lightbulb 219x300 Latest EU lightbulb ban delayed by two yearsGood news for anyone still trying to read a newspaper indoors after dark, the latest phase of EU meddling with your light fittings has been delayed, with some halogen light bulbs getting a stay of execution for two years after the European Commission (EC) delayed the phasing-out of halogen bulbs until 2018.

The original ban,which doesn’t affect all halogen bulbs, mainly  those that look like the last lot of bulbs the EU banned, was supposed to come into force next year, but concerns have been raised about the availability, cost and quality of LED light bulbs, the most common alternative to the halogen bulb.

Note that the new 2018 ban on halogen bulbs doesn’t apply to all halogen bulbs, just to be totally confusing. It mainly covers pear-shaped bulbs that look how a lightbulb is supposed to look, but the ban doesn’t apply to the teeny spotlights or to halogen lamps used in desk lamps and flood lights. Look at this handy pictorial guide from Which!!!

lightbulbs Latest EU lightbulb ban delayed by two years

Of course, it’s not that the EU actively want you to sit in the gloom in your house, despite the previous banning of incandescent bulbs, no, halogens bulbs are considered highly inefficient compared with LED or CFL energy-saving lamps. To put it into perspective, halogen light bulbs tend to be classified as D or lower for energy efficiency and use about 10% less energy than the old, banned, lovely incandescent bulbs. LED light bulbs, on the other hand use up to 90% less energy. This is, of course, good for the environment and bound to be good for your pocket too. Thanks EU.

According to a 2014 survey by Which!!!, virtually half of Which!!! members still have halogen bulbs in their home and over 43% have halogen spotlights. Which!!! also calculated that replacing six 50W halogen or incandescent light bulbs with six equivalent LEDs could save up to £32 a year. Unfortunately, however, you might need a few years to realise your lightbulb investment as Which!!! also confessed that some LED bulbs cost up to £40 each…

car 300x225 Brown and beige cars making a seventies revivalThey say everything in fashion goes around in circles, and those of us who lived through Eighties’ fashion the first time are watching it again in stunned admiration. But it isn’t just clothes fashions of yesteryear that make a comeback, it seems. Car valuation firm CAP Automotive reckons that, platforms and bell bottoms aside, it is car colour fashion from the seventies that is hot right now.

Every month CAP tracks the tastes of motorists and the data helps advise dealers on the best choices for used car stock – from brands, models and body styles to engine type and colour. By analysing the results, CAP has identified a resurgence of interest in shades that have been (understandably) rarely seen in the mainstream car market for decades, with green, beige, gold, bronze, brown, yellow and even orange all rising in popularity on fashion-conscious car buyers’ agenda.

Of course, colour charts are normally dominated by the usual boring suspects that include silver, black, blue, and red, but five classic 1970s colours – green, beige, yellow, brown and gold – have made it into the top 10 choices for the first time since CAP began charting consumer tastes.

CAP suggests that the comeback of 1970s colours among consumers valuing their next car purchase may simply be a natural extension of motorists’ desire to ‘personalise’ their driving experience, and that it is in keeping with the current fancy for retro everything.

Philip Nothard, retail and consumer specialist at CAP, said: “Just as new cars are increasingly configurable to the driver’s personal preference, it makes sense that there is now a more diverse array of colours on the radar of today’s motorists.”

“You can’t underestimate the power of ‘retro chic’ either in the world of consumer taste – and what could be more retro than having an orange or a bronze car.” Indeed, or more trendy, groovy and right-on.

CAP also pointed out that car colour choice is traditionally down to the manufacturer, rather than the consumer, as manufacturers decide which colours to offer and to use on models, and that “people therefore tend to buy what they’re offered.”

And he describes the phenomenon most appropriately when saying that “evidence that a significant number of people are trying to find brown cars to buy would have seemed crazy just a few years ago, but we can confirm that they are.”

So can we look forward to seeing 50 shades of brown and beige on the roads this summer or is this a retro step too far. Would you buy a brown car with your own money?

cash 300x225 How long does it take you to make those all important decisions?It seems we’re a nation of ditherers. While we take less than two minutes to decide what we want from our friendly local barkeep, making bigger decisions on how to spend or save our money takes us a little longer, with bigger purchases like a new car taking over two weeks’ worth of thinking time.

