Bitterwallet appeal parking tickets1 Have you been stung by cowboy parking fines? You might have seen the signs in supermarket car parks, or outside McDonalds. Or maybe you didn’t, and you were unexpectedly hit with an entirely random charge for overstaying.

Well, so called ‘cowboy’ private parking firms are springing up everywhere – employed by high street companies to limit the time you can loiter in the car park eating a Filet-O-Fish and stinking up the place.

Charges of up to £100 are being doled out to unsuspecting shoppers who return to their cars a few minutes late. If you ignore the charges, you’ll probably get a scary letter from a bailiff ordering you to pay up.

But these companies are what’s known in Consumer Land as WELL DODGY, and they have no legal standing. They can’t come in and take your possessions, or take you to court – in fact, they have no legal powers whatsoever. They’re just at it.

Companies like McDonalds use the shady MET Parking Services, which has links to an ‘unfit’ debt collection agency and a solicitors firm which has been shut down. And critics say that high street companies are tarnishing their reputation by being involved with these private parking crooks.

Marc Gander of the Consumer Action Group said: “Private parking companies are part of a bounty hunting fad which has risen up over the past few years and is making an industry of penalising people without good reason or for their simple human mistakes.”

“Big brands like McDonald’s don’t seem to appreciate how this new industry operates or the sense of anger and injustice that it produces in its victims and who are also their own customers.”

Have you ever been stung with a £100 parking fine? If so, did you pay it?

Nuisance calls: still a nuisance

July 25th, 2014 2 Comments By Ian Wade

rotary cell phone 300x197 Nuisance calls: still a nuisanceThe Telephone Preference Service is bloody useless, say Ofcom.

The TPS runs a register designed to reduce any unsolicited sales calls. Firms can be fined for ignoring the list.

According to the findings of the research, while the TPS is “highly effective” at stopping calls to consumers registered on TPS by legitimate telemarketing companies,  TPS-registered consumers still receive on average 2.5 nuisance calls per month.

It transpires that only a third of “nuisance” calls are blocked by the service, which allows individuals to opt-out of marketing calls, research has found.

However some rogue companies are flouting the rules, according to regulators. And us lot unwittingly give consent for calls by ticking a box on devious online sales forms.

The research, commissioned by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office, found that registering with the TPS blocked 35% of all nuisance calls.

If you’re an individual, registration on the TPS is free and takes 28 days to become effective.

It is a legal requirement that all organisations – including charities, voluntary organisations and political parties – do not make such calls to numbers registered on the TPS unless they have the individual’s consent to do so.

There are plans to increase the level of fines levied on firms that make nuisance calls, and these are due in October.

Fines of up to 20% of annual turnover could be handed down to firms using information gathered by unlawful unsolicited calls and texts. That’ll learn ‘em.

Let’s see what the swarthly named Claudio Pollack from Ofcom has to say: “We understand how frustrating it is to still receive some unsolicited sales calls despite being TPS-registered,”

“That is why we welcome tough enforcement action from the ICO against rogue companies who breach the rules.”

Currently, the ICO must demonstrate “significant damage or distress” caused to individuals by nuisance calls or spam texts in order to issue monetary penalties of up to £500,000.

Christ, let’s hope no mobile company has pissed off its users by spamming them willy nilly then. Oh.

Mobile phone holiday beach GUIDE 01 Tour operators ripping you off for your family holiday?Companies ripping you off is nothing new, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grass on them. As it is the summer holidays, you should be aware of some of the sneaky tricks tour operators are doing to screw you out of money.

Of course, in the peak season, prices go up for no reason, but operators are taking advantage of families in other ways.

HolidayPirates have got some operators rumbled and have shown that some parents are being hoodwinked into paying premium by charging them MORE for children than they do for adults.

In one case, they found that a holiday was being sold as £245 per person (including all extras for the school holidays), but the holiday is based on four adults sharing. However, if you swap two adults for two kids – for the same flights, same hotel, same everything – the price goes up to £344 each.

In some instances, you can’t just book for adults and take the children instead, so if you’re thinking of pulling a fast one, better buy some fake moustaches for the nippers.

Some tour operators will tinker with prices dependant on the child’s age.

