Not keen on Ikea
Sarah Sharkey from Dublin has had what can best be described as a nightmare experience after ordering furniture for her apartment from Ikea in Edinburgh last January.
It is fair to say that when Aer Lingus announced it was to charge people up to €15 for pre-booking seats on short-haul flights within Europe earlier this month, it received a fair amount of negative attention.
“What’s next?”, fumed one correspondent to this paper’s letter’s page. “Billing per minute for use of the lavatory? Per-second billing to use the reading light? Flat charge for using use the ‘call attendant’ button?”
While his anger is perfectly understandable, the correspondent might perhaps have been better off keeping schtum and not giving the suits in Dublin airport fresh ideas for generating revenue. Loose talk costs money, especially when airlines seem to be constantly scrabbling round for more so-called extras that they can charge us for.
In the last couple of years, while the base price of most airline tickets out of this country has fallen significantly, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of stealth charges. As well as taxes and airport charges, there are baggage handling fees; more stringent excess baggage charges; transaction fees; boarding fees, seat booking fees and high administration fees for simple transactions – all on top of the savage prices charged for the most miserable of sandwiches.
With the Government struggling in the polls just weeks ahead of a general election, it is maybe not the best time for enterprise minister Micheál Martin to row back on popular decision to ban retailers from charging us extra if we use our credit cards yet its looks like that is what he plans to do. A front page story in today’s Irish Times says Martin now wants an assessment of the impact of a ban on credit card surcharges before he goes ahead with it despites the fact that the Consumer Protection Bill which bans the cursed things was signed into law by President Mary McAleese last weekend. The legislation is due to kick in next week – the minister’s cold feet may have something to do with intense lobbying from the travel and telecommunications industries who are quite partial to the charge
The health insurance market in Ireland could be in for another dramatic shake-up following the publication by Mary Harney yesterday of proposed reforms of the sector. One suggested modification of the current system of community rating, where everybody pays the same for the same level of cover, would mean that a 45-year-old entrant to health insurance would have to pay 45 per cent more than someone of 30 taking out a similar policy while a 60-year-old would be expected pay almost double. The VHI was quick off the mark with doom laden predictions that the changes, if implemented, would lead to dramatic price hikes for the lot of us. Before you rush out and buy a policy, it might be worth bearing in mind that the chances of any changes actually being implemented ahead of the general election are pretty close to zero. And come the end of May it’ll probably be back to the drawing board.
A group of protestors vehemently opposed to a trial of genetically modified potatoes due to begin on a farm outside Hull earlier this week came up with a novel way of disrupting it. Around 250 supporters of Mutatoes.org descended on the field early on Tuesday and sowed the entire 16 hectares with organic potatoes in an effort to invalidate the whole deal – fields planted with non-GM spuds can’t be used for trial purposes don’t ya know. Sounds like a great form of direct action to me – gentle, effective, witty AND you get a vast amount of organic potatoes at the end of it all. The protestors were no doubt delighted with themselves until they realised that they had sown the wrong field – the Guardian reports that they had to act quickly and in their haste got a bit lost. They have since apologised to the bemused farmer who had his non-GM bean crop unexpectedly replaced.
The British supermarket chain Asda is asking its customers (well, some of them anyways) to return all excess packaging on the stuff they buy in order to put pressure on big name brands to stop producing so much waste. The move comes as a British minister called on shoppers to leave their excessive and iften completely unnecessary packaging behind wherever they buy it. Sounds like a fine idea to me but if you try it in Ireland you could face prosecution for littering as retailers who join the recycling initiative Repak here automatically absolve themselves of all responsibility for the ridiculous amounts of plastic and cardboard that encases almost everything we buy.
While it is good to hear that Ireland had the fifth-highest broadband growth rate among EU and OECD countries last year it is still just a bit depressing to read that we are only ranked 23rd out of 30 in terms of overall broadband penetration. A 12.5 per cent subscription rate is pretty shameful. IrelandOffline chairman Damien Mulley - who has been tirelessly banging on about the glacial pace of broadband rollout in Ireland for years is right when he says today’s stats show that the demand for broadband in Ireland is massive and that the Government needs to do more to ensure broadband access is available throughout the country.
Major British retailers selling pole-dancing kits and push-up bras to pre-pubescent girls as young as nine years old were recently cited by a British teachers union as damning proof of the excessive commercialisation of childhood.
Such cynical and inappropriate marketing strategies, while indefensible, are hardly surprising in a world where advertisers, retailers and manufacturers push children as young as two to become good consumers: while they might not have any money, they certainly have lungs, tears and pester power on their side.
I have probably received a greater volume of complaints about NTL’s ill-advised decision to impose a €2 charge on customers who did not want to pay their bills via direct debit than any other single issue in the last few months. The good news for all those people who got in touch to complain is that NTL has been forced to abandon the charge which was supposed to come into affect on April 1st, at least for its existing customers. It’s not all good news, however, as the charge will still apply to new customers – something which will have to be reviewed when the Consumer Protection Bill is enacted.
What’s the story with skip hire?
