Ulitity Regulator - Find out how to switch

The Consumer Council achieves Customer Service Excellence Standard

in Consumer Skills, Business

Paul Hindley, Noleen Charnley, and John French

The Consumer Council has achieved the industry-renowned Customer Service Excellence Standard. 

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “We are delighted to be awarded the Customer Service Excellence Standard. As we constantly encourage companies and organisations to provide high quality customer service, achieving this standard provides an independent validation that we are practising what we preach. Over the last year, we have undertaken 4,000 enquiries and complaints on behalf of consumers in Northern Ireland, and returned £279,000 back in redress.” 

Paul Hindley, Assessor for Customer Service Excellence, said: “The Consumer Council for Northern Ireland has undergone a rigorous assessment in attaining the Customer Service Excellence Standard.  The assessment included an in-depth examination of The Consumer Council's policies and practices, as well as discussions with its customers and staff. The overall impression was of an excellent organisation that has used the Standard to introduce new policies such as those relating to Benchmarking and Complaints. Customer comments were extremely positive especially regarding the assistance given to those who were disadvantaged. Several customers stated to the assessor that they felt that a weight had been lifted off their shoulders following the friendly and very professional assistance received from the staff.” 

To find out more about your consumer rights, or if you have a consumer complaint, contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or email contact@consumercouncil.org.uk. 

Opinion Piece: Richard Williams, Head of Energy at The Consumer Council

in Energy

Energy “Price Cap” already exists in Northern Ireland

Last week, Ofgem, the energy regulator in Great Britain (GB), and the UK Government unveiled plans to introduce a “price cap” on energy bills in order to protect consumers from excessive prices.  Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Theresa May, has described the GB energy market as “broken”.

 

Fortunately, the Northern Ireland (NI) energy market is very different to that of GB, as we have tariffs that are regulated by The Utility Regulator. This price protection, or “price cap” exists on both domestic electricity and natural gas.

 

Across NI, Power NI operates a regulated electricity tariff, and in gas, SSE Airtricity offers a regulated tariff in Belfast, Larne, East Down and Strabane, whilst Firmus offers a regulated gas tariff in the network from Londonderry, to Antrim, and down to Warrenpoint.

 

These regulated tariffs are actively scrutinised by The Utility Regulator to ensure that they reflect the true underlying cost of supplying the energy, plus what they deem as a “fair” profit margin of around 2%. This regulatory scrutiny ensures that Northern Ireland already has the price protection for vulnerable consumers who are unwilling or unable to switch, that the UK Government and Ofgem are now looking to introduce for GB.

 

The only safeguard price cap that GB currently has is for pre-payment meter customers and they are paying around 12% more than pre-payment meter customers in NI on the Power NI regulated electricity tariff.

 

In addition, consumers in NI also can benefit from competition. For example, in electricity, Power NI’s tariff acts as a “price to beat” for the other four suppliers (Budget Energy, Click Energy, Electric Ireland, and SSE Airtricity) to compete against. This choice currently enables NI domestic customers, who were on the most common tariff and have switched, to save £111 each year[1].

 

In 2015, The Utility Regulator undertook a review of the NI energy market. One of the options it considered was to remove price regulation in Northern Ireland. We should learn from the mistakes of the GB energy market, and maintain the regulated tariff protections in Northern Ireland. To build on the Prime Minister’s broken comment, in Northern Ireland in terms of the domestic energy market, The Consumer Council’s message is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

 

 

The Consumer Council welcomes Belfast Rapid Transit

in Transport

The Consumer Council welcomes the announcement of the new Belfast Rapid Transit service. 

The new transport will provide a cross-city service allowing consumers to avail of fast, reliable travel around Belfast with a significant reduction in journey times and fares set at the same level as Metro services.  

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “We know from our research that public transport users in Northern Ireland want punctuality, reliability, value for money, good customer service and comfort, all of which Belfast Rapid Transit promise to deliver. The provision of these services has the potential to change the way in which consumers access and travel around Belfast. We look forward to the introduction of services in 2018.” 

The Belfast Rapid Transit launches September 2018. For more information visit http://www.translink.co.uk/belfast-rapid-transit/

Taxi Services in Northern Ireland Report

Storm Ophelia: Useful Information

in Energy, Transport, Water

We have a range of useful guides and fact sheets that may be of use during bad weather. Please also see below for other useful contact numbers.

Useful Resources 

'During A Powercut' leaflet

Flooding Advice Guide

'Flight Disruption Caused By Severe Weater' fact sheet

'Plain Sailing' fact sheet

 

Useful Contacts

NIE Networks - T: 03457 643 643 W: www.nienetworks.co.uk

Flooding Incident Line - T: ​0300 2000 100

NI Gas Emergency Services - T: 0800 002 001

NI Water Waterline - T: 03457 440088

Translink Contact Centre - T: 028 9066 6630

 

Energy Top Up Arrangements for Pay As You Go Customers

Electricity and gas suppliers have closed their offices for the day (Monday 16 October) due to Storm Ophelia.

Pay as You Go top ups can be made by:

  • Power NI - online or auto telephone system on 03457 455 455 or at usual outlets
  • Budget energy - online or auto telephone system on 0800 015 2678 or at usual outlets
  • Click Energy - online auto telephone system on 0800 107 0733 or at usual outlets
  • SSE Airtricity (for electricity) - online or top up at Payzone and Paypoint outlets
  • SSE Airtricity (for gas) - Payzone and Paypoint outlets
  • Electric Ireland - top up on line or at usual outlets
  • Firmus energy for gas top up at Payzone and Paypoint outlets

Consumers who are trying to top up their keypad meters but are having trouble contacting their electricity suppliers will be on friendly credit after 5pm this evening. If you are having trouble obtaining a top up, please contact your electricity supplier on Tuesday morning; they should be open from around 8am.
 