If you book one holiday for a family of four (two adults, one infant and one child aged 12) and one for exactly the same sized family but with the child being 13 (two adults, one infant, one child aged 13), you’ll see a big hike in the price of £133 each.

Have a look at HolidayPirates’ findings and, when you’re booking your family holiday, be sure to play around with the options before processing any payment to make sure you’re not being ripped off.

complaint 300x300 It could be worth your while complaining  but check your sector firstWe seem to be experiencing an actual summer this year, which is novel. However, our friends over at Which! are investigating whether this is a summer of discontent by surveying over 3,600 people to ask them about their favourite complaints.

As a result we have the updated top five sectors that give people the most cause for complaints. Few would be surprised to see telecoms, energy, and money, topping the list, but also beating off shoddy competition are public services and parking, according to the Which! research.

Unsurprisingly, most people gave up at the first stage of complaining, and if the supplier told them to naff off, many people did just that. However, where people were tenacious enough to escalate issues to an independent reviewer such as an ombudsman, 68% of cases were upheld in the consumer’s favour. Reasons given for giving up at the first hurdle included not knowing that there were complaint schemes, fearing that the process would be too complicated and not believing that they’d be successful. Which isn’t really the right attitude now is it?

The Which! research also found that the chances of winning an escalated complaint – a ‘win’ being classified as a company being told to apologise, to give compensation or to take remedial action – varied greatly by sector.

Escalated complaints to do with energy and telecoms – including broadband, mobile and landline services – proved very successful in 2013/2014, with between 86% and 95% of people being successful.

However, during the same period, only 58% of consumers who had complained to the financial ombudsman won their case, while for public service complaints to the parliamentary and health ombudsman, just 42% of cases were upheld.

But the most valuable statistic has to be that, according to the figures, just over half of motorists who’d appealed their parking tickets to the Traffic Penalty Tribunal were successful in 2012/13. Save a quick £60 anyone?

People are angry at sneaky insurance charges

July 24th, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

insurance 289x300 People are angry at sneaky insurance charges Two out of three people are incensed about paying the sneaky charges hidden in the small print of insurance policies. It’s becoming a thing now to insert charges for cancellations or amendments to your policy and consumers are NOT happy.

A Which!!! survey revealed that nearly half of insurance firms have increased admin fees in the last few years – fees that have no real basis in reality, like a £20 charge to set up a policy or get copies of documents.

So why all the secret fees and subterfuge? Well, it’s those goddamn comparison websites, innit?

Insurance companies want to keep those all important headline fees down, so they have to spread the actual cost somewhere else. It’s also happening with mortgages, credit cards and bank accounts. In fact, it’s like the whole world is turning into Ryanair.

And we’re getting wise to it, too. 68% of those surveyed said they were aware of the manipulative trickery that companies employ to keep headline costs down.

Hit it, Ricardo Lloyd-o! “Consumers are fed up with being hit with unexpected, additional costs for financial products that lead to them paying more than they bargained for. These fees can be hard to avoid, and people often don’t know what they’re really paying for.”

“We want the financial services industry to stop sneaky fees and charges, and put an end to excessive, unclear and hard to compare fees that do nothing to improve the low level of trust in these markets.”

You betcha.

pg tips tea bag1 287x300 Pyramid bags are officially better than round ones, says ASA Tea aficionados have argued the toss about different shaped tea bags since the dawn of time (well, ok, that’s not exactly true).

But hotheaded tea drinking chimps everywhere are now going to have to concede that PG Tips pyramid bags DO let out more flavour than Tetley’s round ones.

Tetley were furious when Johnny Vegas and that godforsaken monkey appeared to trash their round teabags in a recent advert. They sit at the kitchen table and do a test to see which teabags are best, with Monkey concluding that:

‘PG Tips uses pyramid bags, so if we test one against a regular tea bag … you’ll see the tea has got more room to move, freeing the great fresh taste for a perfect cuppa.’

Tetley said that although they weren’t mentioned in the ad, it was obvious that as they are purveyors of round teabags, they were being targeted and ‘denigrated’ by a knitted primate.

BUT the Advertising Standards Authority upheld PG Tips claims, and enraged the Tetley teafolk by saying that pyramid bags WERE better, and that their round ones basically suck.