The survey of 2,000 people commissioned by Skipton Building Society also found that people had missed out on a bargain, extra money or even a job because they took too long making a decision.

Stacey Stothard, from Skipton Building Society, which commissioned the research, said: “People who don’t over think those day-to-day smaller decisions, but consciously allocate themselves time and space to think through the important ones enjoy a balance that many overlook.

“While some seem happy to make snap decisions within seconds, most like to take their time and consider their options, especially on more important decisions.”

However, taking too long to consider their options means almost two thirds have ended up having to rush a decision. A sizeable 62% have taken so long to decide, they missed a bargain or cheap deal, a quarter have lost out on tickets to an event and 22% have missed out on extra money.

Ms Stothard added: “It might not matter if you take an age deciding what to have for lunch, but choosing how much money you want to put into savings each month or your pension contributions will directly affect your and your family’s financial future.”

So how do you size up against the surveyed decision making times below? At least you’re more likely to be wed to your energy supplier than your significant other though eh…

Decision times

What drink to order in a pub or bar - 1 minute 53 seconds

What to have for lunch - 3 minutes 13 seconds

What to have for dinner - 4 minutes 55 seconds

What outfit to wear that day - 5 minutes 37 seconds

Which bottle of wine to buy - 5 minutes 40 seconds

What film to watch at the cinema - 6 minutes 25 seconds

How much money to put into savings - 7 minutes 52 seconds

Where to go on a date - 8 minutes 58 seconds

Whether to buy a new item of clothing or outfit - 10 minutes 8 seconds

How to spend your spare income - 4 days 2 hours

Who to vote for in an election - 5 days 18 hours

Whether to increase your monthly pension contributions - 5 days 19 hours

Where to go on holiday - 7 days 13 hours

Whether to get married - 8 days 12 hours

Whether to have children - 8 days 12 hours

Whether to switch your gas/electric supplier - 8 days 13 hours

Whether to go on holiday - 9 days 10 hours

What to buy your spouse/partner for their birthday - 10 days 6 hours

What to buy your spouse/partner for Christmas - 10 days 11 hours

Which school to send your children to - 11 days 1 hour

Which car to buy - 15 days 5 hours

mobile phone 300x200 Which!!! are the top five ways to keep your mobile spam free?It’s the second four-day week in two weeks, so we’re expecting you all to be a great mood. However, one of the things most likely to ruin a glorious mood is constant and persistent hounding by spam peddlers who, it seems, never take a day off. And it’s not just nuisance calls that get our collective goat- Which!!! research suggests that almost half of people with a mobile phone receive at least one spam text a week, mostly wittering on about whiplash compensation or claiming for mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance (PPI). Yes, still. And they’re constantly finding new ways to annoy you- with reports that the latest en vogue topic of spam textiness being the plugging of dodgy pension liberation schemes.

So, our good friends at Which!!! asked their friends, and 60% of them said they would report nuisance calls and texts, if only they knew how. So here we have the top five tips for getting rid of spam texts and leaving your inbox free for messages from pizza delivery companies and your mobile provider…

1. Use 7726

A massive 90% of the people Which!!! asked didn’t know that you can use 7726 to report spam texts directly to your mobile phone provider. 7726 is a universal number used by all providers (except Vodafone who use 87726) and, if you’re into that kind of thing, spell SPAM on your phone’s alpha-numeric keypad.

All you need to do is either forward it or copy and paste the message (if you are over 35 you might need to get a young person’s help to do this) and send it to 7726. You should get an automated response thanking you and giving you further instructions.

2. Never EVER reply to the text message…

If you reply, the scurrilous spammers will know that your number is live, rather than just being a randomly generated number on a list, so they will take this as an invitation to send you more and more unwanted text messages. Just delete the text, and if it comes from an identifiable number, block the sender to prevent further fishing contact.

3. … unless you know who the text is from

While many spammers use ‘unknown’ numbers, you can sometimes get marketing texts from companies who might legitimately have your mobile number, such as pizza delivery companies or taxi firms.  While you are supposed to have explicitly opted in to text marketing, these text from proper companies will have instructions on how to remove yourself from the list, often by replying STOP. Do this and they should not contact you again.

