Spring might be in the air, with Easter on the far horizon, but Citizen’s Advice aren’t feeling very cheerful, with the issue of a new report that estimates consumers are losing almost a tenth of their income through problems with faulty goods, bad business practice and poor service.
Each year, Citizens Advice deals with 1.4m problems related to consumer goods, services and credit receives 3,000 calls a day. The charity has now calculated that £1 in every £10.60 earned was being lost as a result of poor practice by businesses used by consumers.
In its new report, Consumer Challenges 2015, Citizens Advice said consumers lost an average of £250, which for the poorest fifth of households is the equivalent of 19% of monthly income.
Interestingly, credit card debt is no longer the biggest debt issue for consumers, with complaints around these debts set to drop by 12% to 155,700 over the year. The top concern for consumers is now council tax debt, with Citizen’s Advice expecting to deal with 191,400 council tax debt issues in 2014/15 – a 20% increase on the previous year. Rising renta are also high on the consumer agenda, it said, with the number of rental debts reported to the on track to reach 122,800 by the end of March.
However, debt in itself is no longer the biggest problem facing clients. In 2008, debt issues made up 32% of issues while benefits and tax credit issues accounted for 27% of problems; by the end of 2012 it said this had switched to 29% and 37% respectively, with the advent of Universal Credit likely to exacerbate the problem further.
The top five sources of consumer problems, apart from debt and benefits, were secondhand cars, home improvements, energy, telecoms and furniture. One in four people seeking help had lost £600 or more, while one client faced losing up to £33,000 due to problems with a motor home.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said “Some firms are using hidden terms and unfair cancellation processes to extort money from their customers. Tough times can be a fertile breeding ground for these kinds of bad practices. As a recovery takes hold, particularly with public spending so tight, industry, government and regulators need to help households by fixing failures in consumer markets.”
That’s right – a customer by the name of Janine Hughes bought a latte and found that it tasted a bit weird and, on inspecting the hot beverage, found that it was mixed with some worker’s blood. It might be a simple accident, but we’ve convinced ourselves that this is some Illuminati business going down.
Hughes bought her bloody coffee from the drive-through in Swansea and, on finding some human innards in it, she went back to find out what was going on. She was told that her barista had cut his hand while doing her drink.
Now, the customer is awaiting blood test results to make sure she’s not caught anything from her contaminated drink.
And what did Costa do about all this? Well, they gave her a new brew for a start and then the area manager sent her a letter apologising about the whole incident. However, the apology letter was written in Comic Sans, which is like kicking someone repeatedly while they’re down, if you ask us.
She’s made an official complaint to Costa HQ, but as yet, she’s not heard anything.
She said: “I drove off and took two sips of my latte and it tasted like iron. I realised something was wrong, but did not know what at the time. Then I saw blood on the inside of the lid and realised there was blood in the coffee. I was filled with horror when I realised what I had just drunk. I drove back and asked to see the manager.”
“The person who served me was mortified. But I should have been given a completely new coffee and not just a new lid. I was given a new latte in the end but I had to report it – it was too serious to ignore.”
Hughes has vowed to never again visit a Costa, after all this malarkey: “Not once have they contacted me. They have hidden behind the brand. That is terrible. I have had the worry of the blood tests. I don’t think I will ever go to Costa again. I will support my local coffee shops.”
A Costa Coffee spokesman said: “Our area manager has spoken to Ms Hughes and apologised for the distress this obviously caused her. This was an isolated incident and does not reflect our high standards of safety and hygiene.”
Feel free to make your own ‘grounds for complaint’ or something about ‘the daily grind’ here.
Morrisons are again cutting their prices in a bid to fend off the challenge from Lidl and Aldi. They’ve dropped the price of eggs, butter, milk, bread, coffee, pasta, sugar and juice by as much as 56%.
The thing is – will anyone actually care about this? The fact is, for many, Morrisons is neither here nor there. It’s a little dowdy and dull; not functional and straight-forward like cheaper supermarkets and not fancy enough like more upmarket shops.
So, cutting the price on 130 own-brand and branded basics might not change consumer opinion. Morrisons seem adrift on the high street, with no-one looking at them for quality or savings.
That said, these price cuts are here for the long term, as Morrisons are keen to point out that this is not a short promotion to get people back through their doors. Marketing director Nick Collard adds: “The price cuts we have now made across products that customers buy week in, week out, are making a real difference to the cost of the weekly family shop.”
Across their products, the savings amount to 22% off, with the biggest saving coming with their own brand egg and spinach taglietelle. Is that enough to entice you into their aisles?
