Monthly Archives:December 2017

Stop the costly text pests who even prey on children 

16 Dec 17
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  • Marcus Hardingham paid nearly £50 for unsolicited texts sent to his daughter’s mobile
  • He only discovered this when he contacted Three UK to upgrade his handset
  • An employee commented on the £3-a-time texts on his daughter Ava’s phone

The Mail on Sunday’s call for tough regulatory action on companies that charge people for receiving unwanted mobile phone texts has received further parliamentary support.

Earlier this month we revealed how thousands of people are unknowingly paying to receive pestering text messages – a practice Labour MP John Mann described as a ‘national scandal’.

Now Rebecca Pow, Conservative MP for Taunton Deane and a member of the all-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, has intervened. She says: ‘It is dismaying how easy it is for customers to find they have inadvertently signed up for messages they do not want, and are then charged for them.

‘It is scandalous there are unscrupulous companies out there deliberately taking advantage of people in this way. It is an area the regulator ought to address.’

Shocked: Marcus Hardingham with daughter Ava, 11, who was charged for unwanted messages

Shocked: Marcus Hardingham with daughter Ava, 11, who was charged for unwanted messages

Pow’s comments come as more people have stepped forward to share their experience of being charged to receive text messages they did not want or ask for. Many people disregard texts as spam and hit the ‘delete’ button, without realising they could be paying for them.

YOUNG CAN BE CHARGED

Marcus Hardingham paid nearly £50 for unsolicited texts sent to his daughter’s mobile.

He only discovered this when he contacted mobile phone provider Three UK to upgrade his handset and an employee commented on the £3-a-time texts on his daughter Ava’s phone.

Aged 11, she is adamant she has never subscribed to any phone paid service – indeed the experience has caused her great upset.

Two changes phone firms MUST make now 

Firstly, mobile networks and landline providers should make it clear, on the first page of a bill, if a customer has incurred charges for premium rate texts or calls. Customers are told what to do if they see unexpected charges, but people who do not inspect each item on a bill may not notice small sums paid over many months. This remedy is simple and highlights information already on a bill they might otherwise miss.

Secondly, firms providing premium rate services should require subscribers to first send a text confirming they are opting in to receive messages. This is how it works when donating to charity via text – a customer sends a message to a shortcode number, then receives a confirmation text and the donation is added to the bill.

Marcus, 54, says: ‘Ava’s initial reaction was shock and embarrassment, then annoyance, worry and loss of confidence.’

Three directed Marcus to contact the company responsible for sending the messages, which in turn told him he would need to send a copy of Ava’s passport or birth certificate as proof of identity.

Marcus says: ‘I did not want to pass on my daughter’s personal details so I have written off the charges and instead cancelled my daughter’s phone contract.’

A spokeswoman for Three UK says: ‘If any of our customers have concerns about their bill, we encourage them to contact our customer service team by calling 333 from their mobile.

‘There were additional charges on Mr Hardingham’s bill because a subscription had been activated. Three has no control over the costs that third-party providers charge subscribers.’

After The Mail on Sunday intervened, the mobile network agreed to refund the charges as a goodwill gesture.

THE COSTS MOUNT UP 

David Jennings says it was ‘sheer luck’ he recently spotted erroneous charges when checking his phone bill following a trip to Japan.

The 62-year-old, from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, discovered he was paying around £4.50 a week to be entered into a competition he knew nothing about.

As he pored over past bills, he traced a string of charges back to August last year – and calculates he and wife Lynne have been charged more than £270. These fees would have continued to accumulate had he not stopped them.

David, a business owner, says: ‘The costs mount up and because the amounts are small, unless you are on your game you will not notice them.

‘Every so often we received messages saying we were entered into a competition for £4.50 per week until we sent a ‘Stop’ message – but as we never opted in, we had no idea we had to opt out.’

When David saw he was being charged, he sent a ‘Stop’ message to the number provided, but this had no impact. The Mail on Sunday asked his bill provider Vodafone to investigate. A spokeswoman says: ‘The premium rate text messages originate from third-party companies and not from Vodafone.

‘The contract is between the customer and the third-party provider of the service, so our advice is to contact them to discuss a refund. If this does not resolve the issue, we do everything we can to help individual customers.’

David rejects the idea he had a contract with the company sending the messages since he has never had any dealings with them.