Response to the Department for Transport Call for Evidence on the The Future of UK Aviation

12th October 2017

Student Guide

The Consumer Council Press Statement Update on Ryanair’s Flight Cancellations

in Transport

As a result of the Civil Aviation Authority enforcement action that The Consumer Council called for, Ryanair should now have contacted, via email, all of the passengers affected by recent flight cancellations. 

Passengers should now have all the information they need to be able to rearrange their travel plans or seek reimbursement for any costs incurred when rearranging flights, or out of pocket expenses. 

The Consumer Council’s advice to passengers is to submit claims to Ryanair via the information provided in Ryanair’s email. Any passenger who has; not received information; is unsure of their rights; or is unhappy with the response from Ryanair, should contact The Consumer Council who is the statutory complaints body for airline complaints in Northern Ireland via Freephone 0800 121 6022 or email contact@consumercouncil.org.uk. 

70% of Northern Ireland households not ‘switched on’ to switching

in Energy

The Consumer Council is encouraging Northern Ireland households to shop around and save up to £145 a year on their electricity bill.

Speaking about switching energy supplier, Richard Williams, Head of Energy at The Consumer Council, said: “Over the last two years we have seen an increasing number of households making the switch. A recent Consumer Council survey shows that 70% have not done so in the last three years.

“Heading in to the winter months and following recent tariff increases from Power NI and SSE Airtricity announcements, which came in to effect on the 1 October, now is a good time to check if you are on the best deal. We would especially like to see younger and older consumers shop around as our survey shows they are the least likely to switch.

“It is very easy to see if you are getting the best deal, all you have to do is log onto The Consumer Council website and use our independent energy price comparison tool – www.consumercouncil.org.uk/energy/energy-price-comparison/. Simply follow the 5 step process by inputting your energy supplier, your payment method, the name of your tariff and your average bill amount, and then you will receive a list of current deals available. Even switching payment method or how you receive your bills could save you money.”

The Consumer Council has a range of resources and guides to help consumers switch energy supplier, which are available to download from www.consumercouncil.org.uk, or by calling freephone 0800 121 6022. 

5 October 2017

Save on your energy bill

Small Business Electricity Survey

Need home heating oil?

Flying this autumn?

Cross Border Shopping Survey

Cross Border Shopping Survey

in Business, Consumer Skills

Have you ever bought from a trader based in another country? How did that go?

We really want to hear about your cross-border shopping experiences in a survey we are jointly running with the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland.

The results of the survey will give us an insight into consumers’ shopping habits, and help us develop information and support materials to address any problems encountered.

This survey is quick to complete, and you will automatically be entered into a prize draw to win a gift hamper. The survey will end on Friday 27th October 2017, with one winner selected and contacted soon after.

Please follow the link below to complete the survey and enter the prize draw:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2WLMWMP

Economy 7 Price Comparison Table Oct 2017

Eóin McShane

Thomas McCaffery

Consumer Council response to the Utility Regulator’s Care Register Review consultation

Consumer Council Business Electricity Survey

in Business, Energy

Part of The Consumer Council’s role is to represent the interest of businesses and not for profit organisations on energy matters. We do this by providing information to help businesses cut costs, improve knowledge of their rights and investigate complaints on their behalf. 

The Consumer Council is launching an online survey to find out what the key electricity issues and concerns are for small businesses and not for profit organisations here. We want to gain an insight into their experiences dealing with electricity suppliers, switching and more.

We will use the findings from the survey to ensure we provide the information small businesses need to get the best deal from the electricity market. The survey is for small businesses and not for profit organisations only and not for household customers.

To complete the survey please click on the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/CCElectricitySurvey

The survey will close on Tuesday 31 October 2017. 

For more information on energy download a copy of The Consumer Council’s ‘Switch On – Electricity and Gas’ guide or call 0800 121 6022 for a free copy. 

Monarch Airlines Administration Factsheet

Electricity Pay As You Go - 14.85p

1 Year Home Electricity 6%

1 Year Home Electricity 10%

1 Year Home Electricity 16%

1 Year Home Electricity 20%

28th September 2017

Council Minutes - August 2017

The Consumer Council advice for Ryanair passengers affected by Belfast to Gatwick cancellations

in Transport

As the statutory body representing air passengers flying in and out of Northern Ireland, The Consumer Council have responded to Ryanair completely suspending flights between Belfast and London Gatwick from November 2017 to March 2018. 

Scott Kennerley, Head of Transport at The Consumer Council, said: “The Consumer Council is calling for The Civil Aviation Authority to take immediate enforcement action to ensure the rights of Northern Ireland passengers are fully protected. 

“Affected passengers are entitled to a full refund within 7 days or re-routing via alternative transportation at the earliest opportunity. Our advice to passengers who still wish to travel is to seek the option that best suits them when they are arranging alternative travel with Ryanair.” 

Continuing, Scott said: “As the airline has provided more than two weeks’ notice of the cancellations, passengers are not entitled to compensation”. 

For more information, or if you are dissatisfied with Ryanair’s response, please contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022, visit  www.consumercouncil.org.uk or follow our Twitter @ConsumerCouncil or Facebook The-Consumer-Council-Northern-Ireland.  