4. Tell them to go away

It sounds too simple, but under the Data Protection Act you have a right to ask companies to stop unwanted direct marketing – whether it is by phone, post or email. Of course, this again assumes this is an identifiable company contacting you who is registered as a Data Holder.

You can contact the company directly and make a formal request to have your details removed from their system and no longer user those details for direct marketing purposes. If they refuse, or you discover that they subsequently have not removed your details you can…

5. …report them to the ICO

If you continue to receive spam texts or calls from a company after asking to be removed from its database, you can report it to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for breaches of the Data Protection Act.

beer 300x225 Cuts to alcohol duty are shameful and a total disgraceMost people will have been at least mildly pleased with last week’s Budget, with a number of small giveaways that will generally have a positive effect on the pocket. One group of announcements that most will have filed under positive news were those relating to sin taxes on beer, cider and spirits, which have been cut by 1p and 2% respectively. But apparently we’re all wrong, with the duty cuts being described as “shameful” and “a total disgrace”.

The Alcohol Health Alliance, which is comprised of medical bodies, charities and alcohol health campaigners, has come out in strict disapproval of the cuts, and the freeze on wine duty,  with Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance, claiming the cuts were evidence that the chancellor had prioritised the interested of big business over public health.

“This decision is a slap in the face to our doctors, nurses and emergency services on the front line that are paying the price for this cut”, he said. “With over one million alcohol-related hospital attendances every year, our NHS simply cannot afford for alcohol to get cheaper.

“The government’s own figures show that alcohol-related harm costs the UK £21 billion every single year. With less than half of this recouped through current levels of taxation, to suggest lowering taxes even further is thoroughly shameful. These cuts also mean that cheap, strong alcohol that gets into the hands of our children will be even more affordable now,” he finished, not mincing his words.

Katherine Brown, director of the Institute of Alcohol Studies agreed, calling the decision to cut tax on cider and spirits at a time when the NHS is at “breaking point”  a “total disgrace”.

So why did the Chancellor do it? Is he hoping to woo beer drinkers in advance of May’s election? Possibly. However, the subject of alcohol duties has been a subject of sustained campaigning by the trade, specifically the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) who welcomed the cuts to the “extremely high” rates of duty paid by UK drinkers. But as part of the Drop the Duty! Campaign, the arguments for a cut in alcohol duties are that cheaper prices will stimulate this area of the economy, and lead to greater prosperity and more jobs.

Independent analysis commissioned by the WSTA and carried out by Ernst Young showed that a 2% cut in duty would boost public finances by £1.5 billion. David Frost, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said the cuts send an “important signal on fair taxation” to the Scotch industry’s export markets; the SWA previously blamed the 5% decline of the UK market for Scotch whisky in 2014 on the country’s “excessive” levels of tax on spirits.

So what do you think? Will a penny saved in duty result in more alcohol-related NHS spending, or will it just mean our pockets are ever so slightly fuller after a night out?

We’ve pondered upon this before, but now, possibly in a case of jumping before you are pushed, drinks manufacturer Diageo has said it will voluntarily put nutritional information, including calorie counts on all its labels. The Diageo stable includes drinks like Guinness, Bailey’s, Blossom Hill and Smirnoff.

guinness 200x300 Guinness and other alcoholic tipples to get calorie labelsCurrently alcoholic drinks are still exempt from nutritional labelling, but Diageo wants to “help the health conscious and tackle binge drinking” by going the extra mile and providing details of fat, protein, carbs and calories alongside alcohol content on its drinks labels “as soon as is practical”. The sticking point at the moment is that Diageo are trying to agree with EU regulators on the standards serving size- not only is per 100ml probably misleading, as drinks are not normally drunk in those quantities, given EU metric measures, will Diageo be permitted to have a standard serving size of the metrically-untidy 568ml?

Chief Exec of Diageo, Ivan Menezes said “Currently there is no obligation to provide alcohol content and nutrition information per typical serve,” but said that the company has decided it wants to “provide alcohol and nutritional information that consumers can quickly understand, instead of expecting them to do the maths.”

While Diageo are not trying to make drinking look healthier, you may remember the old “Guinness is good for you” advertising slogans that were banned in the eighties. Nevertheless a US study in 2005 suggested drinking Guinness has similar effects to taking aspirin, helping prevent blood clots and heart attacks. The health benefits of wine are similarly debated with some studies claiming consumption of a small glass of wine a day helps prevent heart failure, while  others claim drinking a large glass of wine per day increases the risk of a stroke.