Vodafone agreed to refund £36 of charges covering the past two months and put a bar on David’s phone so he cannot receive further premium rate texts and calls. David adds: ‘There appears to be a legal loophole ordinary people fall through and the big mobile phone companies could not care less.’

NEED FOR REGULATION 

There are some two million complaints a year from people unhappy about ‘phone-paid services’, which encompasses all types of goods and services that can be charged to a telephone bill.

But it is not always clear who a customer can turn to when something is amiss.

Mobile networks often direct people to contact the company in question, even when customers claim they have no contract with that particular service provider. Consumer expert James Walker, founder of online complaints service Resolver, says: ‘These paid-for services are crying out for tougher regulation – and an ombudsman that can step in if things go wrong.’

Have you been paying for texts and calls you never asked for? Email laura.shannon@mailonsunday.co.uk to tell your story.

Seven key steps to take if you are a victim 

1. Save texts as this will help your case when trying to get a refund.

2. Text ‘Stop All’ to the number that sent the messages – but only if you believe it is a real company. Do not reply to a scam message as this tells fraudsters they have been texting a genuine number.

3. Check which company is sending messages or making calls that appear on your bill using the Phone-paid Services Authority’s online ‘number checker’. This is the regulator overseeing services that charge customers’ phone bills. Visit psauthority.org.uk/about-us/number-checker.

4. Demand a refund from your mobile network if you dispute that you signed up to receive the messages. It may refer you to the company responsible for sending them. In any conversation with that company refer to section 2.3.3 of the regulator’s code of practice, stipulating that service providers must have evidence that a customer consented to receive messages. Request the evidence.

5. Refer unresolved complaints to the Phone-paid Services Authority. Complain online at psauthority.org.uk or call 0300 3030020 during office hours. You can also ask complaints service Resolver for help – visit resolver.co.uk.

6. Put a block on your phone. Contact your mobile network provider and ask for them to bar all premium rate calls and texts.

7. Use the small claims court if you have been charged a large sum. Court fees start at £25 using an online form, for claim amounts up to £300. You may have to pay more if the company fights back, resulting in a court hearing. But you can charge interest and you may be able to claim costs back if you win. Visit gov.uk/make-court-claim-for-money to find out more.

 






Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Quebec offers plan to Assist newspapers while Ottawa does nothing

16 Dec 17
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The francophone newspaper Le Droit was founded in Ottawa in 1913 to agitate against Ontario government laws to restrict French schooling in the state. Former federal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon remembered these origins while describing, in a language in 2015, why he’d only bought Le Droit and five regional Quebec newspapers, in a time when other newspaper publishers were fighting.

In Quebec, all francophone media are tools of language preservation. From that standpoint alone, it isn’t surprising to find the Quebec government in recent days announce two distinct measures to take care of the crisis in print journalism — although the national government has been doing nothing.

On Dec. 4, Marie Montpetit, Quebec’s rookie Culture and Communications Minister, said the state is spending24.4-million more than five years to assist community schools endure and construct their electronic platforms. Another $12-million will go toward enhancing recycling from the newspapers.

On Thursday, Dominique Anglade, Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation, said Investissement Québec is making a $10-million loan to Mr. Cauchon’s Groupe Capitales Médias (GCM), as its share in a $26-million investment from the company in the digital side of its publishing. Rival Quebecor Inc. promptly attacked the deal as “flagrant favouritism,” with president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau tweeting darkly about “the Liberal connection.”

Ms. Montpetit, as the minister responsible for “the protection and promotion of the French language,” acted in part to avoid an erosion of francophone cultural distance.

When national Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who holds a similar speech obligation, introduced her Creative Canada coverage in Montreal on Dec. 8, she had to offer Quebec news publishers was a “bravo” to people making perceptible attempts to go electronic. This was only 11 days after a mass closing of dozens of Canadian newspapers that put 291 people from work.

Ms. Joly received a short list of things to do about the crisis in June in the Liberal-dominated Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. The committee recommended a five-year tax credit for capital and labor investments in electronic publishing; an expansion of the Canada Media Fund to include daily papers; and a ban on advertisements on the CBC’s websites. Ms. Joly and her cabinet colleagues would have none of it.

When grilled in the House of Commons on Dec. 6 about why the mass closings hadn’t prodded the government into action, Ms. Joly said she was “working with the business.” The extent and shape of the work stays secret, with no cash or new policy to show for it.