Young at Heart Retirement Living Exhibition

OFCOM consultation Recovering postal regulation and consumer advocacy fees response

Consumer Council welcomes latest Translink performance results

in Transport

The Consumer Council is encouraged to see improvements in overall satisfaction and passengers’ perceptions of value for money, following today’s publication of Translink’s Charter Monitoring Results for the Spring 2017 period.

Speaking about the results, Scott Kennerley, Head of Transport Policy at The Consumer Council, said: “The research shows that passengers overall satisfaction with public transport services and their perceptions of value for money have improved from Spring 2016. This set of results provides Translink with a good foundation to build on and achieve their vision of being the first choice for travel in Northern Ireland.” 

“We look forward to seeing how this improvement continues in day to day services; whilst Translink brings forward the signature projects of integrated ticketing, Belfast Rapid Transit and the Belfast Transport Hub.”    

Unfair Private Parking Charges Factsheet

21st September 2017

Equifax – Consumer Information

in Money Affairs

Credit report company, Equifax, has recently warned that up to 400,000 UK consumers may have had their personal details stolen as part of a massive global data breach.

Equifax is the second biggest credit reference agency in the UK, after Experian. Like other such agencies, it holds personal information which prospective lenders use to assess whether you can successfully apply for a credit card, loan, mortgage, etc.

This data comes from four main sources – the publicly-available electoral roll, court records, previous credit searches and account data shared by banks, building societies, utility companies and other organisations.

Equifax says criminals accessed their files between May and July 2017. It says it found out about the hack on 29 July and immediately stopped any further intrusion. Equifax says it will proactively contact affected customers in writing to offer them a free comprehensive identity protection service. This will allow them to monitor their personal data, including their credit information and be alerted to any potential signs of fraudulent activity.

The Information Commissioner's Office is working with Equifax to establish full details of the breach. They recommend if any consumer’s financial details appear to have been compromised, they should immediately notify their bank or card company. If anyone thinks they may have been a victim of a cyber crime they should contact Action Fraud at: http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/report_fraud or on: 0300 123 2040.

In addition, The Consumer Council, Police Service of Northern Ireland and Trading Standards Service have joint scams leaflet ‘Know the signs... stop the crime’, to help raise awareness of the different types of scams, things to look out for and most importantly how to report a scam.To download a copy of the ‘Know the signs, stop the crime’ scams leaflet visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call 0800 121 6022 for a free copy.

New drop-in service for Northern Ireland consumers

in Consumer Skills

Come along to the first ever Consumer Clinic for free help and advice.

The Consumer Council is inviting consumers, and businesses customers to make an appointment or come along to our new Consumer Clinics at our offices in Seatem House, 28-32 Alfred Street, Belfast.

The first clinic will be on Tuesday 26 September from 10am to 4pm. Further clinics will take place on 31 October, 28 November, and 12 December 2017.

Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, said: “We would be delighted to speak to any consumer or business who want to discuss their consumer issues or problems. If they want to make an appointment by ringing 0800 121 6022 or email: contact@consumercouncil.org.uk, or just pop along, we will make sure an expert is available to help them. For example; we can help with switching energy supplier or bank account, checking water/energy bills, or discuss consumer, passenger rights or postal issues.” 

Christmas Crime Prevention and Safety Event

Response to ORR Guidance on The Railways Infrastructure Regulations

The Consumer Council provides advice for Ryanair passengers affected by cancelled flights

in Transport

As the statutory body representing air passengers flying in and out of Northern Ireland, The Consumer Council is providing advice to those impacted by Ryanair’s decision to cancel flights.

Scott Kennerley, Head of Transport at The Consumer Council, advises: “Passengers who have been affected by Ryanair’s decision to cancel flights should be offered a full refund, or re-routing via alternative transportation at the earliest opportunity. The alternative flight does not have to be with Ryanair if a different airline can get you to your final destination earlier. Our advice to passengers is to seek the travel option that best suits them when they are arranging alternative travel with Ryanair.

 

“If you have already made alternative arrangements, and have incurred additional expenses, we advise that you seek to reclaim these from Ryanair.

 

“If you chose the next available flight, the airline is required to provide you with meals and refreshments and overnight accommodation if necessary. This assistance must be provided for the length of your wait for the next flight. If the airline does not provide this assistance our advice is to keep your receipts for reasonable expenses and claim them back from the airline.”

 

Scott added “Passengers may also be entitled to compensation. This will depend on a number of factors, including how much notification you were given. More information on this is available in our Plane Facts guide or by calling us on 0800 121 6022. Our advice to anyone who thinks they are entitled to compensation is to submit your claim to Ryanair. A template letter to help you is available to download from The Consumer Council website – www.consumercouncil.org.uk.”

 

For more information, or if you are dissatisfied with Ryanair’s response, please contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or follow our Facebook The-Consumer-Council-Northern-Ireland/ and Twitter @ConsumerCouncil.

14th September 2017

Consumer Parliament Report

Bank on the Post Office to manage your money

in Money Affairs, Post

The Consumer Council has found that almost half (49%) of Northern Ireland consumers are unaware Post Offices offer personal banking services. With a number of Ulster Bank branch closures pending across Northern Ireland, we are encouraging consumers to consider their future banking arrangements.

Maeve Holly, Senior Insight Officer at The Consumer Council, advises: “Many consumers are unaware of the banking services provided at the Post Office. Most banks now offer access to current accounts through the Post Office, providing an alternative way of banking. Banking services can also include withdrawing or depositing cash and cheques. Check with your bank or your local Post Office to see what services are available.