Either way, you can now work out what the best tipple for your low-carb day is going to be, and calculate just how much twerking you need to do to work off those 3 glasses of wine…



Bitterwallet bacon sandwich 300x300 Which is the best bacon? Important consumer testing from Which!!!Bacon is an important human right*, and getting the right quality bacon, at the right price, is a cause of great consternation to many Bitterwallet readers throughout the country. However, consumer champion Which!!! has now swooped in to the rescue, having recruited some ‘bacon testers’ to sample bacon sold by the country’s supermarkets in order to inform you which bacon is worth it’s weight in, well, bacon. And the top bacon was so good, they’ve even awarded it a prestigious Which!!!  Best Buy award.

Which!!! asked a panel of ‘experts’ to assess bacon from ten different supermarkets- we want to know how you get to have  job that classifies you as a bacon expert and whether its genuinely means you have to eat bacon all day. Interestingly, and somewhat pointlessly, Which!!! asked the experts to assess the raw bacon as well as the cooked deliciousness. Quite why the appearance of the raw bacon is at all relevant to how it tastes while hot and crispy is beyond us, but that was, nevertheless, one of the criteria. The cooked rashers were then judged on aroma, taste and texture.

All the bacon tested was the premium, dry-cured back versions, unsmoked to avoid tainting the samples. The tests were also blind- with the experts having no idea which supermarket’s rashers they were sampling at any point.

Which!!! often claim that the cost of a product does not necessarily dictate the quality, and it seems this is also the case for salty pork products, as the  most expensive rashers (£3.49 for six rashers (200g) from Waitrose) came in bottom of the table of bacon tested. One judge described the bacon as ‘very average’, with rashers were so thin that they ‘would avoid it in a shop’.

In contrast, the Best Buy bacon was the joint cheapest available, and was lauded for its beautiful aroma and superb taste from ‘successfully balancing the salt level with the sweet dry cure’. The rashers were also thicker than most on test, making it “a real treat and our standout winner.” So where does one find this Holy Grail of bacon? You already know the answer don’t you. It’s from Aldi.

The full table of results is shown below, and just goes to prove that you can get paid actual  money for eating bacon for a living.

Bacon table Which is the best bacon? Important consumer testing from Which!!!

*OK human right is perhaps a bit strong, but there’s something wrong with anyone who doesn’t like bacon amiright? Unless they’re a vegetarian or something.

car crash Changing the date your car insurance starts could save you 50%There are any number of tips and tricks to reducing your car insurance, including selecting the most insurer-friendly job title, and including more experienced drivers on  your policy. However, one variable you’ve probably never considered when getting an insurance quotation is thestart date of the policy- and according to Which!!!, that alone can save you up to 49%…

While we don’t know why they did it, Which!!! Money pretended to be a Ford Focus driver living in South London and contacted 15 major car insurance providers, changing only the start date of the policy in getting comparable quotes. The difference in price they report is astonishing.

The baseline initial quotation Which!!! requested was for insurance cover active from the 30 January, which was the day of the quotation. After getting the details, Which!!! then went back and changed the ‘start date’ to see what effect, if any, this had on the annual price.

Now, in the majority of cases, the difference of a day made little or no difference to the premium- after all, an annual policy is going to cover all 365 days, so even if certain days are more accident-prone than others, they’ll have to cover you sooner or later. However, Which!!!’s investigations did find several insurers where the one little day made a huge difference. Moving the date forward a day to 31 January knocked £121 off Nationwide’s premium, £115 off LV’s and £95 off Direct Line’s.

The biggest shocker came from Tesco Bank, where a one-day deferral of cover cut the renewal price down from £1,577 by a massive £780- that’s 49%.  And postponing the start date to 1 February took the quote down another £99, giving a total reduction of £879 over the two days.