‘Unilever provided test results which showed that the infusion of tea, at 40 seconds and two minutes into brewing, was greater when using a pyramid teabag than when using a round teabag. We therefore concluded that the ad did not exaggerate the capability and performance of the advertised product and was not misleading.’

FIGHT!

tax man HMRC are officially rubbish  Adjudicator upholds 90% of complaintsYou are probably familiar with the concept of an Ombudsman, an independent reviewer who will review the facts of a case once the normal complaints procedure has been exhausted, and will normally find in favour of either the complainant (usually the customer) or the retailer.

Now, we all know that HMRC no longer has victims, rather customers, and as such, it is open to complaints same as any other service provider. While there is no ombudsman for tax-collecting services, there is an Adjudicator. The Adjudicator has now published her annual report for 2013/14, which shows that an unbelievable 90% of customer complaints have been upheld- and government bodies including, and mostly HMRC, have been ordered to pay a whopping £4.4m in redress payments.

The Adjudicator provides an independent review of complaints about HMRC, as well as against the Valuation Office Agency and the Insolvency Service, although these are only a small proportion compared with the HMRC complaints.  In fact, the actual number of complaints about HMRC has gone down, a staggering 90% of taxpayers’ complaints have been upheld this last year.

There were 1,131 new complaints in 2013/14, 1,087 of which were about HMRC. This is less than half the number in 2012/13, when there was a surge in complaints, many of them about PAYE.

Of the cases resolved last year:

90% were upheld substantially or partially (61% in 2012/13)

7% were not upheld (37% in 2012/13)

3% were withdrawn or reconsidered (2% in 2012/13)

The total amount the departments paid out in redress, on the Adjudicator’s recommendation, was £4,369,258 , massively up on the £1,194,031 the year before. The total includes tax credit overpayments written off, as well as costs reimbursed and compensatory payments.  

Complaints to the Adjudicator are typically about mistakes, unreasonable delays, poor advice or inappropriate staff behaviour.

In her report, the Adjudicator noted that  HMRC had put “a lot of effort” into transforming its complaints handling, and complimented the department on “listening to her constructive criticism.”

She did, however, acknowledge the startling proportion of upheld complaints and described seeing many cases “where HMRC staff failed to consider the circumstances of vulnerable people and where communication was poor.”

Anyone else with a 90% upheld complaint rate might be looking for their P45. But still, at least HMRC are trying, right?!

white ps4 playstation 300x168 Why are we paying more for computers and TVs than Americans? WAIT A MINUTE. We good citizens of Blighty are paying a ton more for electrical products like laptops, games consoles and tellies than Americans – sometimes up to £402.

Which!!! pitted US prices against UK prices on 13 products, including TVs, games consoles, headphones and even computer software, and found that UK customers are getting the less fragrant end of the stick.

One Samsung TV was £402 more expensive in Britain, while a Macbook Pro 13 inch laptop was £194 more. Meanwhile, Xbox Ones and Playstation 4 cost £57 more than in the US. Software is also astronomical – Adobe Creative Cloud costs £114, and Microsoft Office is £89 more. And the list goes on…

Why? Well it’s not particularly clear. Which! attempted to contact a variety of companies to ask why Britain was paying over the odds and got nothing but mumbles, bumbles and fumbles. Most didn’t bother to reply, and Amazon said something incoherent about ‘different operating costs in each country.’

WTF, Richard Lloyd from Which!!!: “UK consumers are getting a raw deal by paying up to hundreds of pounds more for the same tech products on sale in the US.’ Manufacturers should play fair and explain why consumers are paying more for buying in the UK.”

Damn right.

uk coins Consumers more concerned with corporate tax avoidance than ethical issuesWhen you are selecting a product, what criteria do you use to choose one product over another? Leaving personal preference aside, things like price and quality are front runners. But then what? After sustained campaigns by organisations such as Tax Research UK or Ethical Consumer, the importance of corporate tax avoidance on purchasing decisions may just surprise you.

New research by YouGov for KPMG’s newly launched Consumer Insights Panel suggests that corporate tax avoidance is more important to consumers in their buying decisions than other ethical considerations, like treatment of suppliers and staff.

