From horsemeat to Ryanair’s rethink: an eventful year for consumers
Store closures, property tax, banking charges, Michael O’Leary’s act of contrition, two Ulster Bank system failures, the arrears crisis: consumers had plenty to keep them exercised in 2013
A butcher’s ‘no horsemeat’ sign after the scandal broke this year. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
The closed HMV outlet on Dublin’s Grafton Street. Photograph: Alan Betson
Supervalu announced plans to rebrand Superquinn stores under its own name. Photograph: Arthur Kinahan
Mananging director of Clerys Dominic Prendergast at the reopening of the department. Photograph: Frank Miller
Michael O’Leary’s admission that Ryanair had been ‘abrupt’ with customers. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Local Property Tax form. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
l The year started with confirmation, of sorts, of something sensible people have known since cars first took to the roads: men reckon they’re better drivers than women, even though they’re three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash. The AA surveyed thousands of its members and found that 30 per cent of men described their driving as “well above average”, compared with 17 per cent of women.
l Another survey reported that Aldi was the most loved supermarket in Ireland, with 43 per cent of its customers telling Checkout magazine there was “nowhere else they would prefer to shop”.
l The loyalty of health-insurance customers was tested when the VHI rolled out a 6 per cent price increase, its fifth hike in two years.
l HMV closed its stores as it sought court protection from creditors. About 300 staff lost their jobs, while thousands of consumers were left with worthless vouchers. Later in the year, some of the shops would re-open and the company would start honouring some of the vouchers.
l And then there were the horses. In the middle of the month, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland announced it had found traces of horse DNA in frozen “beef” burgers being sold by Tesco and Aldi. The burgers were made at plants in the Republic.
l Findus confirmed some of its products contained horse DNA. Then Ikea withdrew its meatballs. Companies from Poland, Romania, Cyprus, France and the Netherlands were all implicated.
l Laya increased the cost of its health insurance by up to 16.5 per cent, blaming Government policy for driving premiums higher.
l Ulster Bank apologised to more than a thousand customers facing shortfalls on their mortgage repayments of up to €30,000 after it failed to put them on the correct mortgage repayment schedules for as long as four years.
l CSO figures showed property prices in Dublin increasing in January but falling elsewhere.
l Sales of frozen burgers fell by 42 per cent across the State’s leading supermarkets. Sales of famine potatoes soared, however, as the Lumper variety, not seen here for 170 years, appeared on the shelves of M&S after being recultivated.
l Weeks before the Insolvency Service of Ireland was due to begin operating, scare stories appeared about how much money people would be expected to live on if they became insolvent. Cars would have to be sold, private health insurance abandoned and Sky Sports cancelled. There were hints that childcare would not be allowed under the new regime.
l The National Consumer Agency appointed Karen O’Leary as chief executive. Soon afterwards, she released a report suggesting consumers were being charged up to three times more for identical prescription drugs in some pharmacies than in others. The NCA found a pharmacy in Wexford was charging more than €49 for an anti-reflux drug that could be bought in Dublin for just over €16.
l The Government announced the budget was being brought forward to October 15th.
l A small island-hopping airline in Samoa became the first in the world to start charging passengers based on their weight.
l The minimum-income guidelines for people entering the State’s new insolvency process were published. A single adult with no car was allowed expenditure of €898.96 over any mortgage or rent payments. An allowance of €204.88 was made for each child of primary school-going age.
l The European Central Bank cut its interest rate by a quarter point to a record low of 0.5 per cent, knocking about €50 off the average tracker mortgage holder’s repayments. Variable rate mortgage holders were not so lucky.
l The Revenue Commissioners said the owners of more than 1.53 million homes filed property tax returns, a compliance rate of more than 80 per cent.
l Bank of Ireland increased its charges again and was criticised for not making allowances for visually impaired people under its new fee structure. Under the rules, current account holders were charged 40 cent each time they engage in any transaction over the counter in a Bank of Ireland branch.
l The mortgage arrears crisis worsened. Some 12.3 per cent of mortgages were in arrears of more than 90 days in the first quarter.
l Red C has tracked consumer sentiment since 2008, and its June missive found that three-quarters of those polled believed the economy would not get worse over the next six months, while a third said economic circumstances would improve by the end of the year.
l A call was made for schools to be banned from insisting students wear expensive crested uniforms. An Oireachtas committee also called for workbooks to be outlawed and voluntary contributions “greatly discouraged, if not completely prohibited”.
l Three Mobile announced it was buying O2 for close to a billion euro. Within minutes, its network suffered a major collapse, leaving hundreds of thousands of customers unable to make calls, send text messages or access data. It blamed a third-party provider for the outage.
l AIB joined Bank of Ireland in upping its charges.
l A much-anticipated code of conduct on mortgage arrears was published by the Central Bank, making big changes to the existing code. A limit of three unsolicited contacts a month was removed and replaced with a requirement that lenders ensure communications are “proportionate and not excessive”. For the first time, banks were allowed make unsolicited visits to the home of a borrower in arrears.