Ms. Joly obtained a harsh reception in her native state for allowing Netflix play tax-free in our yard with no firm commitment to first francophone manufacturing from Quebec. She is now making a similar error in a unique cultural sector, overlooking a very real danger to the francophone milieu when pitching roses from afar to anyone making an attempt online.

She seems not to notice, or to wish to notice, that some of her policies make the situation worse. In her Montreal address, her musings about the danger to newsgathering drifted to a reminder that she is giving an additional $675-million into the CBC. However, as many witnesses told the standing committee, a stronger CBC digital news operation tightens the screws on social media publishers whose sources are decreasing.

Ms. Anglade explained that her portion of the current statements was an investment in Quebec companies, not newsrooms. She was worried about GCM’s 400 workers, she said, and had concluded that the six Quebec centers served by the newspapers (Le Droit is also based in Gatineau) could be worse off if they failed.

She brushed away Mr. Péladeau’s criticism by stating that the exact resources are available to Quebecor or anybody else. “Why not? If they present us with jobs to do with the electronic shift, we’ll consider them on their merits,” she said. Mr. Cauchon said that any suggestion his personal politics could influence or gain his newsrooms — many of which supported the ruling Liberals during the last provincial election — was an “insult” to his journalists.

It is funny to line up that comment with Mr. Cauchon’s elegaic 2015 reference to Le Droit’s roots, as a newspaper made to transmit the views of its initial publishers, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. But times change, and so does journalism. In exactly the same speech, Mr. Cauchon talked of a wall: “Politics is on one side and press is on the other.” There is no reason politicians, such as the Heritage minister, can not do something to maintain Canadian newsgathering powerful, without compromising themselves or people who print.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Two Conservative senators’ business venture linked to China

14 Dec 17
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Two Conservative senators – one with close ties to Beijing – set up a private consulting business this year with partners who are involved in attracting investment from China to Newfoundland and Labrador, corporate records show.

Senator Victor Oh, who recently said he has not conducted any “personal business” in Canada or China since his appointment to the Red Chamber in 2013, formed a St. John’s-based company in April with Senator David Wells.

Mr. Wells would not say whether Signal Hill Management is pursuing business deals with China-based entities.

The two senators’ business partners in Signal Hill Management are Frank Xiaofeng Huang, who once worked for Beijing’s state-owned China Development Bank, and Jack Jun Tan. Little is known about Mr. Tan.

In February, 2017, Mr. Wells helped found the China-Newfoundland and Labrador Business Association (CNLBA), along Mr. Huang and Mr. Tan, according to corporate filings.

Mr. Oh is an unpaid “honorary patron” of this new group, his office said.

Mr. Oh, a Toronto businessman appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper, is a frequent traveller to China and prominent at banquets and events in Canada where Chinese diplomats and Communist Party officials are invited guests. He has accepted trips paid for by the governments of Jilin, Hainan and Hubei provinces, as well as business groups and Chinese airlines.

Mr. Oh and two other senators are being investigated by the Office of the Senate Ethics Officer over an all-expenses-paid trip to China in April.

In a Dec. 1 e-mail to fellow senators defending his travel record to China, Mr. Oh wrote that “I have never conducted any personal business in China or here in Canada since my appointment to the Red Chamber in 2013.”

The Globe and Mail has reported that since 2006, Canadian MPs and senators have taken 36 trips to China sponsored by arms of the Chinese government or business groups seeking closer ties and trade with the world’s second-biggest economy.

Mr. Oh walked past a Globe reporter on Wednesday and refused to answer any questions about his business activities in Newfoundland. Late Wednesday evening, Mr. Oh’s assistant e-mailed The Globe to say the senator resigned his directorship in Signal Hill Management but did not specify what date this took place.

The Senate ethics office would not say when the two senators disclosed their directorships in Signal Hill Management. Senate rules require senators to update their disclosure statements within 30 day of any material change.

“We cannot comment further on the matter at this time, as we are bound by confidentiality under the [Conflict of Interest] Code,” the Senate ethics office said in an e-mail to The Globe.

Senate rules do not bar senators from operating businesses outside their parliamentary duties provided they declare the activities to the ethics office.

Mr. Wells is the former deputy CEO of the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which manages oil and gas offshore reserves on behalf of Ottawa and the province.

