. And though it might have been expected, you haven’t seem me dancing in the streets with the news that the NCA would be no more following the 2009 budget announcement that the NCA would be merged with the Competition Authority.

Apart from a comment about the proposal on my original budget post, I haven’t really approached this subject.

There’s not a whole lot for me to say really, having thought about it since the original announcement. I absolutely believe that we need an organisation such as the National Consumer Agency to protect the interests of Irish consumers, but not operated in the way this organisation is.

The NCA has at least 60 different pieces of consumer legislation at their disposal under which they can protect consumers, yet during 2007 when they received at least 2,250 complaints regarding suspected legislation breaches, there were only the following prosecutions:

  • Failure to display price of grocery product – 3
  • Failure to display prices in a public house – 3
  • Failure to display price of petrol – 6
  • Other fines imposed – 4
  • Prohibition Orders – 3
  • Oh, and don’t forget the classic “undertakings” – there was 1 of those.

That’s less than a 1% prosecution rate – hardly “putting the consumer first”.

And what does it take to achieve this 1% prosecution rate – according to the NCA 2007 Annual Report:

The Agency employed 59 staff, of which 55 were civil servants on secondment from the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, 3 were on secondment from Forfás and 1 is a member of staff of the Agency.

And at a cost to the tax payer of:

State funding was provided through the Office of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and amounted to €5,369,331 for the period ended 31December 2007.

We do need a National Consumer Agency – and possibly we need it to be independent and for it to not be merged with the Competition Authority – but for an organisation that claims to be “putting consumers first” it needs to do a whole lot more and to be a whole lot more effective before we can feel in any way protected.

IFSRA Consumer Panel – we don’t have one at the moment!

Not sure how much of a big deal this is given my low regard for the Financial Regulator, but did you know that the Financial Regulator Consumer Panel hasn’t sat since the end of September?

So throughout the Irish and global financial crisis that we’re experiencing at the moment, and the massive decision being taken by the government in the form of the bank bailout, it appears that the Financial Regulator isn’t consulting with consumers at all – ignoring them in effect.

According to the IFSRA website, this is what the Consumer Panel is for, and what it’s not doing at the moment:

  • monitoring the performance by the Financial Regulator of its functions and responsibilities under this Act
  • providing the Financial Regulator with comments with respect to the performance of its functions and responsibilities
  • providing the Financial Regulator with comments and suggestions with respect to the performance of the financial services industry
  • when requested to comment on policy and regulatory documents issued, or to be issued, by the Financial Regulator

As it happens, we didn’t have a Financial Services Ombudsman Council sitting for a period during that time as well – from the middle to the end of October.

As of today, we still don’t have a Financial Regulator Consumer Panel in place yet, so consumers can still go whistle as far as at least one of our Regulators is concerned.

How safe is your data and identity?

Last week saw a further incidence of a financial institution losing client information, this time on a USB memory stick. This time, Bank of Ireland lost the bank account numbers, first line of address and contact details of nearly 1000 clients.

Hands up how many amongst you have their own personal sensitive details on a USB sticks like that and then carried it around with you in public? How many of you are careless enough to lose the USB sticks that you carry around with you?

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot that we consumers can do about the clowns that work in the financial institutions and other organisations that are losing our data at an increasingly alarming frequency. Well, apart from hoping that the Data Protection Commissioner will do a little better than the National Consumer Agency, ComReg or IFSRA at being a regulator.

Inspired by these growing number of personal data loses, we’ve put together a set of Top Tips that we consumers can follow to make sure that we at least do everything we can do to protect our own personal data and identity. Click here for more.

How to build a website about nothing!

The useless Commission for Energy Regulation has launched it’s new “customer focused website“. This website has been in development since February 2005. Can you believe it – it’s taken them 3 years to put together a website that will tell customers nothing about what they really want to know when it comes to gas and electricity.
  1. Why am I being charged so much, and who keeps allowing the suppliers increase their prices?
  2. Why isn’t there any competition in the gas or electricity markets?

It’s nearly 4 years now since the electricity market was deregulated for domestic electricity supply. And unfortunately, there’s still no competition for the ESB – our research done in 2005 is still valid today with very little need for updates (unfortunately).

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?

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?

Tinkering Around the Edges – Budget 2009

That’s about the sum total of my thoughts on Budget 2009 from Brian Lenihan. Lots of messing around here and there, but nothing that really stands out as addressing the causes, or resolving the impact, of the problems that we’re faced with.

With regards to state agencies, you may have heard that the plan is to:

proceed with 30 rationalisation proposals that will reduce the number of bodies by 41, streamline functions in 3 areas and rationalise the army barracks structure bringing it more into line with operational requirements and permitting economies of scale.

This does mean that the National Consumer Agency will be merged with the Competition Authority. There’s no further details on what the implications of this will be. Still – let the Celebrity Death Match between Ann Fitzgerald and Bill Prasifka begin. The winner gets to look after the consumers interests.

Suffice to say that in the short term, it won’t actually mean a whole lot anyway, and it’s unlikely to really save any money in the long term. Job losses? Hardly. Cost reductions? Unlikely. All we can hope for is that the interests of consumers are better served by the amalgamation of two useless regulators into one. We’ll see if two wrongs with regards to consumer affairs can actually make a single right.

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this decision is the fact that the National Consumer Agency was longer an interim (a pretend, powerless) organisation that it was an acutual properly functioning agency. It was announced in 2005, received statutory powers in 2007, and is now slated for amalgamation in 2008.

Isn’t that a damning indictment of the uselessness of the agency itself, and a perfect illustration of the complete failure of this governments policies and actions in looking after Irish consumers?

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