Skips are like bouncy castles for grown-ups. All you need to do is plonk one outside your house and watch the neighbours gather. Unlike delighted children lured by bright bounciness, however, the grown-ups don’t come running and screaming in daylight but silently, under cover of darkness, junk in hand.
Ryanair is cheap and when everything goes right, the airline is hard to fault. When things go wrong however, you really, really don’t want to be relying on them to get you home as a story which appeared in The Irish Times earlier this week proves. Hundreds of passengers were left stranded in northern Spain after their plane was diverted to a different airport. The flight from Vitoria to Dublin was then cancelled due to heavy fog and their plane was diverted a couple of hundred kilometres west to Santander before returning home to Dublin passengerless. Bad weather can mess up flight schedules and is outside the control of airlines but the manner in which the passengers were subsequently treated by Ryanair staff is absolutely outrageous. And the very thought of using the airline to cross the Atlantic fills me with dread. No matter how cheap they claim they will be able to sell tickets for.
From The Irish Times
“Passenger Séamus Fingleton told The Irish Times they were offered flights from Girona yesterday evening, 36 hours after their scheduled departure and six hours’ by road, or Madrid this evening, 60 hours after their scheduled departure and four hours by road.
Mr Fingleton said passengers were told they had to make their own way to these airports. “When I asked how to get to either, I was told that I could drive. There were no car hire companies open in Vitoria.”
Passengers queued for four hours to get this information and were not provided with refreshments or assistance, he said.
Ryanair apologised to passengers but said the safety of crew and passengers was its main priority. A spokesman said the flight was diverted due to unsafe weather conditions and passengers on the inbound flight were bussed from Santander to Vitoria.
“It was not possible to bus passengers from Vitoria to Santander for the return flight. The aircraft was forced to return empty to Dublin because the crew would have exceeded their safe flying limits for the day had they waited for the Vitoria passengers. Flight FR 7153 was cancelled as a result.
“All passengers were offered transfer via the next available flight from Vitoria or a transfer via an alternative Ryanair airport or a full refund. The majority of passengers returned home yesterday and today via Vitoria, Madrid, Biarritz, Reus and Girona airports.” Mr Fingleton said he got a taxi to Bilbao and flew to Barcelona, where he spent the night before flying with a different airline to Dublin, all at his own expense.”
The end is nigh for high cost roaming charges after the European Parliament’s industry committee voted yesterday by 45 to three in favour of a draft EU regulation that would set a retail price cap on all mobile phone roaming charges. By the summer time (hopefully) there will be a maximum price of 40 cent per minute (excluding VAT) for calls made from anywhere in the EU and 15 cent for calls received while travelling in other EU states. The committee has also backed a motion supporting plans to force mobile firms to send text messages to users outlining the roaming charges they face when travelling overseas.
I did a piece on the Ray Darcy show this morning about the ESB’s tendency to underestimate customers’ bills if they can’t or don’t read the electricity meters. We were prompted to do the item when a listener got in touch last week after receiving a bill for €728 which was supposed to cover just two months in her two bed apartment in Kildare. When she rang the ESB she was told her meter hadn’t been read since August of last year so she’d been getting estimated bills since then.
She is now expected to pay off the €700 bill at €100 a week for the next seven weeks. When I contacted the ESB to find out more I was told that its staff did not “physically get to the premises to leave a card or arrange a reading” because of staffing issues in the area.
If you get low bills over a period of time followed by a one savagely high bill it makes it very difficult to manage your money and it seems to me a bit unfair for a State-owned company to throw people’s budgets so dramatically out of whack because of any staffing issues they may have. The reaction from listeners has been huge with an awful lot of people contacting the show to voice similar concerns.
Some companies in the premium-rate SMS business like to call themselves service providers, but they provide nothing of the kind, unless sending high-cost but ultimately worthless text messages to unsuspecting mobile-phone users can be classified as a service.
It is a growing problem. Children who sign up for free ring-tones and wallpapers have their call credit swallowed up by charges that are buried deep in the terms and conditions, while adults who have never knowingly signed up for any mobile-phone messaging service are being hit with massive bills.
Broadcaster Leo Enright was bored on a flight last December and decided to tidy up the bookmarks on his internet-enabled phone. As he idly scrolled through bookmarked web pages he noticed a whole string of links he didn’t recognise. He suspected they were spam messages and when he returned to Ireland he contacted his mobile-phone operator to find out more. He was less than pleased to be told that he had been charged over €2 for each of the messages, a total cost of €35.
t’s official – eating fruit at breakfast makes you happier. A survey commissioned by fruit drink maker Innocent reveals that those of us who manage to grab a portion of fruit at breakfast are happier, healthier and have better social and sex lives than those of us who don’t. One in five people who consume no fruit at breakfast feel permanently run down, are 50 per cent less likely to do any exercise, and considerably more likely to have breakfast at home alone, rather than with friends and family.
