Consumer advice: a gutter practice to watch out for

A reader in Dublin 8 was lied to by a pushy man claiming to be from a gutter-cleaning service

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

 

A reader from Dublin 8 who identifies himself as KM sent a mail last Thursday that started with the four words “I feel so stupid”.

The previous evening at 6pm there had been a knock on his door “and well dressed, presentable young man with an iPad (or at least an iPad cover)” was standing at his doorstep. He said he represented a firm that was cleaning gutters for first house in KM’s row of four and had offered a bulk discount rate to the other two houses in the block, who accepted.

“For €60 they would clean my gutters and repair any leakage in the gutter with the work starting 8am the next day. I agreed as the rest of the block was being done. Then I sat down and thought about it. He talked very fast and was very pushy but no business card or name of a company.

So KM checked with his neighbours. They had not signed into anything. Then he checked with the next block of four houses. One had received a similar offer and rejected it. He checked with the owner of the end house, who said she knew nothing about it even though the “gutter man” had said her house was being done.

“So, what next? I rang the Garda.” No law has been broken, he was told. “They have no note of similar scams. I am not sure if they will call in the morning or not, and if so I will refuse entry and declare mis-selling of services and say the contract is void,” he said. “I am not looking forward to it and feel very stupid. It’s a permanent problem, getting someone you can trust to clean gutters and not scam you. I feel violated and am dreading tomorrow.”

It is a wearily common story. The only piece of advice we can give is for readers to decline all offers of repair work that come via unsolicited calls or visits to your home – without exception. Some may be legit, but many are not, and dealing with the hassle of a botched job, a scam or worse is never worth it.

The potentially high price of lo-call

Recent experiences of being put on hold “endlessly while trying to communicate with a number of large Irish corporations” has prompted Jim Fitzgerald to look into the cost of 1890 and 1850 calls.

“It strikes me as an area that Pricewatch readers would appreciate knowing more about, particularly when you realise how many businesses advertise these lines for contact, without giving an alternative number.”

He has a point. The cost of calling so-called lo-call numbers with prefixes such as 1890 is anything but low cost when called from a mobile. The cost of making such a call from a landline can be as high as €0.35 a minute and, unlike landline numbers, which are routinely included in bundled “free” minutes offered by the mobile phone and landline operators, calls to 1890, 1850 and 0818 numbers are excluded from such deals.

While many large organisations advertise their lo-call numbers as if they were entirely to the consumer’s benefit, they don’t make any mention of the potential cost. Not only mobile phone users are penalised for calling lo-call numbers. Some landline customers also find themselves out of pocket, because landline deals offering unlimited calls for fixed monthly prices exclude 1890, 1850 and 0818 calls.

When we have asked mobile operators why they are not included in bundles, we have always been given broadly similar, if not entirely convincing, answers. They say such calls are excluded on the basis that they are nonstandard calls and the exclusion of nonstandard calls from bundled minutes on price plans is standard industry practice.

That doesn’t make it right though.

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