You know what it’s like. You try to find a reputable tradesman, and some pie eating git with a gut the size of the moon comes into your house, whistles through his teeth and tells you it’ll cost a thousand quid to put up a shelf. Then they bugger it up and you have to pay someone else to do it.

handy andy 300x300 Terrible tradesmen cost the UK nearly £2 billion

Well, last year, incompetent tradesmen cost UK householders an estimated £1.9 BILLION in botched repairs that had to be redone.

The figures, from the TrustMark tradesman scheme, said that one in five people who have had work done in their homes have had to employ someone else to fix problems – costing an average of £600.

The problems start when trying to choose someone from the job. A quarter of us will employ people based on recommendations from friends and family, while 57% of homeowners didn’t bother to check their qualifications. 6% of us simply go for the cheapest quote.

TrustMark is a government endorsed set of standards for tradesmen, which has been updated and is due to be launched soon. Consumer minister Jenny Willot said:

‘Every trader who has signed up to the scheme has been independently assessed for their competence. We want to put rogue or unscrupulous tradesmen out of business. One of the best ways to do this is to pick out the best businesses, so people know where to turn first for their home improvements, maintenance and repairs.I would encourage all legitimate and honest tradesmen to sign up to this scheme.’

That’s all well and good. But if you were a dishonest tradesman, wouldn’t you just sign up for it anyway?

Don’t fall for the kitchen conmen

April 3rd, 2014 No Comments By Lucy Sweet

Right minded people tend to slam the phone into the wall whenever they get a call about kitchens. But if you get a phone call about a government led ‘kitchen scrappage scheme’ – offering to give you a discount on a new kitchen in exchange for your old one – don’t fall for it.

mum in kitchen Don’t fall for the kitchen conmen

It is, in fact, a con. Quite a clever con, really, considering the government have, in the past, run boiler and car scrappage schemes.

But of course, it’s all a scam to get your personal information. If you ask them what company they’re calling from, they’ll suddenly get shy, because it’s all shadier than a row of shady palm trees on Shady Lane.

What they’ll do instead is try to arrange a home sales visit, and then proceed to ask you probing questions like ‘How big is your cooker hood, love?’ and ‘What kind of knobs do you have?’ and ask you questions about your income.

Andy Curry from the Commissioner’s Office said that the calls will probably come from a lead generation company, trying to get your details so that you can be bombarded with further sales calls.

‘It appears these made up scrappage schemes are just another hook used to get people to give their details, which lead generation companies then sell on.’ he said.

Yet another reason to ditch the landline…

iFlorist: Complaints and anger all over again

April 3rd, 2014 5 Comments By Mof Gimmers

iflorist iFlorist: Complaints and anger all over againA while ago, we wrote about iFlorist and the fact that there was something a little fishy about a number of reviews they’d received. It certainly looked like positive reviews were being hastily thrown at sites in a bid to counteract all the negative ones.

Well, the complaints and negative reviews are back again, with people furious at what they think is crappy service.

On BW, one reader got in touch to say: “On March 29, 2014, I paid iFlorist to deliver a bouquet of flowers with a glass vase, a card (which was to be handwritten in) and a box of chocolates, which were to be sent to my partner’s mother for Mother’s Day.”

“After Mother’s Day weekend, the flowers did not arrive, and after several attempts at contacting iFlorist, they finally replied saying that they would try to get my order out and that they would offer me a £5 voucher for my next purchase – no refund (even though there were no flowers!)”

“Finally, on Wednesday, April 2, the flowers were delivered – and were old. No vase. No card. No chocolates. I’ve opened a dispute on Pay Pal and am trying to reclaim my money back. What good are flowers for Mother’s Day if they’re delivered 3-4 days late? Not to mention, 3/4 promised items weren’t even included! I’ve reported them to BBC Watchdog and hope these scam artists are go out of business and SOON.”

Over at MoneySavingExpert, there were more complaints. Shouting “AVOID THIS COMPANY”, one disgruntled customer said that they had “paid extra for express delivery. The roses turned up on the doorstep at 745pm and the courier didn’t even bother to ring the bell. Three of the flowers were blackened and the others looked very sorry for themselves. I cannot believe I ordered flowers through this company having seen them mentioned on MSE Valentines link… their chat link is always dead and they have not responded to support tickets.”

Yesterday, complaints were coming in at the ReviewCentre, where someone spat: “Purchased “designer flowers” for mothers day which were appalling. Flowers were half dead and wrapped in tissue paper that looked like it had been dropped on the floor and danced on! Only wish I had read other peoples reviews first because most people seem to be of the same opinion. Never again – my local supermarket were selling better at a quarter of the price and forget customer services – they are as bad as the flowers!”

