Pricewatch: Readers’ queries
This week’s consumer issues include a start-up idea to help consumers save money on bills, and a pledge over driving licence delay times
The idea behind reducemybills.ie is simple: people sign up to the website, which then approaches utility companies and asks for their best deals
SEEKING STRENGTH IN NUMBERS TO SECURE LOWER ENERGY BILLS
Dublin-based Maria Broderick got in contact with what could be a great money-saving notion recently, but she needs a critical mass of people if it is ever going to work. She used to be a lecturer at Trinity College, but left to spend more time with her children. She and her husband then had the idea for reducemybills.ie.
The idea is very simple. People sign up to the site, and Broderick then approaches utility companies and asks them for their best deal on electricity or gas. “When you think about it, everything else is negotiable, so why should we not be able to haggle for the best value electricity or gas? It is almost impossible for an individual to do that but if we could go to Electric Ireland or Bord Gáis Energy with a thousand customers we are pretty sure we will get big discounts,” she says.
She points to a trial run by British consumer magazine Which? in 2009. It managed to sign up 37,000 people and saved them an average of £223 (€268) each – a collective saving of almost €10 million.
“We did some research and saw that there was nothing like it in Ireland so we thought we would give it a go,” she told Pricewatch last week. “Through word of mouth we have signed up a few hundred members but if we are to have real power with the likes of Electric Ireland, the more members we have the better.”
All she wants from people is their name and email address and she plans to go into battle with the companies in March with the promise of savings from April.
She says that her company will make money by getting a one-off commission from the companies they sign up with. “Our members will pay nothing for that,” she stresses. “Getting someone to switch comes at a significant cost to the companies so it is also attractive to them if we can bring 1,000 with us,” she says.
And if it did get up and running, how would it work? Once the deal was done, members would get a code from the website which they would use when switching utility provider. “We want to make it as simple as possible,” Broderick says. Simple sounds good to us.
IMPROVEMENTS PROMISED OVER DRIVING LICENCE DELAY TIMES
We have new information about the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) that seems to run entirely contrary to the assurance we received last week from the Road Safety Authority that the new
licence-issuing service had “greatly improved since the go-live in November” and that it was “on track to deliver driving licences within five to eight working days by mid to late January”.
Not so, says a reader, Donough Ryan. He applied for a Category A (bike) licence on December 2nd, and over the course of the next month he made several calls to the NDLS helpline to find out how it was progressing. On January 3rd he was told his application had moved from the waiting list to being processed.
Over the course of the next week, he spoke to the NDLS on three occasions and was told the application was being progressed. Last Monday he called the helpline again for an update. “I was told there was now a ‘discrepancy’ on the application. This was something of a final straw. I called the processing department, and, after holding for 20 minutes, I spoke to a member of staff who told me that the discrepancy was a mistake on their end and that she would remove it in order to allow the processing to be finalised and the licence issued. I was told it would take another eight to 10 working days for the licence to be issued. When I asked about the possibility of having things expedited, I was informed that there was no mechanism for doing that.”
We contacted the RSA (which oversees the NDLS), and were told that Donough’s application “was caught up in the tail end of the delays that were experienced in the first month of operation, which were due to initial teething problems experienced when the service opened for business amid a higher than normal demand for driving licences from our customers”.
As a result, a spokesman said, there was an average delay of six to eight weeks in processing applications, with the longer time frame applying to applications that had a discrepancy.
“It appears, however, that Donough’s case was compounded by the fact that it was highlighted as having a discrepancy. There was, in fact, no issue with his application form. This was an unfortunate error on our part and we will be in touch to apologise to him for this. His licence will be produced today and be in the post tomorrow. We will also refund Donough the cost of his licence.”
The spokesman agreed that our reader had experienced “a totally unacceptable level of customer service”, and said “we have increased resources, including personnel and equipment by 20 per cent in NDLS centres experiencing delays, as well as the licence-processing centre.
“In a further step to reduce the time customers have to wait at NDLS offices, the RSA is introducing an online booking system to complement the walk-in service in each centre. It was rolled out initially in the Citywest NDLS centre on January 6th and will be introduced to all other centres shortly. We are confident that we will be in a position to deliver on our eight-working day turnaround for a driving licence very soon.”