Fifteen consumer charges we love to hate
Readers fume at paying €2 for a pint of blackcurrant while ticket service fees get on our wick
From sky-high charges faced by a Martina who accidentally types in Martin when making her flight booking, to mobile phone roaming tariffs which can see poor unfortunates hit with bills of more than 30 grand while overseas, Irish consumers face a growing list of charges. These high charges bear no relationship to the costs faced by the service providers that impose them.
Banks, pubs, solicitors, garages, hotels and “booking engines” all think nothing of hitting us with mad charges. Here’s a list of just some of the ones we love to hate the most and the views of some of our readers.
1. If you book a flight from any Irish airport, you will have to pay airport charges and taxes to the State. And that is fair enough. The airport provides a service after all and the taxman is due his bit too. The thing is, these charges are supposed to be fully refundable if – for whatever reason – you end up not travelling. But try to get that money back from an Irish airline and see how far you get. Actually, don’t bother, you won’t get far at all.
Our airlines seem to go out of their way to make it impossible for us to claim that money back. And how do they do that? When processing the refunds which we are legally entitled to, they impose administration charges that are, by any measure, absurd. Ryanair, for example, will charge an administration fee of €20 per passenger per leg to process such refunds. That means that if a family of four who have return flights booked with the airline cancel and subsequently try to get the taxes back, they will have to pay €160 in administration charges which completely wipes out the refund. By a total coincidence, Aer Lingus also charges the same amount. Can it really cost €160 to process such a refund? Really? And if it costs €20 to process a refund on one leg of a flight, how can it possibly cost twice that to process the refunds on a return flight?
2. It is not only when it comes to tax back that airlines depart for the realm of the farcical. We had a look at the menu of charges imposed by Ryanair; the low-fares airline, in case you forgot. If you want to change the name on a ticket, the listed price is €115. If you want a boarding pass re-issued at an airport, it will set you back €20. For its part, Aer Lingus will charge you €100 if you want to change the name on a ticket. It probably takes a staff member – if one is needed at all – 15 seconds to do this.
3. When it comes to ridiculous charges, solicitors are frequently found at the top of the queue. Not long ago we came across a solicitor who thought it reasonable to charge a flat fee of €400 for photocopying, postage and phone calls in a non-contentious and relatively straightforward family law case. How many pages would you need to photocopy to run up a bill of that size, we can’t help wonder. And what kind of rubbish phone package must Irish solicitors be on if their phone charges can climb that high? Have they not heard of bundled minutes? And that is only the starting place in a profession that thinks it is fair to bill people for putting their bill together.
4. When it comes to hitting people with charges that are wildly excessive, Ticketmaster has never been found wanting. While no one disputes the right of companies to make a few bob, does Ticketmaster really have to make quite so much off the back of everyone keen to book a ticket for a concert or sporting event? For as long as Pricewatch can remember, the company has imposed handling charges on each ticket it sells rather than on each transaction which, on every level, makes no sense. If you book one ticket you might have to pay Ticketmaster €6.50 and if you book three, then you will have to pay close to €20. But why? Years ago, the company had a (pretty weak) defence in that it had to print tickets on pricey looking cardboard and then post them to you. But now the entire process is automated and the company rarely prints tickets and almost never posts them to us. The company will say the charges are justified because it has paid through the nose for its clever infrastructure and it costs money but we’re not buying it.
5. Five years ago if you sold a house in a leafy Dublin suburb for €500,000, you would have expected to pay around €10,000 to an estate agent who charged 2 per cent of the sale price in fees. Today, that house might be selling for a million and the estate agent, if it is charging the same percentage, will make 20 grand for doing a whole lot less work than was required of them in 2013 when houses were slow to shift. How can that make any sense? Consumers could be forgiven for asking why they can’t charge flat fees.
6. Another thing that makes no sense is motor tax. It can be paid on an annual, half-yearly or quarterly basis. People who pay in two instalments are charged 111 per cent of the annual payment while those who pay quarterly have to fork out 113 per cent of the annual payment. The average annual motor tax in the Republic is about €500, which means that those who can afford only to pay their car tax bill in instalments have to pay as much as €65 more than those who can afford to pay upfront.
Given that the process of issuing tax discs is mostly automated now – at least 70 per cent of all applications are now done online and that number is only going to climb – the extra charge for those who need to have four tax discs issued instead of one seems ridiculous. The reality is the State makes money from the quarterly charges – a not-too-shabby €70 million each year – and if they were to scrap the instalment charges, they would have to plug the gap in another way.
7. Banks hit those who have out-of-order transactions on their accounts – things including unauthorised overdrafts, unpaid direct debits and over-limit or referral fees and the like – hard. If you don’t have enough money in your account when a direct debit falls due, most banks will charge you over a tenner for the privilege of rejecting the transaction even though computers do all the work. Banks also like charging people more than 30 cent for every ATM withdrawal and 20 cent for debit card transactions. And all of that is on top of the fees they charge us.