A number of new complaints bloomed over at FlowerDelivery, saying “avoid”, “disgusted” and “took money – no refund given!” and TrustPilot was again rife with angry customers, with loads of complaints coming in this week. One iFlorist user said: “Extremely poor product and appalling lack of follow up service,” with products being delivered not as advertised, as well as “the supposed live support service appears to be permanently unavailable” and the customer feeling “cheated and angry. The flowers were a rip off and I have paid for goods and services in addition that I have not received. Now they don’t even have the decency to respond my enquiries by email and it’s impossible to get through to anyone on the phone.”

Other customers said they had been “ignored”, “the WORST company I’ve EVER dealt with”, “WORST SERVICE EVER”, “AVOID THIS COMPANY LIKE THE PLAGUE!”

iFlorist did contact one customer (not all) with an apology and an offer to “e-mail you personally to arrange some appropriate compensation,” so it may well be worth peeved customers giving them a ring on 0844 874 5010 or email them again at their contact page. You can send them a letter if you prefer, at iflorist HQ, Jubilee House, Phoenix Way, Burnley, Lancashire, BB11 5SX

In the meantime, if an offer online looks like it is too good to be true, then it probably is.

marks and spencer No one likes M&S in Britain so theyre going abroadMarks & Spencer just can’t cut it when it comes to selling clothes. Consumers don’t like their clothes and aren’t connecting with the M&S adverts, wondering who all those women are in the commercials. Everything about it is a bit fusty and pointless.

So with that, M&S are making eyes overseas, hoping that foreign people might like clothes that remind them of the kind of clobber you see worn in life insurance adverts.

M&S are looking to boost overseas profits by opening 250 new shops outside the UK. They’ve already got 455 on the go, but they want to make a serious move in places like India, China, Russia, the Middle East and Western Europe. They’ll also be flogging their food too.

“M&S Food is in much demand globally. From toasted crumpets in The Hague to red wine in China, our international customers are very quick to tell us what their favourite M&S products are. This is why expanding our fresh food offer presents us with a strong growth opportunity,” Steve Rowe, M&S Executive Director of Food, said.

You may recall that M&S tried something similar in 2001, which failed miserably. The plan thus far, is to open 100 stores in India, sell knickers and that to Saudi Arabia and in China, they’ve got no idea, but there’s a lot of people there so it is always worth trying if you can afford the gamble. Concerning the latter, Tesco are currently struggling to make any impact at all.

Watch out, William Hill. Local councils want to take betting shops, with their addictive gambling machines, to task. They’re concerned that there are MILLIONS of them springing up in local communities like pox on an arse, leading to social problems in areas where there are already high levels of deprivation.

betting machines Local Government Associations to tackle betting shop concerns

Local councils are currently powerless to stop betting companies from pitching up and saturating certain areas. So, the Local Government Association and local betting companies have agreed to meet today, to consider a number of options, including changing legislation and setting up a national voluntary agreement between councils and bookies.

Tony Page, who heads up the LGA’s licensing committee, called it a ‘significant landmark’ and added:
‘Councils are not anti-bookies but are frustrated by the current licensing system which leaves them powerless to act on community concerns and limit the number of betting shops opening up in their areas.

There are real fears that they can drive already vulnerable people towards financial ruin and that people losing money through high-stake fixed odds betting terminals are turning to payday lenders and loan sharks to pay off debts or fund their gambling.’

But will the Paddy Powers and the Betfreds agree? After all, their modus operandi is to bombard crappy areas with betting shops and get desperate unemployed people hooked on their FOBTs. What will become of the profits?

cold calling Clampdown on cold calling; Or, Marketing companies to find new loopholesThose blessed ministers of ours are going to issue a crackdown on nuisance phone calls by companies and charities and, for those that don’t tow the line, there’s going to be fines of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Of course, marketing companies aren’t daft and will soon find ways around any new rules and continue to be the needy ex boyfriend of advertising, so it makes you wonder why anyone bothers trying to police them at all.

Either way, culture secretary Maria Miller has to be seen to be doing something and as such, has called for a lowering of the threshold for when action can be taken against companies. Currently, they are only culpable if they’re guilty of causing ‘substantial damage or distress’. Presumably, new rules will see them fined for being ‘a bit annoying’.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) doesn’t say ‘a bit annoying’, but rather, wants the government to penalise businesses where “nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience, anxiety” are caused. That could even apply to a firm that has made only one call.