We’ll have to see, but Morrisons look like they need to do something pretty drastic if they want to be relevant – and no, we’re not talking about stadium rock veg stands.
Who is happiest on the trains of the UK? Well, Which!!! have been looking into it and it turns out that the people of the South East of England are the most unhappy passengers, while those in the North are the happiest.
Does that mean Northerners are less likely to moan, or is the service in the South East considerably worse?
The Which!!! survey looking at national rail services discovered that the four worst-performing trains could be found in the South East of England. Those that fared badly were TGN/FCC (with a satisfaction score of 43%), Southeastern (44%), Southern (46%) and Abellio Greater Anglia (46%).
Meanwhile, passenger satisfaction was 69% on First Hull Trains, 64% at Merseyrail and Grand Central,who operates the East Coast Main Line between Sunderland and London King’s Cross, came out on top with 76% satisfaction.
Martin Abrams from the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The Which!!! survey paints a bleak picture of expensive fares, frequent delays, overcrowded, dirty trains and poor communication from train companies to passengers. It is very notable that some of the busiest train routes around London and the South East are also regarded as offering the worst value for money. It’s also telling that those franchises which are managed locally rather than from Whitehall tend to offer a better service.”
Some Southern people will probably try and sidestep all this by painting a picture of the North where people don’t complain about trains because they’re better than the houses they live in, complete with outside toilets and tin baths in front of the fire and all that. Northerners meanwhile, will be returning the hostilities by saying that Southerners are soft and should quit their whining. Scottish and Welsh people, meanwhile, will reserve their hatred for the whole country and, as usual, everyone will ignore Northern Ireland.
One thing unites the whole of the United Kingdom though; trains – they’re going to boil your blood with annoyance at some point or other.
Apparently, a ‘third party error’ was responsible and sadly, even though a load of people snapped up the cut-price tickets, United said they would not be honouring the purchases. The flights would normally cost around £4,000.
Ever gracious, United Airlines released a statement accusing customers of trying to “take advantage of the situation”.
“United is voiding the bookings of several thousand individuals who were attempting to take advantage of an error a third-party software provider made when it applied an incorrect currency exchange rate, despite United having properly filed its fares,” they said.
“Most of these bookings were for travel originating in the United Kingdom, and the level of bookings made with Danish Kroner as the local currency was significantly higher than normal during the limited period that customers made these bookings.”
The glitch allowed users to book a round-trip flight between Heathrow and Newark Liberty International airport for 491 Danish kroner if, on United’s site, they changed their host country to Denmark.
People who got in while the glitch was still live, were able to buy cheap tickets to any US destination from Heathrow, as long as they opted for first class or business class.
Imagine the good publicity if United Airlines honoured the flights! Still, they’re probably still butt hurt from the time their Twitter account got hacked with all manner of risque messages.
David Cameron thinks that businesses need to pass on some of those lovely profits to everyone else. And he’s right of course, even if his timing is a little bit suspect and there’s a strong chance he’ll do absolutely nothing to ensure that it happens.
The Prime Minister says that trading conditions in Britain have ‘not been this good for a long time’, so it is about time that employees got a pay rise. With energy bills falling slightly and the price of oil down, the UK’s recovery has been growing at the quickest rate since the economic downturn.
Cameron says: “The most recent figures show that wages are already growing faster than inflation, and as the economy continues to grow it’s important this continues and that everyone benefits. Put simply – it’s time Britain had a pay rise.”
Obviously, this sentiment comes after years of everything becoming more expensive and wages staying relatively frozen. It would’ve been nice if someone had done something about it years ago, but there we go.
Cameron will be talking to the British Chambers of Commerce in a bid to persuade the nation’s bosses that staff should be given an increase in their wages.
He adds: “To make sure more of those workers feel the effects of this recovery, this Government has already delivered the first real-terms increase in the minimum wage since the crisis. I want that to go further – indeed we are on a trajectory to over £8 an hour by 2020. As for business – the conditions have not been this good for a long time.”
“Now that your costs are falling and it’s cheaper to do business, I’m confident that more businesses will pass on that good economic news to their workers, in rising pay cheques and higher earnings.”
One thing Cameron could oversee, is a raise in the minimum wage and make a move to giving everyone a living wage and put an end to zero-hour contracts, but holding your breath on that would be ill-advised. Not that the Opposition look at all useful either.
Caveat emptor, or buyer beware, is a phrase often quoted when referring to something consumers should have thought about when making a purchase. However, with the advent of consumer law and protection, it is no longer true to say that, once you’ve agreed to part with your cash, you are on your own. Or is it? A new Which!!! investigation into university courses has found a number of them to be seriously in breach of consumer regulations by providing a product that is materially different, or capable of being so, than that advertised- and paid for.
