Pricewatch: Left hanging on as phone gets lost in post

Shocking electricity hikes, alcohol pricing, Ryanair refunds and PCR challenges

We all love a phone upgrade, right? Linda Francis from Co Mayo certainly would love one but she has been frustrated by not one but two of the leading companies in Ireland in her efforts to get one to which she is fully entitled.

She has been a Vodafone customer for 20 years and has two phones attached to the one plan, paid monthly. One of the phones is hers and the other is her husband's.

“In October, we were due an upgrade which we availed of. We were given a €100 online discount and chose to upgrade to iPhone 13 mini phones,” she says.

“When I tried to complete the upgrade and buy the phones, this €100 discount would not apply so I used the chat function on the website and the operator said that he could complete the upgrade on my behalf and apply the discount.”


All this happened in the middle of October and it was all looking good.

"The phones were posted individually," she says. The first of the two phones arrived four days after the order was placed and the An Post tracking number attached to the delivery showed that it had gone to the Ballina post office in error before being redirected to her home near Claremorris.

“I contacted Vodafone about the other package as the tracking information showed that it was still in Dublin Parcel Hub,” Linda writes. “They asked that I wait another few days as An Post may be busy. I also checked my address with Vodafone as the address on the delivered package was incomplete. The address omitted the third line [which should have said] Claremorris,” her mail continues.

Linda asked Vodafone to update the address on file. “The operator who helped me with the ordering on October 15th did not confirm my address prior to processing the upgrades although all that was missing was the word Claremorris as well as the Eircode. Linda says the Claremorris line “was added by An Post in recent years”.

On October 19th, when she realised the omission of the word Claremorris was causing a delay, Linda contacted An Post Customer Service. “I used the online chat function as there was no answer on the phone. The operator told me that my package was marked for return to sender as the address was incomplete. I explained that the other package with the same details was delivered that day and that if it reached Mayo the local An Post would get it to me. She said that was not possible. I asked when it would arrive back at Vodafone. She responded that she didn’t know. I asked for an average return time and she told me that she had no idea, that tracking stops once a package is marked for delivery. Her tone was most unhelpful. I asked if she could give assurance that the package was actually still with An Post and she said that she could not.”

After that tricky sounding conversation Linda contacted Vodafone again with the new information “and they escalated my case to the concerns team, who were to contact me within 24-48 hours. I was not contacted. I contacted Vodafone once a week at the beginning, each time, escalated to the concerns team, not once did I receive a response. I have made all contact with both An Post and Vodafone, neither company have responded satisfactorily, although the Vodafone operators are understanding and appear to want to help but cannot. I have not been charged for the undelivered phone by Vodafone yet but cannot purchase a further phone under upgrade until this matter is resolved.”

Linda lodged an An Post complaint inquiry on November 16th, 2021. She notes that in its Customer Charter there is a 30-day response time. “I have not received any response and cannot bring this any further as I require a final response before they will accept a further complaint. I’m in limbo, my phone upgrade is ‘used’ on a phone that I don’t have. An Post says this package is in its Dublin Parcel hub but there is no proof, it’s in a phone-sized box marked from Vodafone, I hope that it is still there and not ‘lost’. This phone is worth about €900 to buy outright. All I want is the phone delivered.”

The good news for Linda is the saga looks like it is coming to an end.

In a statement An Post – where the phone was stuck – said It was “sorry that Linda has had this experience which falls so short of our normal service level. The agreed process here is for the sender to initiate an investigation with An Post into the missing item but this did not happen and we are awaiting confirmation that the returned item was received by the phone company. Linda should not be left without a phone due to logistical issues beyond her control so we are working with Vodafone to ensure that Linda receives a replacement phone this week. We would like to remind customers of the importance of using full, correct postal addresses at all times, and a return address on packets and parcels for all national and international destinations.”

A question of alcohol

At the start of the year the Government introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol which means an average bottle of wine can no longer be sold for under €7.40, while a can of beer will cost at least €1.70. Spirits will increase most in price, with vodka and gin set to cost a minimum of €20.70, while whiskey will rise to at least €22.

The measure – if that is not the wrong word – has been long in the planning and, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, is "designed to reduce serious illness and death from alcohol consumption and to reduce the pressure on our health services from alcohol-related conditions".

However, a reader called Kieran from Killiney got in touch with us to question why something which would cause “the largest increase in supermarket and off licence prices in living memory” was being introduced and what impact it would actually have.

He said of the move that "obviously it is well intended" but added that it was "also silly unthinking middle class moralists thinking they know better than the great unwashed. The cost of a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pap in O'Briens in Blackrock is unaffected, the pensioners' six pack from Tesco Ballybrack is."

He said the notion made “no sense in road safety terms [drinking at home does make a difference] or economic terms [the additional funds raised don’t go to health promotion as they might if it were a tax revenue raising measure – but as excess profit straight into the pockets of manufacturers and distributors including retail]”.

And he questioned what happens when there are excess profits to be made.

"Suppliers compete with each other in promotions which tend to raise consumption, not cut it. Relatively cheap drink competes with drugs for customers, increase the price of bottle of Buckie [Buckfast tonic wine as I'm sure you know] and you push vulnerable people towards drug taking as the Scots [whose Celtic relationship with alcohol mirrors ours] discovered."

He suggested there is “no great public harm in the availability of cheap cans of lager or ale. In a perfect world, perhaps we wouldn’t need it but lots of low income families don’t live in perfect world. Me neither.”

Shocking tale

Brendan O'Malley from Limerick made contact with a shocking story about electricity.