“Ulster Bank customers who have not yet considered making alternative arrangements should contact Ulster Bank directly to discuss their options, and raise any concerns they may have, before the branch closes.”

To find out what banking services are available at your local Post Office visit www.postoffice.co.uk/branch-banking-services

The Consumer Council has produced a range of resources to help consumers explore alternative options, including a current account price comparison table and regional maps highlighting alternative financial services available in towns experiencing branch closures. To access The Consumer Council’s online resources visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk  or contact 0800 121 6022 to receive a printed copy. 

Girl Guides receive their ‘Guided Consumer’ badge

in Consumer Skills

Girl Guides from the Movilla Abbey Girlguiding Unit, Donaghadee recently received their ‘Guided Consumer’ badge.

The ‘Guided Consumer’ badge has been developed by The Consumer Council and Girlguiding Ulster, to help raise young people’s awareness of their consumer rights. To date 44 Units and 942 girls have taken part and received their Guided Consumer badge. For more information on being a member of Girlguiding Ulster or finding your nearest unit, contact 028 9042 5212 or visit www.girlguidingulster.org.uk. To find out more about your consumer rights visit The Consumer Council website www.consumercouncil.org.uk

 

Knowing your travel rights can be rewarding

in Transport

The summer holidays may be over but as holidaymakers get ready for autumn and winter breaks, The Consumer Council is encouraging travellers to be aware of their passenger rights before they set off. 

One holidaymaker, Valerie Collins from Lisburn, was helped by The Consumer Council to secure £853.60 in compensation for her companions and herself following a flight delay.

Commenting on her compensation claim, Valerie said: “After a brilliant holiday, our connecting flight from Gatwick to Belfast was delayed by five hours. I was aware I might have rights, so followed the airline’s instructions and submitted a claim for compensation. I was advised it could take up to 14 days to be processed. After almost two months there was still no sign of compensation, so I took my complaint to The Consumer Council.

 “The Consumer Council was so supportive, I just felt like they were my friends. I could talk to them, then they took all the stress away from dealing with this. They kept me up to date with everything they did on my behalf.” 

As well as compensation, Valerie received a £100 travel voucher as a gesture of goodwill.

The Consumer Council has a range of travel guides to help passengers understand their rights, along with template letters to help passengers submit their claims. These are available to download from The Consumer Council website. For these and more information on passenger rights, travel assistance, and making complaints, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or phone 0800 121 6022. 

7th September 2017

Pound not ‘a round’ for much longer

in Money Affairs

The familiar round pound coin will cease to be legal tender from 15 October 2017

The Consumer Council is urging consumers to round up their old £1 coins and either spend, or exchange them at the bank or Post Office, before they become worthless next month.

The old round £1 coin will cease to be legal tender from the 15 October 2017 and will no longer be accepted in retail outlets. According to Royal Mint, an estimated one in 30 old £1 coins are fake, and the new 12-sided design makes it far harder to produce counterfeits.

Philippa McKeown Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at the Consumer Council, said; “It’s time to check the piggy-banks and money jars for £1 coins and to either spend them at the shops or exchange them at the bank or Post Office, because as of 15 October 2017 the current round £1 coins will cease to be legal tender and will no longer be accepted.”

For more information visit www.thenewpoundcoin.com 

Health Care Products Price Comparison

Consumer Clinic

Consumer Clinic

Consumer Clinic

Consumer Clinic

South Belfast Lifestyle Forum

Community Café, Bangor

31 August 2017

Consumers can still make savings following SSE Airtricity tariff increase

in Energy

Responding to the 7.5% domestic tariff increase by SSE Airtricity, The Consumer Council says this is unwelcome news, and we encourage consumers to be aware that savings can be made. 

In total over 200,000 (26%) households across Northern Ireland will be affected by this change. The increase, which comes into effect on 1 October 2017, will see a typical customers household electricity bill rise from £470 to £505, an increase of £35 per year. 

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council said; “With already pressed budgets, this 7.5% increase from SSE Airtricity will be disappointing news for consumers. SSE Airtricity needs to clearly explain to its customers why this increase is higher than Power NI’s 5.6% increase, which was scrutinised by the Utility Regulator.” 

John continued, “Our message to consumers is to check if an alternative supplier can offer a better deal. Households may be able to save around £75 per year by switching supplier. Our online energy price comparison tool makes it easy to compare prices and simply explains the switching process.” 

“If SSE Airtricity customers remain happy with the service they receive, we would still recommend that they act. They should contact SSE Airtricity on 0345 864 3546 to see if they are on the best possible deal, or if they could save money by using direct debits or receiving e-bills; where a saving of £35 per year can be made against the standard tariff.” 

24 August

17 August 2017

Unwelcome but justified rise in domestic tariff for Power NI customer

in Energy

Responding to the first domestic tariff increase by Power NI since July 2013, The Consumer Council recognises it will be unwelcome news for consumers, but it reflects an increase in the wholesale cost of electricity

The 5.6% increase in the domestic tariff by Power NI which comes into effect on 1 October 2017, will see their customers’ typical annual household electricity bill rise to £497, an increase of £27 per year.

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council said; “Our message to consumers is to review their home electricity costs regularly and to check if an alternative supplier can offer a better deal. Households may be able to save up to £112 per year by switching supplier. Our online energy price comparison tool makes it easy to compare prices and also explains how simple the switching process can be.”