The investigation came about after Which!!!’s ‘A degree of value’ report, which raised concerns that universities grant themselves wide discretion to make course changes after students have signed up.
That report found that:
Six in ten (58%) students had experienced a change to their course such as changes to modules or location of teaching;
One in ten (12%) experienced an increase in tuition fees either part-way through the year or between years;
A third (35%) of students that experienced one or more changes thought one or more of these was unfair; and,
One in ten (9%) said they would have considered a different course if they’d known about one or more of the changes before applying.
Which!!! therefore decided to apply consumer law to the products being provided by universities in the UK by sending Freedom of Information requests to 142 publicly-funded higher education institutions that have degree-awarding powers and teach undergraduate students in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Which!!! asked for documents that included details of the institution’s right to vary the courses it offers after students have enrolled.
The results were then analysed by a Which!!! consumer lawyer to see whether or not they meet the requirements for fairness under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCRs). Under the UTCCRs, a contract term will be unfair if it creates a detrimental, significant imbalance between the parties; in this case, the student and the provider.
Responses were allocated into one of five categories: excellent or best practice, good practice, needs improvement, bad practice, unlawful practice. The unlawful practice category covered cases where the providers’ terms or policies give them unfettered discretion to make detrimental changes to courses, even if they could be significant or material, but no remedy is offered to students. The results were pretty grim.
Just 5% of universities were classed as having terms that offered good practice, and only one single university – the University of York – uses terms that Which!!! consider to be best practice. Presumably it now gets a Which!!! best buy sticker.
Just over half (51%) of responding universities use terms that give them freedom to change courses even when these changes could have been prevented. Of these, one in five (20%) use terms we consider to be unlawful and in breach of consumer contract regulations. Three in 10 (31%) have terms that Which!!! consider to be bad practice and likely to be unlawful. The full list of universities with the worst terms is included in the table below.
Which!!! executive director Richard Lloyd said: “It’s worrying to see such widespread use of unfair terms in university contracts. Students deserve to know what they can expect from a course before signing up so that they can be confident they will get what they pay for.”
“With tuition fees higher than ever before, we want universities to take immediate action to give students the protection they’re entitled to.”
Which!!! are now off to grass the universities up to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and are calling on the regulator to check if universities are complying with its guidance.
As we reported earlier this week, some of the biggest price comparison sites have been outed for not actually recommending the cheapest energy deal to customers looking for a switch-instead they have been suggesting those deals that earn them the most commission. Now, in front of the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC), the head of uSwitch has suggested that swindled consumers might even get some compensation…
The ECCC had already tabled an interview with the comparison sites, after concerns were raised in December that led to regulator Ofgem banning the sites from presenting a ‘selected’ sample of deals on an online search, instead of presenting what’s available across the market. When The Big Deal’s allegations of underhand tactics first emerged, many comparison providers claimed that they made it ‘clear’ to telephone enquirers that they were recommending the best deal from a limited selection, rather than from the whole market. Which makes it all OK, clearly.
However, under questioning by the ECCC, uSwitch CEO Steve Weller said: “As I mentioned, I’m sincerely disappointed that our service wasn’t living up to the high standards we set out, and our procedures which were laid down weren’t actually adhered to.”
He then confirmed that consumers were entitled to some redress if uSwitch’s actions with their agents had misled, saying “yes we will compensate them.”
MPs also asked if the site would compensate other consumers who could show that they had been misled, and again, Mr Weller suggested that misled customers who ended up worse off could see some cashback: “If we are found at fault we do take active measures internally, but also if the customer is out of pocket and they would have selected that tariff or that option we can look at providing some financial compensation.” All good news, although currently still vague and non-binding.
Comparison sites currently earn between around £29 and £60 for successfully brokering an energy switch, but only if the customer switches to a provider who pays this commission on switching. Similar sums can be earned by consumers themselves by using cashback sites like Quidco or Topcashback.
The never-ending saga that is the misselling of PPI to the people of the UK rumbles on, taking a fresh turn with Santander’s UK wing adding more money to the naughty pot as it looks like there’s going to be more compensation being paid out to customers.
Sky News has found that the bank, alongside announcing their full-year results, will also be putting £20 million aside for PPI misselling, which will be the third time they’ve done it over the scandal.