But why does a day make such a difference? Even the smallest quoted saving of £95 is worth having if you can get it. There are, apparently, two schools of thought on the matter. On one hand, some insurers reckon that that those who buy cover in advance statistically pose less risk, resulting in cheaper premiums. A Tesco Bank spokesperson said: “Some of our underwriters have identified that the period of time between the quote date and start date of the policy can be a risk factor, and so this can affect the premium that is offered.” While we can see the logic in assuming the kind of person who sorts out their car insurance three weeks before renewal is, perhaps, less likely to drive with reckless abandon for the speed limit, or without regularly checking their dipstick, does doing it the day before (as Which!!!’s experiment would have had it) really count as doing it in advance? Isn’t it more likely that those trying to sort car insurance on the day of cover are being penalised for leaving it until the absolute last minute?

However, perhaps it isn’t that at all. LV said that it sometimes offers discounts to customers who insure in advance, but that it regularly changes rates in response to market conditions and “policies that start on different dates may have different prices, according to when a rate change takes effect.”

In either case though, if you don’t use your car every day, and you keep it off a public highway (on a driveway or in a garage, for example), next time you renew it might make sense to check and see whether delaying by a day or two might make a welcome difference to your pocket, particularly if renewing with one of the firms cited above.

No nectar cards for Fannys

February 24th, 2015 3 Comments By Thewlis

It must be difficult enough to have to go around in life being called Fanny, without having to cry over all the Nectar points you aren’t collecting because Sainsburys won’t give you a card. It’s like kicking a girl when she’s down.

That is exactly what happened to 19 year old Fanny Carlsson, whose name was deemed such a joke that it wasn’t even rejected on quality control- the computer would not accept her first name was, in fact, her first name. Even though it is.

fanny No nectar cards for FannysFanny, originally from Sweden, helpfully screenshotted her attempt to use her ‘invalid’ first name, but may have had to explain to her fellow countrymen (and women) what Fanny means, both in the UK (front bottom of a lady) and in the US (bottom bottom), and why, to save schoolboy sniggers, she often uses her middle name whilst here in the UK.

Ms Carlsson did eventually have to resort to her middle name in order to be able to rack up her points, but Sainsbury’s and Nectar have had their boob pointed out to them. Nectar said, in a statement: “Like many companies we block a number of words on the Nectar website. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to this particular customer and are reviewing this going forward.”

Next week, find out what happened when Randy,  Dick and Willy applied for a Clubcard…

Most complained about adverts 2014

February 20th, 2015 4 Comments By Thewlis

The votes are in, the count has been checked and verified and today, the ASA has published the list of 2014′s top ten most complained about adverts. However, what marks 2014 apart as a groundbreaking year for advertising shock value is the news that the top three in this list are also the top three adverts based on number of complaints of all time. Well done advertisers.

So, without further pause for dramatic effect, the winners are:

pistoriusad 150x150 Most complained about adverts 2014#1 Paddy Power and THAT Oscar Pistorious ad.

Hardly likely to be a surprise, Paddy Power’s Oscar Pistorious ad was generally found to be in poor taste, drawing a record 5525 complaints to the ASA, which is more than three times the complaints levied against #2. While the ad, which offered a ‘money back if he walks’ guarantee for bets placed on the verdict of Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, was a clever pun , the ASA found that it caused serious offence by trivialising the issues surrounding a murder trial, the death of a woman and disability, and pulled the ad immediately.  Paddy Power were also berated for bringing “advertising into disrepute.”

#2 telling us all to ‘book off’

1,768 people complained about this ad (although more complaints are still coming in in 2015) which jovially replaced the word ‘booking’ for a profanity in a TV and cinema ad. While many claimed the ad was offensive and encouraged bad language amongst children, the ASA did not uphold the complaints, judging that it was a light hearted play on words that couldn’t be mistaken for an actual swear word.

In a characteristic show of common sense, the ASA also ruled that it was unlikely to encourage swearing amongst children as any children that did pick up on the joke were unlikely to have learned bad language through the ad itself.

#3 The Sun’s prize of a bra-less lady

Just pipped into third spot at 1,711 complaints was the Sun’s genius idea to offer a date with a page 3 model as a prize in a fantasy football competition.

Despite the likely numerous Sun readers rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of such a prize, the ASA decided that offering a date with a woman as a reward for success in the game was demeaning to women and objectified those offered as prizes. They took especial note of the wording “we might even let you pick which one, so feel free to start your research now …”, considering it “further enhanced the impression that the women were simply objects to be selected at the whim and enjoyment of the winner, and had no choice in the matter themselves.”