Mr. Wells also would not say whether another company, LH Signal Hill Corp., is doing business with China. Mr. Wells is listed as a director of this company along with Mr. Huang and Mr. Tan.

Those filings show that Signal Hill Management, LH Signal Hill and CNLBA are located at the same address as Mr. Huang’s home in a suburb of St. John’s – as is Sino-Can Consulting Ltd., which lists Mr. Huang as a director.

Mr. Huang works full time as the business manager for Kvaerner, a Norwegian engineering and construction firm with offices in St. John’s. Before he joined Kvaerner, he worked as loan officer at China Development Bank and at Beijing-based CRC Pinnacle, a consulting firm whose clients included state-owned China Mobile and China Telecom. He did not respond to phone calls or e-mails.

Mr. Huang’s direct supervisor at Kvaerner, Bill Fanning, said he was unaware of Mr. Huang’s business ties with the two Conservative senators. He recalled that he met Mr. Wells and Mr. Oh two years ago when “they were talking to the local Chinese community about opportunities to collaborate.”

The Senate ethics watchdog is investigating an all-expenses-paid trip to China by Mr. Oh and Conservative senators Don Plett and Leo Housakos and their spouses to determine whether it should have been declared as a gift or sponsored travel.

Chinese media have reported that Senator Victor Oh and his Senate colleagues travelled to China in April, 2017, at the invitation of a Beijing-based wealth management firm that recently opened up an office in Vancouver.

The two-week trip to Beijing and Fujian province was not disclosed to the Senate ethics office as either sponsored travel or a gift. Mr. Housakos gave conflicting accounts of who paid for the trip.

But Mr. Oh later told The Globe and the Senate ethics office that he did not believe the senators had to declare the trip because his “family” picked up the tab for airline tickets, hotels, meals and transportation. The purpose of the trip, he said, was to visit his ancestral home in Fujian province.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

How long will your Christmas gift cards last?

14 Dec 17
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  • Government says vouchers that expire in less than two years should not be sold
  • But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants are flouting this
  • Retailers pocket up to £300m a year from cards that customers fail to spend 

Spas and tea rooms are fleecing Christmas shoppers with gift cards that expire within just six months.

The Government says vouchers should never be sold with an expiry date of less than two years — and has urged the entire industry to set this as a new minimum.

But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants — including the Orangery at Kensington Palace — are flouting this.

Research shows retailers pocket up to £300 million a year from cards that customers fail to spend before they become worthless. 

Experts say there is no justification for expiry dates — and accuse shops of profiting twice from the same sale on vouchers that are never used, effectively selling the same goods or service twice.

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman says: ‘It’s inherently unfair for consumers to spend money on gift cards, only to be locked into restrictive conditions or impractical expiry dates. 

‘That’s why we continue to work closely with the gift card and voucher industry to improve transparency and simplicity around expiry dates, as well as encouraging retailers to make two-year expiry periods the norm.’

Money Mail found numerous cards were valid for short times.

They can be used for only six months at the Tea Parlour in Liverpool, London’s B Bakery and at the Orangery at Kensington Palace — but a note on its website says the expiry date will be December 31 due to refurbishment.

And the same is true for several health clubs and spas in the capital. Ajala spa, Amara spa and Aquilla Health and Fitness cards are only valid for six months.

Time limits: The Government says vouchers should never be sold with an expiry date of less than two years. But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants are flouting this

Time limits: The Government says vouchers should never be sold with an expiry date of less than two years. But many health clubs, hotels and restaurants are flouting this

Gift cards for Spa Seekers, the spa booking website, expire after ten months. The same applies to buyagift.co.uk, which sells vouchers for short breaks, massages driving days and other experiences.

You have 12 months to use vouchers for world-famous afternoon teas at Claridge’s and the Wolseley hotels as well as Yorkshire favourite, Bettys tea rooms.

Clothing retailer White Stuff, Ticketmaster and Costa coffee gift cards also expire after only 12 months, as do those for cinema chains including Vue and Everyman.

Ticketmaster acknowledges customers are at risk of forgetting to spend the cash within the stated period, warning online: ‘If you are the one giving the gift, please remember to pass the information on — you don’t want it to go to waste.’

Many restaurant gift cards also expire after 12 months, although some will give you three months’ grace. These include The Restaurant Choice card that can be used in venues such as Jamie’s Italian, Nando’s, Zizzi and Yo! Sushi.