Miller said: “Nuisance calls must stop. At best they are an irritation and an unwanted intrusion; at worst they cause real distress and fear, particularly to the elderly or housebound. People need to feel safe and secure in their homes. The rules are clear – people have the right to choose not to receive unsolicited marketing calls. We will work to ensure their choice is respected.”

Justice secretary Chris Grayling added: ”The scale of these fines shows just how serious we are about stopping them. The claims management regulator already takes tough action against companies which break the rules – suspending and closing down rogue firms – but now these fines will give us an extra weapon to drive bad behaviour out of the industry.”

Don’t hold your breath.

Organic Food: no better for you after all?

March 28th, 2014 4 Comments By Thewlis

carrots tallthin1 195x300 Organic Food: no better for you after all?Most people who buy organic food do so owing to concerns about the use of pesticides in commercially produced produce, and possible absorption into the food chain. They may also wear sandals. Now a new report from the Journal of Cancer Studies produced by Cancer Research UK has found that eating organic food generally does absolutely nothing to lower the risk of developing cancer, and may even increase your risk.

The research looked at 600,000 women over a nine year period, of which around 50,000 developed one of the 16 most common forms of cancer. When comparing those who never ate organic food with those who “usually” or “always” did, the study found no difference in overall cancer risk, other than a small reduction in risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which even the scientists themselves dismissed as possibly not a “genuine association”.

In fact, the study did find that those who ate organically actually had a slightly increased risk of breast cancer, although again the link was not strong enough to show causation, and could just be by chance.

Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist at Oxford University, said: “In this large study of middle-aged women in the UK we found no evidence that a woman’s overall cancer risk was decreased if she generally ate organic food.”

Dr Claire Knight, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “This study adds to the evidence that eating organically grown food doesn’t lower your overall cancer risk.” However, she pointed out that  ”over 9 per cent of cancer cases in the UK may be linked to dietary factors, of which almost 5 per cent are linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables. So eating a well-balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables – whether conventionally grown or not – can help reduce your cancer risk.”

The study’s findings were pooh poohed by Peter Melchett, director of policy at the Soil Association, which campaigns “for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use”.

Mr Melchett questioned the researchers’ methodology, as the study failed to monitor the women’s weight and physical activity regularly during the study.  “It’s widely accepted that studying the relationship between diet and cancer is very challenging, given that processes that lead to development of cancer can operate over a lifetime and are hard to separate,” he chuntered.

The organic food sector has already seen a dip during the economic downturn, as people turn to cheaper, pesticide filled veg as their wallets get emptier. Finding out the cheap stuff is also better for you (or at least, no worse for you) is unlikely to improve market expectations.

bt logo BT is the most complained about Internet service provider in BritainOfcom have today announced that BT is Britain’s most stinking ISP, generating the most complaints for their fault-ridden broadband service and lousy customer service.

They also won the telecommunications wooden spoon for their pay-TV service, which keeps breaking down and causing customers no end of trouble. Even when their actual service is working, customers complained of billing problems.

With 0.32 complaints per 1000 customers this quarter, BT has even surpassed the crapness of TalkTalk, who have been the worst offender for several quarters. However TalkTalk is still the most complained about telecommunications service for landline faults.

And even though BT has announced plans to hang out with their new boyfriend EE more to improve their mobile speeds, EE came second place on Ofcom’s s***list, generating above average complaints – 0.29 per 1000 customers.

It seems that if you don’t want to be on the phone all the time shouting at someone, you should switch to BSkyB or Virgin Media, who managed to come out of the report with significantly fewer complaints.

CarCrash 300x168 High Court Judge calls out two women for fictitious whiplash claimsIt seems even the legal system is getting tired of spurious whiplash claims these days. We’ve all been paying through the nose for those poor unfortunate people whose entire soft-necked families happened to be in a car that received a rear-end shunt, but now it’s all become too much even for a High Court judge.

Hearing the case of two women making a personal injury claim against the Home Office after a vehicle incident, Mr Justice Mostyn dismissed the claims as inaccurate and evasive, saying they were based on “an improper pecuniary motive.” Or, in other words, that they were thieving liars. Allegedly.

The court heard it took 18 days for one of the claimants to complain to her GP about any pain, and the other waited a week before she went to her doctor to report any injury as a result of the impact. Both women were, however, assessed by a medical ‘expert’ despite there being no visible damage to the car after the accident and the fact that neither woman reported any injury at the time or asked for time off work. Two other people in the car at the time of it hitting a bollard at slow speed, the driver and front seat passenger, miraculously escaped completely unharmed.