This follows the news that the FCA are still looking into this giant mess, and that it looks like there’s going to be a time-limit added to proceedings in a bid to get this all sorted, once and for all.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it would “consider whether further interventions may be appropriate – which could include a consumer communication campaign; a possible time limit on complaints; or other rule changes or guidance – or whether the continuation of the PPI scheme in its current form best meets its objectives”.
Since January 2011, the various banks involved in this fiasco have handled over 14 million PPI consumer complaints, upholding somewhere in advance of 70% of them, paying out billions in compensation.
Santander themselves, put aside £751m in 2011 to give to customers, and a further £65m in 2014. And now, there’s going to be a further £20m, which adds to to a whole lot of money.
A time limit is expected to be welcomed by Santander, and to be honest, everyone else involved in this as it would be beneficial for not just the banks, but for customers too.
If you think you’re owed compensation from your bank, wait until the official announcement tomorrow and they’ll invariably be in touch. Failing that, call the bank at 0845 600 6014 on a landline, or 0345 600 6014 from a mobile, 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 4pm on Saturdays. Or you can do it online.
The five biggest price comparison websites in the energy market are being accused of all manner of things lately. One of the things being levelled at them is that they’re sending callers to energy tariffs that earn them commission when they’re not the cheapest deal at all.
Looks like, if you ring up and ask for the cheapest deal, there’s a chance that you’ll be sent to the cheapest energy deal that gets the comparison site a commission, rather than the actual deal that is best for you.
If we were Harry Hill, we’d do a sideways look to camera right about now.
Website The Big Deal has released recordings of phone conversations and transcripts from the last month, which they claim that the five biggest comparison sites – Confused.com, uSwitch, Go Compare, Compare the Market and MoneySuperMarket - conveniently failed to tell callers that some deals about the deals that don’t pay them a commission.
So, with uSwitch for example, the price difference between the cheapest tariff and the one that they claimed was the cheapest deal (according to The Big Deal) was £60. uSwitch aren’t amused and said: “We have very strict guidelines in place for our call centre advisers to follow and these include informing customers of the cheapest deal available, whether we can switch them to it or not.”
“We are investigating this matter fully and will take disciplinary action with any individual found to have breached these guidelines.”
The Big Deal co-founder Will Hodson said their findings show that comparison sites are “behaving as badly over the phone as they are online”, adding that those who will be ringing comparison companies will be people who aren’t fans of the internet, like old people or those who can’t afford an internet connection. Vulnerable people, basically.
Of course, this follows The Big Deals findings that comparison sites were pulling a fast one online too. Ofgem are also looking into it all and have banned comparison sites from automatically showing a partial view of deals from suppliers paying commission to them, instead, they’ve now got to start showing all available deals on the market.
MoneySuperMarket spokesman Stephen Murray said: “We completely deny the allegation that we lied to the customer. The telephone operator stated at the start that there were products available which she couldn’t switch the customer to. However, having reviewed this call, in this instance we feel we could have made that clearer. We are reviewing what we say to customers to ensure this is always crystal clear in future.”
Compare the Market.com’s spokesmeerkat said: “This mystery shopping exercise merely demonstrates that price comparison websites provide a valuable and transparent service to consumers.”
“The shopper was shown the whole of market when he searched for tariffs online. When he then decided to call our customer helpline to switch through an adviser, it was made very clear that his current tariff was being compared to a wide range of tariffs currently available through comparethemarket.com. Therefore, all quotes he was given over the phone were tariffs available to him through comparethemarket.com rather than the whole of market.”
“This process is clear and easy to use. We refute all claims that we misled the caller or offered an uncompetitive tariff.”
Buses and trains are notorious for being late in the UK, with most people just accepting it as part of the service. However, all that might’ve changed as one lady made a note of all the late bus services and then invoiced for them successfully.
Elizabeth Thomas sent her invoice to First Buses, which totted up to £103.30 and they gave her a load of free passes.
She complained about a service in Bristol which had been consistently late, which she said, had been preventing her from spending time with her two children because her commute was taking longer than necessary.
“I’ve had to start leaving an hour earlier just to be sure I get to work on time, and by the time I get home I’m looking at a 12-hour day most days,” she said.
“That’s time I should be spending with my children. Is my time not valuable to First?”
Thomas looked at her Twitter and used the data she collated there, to document late buses (or indeed, buses that didn’t show up at all). She added up all the time she waited and put it into an invoice. She found that she’d wasted 11.24 hours waiting for First’s buses.
With that, she decided to charge First £9.19 per hour, which resulted in a cost of £103.30. Seeing as Elizabeth Thomas was successful, should we all start invoicing travel companies for late running services, to get some compensation or free stuff? Looks like a good idea to us.