The Great British Pub card, for Greene King pubs, Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse and Wacky Warehouse restaurants, among others, also expires after 12 months.

Meanwhile, supermarket Ocado changed its cut-off date from eight weeks to 12 months in January after criticism. Its small print was only changed last week, although the policy was altered months ago.

A study by the consumer organisation Which? found retailers including JD Sports, Sunglass Hut, Ted Baker and Westfield shopping centres impose one-year expiry dates.

Westfield even charges a £9.95 fee to extend a giftcard’s life by just three months.

James Daley, of Fairer Finance, says: ‘The money on a gift card is already being eroded by inflation — so the longer you hang on to it, the less it will buy you.

‘Expiry dates should be banned altogether — or at the very least set to a minimum of five years.’

He said expiry dates on gift cards had been banned in Canada for almost ten years and were also outlawed in several U.S. states including California and Florida. Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron says: ‘It is baffling that some retailers’ gift cards still have expiry dates as short as a few weeks.

‘Millions of pounds worth of vouchers risk going unspent yet again this year because ministers are failing to take action.

‘The Government must stop dragging its feet and introduce a two-year limit, to clamp down on this Christmas rip-off.’

Drink up: The Great British Pub card, for Greene King pubs, Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse and Wacky Warehouse restaurants, among others, also expires after 12 months

Drink up: The Great British Pub card, for Greene King pubs, Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse and Wacky Warehouse restaurants, among others, also expires after 12 months

A few retailers impose no expiry date. These include Aldo, Ikea, Starbucks, Apple store iTunes, Disney, Foot Locker and Selfridges.

But the majority give limited offers. Laura Ashley, Caffe Nero, Pizza Hut and ASK Italian have an 18-month cut off.

Department stores John Lewis and House of Fraser both offer cards which are valid for two years.

Chains, including Mothercare, Oasis, Next, Marks & Spencer, White Company, WHSmith and Sports Direct do the same — all meeting Government advice.

Some extend further still, offering a three-year period of use. Zara, Homebase and Argos gift cards can be used up to three years after purchase (two years for Argos online voucher purchases).

In some cases, if you use the voucher in part or top it up within a given period, the use-by date will be extended. In most cases, gift vouchers expire 12 or 24 months from the date of purchase.

However, this date is rarely printed on the card itself, meaning that the recipient is often in the dark about when the card becomes useless.

Consumer expert Andrew Hagger says: ‘The expiry date on gift cards is often buried in the small print. There really should be a minimum two-year expiry date as standard — and it should be printed clearly on the card itself so consumers don’t lose out.

‘These cards may be convenient when you are struggling to think of a suitable present but if the firm goes bust, the balance is lost.’

Research by The UK Gift Card & Voucher Association (UKGCVA) in 2014 found up to £300million-worth of gift vouchers expire before they can be spent every year. But it said since then 99 per cent of gift cards are spent within a year. A spokesman for the UKGCVA says: ‘We encourage our members to have complete transparency of gift card terms and conditions.

‘We suggest retailers and other gift card and voucher-issuers apply an expiry date policy of around 24 months from the date of purchase of the gift card or from the date of the most recent transaction.’

An Ocado spokeswoman says: ‘We changed the expiry from eight weeks to give customers more time to redeem them. We are sorry for the confusing information on our website, this has been updated.’

Westfield shopping centres says: ‘Customers can at any point choose to extend the gift card for a further three months for a £9.95 administration fee. Discretion can be used for individual circumstances.’

A spokesman for CH&Co, which runs catering services for The Orangery at Kensington Palace, says that its afternoon tea vouchers there ‘are valid for a period of six months and most are used in that timescale.

‘Where vouchers have recently expired, we would always do our best to accommodate people.’

B Bakery said their seasonal offering meant they could not extend their expiry date.

And a Tea Parlour spokesman said: ‘Our gift vouchers are only six months, but we’re flexible on extending whenever reasonable. No one wants to see a customer disappointed.’

money.mail@dailymail.co.uk





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

PMO Affirms staffer being probed over unspecified allegations

14 Dec 17
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An official in Justin Trudeau’s office has been investigated over unspecified allegations, the Prime Minister’s Office and the official confirmed late Wednesday.