8. In a way it is hard not to have some sympathy for the operators of directory inquiry services. Time was when they were really popular as we had no choice but to use them if we needed a number in a hurry and had no access to a phone book. But the internet and smartphones changed all that. The companies can no longer rely on high volumes of calls so instead are hoping ridiculously high prices will see them through. If you phone such a company and look for a number, they can charge you as much as €3 and if you agree to be connected and spend 10 minutes on the phone after that, you could find yourself running up a bill of around €30. Almost all of that is profit for the operator of the service or the telecoms operators. The only loser is the consumer.
9. And speaking of spurious phone charges, not long ago we were contacted by a reader who spent 10 days travelling in the US for work purposes. He came home to a mobile phone bill of more than €30,000. He thought he had a roaming package but he didn’t and, as a result, he was charged €10 for every megabyte of data that he used outside of an agreed bundle. To put that charge into context, average quality audio streaming uses 72MB per hour so his provider would have charged him €720 for an hour’s worth of audio. Standard quality video meanwhile uses around 700MB per hour so he would have been charged €7,000 for each hour of video watched.
While Country A will charge each provider from Country B higher wholesale prices if one of its customers uses their network, they don’t charge each other anything close to this amount.
10. Far too many petrol stations now charge people for air. There is a cost attached to simply pumping up their tyres. Some garages charge users a euro a pop and for that you will get five minutes on the pump.
11. A decent pub will give you a splash of blackcurrant or orange or lime in a pint glass of water for nothing or at least a nominal sum. But we have come across bars that charge ridiculous amounts for it. We understand that publicans have overheads and have to pay wages and electricity and the like but can they really stand over charging €2 for a pint of water and a dash of blackcurrant? While many pubs have paid fortunes for licences and are reluctant to have people sitting around with free drinks in front of them, that hardly seems like a widespread problem in Ireland and it seems excessive to charge someone €2 for a drink that costs so little to make. We reckon that a €3 bottle of blackcurrant cordial makes approximately 50 pints so a pub charging €2 for one will make about €97 profit from its initial investment.
12. It is not uncommon to hear or read an ad for a car which shouts loudly about a top line price before adding, in almost a whisper, that the price does not include “delivery and related charges”. Sometimes the gap between a retail price and the dealer price can be as much as €1,500. Whatever about paying extra for metallic paint or some other features, we are not sure why we should have to pay a car dealer to have the car that we are paying them for delivered to the dealership. You don’t have to pay delivery charges if you go to a shop and buy a pair of jeans do you?
13. There are shopping centres that charge people 20 cent to spend a penny. It may cost money to keep toilets clean but, we would have thought, that was a cost of doing business and should not be a way of trying to make money.
14. You log on to a cinema website. You book a ticket for that cinema. Then you collect it from a machine when you arrive at that cinema. The only person doing any work during the course of the whole process is you and you are giving the cinema money. Yet still they think it reasonable to charge you a booking fee. Ridiculous.
15. If you ask your motor insurer to do anything, you can expect it to come at a cost. A change of address? That will be €100, please. Downgrading the value of my car? That will be €100 please. It’s just madness.
What charges make you mad?
We could go on and on but we thought we’d hand it over to our Twitter followers to see what kind of charges they can’t abide.
Service charges in restaurants for bigger groups, when essentially you’re bringing more money anyway. Ticketmaster. Service charge on credit for mobiles – Deborah Knott
Ticketmaster’s booking fee when it’s automated – Stewart Begley
Real bugbear . . . why do Irish hotels charge room “PPS Sharing” and not room rate . . . is it an excuse for large misleading ad headlines? Annoying! – Kern O’Neill
€170 for a change of address on my car insurance. Moved within Rathfarnham, odd street parking in both areas. Ridiculous – Cliona Byrne
20c bank charge every time I use contactless payment with my debt card #ripoff – Deborah Behan
Got charged €4 for a splash of blackcurrant and soda water in Galway pub – Monique M
Recently got a quote of €42 from my car insurer to change my address . . . I moved three miles – Aisling Gildea
Banks charging for online transactions. Surely they make enough off us already – Richie Holland
The booking fee for cinema tickets online. I’ve booked the tickets and used a self-service kiosk to collect them. What exactly am I paying the booking fee for? Sandra Gee
€200 to the State to register your intent to marry, a tax on getting married essentially. I’d guess it’s way in excess of the associated admin – Suzanne Ryan
Paying for ketchup or a dip to put on food you just bought in a takeaway? – Cliona Quinlivan Butler
Banks charging each time you use a debit card for payment (cashless transaction, no real bank human input in the transaction, yet they charge every time) ?? Difficult to defend it, eh? Small charge each time, but significant over one- month/three-month period – Eoin O’Keeffe
Service charges for tickets are worst. It should be just a charge per purchase so if you buy four tickets, charge should be same as buying one as it’s a single transaction. It’s dishonest pricing – Kelly Fogarty
Dealer-related charges . . . Buy a new car and you have to pay for the delivery to the garage, are you buying off the dealer or the boat . . .You don’t pay delivery for your telly in Curry’s et al . . . or beans in Tesco or Dunnes – Carl McIntyre
Ticketmaster booking fees – €6.50 per ticket when I’m the one who does all the work, including all the captcha to prove I’m not a robot. It annoys me so much I try to buy all tickets in person in Stephen’s Green SC to avoid paying it – Grainne Lynch