The Irish Times view on consumer rights: a question of trust

When this crisis passes few will forget or forgive those companies who let them down or disappeared when answers were needed most

When times are good businesses can easily boast about how much they care. It is when times are hard and the challenges great, that the real questions are asked. Photograph: Alan Betson

When times are good businesses can easily boast about how much they care. It is when times are hard and the challenges great, that the real questions are asked. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

In the midst of a public health crisis on the scale the world is confronting, it is understandable if more mundane matters such as consumer rights get pushed to the margins. When people are losing their lives and jobs and hospitals are filling up with the critically ill as healthcare workers put themselves in harm’s way in the fight against Covid-19, whether we get money back for a journey not taken or a product not delivered can pale into insignificance.

But that does not mean people should be taken for fools and when this crisis passes – as it will – few will forget or forgive those companies who let them down or disappeared when answers were needed most. Airlines, including some close to home, stand accused of abandoning customers as coronavirus enveloped the world. People who spent vast sums on flights were left in an information vacuum with correspondence unanswered and offers of vouchers pushed on distressed passengers instead of refunds, contrary to long-standing EU regulations.

It is not just airlines that have been found wanting. Businesses across the spectrum have taken money for services they could not deliver and rather than communicating honestly with customers have ignored them or fobbed them off with vague promises of future redress.

There have been good news stories too, stories of businesses rising to the challenge and serving those in need. Restaurants have sent free food to frontline healthcare workers and discounted meals to those cocooned in their homes, local pharmacies have delivered medicines to the vulnerable, GAA clubs have become food delivery hubs and small shops have adapted their business model to better serve communities.

Ultimately, at stake here is trust. When times are good businesses can easily boast about how much they care. It is when times are hard that the real questions are asked. How they have been answered should not be forgotten and when the pandemic passes companies who stepped up to the plate should be remembered and rewarded at the expense of those who let us down.

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