John continued, “Since the last tariff review wholesale electricity prices have experienced an upward trend and the Power NI increase is reflecting this underlying increase. Furthermore, consumers here are paying significantly cheaper electricity prices than their counterparts in GB and ROI.

The Consumer Council’s energy price comparison tool can be found at http://www.consumercouncil.org.uk/energy/energy-price-comparison/ or you can telephone our Consumer Protection Team on 0800 121 6022. 

Additionally - please review our 'Switch On – Electricity and Gas’ guide for more support. 

 

10 August 2017

03 August 2017

Oil Price Archive

Joint UK Consumer Advocacy Bodies Royal Mail Scheme for Franking Letters and Parcels

Save on your water and energy bills at Ballymena Livestock Market

in Money Affairs, Business, Consumer Skills, Energy

The Consumer Council helps farmers save money

The Consumer Council is inviting Ballymena Livestock Market participants to bring along their energy and water bills on Friday 18 August to find out how they could save money.

Visitors to the market will receive free bill analysis to help reduce the cost of their energy bills, and to ensure their water bills are accurate and include the correct domestic allowance. 

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: “Many farm owners may not know they are entitled to a domestic allowance on their water bills. We look forward to attending Ballymena Livestock Market to advise farmers how to accurately check their water bills, check if allowances or reduced tariffs apply to them, and share ways to use water efficiently to save money.” 

“If they also bring along their household bill for electricity we can give an on-the-spot calculation as to how much they could save by switching their current tariff or supplier.” 

The Consumer Council has a range of guides to help farmers, including ‘Every Drop Counts’, a guide to help businesses and farms improve their water efficiency, get the best service and save money on their bills, as well as ‘Switch On – Electricity & Gas’, a guide to switching energy supplier. For a free copy visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call 0800 121 6022. 

Airline menus - ‘sky high’ or ‘down to earth’?

in Transport, Food

Always looking to save consumers money, The Consumer Council has jetted in to review inflight menus, to see if costs are ‘sky high’ or ‘down to earth’.

The Consumer Council has examined the costs of snacks and beverages from airlines flying in and out of Northern Ireland and found price differences of up to 75%.                               

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council said; “Our research shows the price of snacks and drinks such as porridge, crisps and sandwiches can vary by as much as 75%, depending on the airline you travel with. This could be the difference of paying from £5.27 to £1.30 for a simple bowl of porridge, and from £2.63 to £1 for a bag of crisps.”

The Consumer Council ‘Inflight Menu’ guide is available online at www.consumercouncil.org.uk, and allows passengers to check the costs of snacks and beverages before they travel.

The Consumer Council also has a range of travel guides to help consumers understand their rights over the summer travel period. These include ‘Plane Facts’, ‘Plain Sailing’as well as ‘Access to Air Travel’ and ‘Access to Ferry Travel’ for those with a disability or reduced mobility. These resources are available to download at  www.consumercouncil.org.uk or by calling 0800 121 6022.

Asda, Ards Shopping Centre

Ballymena Livestock Market

Upper Springfield Whiterock Community Health & Family Fun Day

27th July 2017

‘Shrinkflation’ report: Consumers should shop around for better deals

in Cost of Living

The Consumer Council is encouraging consumers to shop around for better deals on their food and groceries, as the latest figures from The Office for National Statistics show that while more than 2,500 products have shrunk in size over the past five years, they are still being sold at the same price.

These findings follow recent research by The Consumer Council that found nearly one in four consumers in Northern Ireland are worried about the cost of their food and grocery shopping. 

John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said, “Each time consumers do grocery shopping they face similar types of products sold in different packaging sizes, making it difficult to identify the best value products. We are advising consumers to shop around to get the best deal by looking at shelf label unit pricing.  Supermarket labels show the price per unit for the product as well as the actual price. The unit price indicates how much the same product would cost if they were sold on the same weight or volume.” 

The Consumer Council has produced ‘Making your money last longer and go further’, a guide to cutting the cost of your weekly food shop. You can request a free copy by phoning 0800 121 6022 or visiting www.consumercouncil.org.uk. 

Consumer Council advice when buying second hand tickets

in Consumer Skills

The Consumer Council is reminding consumers what they are entitled to when buying from secondary ticket sellers. This advice comes on the back of today’s findings from Which? that show almost a quarter of tickets are going on sale via secondary ticket websites.

Which? also found that many websites were breaking consumer law by not listing the face value, restrictions and other essential ticket information.

Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council, said: “NI consumers have been affected in recent times with inflated ticket prices for Ed Sheeran, Adele and Carl Frampton events to name but a few. Whilst efforts are being made to better regulate the industry, there are steps consumers can take to avoid being ripped off.”

Top Tips

If you see tickets for re-sale from a secondary ticket agent, by law you must be given:

  1. Full and clear information about the event, e.g. timings, seat numbers or arena area;
  2. The original ‘face-value’ cost of the ticket;
  3. Any restrictions for the ticket(s), e.g. age limits, restricted views or limited access;
  4. Any specific terms and conditions, e.g. how a named ticket can be transferred to someone else; and
  5. A contact email must also be provided should any problems arise.

Your can also protect yourself by:

  1. Checking if the ticket seller belongs to the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (ASTA), as its members must follow a code of conduct; and
  2. Never buying from someone on the street or near the venue – if the tickets aren’t genuine you’ll lose your money and miss out on the event.

For more information download a copy of the ‘Buying secondary tickets for concerts and events’ factsheet from The Consumer Council website www.consumercouncil.org.uk or call 0800 121 6022 for a free copy. If you experience a problem with tickets bought contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262.