“A few months ago, ESB Networks announced that they planned to replace my old electricity meter with a new smart meter,” his mail starts.

“After the installation, I received an email from my electricity supplier – Electric Ireland – informing me of new Time of Use [ToU] tariffs that they were introducing to avail of the ability of smart meters to report on consumption at different times of the day.”

So Brendan made contact to find out more “and was astonished to learn that moving to a ToU tariff would immediately increase the price I pay. I currently have a contract that gives me a 26 per cent discount, but this would drop to 5 per cent if I moved to one of the ToU tariffs. I was also told that my meter, although indeed smart, has been configured to behave just like the old one, reporting my electricity consumption every two months. It will only start reporting more frequently if I move to one of the new ToU tariffs.”

He points out that after the expense of installing smart meters across the country, he is “actively being discouraged by my electricity supplier to avail of the features it could provide me. Furthermore, [the companies] have passed up on the opportunity to see more detail on consumption patterns and potential responses to supply management initiatives. In a time when we are told that electricity supply may not be able to keep up with demand over the next few months and in future winters, this pricing policy seems bizarre to say the least.”

We contacted Electric Ireland. “The customer can switch to our 24 hour ‘Home Electric+’ product which is not a Time of Use (ToU) product, and has the same pricing as our standard pricing so he can retain his discount,” a spokeswomen said.

She said that ToU products offer “different prices at different times of day depending on demand; for example, if you have an electric vehicle you might want to avail of a ToU plan with cheaper electricity at night and charge your car then. ToU products can work well for customers who can be flexible in when they use electricity but may not be suited for customers who don’t have such flexibility.”

She said Electric Ireland would be “making contact with the customer to talk him through his options and clear up any confusion or misunderstanding.”

For further context she said that from an Electric Ireland perspective “the product offered to customers who have a smart meter installed is called Home Electric+ and there are seven different options offered in this range to give customers the opportunity to choose a plan that best suits their household energy needs. For example, Home Electric+ Nightboost is a ToU product that offers cheaper electricity at night which is great option for EV owners who can charge their car at night.”

She said that Home Electric+ “gives customers personalised electricity usage charts, appliance itemisation and projected energy usage, making it easier for users to take small steps to help reduce bills and manage their energy usage more efficiently” but added that “due to data protection laws, the customer must give consent for an energy supplier to use their half hourly electricity data and again, we will talk the customer through this process to explain the steps required.”

Turbulent times due to coronavirus rescheduling
We have two stories in connection with travel – one to do with Ryanair and one featuring a Pricewatch debutant, Vueling.

In the middle of November Joseph Blake booked return tickets from Dublin to Alicante with Ryanair with a view to travelling to Spain in January.

Just before Christmas he was checking his itinerary on the Ryanair app and was less than delighted when he noticed an alert in connection with the outward flight on January 19th.

Prompted by the alert he checked the Ryanair flight schedule. “I found that the flight had been removed as had all Wednesday flights to Alicante.”

Joseph and his travelling companion are both retired and don’t have the pressures of full time work to consider so he was – all things considered – pretty relaxed about the altered flight schedule.

“Being retirees [the change] wasn’t a problem so I changed the flight to the previous day January 18th and was charged €90 which I expected to be credited back to my account as Ryanair stated on their website that they had no fee for a flight change.”

That did not happen and he is still down €90. He says that when he emailed the airline he was told he would “have to take it up with my insurer.”

That did not sound right to us at all. And, as it happens, it wasn’t.

A Ryanair spokeswoman explained what had happened. She said that with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 spreading fast across Europe in the run-up top Christmas, the airline had been forced to alter its schedules. It was not alone and airlines all over the world found themselves in similar positions.

We were told that before Ryanair was able to move Joe’s booking to the next available flight which is, we were told, “in line with standard procedure”, he was all over it and “took it upon himself and changed his flight”.

“As the flight change was actioned by [Joe] it disrupted the automatic re-booking process and [he] was charged a standard flight change fee.”

The spokeswoman stressed that because the flight was cancelled by Ryanair, “he was due to be moved to another flight free of charge and Ryanair’s customer service team will be in contact with directly to reimburse him.”

No PCR, no fly
A man by the name of Tristan was due to fly from Paris to Dublin last week when he encountered an obstacle he could not get over. We're struggling to get over it too, to be honest.

He was due to fly home from Paris Orly and had his PCR test booked.

But then the rules changed and the Government here removed the need for a negative PCR test so he cancelled it.

He also had a Covid recovery cert as he had the illness in early December.

He was able to get his boarding pass online, go through security but was stopped at the gate on the basis that he didn’t have a PCR test result.

His partner in Dublin contacted us with the story. “He showed the latest info on the DFA website but they wouldn’t listen. So he is still in Paris as there was chaos at the airport PCR test centre but already will have to rebook a flight and has paid for at least one night in a hotel and possibly may need to pay for an [unnecessary] PCR test.

She is wondering if he will be reimbursed for “all those costs given they were at fault? They admitted as much when he called the help centre.”

We contacted Vueling and received the following statement:

“After investigating this case internally, we can confirm that denial of boarding was an oversight due to a misinterpretation of the rules. As a result of rules constantly changing on occasion human error can be made in this regard and we apologise for the inconvenience.”

The statement went on to say that, “Vueling has a partnership with Smartvel which updates us about travel restrictions on a daily basis. We have entered this partnership to ensure that we are informing passengers with latest restrictions Skytrax awarded us best low cost airline in 2021 and we try live up to this reputation by doing right by our passengers and therefore in this case we can rectify the error and compensate the passenger.

“We will now contact the client Tristan to reimburse him in the following days.”