Hand it over, fork it out: why is nothing free any more?

From parking to plastic bags, and from bins to banking, nothing seems to be free any more. We even have to pay to put air in our tyres in some garages

Money, money, money: not even paying bills is free any more

Money, money, money: not even paying bills is free any more


1 Parking: While parking meters and traffic wardens have long been with us, free on-street parking was pretty common until those ugly yellow clamps started appearing on the wheels of rogue cars back in 1998. That was the year clamping was first introduced in Dublin and it quickly spread to other urban centres. Although freeing yourself from a clamp can cost more than €100, that alone doesn’t make much money for councils. It has, however, proved to be an effective parking deterrent and helped local authorities make more than €115 million from parking charges in 2012. With just under two million cars on our roads, that’s an average of €50 a year each. Even parking in front of your home now comes at a cost, with a resident’s permit in many parts of Dublin costing €50 a year.

2 Television: Television was never entirely free for all, as the actual box and the TV licence had to be paid for. But once those two charges were dispensed with, people used to be able to plug the cable into the wall socket and watch what they wanted – well, they could watch between one and six channels depending on where they were in the country, for nothing. There are still ways to get your TV for free, but most people end up giving money to the two main providers, and few of them will have much change out of €50 a month.

3 Luggage: If you want to check in a modestly sized bag when flying with Aer Lingus, it will set you back €15 – or €20 if you are travelling in the summer or over Christmas. The charge with Ryanair is €15 or €25.

4 Air: A growing number of petrol stations are charging people for simply pumping up their tyres, and while most still give air away it is a trend to watch with trepidation. Some garages charge users a euro a pop and for that you will get five minutes on the pump. The AA tells us that around 40 per cent of Irish cars have too little air in their tyres, something that has a direct impact on road safety, not to mention the fact that it reduces a car’s fuel economy by 20 per cent. It says motorists should check their tyres every month, which will cost you €12 a year.

5 Bins: In the 1990s Irish households could throw out whatever they wanted at no direct cost to themselves – although the same can’t be said of the environment. Bin charges today don’t come cheap and there are few households that will have any change out of €150 a year.

6 Plastic bags: Rarely has a tax been so popular as the plastic bag charge. It is not so much that people like paying the 22 cent for the bags but that they like the dramatic reductions in the number of bags blighting our landscape. According to one report from the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System, plastic bags made up 0.3 per cent of Irish litter in 2012, compared with 5 per cent in the year before the levy was introduced. It was also supposed to be revenue-neutral, but the levy has still generated in excess of €200 million since it came into being nearly 12 years ago.

7 A dash: Nice pubs still give you a splash of blackcurrant or orange or lime in a pint glass of water for nothing, but we have come across bars that charge ridiculous amounts for it. One reader contacted us a while back to say they had paid €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, 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 around €97 profit from its initial investment.

8 Water: How much will we have to pay for it? What kind of allowance will we get? Who will pay to fix leaky pipes? And to have meters installed? Only Phil Hogan – and the consultants who have been paid handsomely in recent times – can answer these questions, but expect to be paying much more than €300 a year for water by this time next year.

9 Food on flights: People who used to moan about the quality of airline food missed the most remarkable thing about the meal: the fact that they were eating it in a metal tube travelling at speeds of over 500km, more than 20km above the Earth. Now that free food and drink have been taken from us, it is right that we mourn their passing. An unappetising sandwich on an airline will cost more than €5, while a bag of crisps is usually about €1.50.

10 Schooling: Donogh O’Malley introduced free education for all nearly 50 years ago, but since then Irish parents have cumulatively spent more than €20 billion on educating their offspring. Voluntary contributions are a fairly new contribution to that spend and probably cost around €100 per year per child. The National Parents Council has waged a war against these contributions, which it describes as “a financial nightmare”, with little success.

11 Banking: It used to cost us money, then it was free. And now it costs us money again. If you are the model of fiscal responsibility just carrying out your every-day transactions will cost you as much as €20 a quarter, or €80 a year. If you are like the rest of us and occasionally have to exceed your agreed overdraft limits, simple banking will cost you in excess of €200 a year – without factoring in Government stamp duties or the tax on our plastic cards.

12 Paying bills: Not even paying bills is free any more. In our brave new online world, companies don’t want to send us bills because that costs them money, so they charge us for the privilege instead. A person who does not sign up for direct debits or e-billing for all their utilities will pay about €100 more a year than someone who does exactly what they are told by their providers.

13 University: This is another thing that was expensive. And then free. And now expensive again. The Government has not introduced fees for studying at third level – as if – but has instead increased the cost of registering to study at third level. You may not be able to tell the difference between fees and registration charges, but the Government can and that is all that matters. It now costs €2,750.

14 Driving on roads: In the cheap old days our roads may have been rubbish but at least they were free. Now more than 10 of the major routes around the country – and the port tunnel – cost us money each time we use them. The average toll is €1.80 so if you use one of the swanky roads just once a week it will end up costing you €93 a year.

15 Cliffs of Moher: Not long ago, going to the best bits of the cliffs cost nothing – of course it did – how can you charge people to look at cliffs? Well, a way has been found. An adult has to pay a €6 admission charge for the new facilities. And that’s lovely, but €12 for a couple to look at the cliffs? Seriously?

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