The survey of 2,000 people found that although price (52%) and quality (39%) were top determining factors, one in four (25%) cited corporate tax avoidance activities as something they would take into consideration when selecting brands and products. This means that a company’s attitude towards paying tax therefore holds greater sway than treating suppliers (18%) and staff (17%) fairly, environmental impact (15%) and charitable giving (2%) in the eyes of consumers.

While this is bad news for tax avoidance offenders- the most high profile of whom, such as Starbucks and Amazon, have suffered boycotting campaigns, others like John Lewis have been using their tax-paying status as a marketing tool. And it seems to be working. However, consumers sometimes feel their right to choose is being impeded by their lack of knowledge. Half of respondents said they wanted greater transparency over which multinational company owned which brand names, to help them choose the most tax-ethical brands.

Liz Claydon, head of consumer markets at KPMG said “In the past, one of the reasons that companies haven’t been transparent about corporate branding is that the link can potentially be seen to be damaging.” However, she added that “most big multinational companies now absolutely want to link their products to their corporate brand.” Presumably, however, she means the ones who aren’t avoiding all their UK corporation tax…

Ditch the wheatgrass smoothies and save £440

July 21st, 2014 1 Comment By Lucy Sweet

Wheatgrass 250x250 Ditch the wheatgrass smoothies and save £440 Crazy people who believe in the healing power of superfoods are spending far too much on their health fix, says Which!!!

Instead of spunking all their hard earned wages on goji berries and wheatgrass and other dubious inedibles, our favourite consumer vanguards suggest that people should try cheaper alternatives, like kiwi fruit and sardines.

In what has to be their most niche report yet, Which!!! found that swapping blueberries for kiwis and salmon for sardines could help healthy types save £440 a year and still stay alive longer (while not having any fun.)

Lean, mean, tanned and toned Richard Lloyd from Which!!! paused his Tracy Anderson workout DVD and said:

‘You don’t need to break the bank to eat healthily. We’ve found you can swap some superfoods for cheaper alternatives and save a packet while still getting the vitamins you need.’

Thanks Richard! And now we can spend that lovely £440 on beer and pipes of Pringles.

nationwide 2153673b 300x187 Nationwide’s famous technical glitches are BACK! It’s been a few months, but it looks like the IT bods at Nationwide will be getting another bollocking after thousands of customers were locked out of their own online accounts last night.

Customers trying to make payments and do their banking both online and via their mobiles over the weekend were thwarted by error messages and frustration.

They took to Twitter on Sunday night with pitchforks and voiced their annoyance at the glitches, which took place between midnight and 7.30am this morning.

Nationwide said they were very sorry, but regular website maintenance had taken longer than expected.

‘Unfortunately our overnight planned maintenance has overrun and affected customers accessing our online bank and mobile banking app.’ Said a spokesperson. ‘We apologise for the inconvenience caused to our customers. The online bank and mobile banking app are now up and running.’

Perhaps the real reason that customers are so annoyed is that it’s a fairly regular occurrence with Nationwide. It ain’t the first time – and chances are it’s not going to be the last…

meerkat Price comparison sites ain’t what they’re cracked up to be, says FCA The Financial Conduct Authority has accused price comparison sites of being totally confused.com and ‘failing consumers’ by not giving them full or correct information.

The main problem is with the headings. The FCA says that too much focus is put on the big splashy headline price and the brand itself, and not enough info is given about what you actually get for your money. If you’re looking for home insurance, for example, you don’t necessarily get a full outline of your cover or any indication of whether it’s right for you.

The FCA eyeballed 14 price comparison sites and found that the websites don’t make it clear that they just gather and show all the prices – and don’t necessarily tailor their suggestions to your specific needs.

However, some are very naughty indeed and break FCA rules because they don’t declare potential conflicts of interest – ie, some sites are owned by the very insurance companies they’re trying to pimp ‘impartially’ suggest.

Clive Adamson from the FCA said: ‘Our research found that price comparison websites are not meeting our requirements in delivering fair and consistent outcomes for consumers. We also found that consumers had a number of misconceptions about the services they provided. It is important for consumers to understand that not all products are the same and the cheapest product may not always be the best for their needs.’