Thousands of children are being forced to work as slave labour on West African cocoa farms in order to produce chocolate for Easter eggs in the UK – and Ireland, anti-human trafficking campaigners said today. According to the International Labour Organisation 12,000 children have been trafficked to the Ivory Coast to work on cocoa plantations. “A coalition of anti-slavery charities says they work long hours for no pay and little food on the plantations,” the BBC website says. In response to the report British chocolate manufacturers have said that they are to set up a certification scheme to bring “unacceptable” conditions to an end. The report goes on to say that coalition – which goes under the umbrella title Stop the Traffik - wants chocolate makers to declare chocolate “traffik-free” so we can be certain they are not supporting child slave labour.
My local off licence which is normally pretty quiet on a Thursday evening had queues out the door tonight as the neighbourhood stocked up ahead of the 24-hour shutdown which begins at midnight. Is there a word for the fear of running out of booze on Good Friday? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.
Is organic food actually better for you or is it all about the feelgood factor? Advocates insist that it’s worth spending (considerably) more on organically produced food because it not only tastes better than its chemically enhanced cousin but is also loaded with more nutrients. Cynics on the other hand say it is all a fad and food is food. According to new research carried out in Britain, France and Poland the organic lobby is right on the money. A report in the Independent says that organic carrots, apples, peaches and potatoes have been found to have far greater concentrations of vitamin C and chemicals that protect against heart attacks and cancer than non-organic produce.
I have a regular consumer slot on the Ray Darcy show on Today FM where listeners can complain about overpricing and bad customer service. Yesterday after being on air I got a mail from an irate woman who had just been charged 40 cent in a Galway pub for a drop of blackcurrant in her glass of Guinness. “Surely the drop is free?,” she asked. Well, you’d think so. After all a one litre bottle of undiluted cordial costs around €3 and will make 50 pints of blackcurrant and water and will go even further if added to glasses of Guinness But in most pubs there is a charge and it can be ridiculously high. One teetotaller who contacted the PriceWatch page recently complained that on a night out with his mates in Dublin he expected to pay anywhere between nothing and €4.50 for a pint of water with a splash of blackcurrant in it. Makes the 40 cent dash in Galway almost seem like a bargain.
Aer Lingus has announced its intention to charge passengers as much as €15 for the privilege of choosing where they can sit on its planes. Rather than be dismayed by the new charges we should all be absolutely delighted because – according to Aer Lingus – they have been introduced, not as a cynical money making exercise but in response to customer demand. Today’s move follows the recent 25 per cent increase in the airlines baggage-handling charges which Aer Lingus introduced without any fanfare, just two months after they brought in the charges in the first place. Another move which, presumably, was prompted by customer demand.
REM are to play a five night residency in the Olympia this summer. Tickets which went on sale over the weekend are of course all gone. Despite the fact that most of these tickets were earmarked for members of the REM fan club at least 26 pairs are currently for sale on ebay. One set has already attracted bids of more than €500 and there are still several hours to go before the auction ends.
Initially I thought the joint announcement from Apple and EMI that the record company was to sell its music through the iTunes store without digital rights management (DRM) anti-piracy measures was welcome news. Then I learned that EMI’s DRM free music is going to sell in the US at €1.29 per tune as opposed to the 99 cents that iTunes currently charges. Presumably we can expect similar price increases on the Irish iTunes website.
Last week’s item on Ryanair’s reluctance to return the taxes due to people who have paid for, but not taken, flights with the airline prompted other people to get in touch.
Peter Lannon recently booked a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Bristol. Initially he had booked a flight leaving on a Monday morning but as his requirements changed he booked a second flight for the evening before. “At the airport I went to the Ryanair ticket sales desk to inform them that I would not be taking the Monday morning flight and I was advised by the girl working there that I could write to Ryanair and request a refund of the taxes and charges.” He did so, and got a reply stating that he wasn’t entitled to a refund. “What I find even more strange is that on a recent flight I chose the insurance option by mistake, yet when I e-mailed later to cancel and ask for a refund, it was processed with no problems! So how can Ryanair have admin fees for one refund but none for another?”
A reader from Celbridge asks why gas cylinders for which he paid a hefty deposit suddenly become worthless when he tried to return them. “My gas supply for my barbecue needed replacing , so naturally I expected to get at least one free full cylinder as I was handing in three empty ones,” he writes, “based on the deposit I paid two years ago.”
However, all the outlets he has contacted have said that while they will certainly take the cylinders off his hands they will not give him any credit for it. “This would appear a little rich as the cost of purchasing a new one without a cylinder is €23.86 for the gas and €27.50 for the cylinder,” he says. He would love to know who ends up with the €27.50 deposit.
We contacted Vincent Jennings of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association, who told us that when retailers buy cylinders of gas from the fuel merchants they have to pay a deposit, which works its way through the chain up to the gas manufacturer. We think if our reader were to contact the maker of the cylinder he should have a good case for a refund.
While it is increases in the cost of living that attract most consumer anger, the cost of dying is equally worthy of attention. According to a survey carried out by the Consumer Association of Ireland (CAI) 10 years ago the cost of a funeral in Ireland was anywhere between £767 (€975) and £1,475 (€1,870) depending on the location. Today, a similarly modest funeral in Dublin will cost at least €4,000 with many estimates putting the final bill at closer to €6,500. While prices are not so severe outside the capital, funerals will still end up costing anywhere between €2,000 and €3,500.