Readers’ complaints: Is it right for a charity shop to charge hundreds for a piece of jewellery?

Pricewatch: Conor Pope reports on a long and varied list of consumer problems

Sheila Cronin was supposed to go to London for Christmas. The plan was she would travel from Kerry to Dublin and then on to Heathrow before coming back the same way. The cost of the flights came in at about €360, she says. “Due to Covid restrictions and following Government recommendations, I cancelled those flights and rebooked for Easter.”

But Easter came and went “and we were still in lockdown, so the flights were changed again to July”, she continues.

Then things got more complicated. “Stobart Air, who operated the Kerry-Dublin route, went bust in June so I applied online with Aer Lingus for a full refund for all of the flights. Also, at that time I had only one vaccination and again, following Government guidance, I would not travel to the UK.”

She says that Aer Lingus has only refunded her the Kerry-Dublin return in full and another payment of €18.99. “I have emailed them a number of times but there is not even the courtesy of a response. I feel this is grossly unfair. I could not travel because of restrictions, it was not my fault,” she says.

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“The most aggravating part of the whole thing is, when you phone Aer Lingus to change flights, they are very quick to tell you that the cost may be more than you originally paid and that you may owe them money!

“I did query whether there would be a refund if the flights were cheaper, but of course the answer was no. I have always preferred to travel with Aer Lingus but from now on I will not be using them – I’ll stick with Ryanair.”

She concludes by saying that she got her second vaccine and went to London with Ryanair “which cost under €80 in full, considerably less than Aer Lingus. Can you give me any advice on whether I should be entitled to a full refund of the remaining monies?”

While we can understand our reader’s frustration, the airline has not actually breached any rules in this scenario and has done what many airlines have done. She was legally entitled to a full refund for the Kerry-Dublin return flight because the company operating the flight went out of business and the flights were cancelled. However, the Dublin-Heathrow flights came and went and she is not entitled to a refund simply because she was following Government guidelines on travel or because she did not have the required full vaccination.

Remote control

A reader called Bernadette contacted us on behalf of her brother and had an infuriating story with DID Electrical at the centre of it all.

“My brother has many health difficulties, he can’t speak or hear plus many more problems. He had bought a TV in DID with the five- year guarantee. Back in April, the TV gave up and I brought it to DID Bray and the remote control also. That was all okay and it was all sent off to be repaired. I had to keep phoning to see was the TV back and that went on for around eight weeks before I got to speak with a new manager at the store and she followed it up and called me back to say it was in the store out the back and she was surprised that no one had phoned me to say it was there for some time.”

So they brought the television home and set it up only to find that the remote that DID had sent back was not the one Bernadette and her brother had left in with the shop.

“My brother had given them the one he used for the TV, which was the Blazer HD 400 Combo Dub -52+ T2 Combo Receiver. I got back on to DID and since then it has been me phoning and speaking to different people all the time. I leave messages and no one returns my calls. I spoke to the manager who had found the TV out the back for me and she said she would locate the remote for me. So after a week of waiting I phoned and asked for her and was told she had left and the assistant manager would call me ASAP. That is two weeks ago now.”

Bernadette says that at this stage “it is the principle of the thing now. We were able to give my brother our remote. TV is all he has in the world. He is living alone and lives a lonely life. I made the staff aware of his situation, plus he was in the shop with me and it was obvious to the staff member the extent of his disabilities. Even if he had no disabilities, this treatment of their customers is unacceptable. Can you help in this dilemma, please?”

We contacted DID and it immediately accepted that things had not been as they should be.

“It’s disappointing to hear how this customer was let down by us, this is not the standard of service we strive to deliver,” a spokeswoman said.

She added that she was “working with the team and I will ensure this is resolved for Bernadette and her brother quickly”.

Charity shop jewels

Ciara Phelan has an interesting story which starts in a charity shop in the west of Ireland.

While browsing on a rainy Saturday afternoon, she wandered into a charity shop. “Like an unfortunate number of clothes shops, they still don’t allow shoppers to try on clothes, so I browsed the jewellery available and was rather astonished at the price of the pieces on display. Topping out at €595 for a rather clunky gold locket, there was a small selection of pretty but not extraordinary-looking pieces on display for prices ranging from the tens to the hundreds of euros.”

Ciara initially thought it was a case of missing decimal points, so she checked with the volunteer on duty. “Apparently the prices are correct and [the shop] now has the policy of having donated jewellery valued and put on sale for the appraised price.

“I was quite surprised to see such a price tag in a charity shop and sceptical that customers would pay that much for a piece. Further conversation revealed that customers apparently will request a piece to be put aside and pay off the three-digit price in weekly instalments.”

She has an issue with this as she wonders if shops “inform their donors of this practice. In particular, do they inform the specific donor when they have an individual piece appraised at a high value? One might imagine that these pieces come from estate sales or such and that the family might not be aware of the value of what they are donating”.

She stresses that she is not being critical of the charity, which she says is “undoubtedly a fine organisation, doing important work but something about this makes me uncomfortable”.

But she adds: “Perhaps I am getting old and have too much nostalgia for the way charity shops used to be. When I donate to a charity shop, it is to support the charity in question, but also with the assumption that my goods are put on sale cheaply so that frugal or squeezed shoppers might find a hidden gem.”

She says she also has qualms “about people paying substantial sums in weekly instalments for jewellery in a shop mostly run by volunteers. While not casting any aspersions on the staff or appraisers involved, it is a long way from my expectations of the sector. Perhaps I’m overreacting, but I thought I would share the tale with you”.