 

20 July 2017

The ban on credit and debit card surcharges is excellent news for consumers says Consumer Council

in Consumer Skills, Money Affairs

The Consumer Council welcomes today’s announcement from HM Treasury regarding the banning of credit and debit card surcharges for all Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Paypal payments from January 2018.

“Surcharges are the costs consumers pay to make payments by credit or debit card. Currently, some companies like airlines, ticket websites and fast-food websites are charging fees of between 2.5% to 5%. Today’s announcement will bring an end to this practice by making transactions more transparent,’ said Philippa McKeown-Brown, Head of Consumer Empowerment and Protection at The Consumer Council.

“This ruling will ensure the cost consumers are asked to pay is clear and upfront, allowing them to shop around, and compare fairly on price, rather than finding an additional cost being added on at the end of the transaction”.

“In addition, paying by credit card or debit card provides consumers with extra protection under consumer law. Paying by credit cards, even if it’s only a small proportion on items costing between £100- £30,000  gives consumers additional protection if things go wrong, such as the goods are faulty, fail to arrive or are not as described. In these instances, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, consumers can claim their money back from the credit card provider.

“With debit or credit card payments under £100, consumers are also protected through the Chargeback process. The Consumer Council’s guide ‘Safer Ways to Pay’ which is available on our website, or via 0800 121 6022, provides consumers with further advice,” added Philippa.

14 July 2017

The Consumer Council Annual Report and Accounts 2016-17

Know your rights if your flight is cancelled

in Transport

The Consumer Council is encouraging passengers to
be aware of their rights when getting away this summer.

For immediate release: 10 July 2017

The Consumer Council is encouraging Northern Ireland Holiday makers to know their rights in advance of any travel this summer, including knowing their legal rights if their flight is cancelled.

Scott Kennerley, Head of Transport at The Consumer Council said, “In light of the recent disruption for passengers on the Norwegian flight to America and the flights cancelled by Aer Lingus it is important to know what you are entitled to when travel plans get disrupted.”

Passengers have rights that are protected under European law when flights are cancelled. This includes the right to a full refund within 7 days or re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to the final destination at the earliest opportunity.

 “We know from our discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority that re-routing does not have to be with the same airline. Any passenger that has incurred reasonable out of pocket expenses due to a cancellation should seek to reclaim them from the airline,” Mr Kennerley said.

 “With the busy summer travel period underway we encourage all holidaymakers to be aware of their passenger rights before they travel. The Consumer Council has a range of travel guides to help passengers understand their rights and template letters to help passengers submit their claims. These are available to download from The Consumer Council website.”

For more information on your passenger rights or if you have a complaint you need assistance with contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or follow our Facebook The-Consumer-Council-Northern-Ireland/ and Twitter @ConsumerCouncil.

 

Consumer Council Press Statement on Aer Lingus

in Transport

The Consumer Council asks Aer Lingus to ensure affected Alicante and Majorca passengers receive their full passenger rights.

Following discussions with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) The Consumer Council is asking Aer Lingus to ensure passengers affected by their decision to cancel flights from Belfast to Alicante and Majorca in September are offered the option of flying via Belfast, even if it is via a different airline.

Currently, Aer Lingus are only offering affected passengers flights to and from Dublin. However, according to the CAA, they have a statutory obligation that they offer a reroute under comparable transport conditions, which includes flights from Belfast on other airlines. We have raised our concerns with Aer Lingus and will be seeking to ensure they meet all their statutory obligations to passengers affected by this situation.
 

The Consumer Council’s John French takes up new ‘Post’…

in Post

Chief Executive of The Consumer Council visits Royal Mail Delivery Office in Antrim to become a postie for the day.

The Consumer Council Chief Executive John French pictured standing at front door of house delivering post

The Consumer Council was keen to understand the daily demands of Royal Mail postal workers and sorting office staff so they sent out their very own Chief Executive, John French, to pound streets of Antrim and deliver the post.

“We represent all postal consumers by providing independent advice and guidance on postal service complaints so it is hugely important that we understand the role and demands the postal service and delivery officers have every day. Having been a former postie, it was interesting to see not only the advancements made to the service but also hear firsthand about changing consumer behaviour,” said John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council.

“The postal service is a vital feature of the communication infrastructure. We send letters and cards to friends and family as an important way of keeping in contact with loved ones. We receive bank statements and bills through the post which helps us to pay bills on time and keep an eye on our finances. The postal service is also becoming increasingly important with many of us shopping online as we rely on the postal system to ensure our items arrive safely and on time,” added Mr French.

Adrian Kenny, Royal Mail Delivery Office Manager at Antrim said: “We were very proud to host the visit from the CEO and Head of Postal Services of The Consumer Council. It was a great opportunity for them to see our new office in Antrim, meet our frontline colleagues and learn a little about what it is like delivering the mail first hand.”

For independent advice and guidance on postal services contact The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk

Bryson Energy staff more ‘switched on’ to their consumer rights

in Energy

Bryson Energy staff have learned firsthand how to exercise their rights as consumers, thanks to a recent visit by The Consumer Council at their workplace in Enniskillen and Belfast.

During the visit, Bryson Energy staff were informed of their consumer rights, provided with tips on how to shop around and get the best deal, as well as being advised on how to complain effectively. 

“Consumers need to be informed of their rights in order to protect themselves when things go wrong,” said Mark Crawford, Senior Energy Policy Officer at The Consumer Council. “Raising awareness of our role and how we can help local consumers is extremely important”.