Companies like gocompare.com have said they would look carefully at the report’s findings, just as soon as the corrupt Go Compare man comes back from taking crack at the meerkat brothel.

Next makes a cock-up on babygro design

July 17th, 2014 4 Comments By Thewlis

Some people have just one job, and they can’t seem to get that right. Take babygro pattern designers- how hard can it be to draw pictures of rabbits in pink or blue? However, it seems this babygro designer for Next was “having a laugh” by putting x-rated content all over cute little babies. See for yourself:

babygro1 500x336 Next makes a cock up on babygro design

No? Shane Gallivan, 23 from Notts, was feeding his twin daughters when something popped up in the ‘washing line’ design. Shane’s wife Carla, 24, said: “He was feeding my daughter when he suddenly said ‘oh my god’. He looked at the baby grow and noticed the trousers were covered in penises.

babygro2 300x201 Next makes a cock up on babygro design

Try again with the close up. Now you see it?

The miniscule penises have caused great consternation in the Gallivan household. “It just looks like the designer was having a laugh and no one spotted it. I was angry because it’s not the kind of thing you should be dressing a baby in,” spat Carla, adding  “I think what makes it all worse is that I have dressed two girls in it, not just that I put it on a baby.”

Clearly it’s OK to cover small boys with pictures that could possibly be mistaken for tiny willies, given they own one.

Nevertheless, the pornographic babywear has been withdrawn from the shelves by Next, who said in a statement:

“The offending part of the design started life as an upside down jumper with a neck binding and placket with buttons (hanging on the washing line), but unfortunately has been over simplified by the printer and has unintentionally become something else.”

“This is an innocent mistake that had not been picked up in the approval process. As it was inappropriate we made the decision to withdraw this item from sale as soon as it was bought to our attention earlier this year.”

Some people just have a dirty mind.

Pictures from the Plymouth Herald

Average household bills 300x196 Newsflash: UK households concerned about moneyUK households have signalled the weakest confidence about their finances in six months.

This piece of ‘No shit, Sherlock’ news comes from economic research group Markit, who claim that the monthly Household Finance Index dropped to 42.1 in July from 42.6 in June as households voiced concerns about savings, debt levels and credit availability.

Those in the lowest income bracket (earning less than £15,000 a year) were the most downbeat about their financial situation, whereas – and this may come as something of a shock – those earning over £57,750 are quite upbeat.

The seasonally adjusted index measuring the outlook for financial well-being in the next 12 months was 47.7, down slightly from 47.8 in June.

Senior Economist Jack Kennedy said: ”The survey’s main barometer slipped to a six-month low, while the future expectations index also fell, perhaps reflecting caution regarding the possibility of an interest rate rise before the year’s end.”

“However, the survey continued to signal less severe financial pressures than at any time in the five years leading up to 2014. Moreover, easing inflation perceptions and strongly rising levels of workplace activity suggest certain pressures on households may be abating, which could help offset the impact of higher mortgage costs following any action by the Bank of England to hike rates.”

So to rub people’s noses in it – poor people aren’t happy.

More blindingly obvious news as and when the next pointless survey arrives.

Apple to pay $450m for price fixing

July 17th, 2014 No Comments By Mof Gimmers

Fire iPad Air Wallpapers HD 27 300x300 Apple to pay $450m for price fixingLast July, we told you about Apple going to court for playing a central role in the price fixing of e-books.

We told you about the daytime ITV drama scenario of book executives meeting up in the private dining rooms of upscale New York restaurants, where they bitched about Amazon’s low prices and asking Apple what they could do about it. Apple pulled their best innocent face, but are now coughing up money.

Apple have agreed to pay $450-million to resolve the US State and consumer claims that they conspired with five major publishers to fix e-book prices.

The settlement will provide $400-million for consumers, on the condition of the outcome of a pending appeal of a New York federal judge’s ruling.

Apple will be holding out for the second ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York going in their favour. If they reverse the liability finding, they could reduce the amount Apple pays to $70 million, with $50 million going to consumers.

Or they could eliminate payments altogether.

There could well be a lot of private dining rooms in New York getting booked, filled with executives and judges in the coming weeks, if you catch the drift?