We have highlighted the potential scourge of in-app purchases in times past, particularly when phones and tablets have found themselves in the hands of younger people who might not understand the implications of their actions. Recently we heard a troubling account of an Apple experience that has left a Pricewatch reader thousands of euro out of pocket.
“Heeeeelllppp,” Sheila’s email starts. “My son has racked up €3,500 on in-app purchases in iTunes, and Apple has refused to refund it. He’s 19 but has Fragile X syndrome and ASD, and these are preschool-type apps.”
Her son had no idea when he was playing games on his device that he was running up sky-high bills, and Shelia had no idea either. She says that, to make matters worse, Apple has been “corresponding with his email and he can’t even read it! We got caught out because this was a school iPad that needed to be able to download educational apps, but then he came home, where there’s no limits on the wifi, limits that the school would have in place as a matter of course.”
She says the bill was racked up over a couple of months, with apps “selling him ‘bags of coins’ etc for €99.99 several times a day sometimes. What on earth are we to do?”
Sheila explains that Apple has rejected her appeals to it in recent weeks, which she made through its online appeals process. “Please tell us there is some way we can get this back. Our bank only flagged a 99c transaction and none of the others.”
She says that Apple customer-care representatives “have been very nice and helped me remove payment options from his account but just direct me into the online appeal process again. It’s unfathomable that they can exploit a person with intellectual disability this way! If they took money from him in the street it would be a scandal.”
We could not understand how Sheila’s appeals would have fallen on deaf ears, given the nature of the problem, so we contacted Apple, after which it got in touch with Sheila. We understand that Apple has given her a full refund, on a one-off basis.
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Has a product you love climbed in price in recent weeks or months? If so we’d like to hear from you. Email email@example.com or tweet @conor_pope.
“I would like to bring your attention to the increase in the price of original Yoplait strawberry yogurts,” writes one reader, Margaret Rafferty. “These have increased in recent weeks from €2.49 to €2.89 for a pack of four yogurts in my local Dunnes Stores, in Portmarnock — an increase of 40c, which seems very steep.”
“Perhaps a small cost, but in terms of percentages large,” begins the mail we received from Stephen in Dublin. “Tesco Slievenamon still/sparkling water is now 65c a bottle. Until earlier this year, this was 44c. That’s approx a 50 per cent increase. Their six-packs of the same water remain the same price as always: €2.49, or 41c each).”
Hair-raising energy bills
We’ve had a few queries to do with energy this week. First up is one from Éilis Fallon. “I was hoping you could help me with an issue which arose with my most recent gas bill,” her mail starts. “I have always just paid my gas bills when they arrived,” she adds, explaning that in recent months they have been estimated.
“I have received their notes about being unable to access the property to read the meter even on days when I have been working from home. I didn’t realise I could have submitted them myself over the phone, as I had never done so in other countries I have lived in, nor had my parents, who lived in Ireland, ever been required to do so,” she says. “Previously my estimated bills have been pretty accurate between readings. In fact, at one point Bord Gáis owed me €6, as my usage had been overestimated. I live on my own and my bills have been pretty consistent.”
She says that the last time she received a bill based on a meter reading rather than an estimate was in August 2021, again after several months of estimated bills. “Since then my bill levels remained pretty consistent, with a slight increase over the winter months, presumably owing to increases in the cost of unit rates and more gas being used for heating during the cold weather, and I thought nothing of it. I did get a new boiler installed last year with a Hive hub, so I did use my heating more often, but nothing excessive.”
Then, last April, she got a text message asking her to provide a gas-meter reading, which she did. “This month I got a bill from Bord Gáis for almost €900. Evidently, this covers the previous months where I was only receiving estimated bills. However, I am being charged the recently increased unit-rate price. This new bill is over three times all my combined previous estimated bills since my last meter read. I can accept responsibility for not having submitted readings, and I accept that the pandemic has made it harder for meter readings to happen, but the decision to charge me at a higher rate for units used prior to the rate increase seems unfair.”
She says the combination of fewer readings during the pandemic and recent price increases because of the energy crisis means that Bord Gáis seems to be profiting from the situation. “Is there any way to get Bord Gáis to at least apply the previous unit-rate price?”
Higher unit rates applying retrospectively for estimated readings is an issue we have highlighted before. After we contacted Bord Gáis Energy it got in touch with Éilis Fallon; the company says it is working to resolve this issue and has “commenced the process of applying the appropriate rate to her usage”, adding that its bills are “automatically fairly calculated to recognise a price change that might occur midway in their billing cycle”—if a price changes during a standard 60-day cycle, the billing system will split the charges accordingly, with some at the old rate and some at the new rate. “If we are notified at any time of an error, we will go above and beyond to fix it for the customer. This is often a manual fix which can be worked through with the customer.” Bord Gáis Energy also stresses that there “is no basis of truth in the belief that we are profiting from either the pandemic or the energy crisis”.
Next up is Caitriona Burke. “I’ve just received a bill from Electric Ireland showing the application of the Government electricity credit,” she writes. “This came in on the bill as €176.22 ex VAT. However, the VAT rate for electricity is now 9 per cent rather than 13.5 per cent, so this doesn’t add up.
She reckons that Electric Ireland “must have based the €176.22 on the 13.5 per cent VAT rate. However, the VAT being reduced to 9 per cent means that the company will now have the remaining amount, approximately €8, belonging to each account holder, which would add up to a fairly hefty amount. I don’t have the mental energy to get into this with EI — as a residential customer, I’ve just waited half an hour to speak to an operator who sounded nearly suicidal, and she didn’t know what to do with my complaint, so I thought Pricewatch would be in a better position to look into this!”
We also heard from Matthew Collison. “We have a domestic account with Electric Ireland, and up to February last we received bills at regular intervals covering approximately 60 days’ usage. Since February 10th, however, we have not received a bill, and following numerous calls and emails we’re still no clearer on when the next bill will be issued,” he writes.
“On the online portal a credit of €192.08 is shown, but the bill (as of today’s date) is dated February 10th and is for electricity consumed from 27th November, 2021, to 1st February, 2022. Customer service has been difficult to access by phone (long delays) and at no stage have my calls yielded any results.
“Communication by email has provided some information, although vague, but no information when bill will be issued. In a call on April 19th I was informed the bill would be issued ‘soon’. In a follow-up call on May 5th I thought I had made some progress, in that the gentleman did admit that I was not the only customer affected by this issue, but he could not say why. However, he offered to raise a manual request for a bill based on a customer reading, to which I agreed. I provided two readings (dual-tariff meter) and was informed the new bill would be issued within five working days. And we are still waiting.
Electric Ireland says that the Government’s emergency electricity credit, set out in legislation, was €176.22 excluding VAT, which Electric Ireland, like all electricity suppliers, has been crediting to customers. It adds that the Government’s decision to reduce VAT from May 1st “meant that anything billed before [then] has the 13.5 per cent rate, while anything after was at the lower VAT rate of 9 per cent. As per legislation, the rate of VAT applicable for electricity suppliers is the rate in force at the time of the issuing of the bill”. The Government’s decision to reduce the VAT rate is to blame for the delay in issuing a bill, according to Electric Ireland.
“To ensure that our customers are billed at the correct, lower VAT rate, we paused our billing process to facilitate this change. Billing was paused from April 28/29th until May 16th. Customers are only being billed for a normal 60-day billing period, and they can be assured that our normal credit terms apply. In these instances, a customer’s next bill will issue in a shorter period of time but, again, will only include the usage of a normal billing cycle of approximately 60 days.”