“Bryson Energy assists consumers on an ongoing basis to become more energy efficient.   Our visit means their staff will be able to better support consumers thanks to their increased understanding of the services The Consumer Council provides, and about the options available to switch to a better energy deal.”

Laurence Arbuckle, Senior Manager for Advice Projects at Bryson Energy, commented: “Bryson Energy would like to thank The Consumer Council for delivering the recent training to our staff, which was very informative and relevant to our ongoing work in providing independent energy advice to householders.”  

“The training is one of a number of activities that the two organisations are carrying out together to assist and support consumers in Northern Ireland."

The Consumer Council’s training programmes take them across Northern Ireland. If you have a group that would benefit from a talk or workshop on consumer-related issues, please get in touch with The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or email contact@consumercouncil.org.uk

Dalriada Festival

6th July 2017

Limavady Agricultural Show

NI businesses struggle to keep up to date with consumer legislation

in Business

Consumer Council assists businesses in Newry.
The Consumer Council has met with new business start-ups in Newry to help them better understand consumer law.

Caroline Mooney, Consumer Empowerment Officer at The Consumer Council (far right) meets with up new business starts-ups from the Newry area

According to Consumer Council research, NI businesses find it difficult to keep up to date with consumer law and ensure their staff are aware of their legal obligations to consumers.

“It is essential that businesses in Northern Ireland are aware of their legal obligations to consumers and are able to respond effectively to consumer complaints,” said Ronan Convery, Senior Consumer Empowerment Officer at The Consumer Council.

“The Consumer Council supports local businesses in meeting their obligations by raising their awareness of consumer legislation through training and resources.

“This training not only benefits the business but also their customers. Participants also gain a better understanding of their own rights as consumers.”

Joan Tummon, Exploring Enterprise 3 Training, said:  “The information provided by The Consumer Council for the business starts was invaluable. The legal obligations required by businesses is often a very daunting thought and this was explained in a clear manner to the participants of the training session. Down Business Centre have worked closely with The Consumer Council for a number of years and it is always useful to have this kind of information readily available.”

The Consumer Council’s ‘Consumer Rights Factsheet for Businesses’ is available to download at www.consumercouncil.org.uk or by calling 0800 121 6022.

 

Holiday checklist helps travellers save money, reduce stress

in Transport

With the summer holidays upon us, many people are getting ready to travel overseas. While holiday makers are busy packing suitcases and ensuring passports are up to date, The Consumer Council has come up with a ‘Holiday Checklist’ for travellers to think about before setting off from home.

 “There is more to think about when booking a holiday than flights and hotels. Airport parking, travel insurance and other add-ons may be required. Booking these in advance could save you money. For example, pre-booking your airport parking online can save you from £18 to £48 for a one-week stay,” said Scott Kennerley, Head of Transport at The Consumer Council.

Here are The Consumer Council’s top tips:

  • Consider travelling by public transport to the airport/ferry terminal.
  • Pre-book car parking if travelling by car.
  • Pre-book hold baggage to avoid additional fees at check-in.
  • Pre-book special assistance 48 hours in advance if you have a disability or reduced mobility to ensure you get the assistance you need.
  • Take out travel insurance that meets your needs. Ensure it fully covers you if you are flying/sailing from the Republic of Ireland.
  • Get a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) if travelling to EU countries.
  • Beware of copycat EHIC and passport processing websites. Use NI Direct to ensure you only use the official forms. Click here for passports, and click here for EHIC.
  • Pack a copy of our travel guides: Plane Facts and Plain Sailing.

For more information on air and ferry travel, as well as special assistance, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk, call 0800 121 6022 or email contact@consumercouncil.org.uk.

One in four Northern Ireland consumers worried about cost of food

in Food

The Consumer Council helps cut the cost of the summer food shop

Nearly a quarter of consumers in Northern Ireland are worried about the cost of their food and grocery shopping, according to recent research by The Consumer Council.

The Consumer Council, Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland and Safefood are particularly concerned about the challenges facing low-income families to balance the cost of a nutritious diet while meeting other weekly household expenses. The school summer holidays are a particularly worrying time. This is when low-income families have to provide additional food for their children who in term times are entitled to free school meals.

Research carried out by the three agencies shows that some families need to spend up to £153 a week to eat a healthy balanced diet, which is almost half their budget if on a low income or receiving benefits.

“It is concerning that almost a quarter of consumers in Northern Ireland are worried about the cost of their food and grocery shopping. This perhaps reflects the fact that food prices have climbed at their fastest rate in more than three years, according to research from Kantar Worldpanel. Our own research shows that consumers identify food costs as the main reason why they feel worse off than two years ago”, said Caroline Mooney, Consumer Empowerment Officer at The Consumer Council.

“What is especially worrying is that often the money spent on food is the first to be cut back when money is limited. For this reason we are working with the Food Standards Agency and Safefood to promote affordable, healthy meal options. We are also advising consumers to shop around to get the best deal by looking at shelf label unit pricing, creating meal plans and doing a stock-take of their fridge, freezer and food cupboards before they shop”.

Sharon Gilmore, Head of Standards and Dietary Health at Food Standards Agency, added “In trying to make a limited household budget go further, families can end up compromising on the nutritional quality of the food they buy. There’s no doubt food poverty is complicated and is influenced by limited cooking skills and lack of access to a healthy balanced diet. The FSA continues to play an active role in the strategic response to food poverty in NI.”

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health & Nutrition at Safefood, noted “Families on a low-income tend to eat less well, have poorer health outcomes with higher levels of obesity and its’ complications. In general, cheaper foods and takeaways are simply less nutritious. This presents a real challenge for parents when it comes to food shopping and planning for the week.”