The ad was banned on the grounds that it was “sexist, offensive and socially irresponsible” and objectified women.

ZXZZZZX 150x150 Most complained about adverts 2014#4 Sainsbury’s Christmas advert

You’re surprised at this one aren’t you, with many people suggesting that Sainsbury’s actually managed to out-John Lewis in the schmaltzy Christmas advert stakes in 2014. However 823 complaints were lodged against this advert, mostly objecting to the use of an event from the First World War to advertise a supermarket.  While acknowledging that some found the ad to be in poor taste, the ASA did not judge the ad to be offensive and in breach of the Code.

#5 Save the Children

This charity appeal advert showing a women giving birth to a baby with the help of a midwife spawned 614 complaints that the scenes were offensive, distressing and inappropriately scheduled. One wonders how such people thought they arrived into the world. However, the ASA showed them short shrift and did not uphold the complaints, saying the ad’s post 9 pm scheduling restriction appropriately reduced the risk of younger viewers seeing the ads and causing distress. Because adults should be able to cope with the facts of actual life.

#6 Waitrose Ltd

267 people had an issue with a TV ad that claimed  ‘Everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose’ as some things, like cleaning, were outsourced, meaning the cleaners did not, in fact, own Waitrose. This one never went as far as getting a ruling though, Waitrose amended the ad once concerns were raised.

cigarettes 150x150 Most complained about adverts 2014#7  VIP Electronic Cigarettes

The ASA received 199 complaints that two VIP e-cigarette TV ads glamourised and promoted the use of tobacco products.  The ASA did not uphold the complaints about glamourisation, but did consider the ads depicted the products being exhaled in a way that created a strong association with traditional tobacco smoking.

#8 www.

The 188 complaints against this site formed part of a sector-wide investigation into copycat websites. The work included commissioning consumer research and taking action across the sector to remove misleading claims, imagery and emblems.  It also involved supporting the Government awareness campaign #StartAtGOVUK, which warns those looking for official services to start at GOV.UK to avoid misleading websites.

#9 Flora Buttery

This animated TV and YouTube ad for Flora Buttery showed two children making breakfast in bed for their parents and walking in on their parents ‘wrestling’.  The ASA received 183 complaints that the ad was offensive and unsuitable for children to see.  While the ASA acknowledged that while the ad was suggestive, it did not contain any sexually graphic or distressing scenes, and so was unlikely to cause undue fear or distress to young viewers.


Another part of the ‘copycat website’ investigation, this site drew 177 complaints.

The ASA also said that the rise of social media, which has allowed members of the public to voice and co-ordinate their concerns about ads is the reason for the rise in complaints, leading to the top three most complained about ads ever all falling in 2014. Many of the complaints about the Paddy Power ad and the third most-complained about ad (The Sun’s ‘Win a Date with a Page 3 Model’) were coordinated via the online petition site, And while most of the ads that prompt high numbers of complaints do so on the grounds of Mary Whitehouse style offence, most of the hundreds of millions of ads that appear each year don’t raise concern.  Where they do, it’s mostly in relation to misleading claims, which make up around 75% of all cases received by the ASA.

Guy Parker, ASA Chief Executive, said: “2014 was the year social media came into its own in making it easier than ever to lodge complaints en masse. While some ads will inevitably split opinion, as the diverse nature of complaints we received shows, last year underlined the importance of our work in cracking down on misleading ads, including copycat websites, that are simply unfair to consumers.”

Is a guaranteed IVF scheme worth the money?

February 16th, 2015 No Comments By Thewlis

g 080522 hlt crying baby 11a.widec main Full 267x300 Is a guaranteed IVF scheme worth the money?Nothing in life is guaranteed, except its eventual end of course, but we are always a fan of a consumer guarantee, that gives you peace of mind that you are getting value for money. Now, however, an IVF company is offering a guarantee on life itself- if you don’t get pregnant, you get your money back.

Of course, this guarantee isn’t guaranteed, in that they can’t actually promise you will get pregnant, but for the thousands of couples who undertake IVF every year, isn’t the promise of some cash back if you fail some small comfort to spending thousands of pounds and still having nothing to show for it?

