What can shoppers do when the price is wrong?

Pricewatch: Is a public services card necessary when renewing a driving licence?

A shopper pushes a trolley in a supermarket. There is a common assumption that we are entitled to get a product at whatever price it is marked at in a shop. File photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

A shopper pushes a trolley in a supermarket. There is a common assumption that we are entitled to get a product at whatever price it is marked at in a shop. File photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

 

“I was hoping you could clarify something for me please,” starts a mail from a reader called Jim.

“What happens if a retailer has an item wrongly priced?” he wants to know.

“For example, if it is priced on the shelf as €11.99 but when you present at the till it scans at say €13.99? Maybe it had been on promotion but the promotion has ended, or maybe it has simply been priced wrongly.”

He wants to know if the retailer is “obliged to sell it to you at the €11.99 advertised that you picked off the shelf or is it just your tough luck and you have to pay whatever price it scans at [the] till?”

It turns out that Jim’s interest is not purely academic. “This is happening regularly where I work leading to customers getting irate with me! Needless to say the pricing is not in my remit so it’s not my mistake!”

If a retailer is deliberately mispricing products on their shelves to make them seem cheaper than they are then they are breaking the law

Well, we are happy to clarify this for Jim and his customers. And he can feel free to print this page out and have it to hand next time he is confronted by an angry shopper.

There is a common assumption that we are entitled to get a product at whatever price it is marked at in a shop even if it is wildly below the true price. This is not the case.

The first thing to note is that the price displayed on a product is not a contract and it is viewed in law as an “invitation to treat” – effectively the retailer is asking you to offer that price for their product.

When you do, the retailer can then choose to accept it or not. Obviously if a product has been priced correctly then the retailer will accept it, but they are not under any obligation to do so. If the shop – or in this case, Jim – notices the mistake before cash changes hands then no contract is in place and they can simply take it off you despite your protests. If Jim or his shop do not notice the mistake and the sale goes through, however, the transaction stands.

What matters here is that we as consumers cannot expect to profit from someone else’s mistake. So if you see a telly that is priced at €50 and you know it should be priced at €500 then you can’t really expect the shop to sell it to you at the lower price just because they have made the mistake.

However, it is also worth pointing out that if a retailer is deliberately mispricing products on their shelves to make them seem cheaper than they are then they are breaking the law and can be held to account for that.

Documents at an NDLS centre in Santry, Co. Dublin. Photograph: Robbie Reynolds
Documents at an NDLS centre in Santry, Co. Dublin. Photograph: Robbie Reynolds

Licence to fill

A reader called Richard recently received a letter from the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) informing him that his documentation was due to expire and that he should renew it.

“I attempted to renew it online but I can’t because I don’t have a public services card. I don’t need one, I don’t use one and I have no intention of getting one,” he said.

“Is there any way that NDLS will make it possible for all of us to be able to equally apply online without having to have a public services card? I can apply for a passport online, I can get a travel document from the Department of Foreign Affairs via my phone, I can do my motor tax online, I can do Revenue work online and I don’t need a public services card, what’s so special about a driver’s licence?”

It is a very valid point. Last year the Road Safety Authority (RSA) rolled out a plan to force people to produce a public services card when applying for a driving licence or driver permit, either online or in person.

It then partially reversed or clarified its stance and said the card would “replace the requirement for certain documentation when applying for a driving licence/learner permit”.

However, online applicants still need the card.

In fact when Pricewatch checked the NDLS website last week first thing it told us – via an alarmingly orange pop-up window – was this:

“Due to increased demand in the NDLS centres a more convenient way to renew an Irish licence or learner permit may be to apply online. If you have a public services card and a verified MyGovID account, you may be able to renew your licence/learner permit online.”

What the RSA says

We sent this query to the RSA and what was most interesting about the response we received was its complete failure to address any of the entirely legitimate questions raised by our reader. To illustrate what we mean, we will carry it in full.

“To enable you to apply for a driving licence online you need to have a MyGovID account. The PSC enables a customer to hold a MyGovID account and this is the means by which the customer can be authenticated and the online online transaction conducted securely. This is in line with government policy and it is intended that access to online State services which require personal authentication will follow a similar path.

“National Driving Licence Service (NDLS) online customers who do not want to open a MyGovID account, can attend any of the 36 NDLS centres around the country to apply for a licence or learner permit. The PSC is not needed in these centres. Acceptable means of authentication include a passport, an Irish driving licence or learner permit, Current passport for all non-Irish citizens (valid for international use), Current national identity card for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens, Irish Certificate of Naturalisation, Current UK photo driving licence, Current public services card and a Current Irish travel document.”

So we still don’t know why you can apply for a passport, pay your income tax, pay your motor tax and access all sorts of other services online without the card the RSA deem essential.

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