First in Bristol got in touch to say this: “The success of this particular claim was due to the fact that there is a customer promise already in place in Bristol, which offers to pay out if a bus (in Bristol) is more than one minute early at a defined timing point, or more than 20 mins late at any boarding point, and the cause of the failure is within the company’s control. This is well publicized locally and means that there was, in fact, no need for an invoice to be submitted at all.”
All buses services across the country would do well to adopt this customer promise!
A gentleman has bought a domain name worth $15,000 (£9,900) for just $10.99 (£7.25).
The snipular bargain was picked up was picked up by Bruce Marler, who was after buying the domain credit.club. A glitch in the website allowed him to get it at the knockdown price by mistake.
He’d hoped to buy it to make even more money from selling it, having been inspired by someone who’d bought the domain wine.club for $140,000.
Marler had created a wordpress platform and registered the address with a Twitter handle too.
The company that runs all dot-club domain names, .Club Domains, said that the sale was an error on its part and that several premium domain names were wrongly listed as available for the low fee for 24 hours. The mistake has now been corrected.
.Club Domains also said they could be arses and cancel the purchase, but their chief executive said they’d honour the deal rather than allowing any particular mud-slinging to begin.
In a statement he said: “The registry does not believe it is in our best interest nor the best interest of the registrant to pull the name back given the substantial investment in time and money he has invested to launch credit.club. I informed the registrant of such matters and wish him a continued success.”
Speaking to the Domain Gang website, Mr Marler said: “My intent is to sell the domain, eventually. This domain is as good as any finance-related .club domain that exists. If the site grows in revenue the site can be considered a business venture, but at this point it’s a domain investment.”
Business, there, ladies and gentlemen.
The PPI debacle has become one of the most shameful episodes in British banking of the last ten years. And there’s quite a range of knobbery to select from.
A whopping £17.3 billion has now been paid out, after PPI was ruled to be an utterly despicable piece of mis-selling, often with no actual thought as to whether the customer could pay it back or not.
Payment Protection Insurance or PPI, was meant to protect borrowers in the event of sickness or unemployment, but were often sold to those who would have been ineligible to claim.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said it would use its findings, due to be published in the summer, to assess if the current approach to compensating customers is working properly. Because there just hasn’t been enough money squandered on this.
The FCA said in a statement: “The FCA will then consider whether further interventions may be appropriate, which could include a consumer communication campaign; a possible time limit on complaints; or other rule changes or guidance, or whether the continuation of the PPI scheme in its current form best meets its objectives,”
“While this work continues, the FCA expects firms to continue to deal with PPI complaints in accordance with our requirements,”
Banks such as Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland have already set aside £24 billion to compensate consumers, with many of them wiping off the entire debt of customers
Since 2011, the banks have dealt with over 14 million complaints about PPI, and have got to around 70% of customers paid back.
There’s still around 4,000 complaints coming through the banks each week about PPI, so even if you have the slightest doubt, get in touch with them.
Honestly, you can’t trust anyone these days.
If you think you’ve had bad service from someone delivering a parcel, think again. The worst you go was unnecessary packaging, or maybe someone not knocking on the door when you’d stayed in to take the delivery.
Well, over in Houston, a UPS delivery man took it to the next level by lobbing a package over a fence and then taking a leak on the house he was delivering to.
Ben Lucas, the customer in question, has CCTV on his house and checked the footage after he got in and found his parcel all smashed up. And the best bit? Lucas was getting hundreds of dollars’ worth of ammo delivered, as well as chemicals and a gun-cleaning machine.
“You’re paying someone to take a package to go from point A to point B, so basically I paid someone to come to my house and pee on it,” Lucas ranted. “I don’t know how UPS trains their employees to go to the bathroom, but probably not someone’s yard.” He called UPS and offered to send them the offending video: “I just wanted them to hear me and maybe give me an email address where I could send them the video… they simply just didn’t want to see it.”
UPS didn’t apologise hard enough, more interested in the package than a man urinating on someone’s property, so Lucas thought he’d stick the video online to get his attention – most notably, on UPS’ Facebook page. It was then that someone from UPS took note and sent Lucas a “we’re sorry” card.
“I just wanted someone to say, ‘Yeah, he shouldn’t have done that — we’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen again,’” Lucas added.
In a statement, the company said: “UPS was dismayed by actions that violated decency and delivery care. The local management team did take action to terminate the individual who was a seasonal delivery helper. However, they were wrong if they did not clarify this resolution with Mr. Lucas at the time. UPS sincerely apologises to our customer. No behaviour like this is acceptable.”
Terminate the individual? That seems a bit much UPS!