The judge took particular offence at the medical ‘evidence’ as it was so similar it “cast doubt on the professional objectivity of the expert.” In perfectly identical terms, medical reports said both had suffered “nervous shock and psychological trauma” and endured “recurrent obtrusive memories of the accident and obsessional thoughts as to how she might have been seriously injured” by a rogue bollard, prowling the streets looking for innocent victims.

Justice Mostyn did not mince his words:

“It is proper that I should go on to record that I do not accept the evidence of either of them, which I find to be inaccurate, evasive, partial and advanced for an improper pecuniary motive,” said the judge. ”This is yet a further example of the national phenomenon of false whiplash claims being made and it is in an attempt to stem the tide that I do not shrink from making firm adverse findings against them”.

He added: “Obviously it is, in terms of probability, almost inconceivable that each of these women would have suffered physically or mentally in precisely the same way.”

Of course, anyone who has genuinely suffered from whiplash as a result of a car accident will know how genuinely painful it is, and no-one, not even Justice Mostyn, is saying those genuinely injured shouldn’t be able to make a claim. However, first-hand experience of such ‘medical experts’ does back up the judge’s opinion, particularly where medical reports contain evidence that cannot possibly have been collected during the 3 minute examination- reports that are, as a matter of course, not challenged by insurers where whiplash is the main stated injury.

But until someone can come up with a pregnancy-test style wee-on-a-stick test for genuine whiplash, we are left relying on judges to make sensible outcomes from stupid claims in the forlorn hope that it will deter fraudulent claimants from wasting everyone’s time and money.

Are Apple emojis are a little bit racist?

March 26th, 2014 8 Comments By Lucy Sweet

Apple is working on giving more cultural diversity to its emojis – because at the moment all the people on there are whiter than an EDL march.
emoji 300x300 Are Apple emojis are a little bit racist?

It followed an email complaint by Joey Parker of MTV Act, who emailed Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, to say that there were no black, brown or Chinese heads in the emoji vocabulary. The email was forwarded that same day to Katie Cotton, vice president of world wide corporate communications.

‘Tim forwarded your email to me.’ She wrote. ‘We agree with you. Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.’

The last emoji update was in 2012 when they added some same sex couples to the mix. So when can we expect a multicultural cavalcade of differently coloured faces to tag onto our tweets and emails? Nobody knows yet, but maybe one day emoji-land will catch up with the rest of the world.

While they’re at it, could they also update their other emoticons? There are currently no emojis for gin and tonics or sex toys, which means it makes it hard for me to describe what I’m up to at the weekend.

Thanks.

Santander has been fined over 12 million by the Financial Conduct Authority for giving customers bad advice on investments, which is the largest fine ever given for this particular kind of incompetence.

santander g Santander gets a £12.4m slap on the wrist from the FCA

The FCA said that Santander had ‘let customers down badly’ by giving customers duff advice. It claimed that the bank had not considered the risks customers were prepared to take with their investments, and gave them unclear advice.

They also rapped them for failing to train their new advisers properly, and not making the necessary checks to ensure they gave the correct advice.

Santander stopped giving in branch investment advice in 2012, and when confronted, the bank tried to make it sound like it all happened hundreds of years ago, under the reign of Henry V.

‘We regret that elements of Santander UK’s historic branch-based investment sales processes did not meet the required regulatory standards and apologise to any customers who have concerns.’ A spokesman said.

Tracy McDermott from the FCA countered: ‘Customers trusted Santander to help them manage their money wisely, but it failed to live up to that responsibility. If trust in financial services is going to be restored, which it must be, then customers need to be confident that those advising them understand, and are driven by, what they need.’

NAUGHTY SANTANDER.

Man misled by bread

March 26th, 2014 2 Comments By Ian Wade

ASDA logo Man misled by breadA man in Wolverhampton paid £450 for a loaf of bread. Before you go “this is artisan baking gone MAD”, it was an error at his local Asda.

According to Metro, John Brown had popped in to buy a few bits, and went to the self-service checkout and expected to pay around a fiver for his goods, and just paid it on his debit card without any further concern.

Only a few days later, when he went to get some money out of the bank to buy a car, and the bank went all ‘insufficient funds’ on his ass, did he realise.

Fortunately, he’s one of these people who keep receipts, and discovered that the reduced loaf that he had expected to pay 69p for, was in fact £450.

Perhaps a couple of lessons can be drawn from this experience, with the main one being “DUDE, focus and look at the total before paying”.

