Pricewatch: Readers’ queries

This week’s concerns relate to voluntary school contributions, Irish Water, and damage to an Opel

For years, the National Parents Council has waged an unsuccessful war against voluntary contributions

For years, the National Parents Council has waged an unsuccessful war against voluntary contributions


A dilemma about voluntary school contributions

A reader from Dublin contacted us with a problem that will resonate with many parents in the coming weeks. “I know that the schools have hardly closed, but already I am dreading back to school because of the cost,” she writes.

She has two children in primary school and one starting secondary school, and says she “will need to come up with over €1,000 before the beginning of September to have them kitted out. The voluntary contributions alone will cost nearly €500. I know there’s nothing you can do about most of the costs, but do you think I should just not pay the voluntary contribution? I don’t want my children singled out, particularly not the one starting secondary.”

It is a big problem. A survey published by Barnados last month found that 65 per cent of parents of primary school pupils and 76 per cent of parents of secondary school pupils had been asked for a voluntary contribution, with significant variations in the amount sought. Most primary schools sought €50 from parents, although 20 per cent asked for a donation of €100-€150.

For years, the National Parents Council has campaigned to bring the cost of education down and has waged an entirely unsuccessful war against voluntary contributions, which it describes as “a financial nightmare”. It has asked schools to set up funding committees to look at other options instead of passing the cost of funding shortfalls on to parents. While some schools are proactive, others appear to be at ease with the status quo.

Our best advice to parents who are struggling to pay the contribution is to talk to the school. Times have changed, and there is no shame attached to financial difficulties. If you are concerned that your child will be singled out, talk to the school, explain the situation and maybe suggest you pay the contribution later in the year when the worst impact of the back-to-school costs have been dealt with.


Whose leak is it anyway? Questions for Irish Water

“We have had a leak outside our home since 2006,” writes Lorraine Curran from Dublin. “We had hoped that the introduction of water meters might bring Irish Water to repair the leak. However, yesterday Irish Water phoned to say that the area we live in will not have water meters installed. Instead, estimated bills will be issued,” she says.

Her family has a shared water supply with the house next door. “There are two of us in our home. Next door are a couple, a 17-year-old and a four-month-old baby. Clearly our water consumption will be very different,” she writes.

“As regards the leak, we have been told to fix it ourselves, even though it is on the public footpath and we will have to get planning permission.”

We contacted Irish Water, which said the leak had been investigated by the local authority and “the source of the leak was within the boundary of [her] private property” so it was the “responsibility of the homeowner to repair”. A spokeswoman said our reader had been told this, and it is “not necessary to get planning permission”. The spokeswoman went on to say it was “not within the scope of the current phase of [metering] to install a meter where the connection is shared”. She said “charging based on the unmetered tariff is the most equitable” way.


Driven to distraction by Opel’s cracked turbo pipes

A reader contacted us on behalf of her husband, who drives a 2010 Vauxhall Insignia. Or he did, until a turbo pipe cracked in the engine.

Opel cannot replace the part,” she writes. “I have contacted every Opel garage in Ireland, and several across the UK who all told me the same thing: there are over 20,000 back orders for this part and Opel aren’t currently making it. If 20,000 other turbo pipes need replacing, this indicates that the part is faulty.”

The couple have been waiting for the part for eight weeks. In the meantime they have had to make alternative travel arrangements at their own expense, as Opel say the car cannot be driven.

“I contacted Opel customer service. They told me on July 24th that they estimated the part would be back in stock around August 10th. This is simply not good enough. We have been without our car for over six weeks.”

We contacted Opel, which apologised to our reader for the inconvenience. A spokeswoman said a change in supplier was the reason behind the backlog and said the part was expected for our reader’s car within the next week.

She said those affected had been offered courtesy cars, but because our reader had brought her car to an independent garage and not one associated with Opel Ireland, no courtesy car was offered. Opel “would be happy to cover the cost of a replacement vehicle while your Insignia is off the road, if the repair is carried out at an authorised Opel dealer”. She also said she would arrange for the car to be towed to the repair centre for free.

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