The Consumer Council, Food Standards Agency and Safefood have created food shopping tips, meal planners and leaflets to help consumers shop confidently and healthily for less. For more information visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk/food and watch our Food Shopping Tips video below.

29th June 2017

Consumer Council welcomes CMA Final Determination on Firmus Energy Appeal

in Energy

The Consumer Council welcomes the outcome of the Final Determination from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Firmus Energy’s appeal against the Utility Regulator’s GD17 Price Control.

Speaking about the outcome, John French, Chief Executive of The Consumer Council, said: "If this appeal had been successful, Firmus Energy customers would have lost the £15 per year reduction on current tariffs that the Utility Regulator’s GD17 Price Control will provide.

"It is important that the CMA conclude this process and decide who will pay the costs of this appeal, which are likely to be substantial. The Consumer Council are seeking assurances from the CMA that the costs of the process will not fall unfairly to consumers and will be proportionately paid by Firmus Energy to reflect CMA's Final Determination decision. 

“We are pleased that the CMA's Final Determination has reinforced our view that increasing the availability of natural gas in Northern Ireland brings benefits to consumers and our economy,” Mr French added.

The Consumer Council submitted both written and verbal evidence to the CMA outlining our view that the Utility Regulator’s GD17 Price Control Final Determination was a fair package that protected the interest of NI consumers.

For more information on the Competition and Markets Authority’s final determination visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/competition-and-markets-authority

Castlederg students boost their consumer rights confidence

in Consumer Skills

The Consumer Council visit Castlederg High School to offer advice

Students from Castlederg High School are feeling more confident about their consumer rights following a visit by The Consumer Council. The information session, attended by Year 11 pupils, covered consumer law topics on travel and shopping.

Less than half (43%) of young consumers aged 16-24 feel confident about their consumer rights, research from The Consumer Council has shown. This is noticeably lower than any other age category.

 “Younger consumers are less aware of who to go to for advice with problem purchases compared to other age categories. They are also the least likely group to seek help” said Ronan Convery, Senior Consumer Empowerment Officer at The Consumer Council.

“Consumer law also covers digital downloads and devices, which play a major part in younger consumers lives particularly. We would like to see more young consumers empowered to take action if problems occur.”

Teacher Roslyn Farr, from Castlederg High School, added: “Young people are the consumers of the future, therefore it is really important that they know their consumer rights. We are delighted that The Consumer Council presented during our Learning For Life & Work subject, where the aim is to prepare pupils for the outside work with an awareness of their rights and responsibilities”.

To find out more information on your consumer rights you can call The Consumer Council on 0800 121 6022 or visit the Consumer Skills section of our website.

Banking Information and Resources

Ways to Bank

Useful Food Information & Resources

Food Shopping

Council Minutes - May 2017

Help for consumers affected by Bank Branch Closure

in Money Affairs

The Consumer Council has produced a series of online resources that will help consumers affected by First Trust Bank branch closures.

These include a current account price comparison table and regional maps highlighting alternative financial services available in towns experiencing branch closures.

Maeve Holly, Senior Consumer Policy Officer at The Consumer Council, advises: “Consumers should shop around to make sure they get the best overall deal and service from their bank. Our support tools will help consumers explore alternative options, if their existing bank cannot give them the services they need.

“We have worked with Ordnance Survey to produce a series of maps highlighting the financial services that remain in areas affected by branch closures. These include Post Offices, cash machines, credit unions and other banks.”

Maeve added; “The Consumer Council understood that First Trust Bank had written to customers affected by the branch closures and held public information evenings in the regional branches".

“Customers who have not yet considered making alternative arrangements should contact First Trust directly to discuss their options, and raise any concerns they may have, before the branch closes.”

To access The Consumer Council’s online resources visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk  or contact 0800 121 6022 to receive a printed copy of any of our resources.

ENDS

 

Notes to Editor

1.     Between June and August, 15 First Trust Bank branches will close across Northern Ireland - The branches scheduled for closure are Antrim; Andersonstown; Armagh; Banbridge; Cookstown; Crescent Link Derry/ L’Derry, Downpatrick, High Street, Belfast; Knock (upper Newtownar ds Road); Magherafelt; Newtownards; Ormeau Road, Belfast; Portadown; Strabane and Warrenpoint.

 

3.     First Trust Bank has extended the opening hours for Direct Customer Contact Banking services, now open from 8am - 12midnight, 7 days a week and a new partnership with the Post Office enables customers to conduct their everyday banking in any one of the 500+ Post Office locations across Northern Ireland.

4.     The Consumer Council attended the First Trust Bank information evenings in areas that had the highest risk or potential difficulty in sourcing alternative banking options.

5.     The Consumer Council has also developed a current account price comparison table to help consumers compare current account products currently available from providers in Northern Ireland. This is available on our website www.consumercouncil.org.uk

6.     The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland’s consumers. The Council campaigns for high standards of service and protection and a fair deal for all. It also carries out research, gives advice and publishes reports and other publications. It deals with individual complaints about buses, trains, planes, ferries, natural gas, electricity, coal and water.

7.     For more information, visit www.consumercouncil.org.uk or Facebook  The-Consumer-Council-Northern-Ireland/ or Twitter @ConsumerCouncil

22nd June 2017

Economy 7 Price Comparison Table June 2017

Gas Price Comparison Table June 2017

Electricity Price Comparison Table October 2017

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