Anyway, Asda have been lovely and refunded the money, saying it was a system glitch and apologised for any inconvenience etc etc.

cigarettes 300x242 Plain packaging on cigarettes leads to more smoking?As well as levying greater and greater taxes and duties on cigarettes, one way in which the Government has been looking to help reduce smoking is through hiding packets. Already cigarette boxes are covered in stores, but Ministers decided, back in 2012, to hold off on introducing plain packaging across all brands until there was examinable evidence from Australia, who did exactly that in December 2012.

New figures based on the first full year of plain paper packaging shows that, actually, more tobacco was sold in Australia than before the packaging ban- reversing a five-year declining trend.

Later this week, an independent review will report to UK ministers on the case for banning branded cigarette packs. Health campaigners claim the move would protect children, who are considered to be less likely to take up smoking if packs are unbranded. However, the findings from Australia suggest that actually, if no-one knows which brand you are smoking, you may as well buy cheaper brands. And if cigarettes are cheaper, you can buy more of them. Common sense, innit?

And it’s not like no-one saw this coming. Back when the UK announced a review of cigarette packaging in March 2012, we reported that London Economics predicted exactly this outcome. It’s like they have experience in economics or something.

Deborah Arnott, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: “We are repeatedly seeing attempts to undermine the case for standardised packaging. The number one reason for standardised packaging is to protect children. It is about dissuading them from taking up smoking – and one year’s data from Australia about delivery levels of tobacco tells us nothing about that.” But then she would say that. She also recommends that even greater taxes be used to ‘level up’ the price differential across brands.

It is worth noting that the Australian figures being presented  have come from tobacco peddler Philip Morris (of Marlboro fame), and represent wholesale amount shipped to Australia, rather than retail figures. Eoin Dardis, director of corporate affairs for Philip Morris in Britain, said: “When you commoditise a product, people go after the price. If people are buying cheaper stuff, maybe they’re smoking more of it, I don’t know … It’s definitely a point of interest and that’s something that absolutely needs to be explored because that’s the counter of what this policy was seeking to achieve.”

But then he would say that.

Allegedly, Lloyds Banking Group – who have never been known not to serve themselves first – have been withholding millions of pounds of PPI compensation, thanks to a loophole in the law.

Lloyds Banking Group 001 300x180 Lloyds find a convenient loophole to hold back millions in PPI compensation

The Financial Ombudsman Service say Lloyds is using an ‘alternative redress’ scheme, which complies with the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules, as a way not to give customers their full payouts.

The alternative redress scheme is an obscure, generalised rule that assumes that customers took out regular premium policies – and that they must be reimbursed for that.

But some customers didn’t take out regular premium policies. They were sold single policies on more than one loan. So Lloyds have been deducting the cost of a cheaper regular policy from the payouts, even though some customers are owed more.

For example, one Halifax customer with 2 loans was offered £2300 PPI compensation. But when she brought the case to the Financial Ombudsman, Lloyds were asked to pay her an extra £1200.

Lloyd’s said yes, it WAS using the alternative redress system, but argued that it had done nothing wrong, saying: “The FCA handbook is very clear that in these specific circumstances, the provider should give redress that puts the customer in the position they would have been in had the customer taken a regular premium policy.’

If you want to watch Lloyd’s squirm on TV, a BBC special about the PPI compensation, ‘Britain’s Biggest Banking Scandal’ is due to air tonight.

Co-op Bank needs £400m

March 25th, 2014 No Comments By Ian Wade

co op bank 300x187 Co op Bank needs £400mThe Co-op, good with food perhaps. Maybe not so hot on banking.

The beleaguered bank is hoping to raise money by issuing a new round of shares, after discovering that their finances are in a bit of a state, according to the BBC.

The Co-op blames this on misconduct and poor documentation, as well as PPI mis-selling and mortgage palavers.

The bank said the discovery meant it would make a loss of £1.2bn to £1.3bn for 2013, when it releases its full accounts next month.

“The starting capital position of the bank for the four to five year recovery period is weaker than in the plan announced last year,” said a possibly deeply embarrassed chief executive Niall Booker.

The bank had to be rescued last year, when it was left with a £1.5bn capital shortfall, and a lot of the bank’s troubles began when they merged with Britannia building society in 2009. And then in November, it announced that a group of private investors, made up mostly of hedge funds, would inject nearly £1bn into the bank in exchange for a 70% ownership stake.

Then of course there was all that business with chairman Paul Flowers and the meth and rent boys. To hopefully help matters, the bank is cutting staff and selling parts of its business to try and survive. But can it?