The money-back plan works by charging patients a fixed upfront fee for three fresh embryo and unlimited frozen embryo IVF cycles, which they have to pay for in full only if they result in the birth of a live baby. In practice, without a confirmed pregnancy, you pay around 30% of the full cost, meaning you essentially get a 70% refund if the IVF does not work. The catch (because there’s always one) is that 30% of the fixed cost works out at almost double the cost of a single cycle, meaning if you catch first time, you will have paid through the nose.

For example, if you “pay as you go”, a single cycle of IVF might cost around  £5,500, compared with £10,800 upfront through the  guaranteed Access Fertility plan. This means that, if you only needed one cycle of IVF, you would be £5,300 worse off under the guarantee.  However, if you try two cycles of IVF and decide not to carry on, you could get a refund of £7,560 under the guarantee, meaning you spent £3,240 on two attempts, compared with paying £11,000 for two single PAYG attempts.

The guaranteed IVF scheme is open only to women under the age of 38 when they start IVF and who after screening qualify medically.

But why are over 50,000 women a year paying for IVF when they can get it on the NHS? Well, NICE guideline say that the NHS should fund three full IVF cycles to women under 40 who have been trying for at least two years, and one cycle for some women aged 40 to 42. However, over 80% of NHS areas do not adhere to these recommendations, often adding stricter criteria and banning those who already have children, even if that’s step children, and if you live in mid-Essex, for example, you are not entitled to any cycles on the NHS.

So is this guarantee a good idea, or is it just preying on desperate couples? Ash Carroll-Miller of Access Fertility who offer the scheme, thinks not. Funnily enough. “We explain everything at the outset and every client has given us near enough the same response: ‘We won’t care at that point [that we could have paid less] because we’ll have a baby.’ ” Given the success rate of IVF in women aged under 38 is around 30%*, it looks like a reasonable gamble against paying over the odds.

* figures from NHS

fat kids 300x225 New scheme fines parents for having obese childrenFat people. They’re everywhere if statistics are to be believed, with 64% of the UK’s population now classified as overweight or obese (with a BMI over 25 or 30, respectively). Now, controversial new plans unveiled in Puerto Rico could see our growing weight problem nipped in the bud-by fining parents who produce obese children.

While this might sound like a policy from 1984, Puerto Rican politicians are about to consider proposals that would see parents fined if children are classified as obese, and their condition does not improve under a state-directed regime of diet and exercise.

In 2013, 27.9% of adults in Puerto Rico were described as obese, which would be considered medium to high comparing rates across the US. However, the figure for children under the age of four – 17.9% – is the highest of all US states and territories. So in Puerto Rico, flabby children is a big problem.

Under Senator Gilberto Rodriguez Valle’s plans, teachers will be told to ‘identify’ students they think are obese who would be referred to a counsellor or, in severe examples, to a social worker. Health department officials would then meet with parents and decide whether the obesity comes from overeating or a medical condition. Such as eating too much.

If food is the problem, it would be up to parents to set a diet and exercise programme, with monthly visits by officials to make sure it’s being kept up. Every six months, the child’s fatness levels will be reassessed and if there is no improvement within a year, parents would face fines of up to $800 (£525).

Big boned opponents claim that this is just an extension of media hype over super skinniness, and that teachers acting as ‘body police’ will further stigmatise the overweight. They also argue that this is a purely “stick” approach, rather than one that offers a “carrot”. Although an alternative view might be that more carrots and fewer doughnuts might have solved the problem earlier.

So what do you think? Is it a parent’s responsibility to keep a child within state-dictated criteria for what is, or is not an acceptable weight, or is the child’s welfare up to parents? Does the state have jurisdiction to interfere in your family’s diet, or are they simply stepping in where parents are doing a poor job? Answers on a postcard (or in the comments below…)

Bitterwallet Missing Unicorn 300x225 ASA investigate complaints that childrens shoes do not come with free genuine diamond braceletIf you aren’t a seven year old girl, or you don’t watch Saturday morning kids television, you might be forgiven for not having heard of Lelli Kelly shoes. For the uninitiated, if you imagine someone has ground up a unicorn in a blender, swallowed it, and then vomited the contents up onto a pair of trainers, you might get close to imagining what Lelli Kelly shoes look like. However, matters of taste aside, Lelli Kelly have recently been investigated by the ASA over an ad that was accused of being misleading.

In addition to rainbow diarrhoea shoes, Lelli Kelly also do a line in school shoes and boots, which are mostly patent leather but which can be jazzed up by the addition of straps and buckles and of sparkly jewels to the outside of the footwear. After all, a girl can never have too many jewels.  Nevertheless, a lack of blanket glitter coverage was not the reason for the complaint to the ASA. A recent advertising campaign by Lelli Kelly was even offering miniature fashionistas the opportunity to get a free gift of a diamond bracelet that matched the diamonds on the boots. Amazing.  Unfortunately, a number of viewers complained to the ASA as it transpired that the diamond bracelet on offer was not actually made of diamonds, but was cheaper plastic sparkly stuff, just like  on the shoes. Which were not studded with real diamonds either, it turns out. There were also complaints that the advert “took advantage” of the “credulity” of children.

Now, whatever your opinion on Lelli Kelly shoes themselves, or their inhumane treatment of unicorns, you are probably feeling a modicum of sympathy for them for being rapped by the ASA for offering fake diamond bracelets, when anyone with  half a brain would have known the bracelets were not made of real diamonds. However, your sympathies would be misplaced, as the ASA also believe that only a muppet would have thought you could get a ‘real’diamond bracelet freewith a pair of children’s shoes.

Of course, they didn’t put it quite like that. The ASA decision took into account the selling price of the shoes (between £49.90 and £74.90. Yes. For children’s shoes) and “considered that adults, who would make a decision on whether to purchase the product, would understand from those visuals, the reference to the studs and the fact they came free with a pair of children’s boots, that the bracelet did not include real diamonds.”

Hurrah for the ASA. However, there is a serious point, which is that the ASA has to investigate all complaints even if only made by one person (the Lelli Kelly complaint had six idiots)- regardless of whether said complainant is several sandwiches short of a picnic or not…

mortar 225x300 Universities are in breach of consumer law regarding course changesCaveat 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 valuereport, 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 uni1 Universities are in breach of consumer law regarding course changes

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.

Poor old Ryanair. The airline has a bad rep in Spain, owing largely to the tireless work of consumer group Facua, who never shy away from an opportunity to criticise Ryanair’s treatment of passengers.

Now, Ryanair has lost a second appeal against a libel decision that saw the budget airline described as “the lowest of the low” which “swindled and mocked its passengers”.

ryanair1 Ryanair is legitimately described as the “lowest of the low”

Ryanair had taken issue with, basically everything Facua said about the company, including comments aired on radio shows in which spokesmen for Facua criticised the treatment received by the airline’s customers, and sued the group for libel back in 2012.

However, in the original decision, the Andalusian court said that Facua had, in fact, demonstrated “abusive practices” by Ryanair, including additional charges for services such as printing a boarding card (which were later outlawed), and gave the example of one occasion when passengers at Seville airport were “held on a plane without air conditioning for a long period of time”. Bet that smelled nice.

The decision was given on the grounds that the consumer association had a “right to defend consumers” by highlighting complaints which the company could not disprove. Which was most likely because they were true. We are all now looking forward to Which!!! getting way shirtier in future.

In this latest appeal, Ryanair were left looking stupid again after a panel of Supreme Court  judges ruled that the association had made reasonable use of its “right to freedom of expression in defending consumers” and was therefore justified in discussing the airline’s shortcomings in, seemingly, any way it saw fit. For example, Facua once described Ryanair as the “worst company of the year” and accused the airline of “inflating prices” in a “fraudulent” manner. However, the Spanish court decided such “offensive comments” were justified as the company’s “commercial practices have generated a notorious degree of dissent” among consumers. Ryanair was also ordered to pay costs. Bet you wish you’d played nice now huh?

But it’s not like Ryanair shouldn’t have seen this verdict coming. A separate lawsuit against Facua also found in favour of the consumer group in 2013 after the association had criticised Ryanair over a series of “emergency landing” incidents at Spanish airports- they claimed that on several occasions in 2012 pilots were forced to request priority landings, owing to fuel shortages. Ryanair sued Facua for saying they had a policy of  “saving money in areas related to safety [which] put the lives of its passengers at stake”. A claim Ryanair refuted. Obvs.