Camera lens duty

Next up there is Maureen whose husband bought a camera lens on eBay in June. The seller was in Japan and the product duly arrived in the middle of the month.

A week or so later, the couple were less than impressed when they got a considerably less welcome delivery. “It was a duty and tax invoice for the amount of €92.25. Can you please advise if we are eligible to pay this as the camera lens already cost almost €300, making it an expensive purchase?”

We don’t have great news for Maureen. When you buy products either online or instore from Irish sellers, then all the relevant taxes are included in the price. When you buy from so-called third countries – those which are neither this one or countries in the EU – then you are liable to pay additional taxes on the list price of the product.

Once the administration charges imposed by delivery companies are factored in, this can easily add in excess of 30 per cent on to the price paid. And that is what has happened in this case. The money is owed to both Revenue and to the delivery company and Maureen and her husband will have little choice but to pay it.

Washing machine motor

Trisha has a query we have never come across before. She bought a washing machine in September 2020 which had to be returned due to dents on the front. A second machine was delivered with same problem.

She went back to the – unnamed – shop “but was totally ignored”.

Fast forward to this month, when the unfortunate washing machine broke down. “I rang the helpline and a service person called today and replaced a motor in the machine,” she says.

“Now this is within the 12-month warranty, so I had to pay nothing but when the service person left he also left a full motor that he took out behind the cupboard, which I didn’t see.

“My query is should same have been taken away by the service person as parts and labour are under warranty so would they be responsible for disposal of same? I’m left with a washing machine motor now to dispose of. Where do I stand? I rang the helpline and was told it belongs to me so I have to dispose of it – is this right? Under labour and warranty, I thought they would have to take it.” We didn’t know the answer but we reckoned the people at WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) would. They represent almost all of the Irish battery industry, and the household electrical and electronic industry who have a responsibility under EU laws to manage electrical waste at their end of use.

This is what WEEE had to say. “The system is focused on management of whole appliances and the WEEE regulations specify ‘including all components, subassemblies and consumables which are part of the product at the time of discarding’, and they don’t contain prescriptive details on what happens in the case of components arising from repair or after-sales services. However, in the spirit of the law, the parts and components taken out at the time of repair still need to be managed responsibly and ideally should be recycled through the proper WEEE channels.”

A spokeswoman said it was “a customer-service issue. Ideally, the service engineer acting on behalf of the brand or retailer should have taken these parts with them when replacing with new, as they can avail of free collection services or leave with their distributor for recycling at no cost, but we do know this is not an ideal time for many service operators operating under restrictions and we have no background information on time constraints, servicing issues etc”.

She added: “We recommend the reader follows up with the retailer where they bought the original machine from or, if they registered the machine through the brand warranty registration system, to query the issue again there. The reader can avail of the free recycling options directly themselves or email us on info@weeeireland.ie for more information.”

WEEE Ireland collects from local authority recycling centres, who all accept WEEE and batteries, and runs additional free collection events in towns around the country. Last year, nearly 39,0000 tonnes of WEEE were diverted by the scheme from landfill through these programmes.

Leaking coffeemaker

John McQuarrie was given a Nespresso Vertuo coffeemaker by his wife and daughter for Christmas 2019. “It’s the cherry-coloured model widely advertised at that time,” he says.

He says that in the middle of June it started “leaking brewed coffee from the forward base section under the spout. Not only this, it was not reading the size of the capsule properly and the liquid from the spout was cold”.

The machine was still under warranty and had been bought directly from Nespresso, so he contacted their helpline. “I was informed by the operator that they would have the machine collected by DPD courier and sent for repair. I was informed that this would take up to two weeks. They also told me that they normally have a spare machine to give out to clients while a machine was being repaired – but not in my area currently.”

So for two long weeks John had no coffee – or at least no Nespresso coffee. After that time had passed, he called Nespresso again “only to be told that this could in fact take up to three weeks. This was on June 21st”.

Then on July 12th, his machine was returned by DPD courier. “For two weeks, it worked.”

But, on August 2nd, he had to contact the Nespresso helpline again. “The machine was leaking, the liquid was cold and not presenting the correct amount as per the inserted capsule.

“I informed the operator that I was not satisfied that the machine had in fact been repaired properly and wanted a new machine, not this machine repaired again. The operator insisted that the machine would have to be assessed and a decision made as to whether I was entitled to a new machine.”

John argued the point and said that “as far as I was concerned my rights were if the machine had not been repaired properly initially then I was entitled to a new replacement”.

He continued: “I informed the operator that I was going to be away from August 7th-14th and I wanted this matter addressed on my return. I was asked to contact the line on August 16th to arrange collection of my broken machine and receive a new machine.”

On Monday, August 16th, DPD called to collect his machine and “presented me with a replacement. When I questioned the driver, he said he was told to collect my machine and deliver this temporary replacement. I called the Nespresso helpline immediately. Apparently, there was no operator notes of my previous conversations with the helpline”.

John said: “I was livid. The replacement machine has a broken base, the water receptacle is broken at the base and there are areas of wear and tear on the body of the machine.”

Then last week he was told that Nespresso would collect this machine “at some stage this week – no date has been specified. And I was told that a new machine would be delivered at some stage after that, again no specified date”.

We contacted Nespresso and received the following statement: “We are sorry to hear that this customer has had a poor experience with us and we are looking into this to understand how we can do better in future.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor