We are always interested in hearing about price hikes — we’re not called Pricewatch for nothing. Donal Dineen contacted us after watching with bemusement the price of milk climbing in the supermarkets. He notes that two litres of full-fat milk price hikes have really stood out for him in recent months.
“This was selling in the large supermarkets for a number of years at €1.89 and increased earlier this year to €2.19 which is an increase of 15.9 per cent. That increase was well above the inflation rate in Ireland, as you well know,” he says.
He says recently prices have climbed even further and have seen the same two-litre containers of milk selling for €2.49. “By any standards, these are outrageous price increases and given the importance of milk in the daily and weekly shopping baskets of practically all consumers, and its particular importance in the daily intake of food in families with children, much more should be done in the media to put a spotlight on these massive price increases for such an essential product,” he says.
“Further it will have a disproportionate impact on the living costs of those on lower incomes where essential foodstuffs form a higher proportion of their weekly shopping outlays. A similar point can be made for the vast majority of pensioners. I don’t know of any other food product that has experienced a higher percentage increase since the recent cost of living crisis commenced.”
Our reader is right on the money. While the general rate of inflation is just below 10 per cent — a figure that would have seemed terrifying even 12 months ago — the price spiral has not hit everything to the same extent.
Recent figures from the Central Statistics Office suggested that food prices have climbed by just over 10 per cent in the last 12 months. The picture is even bleaker for many staples. Milk is up by just under 24 per cent. To be fair to the dairy farmers of Ireland or the retailers who sell their products, they are not increasing their prices without cause. Energy is a huge driver of energy prices and that has gone through the roof over the last 12 months. Motor fuel hasn’t been far behind while feed and fertiliser have all climbed significantly since the start of the year.
Gareth Fahey got in touch to say that a 20kg bag of smokeless coal in a shop in Rathfarnham was €19 at the start of October but had climbed to €25 by the end of the month. “That’s going to hurt people on a fixed income,” he says.
He’s not wrong.
We also heard from Róisín Byrne: “It wouldn’t be in everyone’s shopping basket but Wellbaby multivitamin liquid 150ml has gone from €6.80 at the end of March to €10.00 at the end of April. Just checked today and it is now €11.00.”
And then there was Danny Rafferty with an old chestnut. He says he was recently in a shop that has a presence in Ireland and Britain — one he does not identify by name — and was struck by a particular price discrepancy. “I am used to noticing both sterling and euro price tags on the clothing there, but I have not been shopping much since before the pandemic and I was in somewhat of a rush at the time,” he says.
“I picked up a cardigan with a single price on it, thinking it was for €35. When I got to the counter the sales assistant charged me €50.00. On querying this, the assistant pointed out that the price was in Sterling, not Euro. There was no euro tag on the garment at all,” he says.
“I was irritated, but in a rush, so I just completed the purchase and left — after all the situation certainly was not the sales assistant’s fault. This morning I note the present exchange rate would mean the garment costs only €40.33 to a customer purchasing the same garment in, say Belfast. Whilst wondering if I am foolish to continue to shop on the high street rather than online, I am also wondering if ordinary consumers have any rights or protections in this sort of situation?”
Almost since the birth of this page close to 20 years ago readers have been irritated by pricing anomalies of this kind.
Pricewatch has been contacting stores on behalf of our readers about out-of-synch exchange rates for years in an effort to find out why euro shoppers are being routinely penalised and the answer from stores is almost always the same. The problem is attributed to higher overheads in the Republic, we are assured.
It was and still is difficult to challenge such claims because costs are undeniably higher South of the Border and many companies are less than upfront when it comes to how much profit they are making in this jurisdiction.
A shop should off course have the correct euro price tag on its products and if it was found to be deliberately pricing products in sterling and then charging a euro price at the till it could be breaching various rules. But it is more likely that the euro tag was either not put on the product as a result of human error or perhaps it fell off on the shop floor.
Next up we heard from a reader who asked us not to identify her on the basis that she felt “very stupid” for paying close to a tenner for a job that can’t have taken the person doing it longer than 30 seconds — a minute, tops. “I called into a shop to get a new battery in the fob for my car. I asked the shop assistant if he would fit it for me,” she said. She was told the company charges €8.40 to put in the battery. “I actually thought he was joking but no, I was charged €8.40. To say I was stunned is to put it mildly. Please don’t use my name if you publish this as I feel very stupid at paying such an amount for this service.”
Well we won’t publish her name but we don’t think she was very stupid for paying the money and we might well have done the same thing in her position. And then like her, we’d have kicked ourselves afterwards for doing so.
Aer Lingus fees
Companies charging what seems like wildly out-of-touch amounts for simple tasks were also on the mind of another reader, Brian Keane.
“We had to cancel a family trip for five to Madrid at short notice for family reasons so I called them to cancel and was aware we would only receive a refund of taxes, which would have been approx €150,” he says.
It wasn’t even close to that, as it happens.
“Aer Lingus applies their €12 per person per flight refund processing fee, resulting in a deduction of a €120 fee. I’m actually shocked that they did this given there is no loss of income to them and they are actually obliged by law to refund taxes withheld. This kind of behaviour will only encourage me to not call ahead to cancel next time and just leave their ground staff searching for five late passengers on the day of departure. By cancelling I am saving them time, hassle and fuel costs.”
He says he has “escalated a complaint about this with Aer Lingus. If they are not willing to waive it I’ve asked that they refund the full amount of taxes withheld and instead send me an invoice detailing their fees and a breakdown of costs and I will pay them that separately. If they refuse to do this, I have asked for 10 individual refunds of €2.88 and an invoice of fees charged to be posted to me also.
If they insist on charging these scandalous fees then I will insist on them earning each fee charged!”
While we admire his enthusiasm for making the airline pay for its mean-spirited approach to refunds, we think he might be overly optimistic For starters the idea that any airline would have ground staff earnestly searching for five passengers who were no-shows and delaying a flight in case they arrived is wishful thinking at its very best. The truth is that airlines don’t give a rashers whether or not we show up and will not have anyone looking for Brian or his family
The idea that the airline will reverse course and give him the money back is also pretty optimistic. And we don’t think they will agree to his terms and process all the refunds separately and then mail him invoices for each of the five transactions.
But we figured we could at least try to find out how Aer Lingus thinks it is appropriate to charge €120 in processing fees to refund the taxes and charges for five flights made as part of the same booking. Even if we assume the process involves a human — and let’s face it, it probably doesn’t — who spends 30 minutes on the refund, and let’s face it they probably won’t take that long, then for a processing fee of €120 to make sense, Aer Lingus is paying this fictitious staff member €240 an hour to process refunds. If they work eight hours a day, five days a week, the airline’s refund processing staff are on an annual salary of close to half a million euros. And if they are not, then the airline is just making money on the back of its would-be customers’ misfortunes.
We contacted Aer Lingus to find out what the story was. In response all the airline would say was: “Our refund administration fee of €12 per customer, per flight covers the cost of systems and resources associated with the processing of a refund. All booking service fees are available to customers and displayed on aerlingus.com.”
We got an alarming email from a reader last week about an unusual call she got from a charity she supports. She did not identify the charity in question.
“I have received a phone call from a charity asking me about donating on a monthly basis,” she said. ”The caller told me this can be set up by giving my Iban and Bic numbers over the phone. I am very reluctant to do this. What do you advise? Have you heard of this? When I asked for an application form to be sent to me by post I was told this was costly and the charity did not want to spend money this way. I previously donated to this charity by filling in a form and giving my credit card number.”
Now because she did not tell us the name of the charity we have no way of establishing the legitimacy or otherwise of the caller. But we would be very suspicious of any unsolicited call looking for any class of personal information. In fact, we would advise our reader — and anyone else who gets such a call — not to share any information with such a caller.
The reluctance on the part of the caller to send out any paperwork in the post is also a cause of concern for us. While it may be true to say it is not the most efficient way to collect a donation, a charity that is looking to encourage someone to sign up for a monthly direct debit should probably have systems in place to facilitate would-be donors even if it comes at a slight cost to the charity.
The only course of action our reader should follow is to hang up and then — if they so wish — contact the charity directly and work out the best way to make a donation. Anything else and they may be leaving themselves exposed to fraud. And even if the call was entirely legit the charity should have known better and realised that at a time when scams are on the rise people will not, and should not, trust anonymous callers with their financial details.
Cancelled by Sky
A reader, Ann, works for a national organisation that she says “provides free independent advocacy and support services to older people, adults who may be vulnerable and healthcare patients”.
She was visiting a client in hospital, in her capacity as an advocate. The client had been paying for Sky services at home despite being a hospital resident for nearly a year. I phoned Sky customer service, on her behalf, to cancel the subscription. For security reasons the Sky agent spoke to my client, who had her Sky account details with her, and was satisfied that she was the owner of the account.
“At the end of the call, the Sky agent appeared to have all the necessary information and agreed to cancel with immediate effect given my client’s circumstances.”
So far so good. Sadly, the story now takes a somewhat dramatic turn for the worse.
“Because I used my own phone to initiate the call to Sky, and even though I did not give the Sky agent any of my details and was asked no security questions relating to my own Sky account, they disconnected my Sky TV, my broadband and my landline,” says Ann.
“There followed two weeks of misery trying to get my landline and broadband reconnected during which Sky tried to blame everything on me until I referred them to their own recordings! I work from home and had to take leave because I had no internet access and no mobile signal as we depend on wifi calling. To add insult to injury they refuse to reinstate my Sky TV package, as it was, which included an F1 legacy channel that I have had for 10 years plus. (From 2023 this will cost me an extra €480/ [per] annum to receive this channel whereas before their error this was included in my package at no extra charge).
Ann says Sky had “not provided any compensation for my having to take leave or for the inconvenience caused and have not even reimbursed the €20 I had to pay for restoring my landline, with a different number! To make matters even worse my elderly client continues to pay for Sky services that she can’t use despite providing Sky with all the necessary security information etc to cancel her subscription. We have written to Sky and to date they have refused to reply in writing or to provide appropriate compensation save for offering a year’s free Sky sports which I am not remotely interested in as we only watch F1.”
We contacted Sky and received the following statement: “The account in question was closed in error. It was subsequently reinstated, with all appropriate credits applied. We have spoken to the customer and apologised for this frustrating experience. This particular case fell short of the high standard of service our customers expect.
“In relation to the account which the customer was originally calling to cancel, this account was cancelled on August 4th — two days after the cancellation request was received on August 2nd. There were no charges applied to this account following its cancellation.”