The Prime Minister’s Office hasn’t identified the official or the nature of the allegations, but many media outlets have reported that the accusations included “improper behaviour”

The staffer, Claude-Eric Gagne, the PMO’s deputy director of operations, has issued a statement he is on leave due to an “independent investigation regarding allegations” which have come to the PMO’s interest.

“I’m taking this situation seriously and I have offered my full and total co-operation to the investigator who gave me the chance to expose my version of the facts to those allegations that I challenge the veracity,” Gagne said in an emailed statement.

“I expect that the process will succeed whenever possible.”

Gagne says he will not comment any further to prevent undermining the procedure he’s agreed to take part in.

Trudeau’s manager of communications, Kate Purchase, says any allegation brought to the PMO is taken extremely seriously.

“In this situation, an investigation was immediately triggered with the aid of an independent investigator and the person in question went on leave, pending the outcome.”

Purchase said the PMO wouldn’t comment further to safeguard the integrity of the procedure.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Vote for the worst customer service in our Wooden Spoon

13 Dec 17
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  • Pushy power firm E.ON slammed for forcing smart meters on customers 
  • HMRC’s new tax-free childcare service has been plagued by technical problems
  • Santander bank has refused to cover the losses of fraud victims 
  • Previous winner Scottish Power struggles to deal with the simplest of queries
  • Virgin Media customers complain of problems when moving homes

Today we launch the tenth annual Wooden Spoon Awards

Today we launch the tenth annual Wooden Spoon Awards

It’s time to stick it to the firms that drove you up the wall in 2017. Today we launch the tenth annual Money Mail Wooden Spoon Awards for poor customer service.

If you’ve been let down by a telecom firm, passed from pillar to post by your power supplier or left brimming with rage by a bank, this is your chance to get your own back.

And in a new feature this year, we also want you to nominate your Service Star.

This new prize will be awarded to the company that has gone above and beyond the call of duty, and left you beaming. 

Just send us a short account of a memorable act of kindness — or of staff unexpectedly resolving a tangle using good, old-fashioned common sense.

Over the past decade, Money Mail’s Wooden Spoon has become the trophy big bosses fear the most.

That’s because your opinion matters. 

Today we reveal the five on this year’s shortlist and ask you to vote for the one you want us to name and shame as the worst. 

Our list has been carefully compiled from the hundreds of letters, emails and calls we receive each week.

Scroll to the bottom to vote in the Wooden Spoon

Money Mail spends most of its time fighting your corner against the giants who bungle everyday requests and payments.

So the traditional end-of-year Wooden Spoon Award hones in on organisations that look after the key areas of our finances: bank accounts; savings and mortgages; investments; insurance; tax; and essential utilities such as phone and energy bills.

BT, the winner for the past two years, is the most notable absentee this time around, after considerably cleaning up its act.

We now receive far fewer complaints about faulty BT broadband and phone lines or unhelpful call centre staff.

The same goes for Vodafone. After an ignominious third place last year, chief executive Nick Jeffery vowed he’d invest in better customer service — and it seems to be paying off. 

The quantity and seriousness of the gripes you send us are much reduced.

Once you’ve made a decision on who provides Britain’s worst customer service, vote using the form below.

And don’t forget to tell us about the good service you’ve had, too — for our new Service Star prize. Simply include a note in your letter explaining your choice.

You can pick any company you’ve had dealings with this year.

You have until Friday, January 5, 2018, to vote. We’ll then reveal the winners later in January, when we’ll hand over the Spoon and Star gongs to the respective chief executives.

E.ON

When Money Mail revealed in September that energy companies were using high-pressure tactics to push customers into having smart meters installed, you inundated us with examples.

These new meters use wireless signals to tell suppliers how much energy you use. But they are not compulsory and customers can refuse.

In some cases, firms scheduled dates to fit the meters without being asked — and bombarding customers with calls, texts and letters if they refused to have one.

E.ON was the worst offender among the Big Six power giants. Angry customers said it had told them that they must switch to a smart meter or face bill hikes.

Others had been sent letters that suggested installing a smart meter is a legal or a safety requirement.

E.ON also revealed plans to replace its expensive standard tariffs with cheaper rolling deals — but only for its customers with smart meters.

It was only after Money Mail reported the firm to the energy watchdog that E.ON agreed to change the information it sends customers to make it clearer that smart meters are optional.

A spokesman for E.ON says: ‘We’re always looking at how we can improve things for our customers. We fully support the smart meter rollout and are keen to enable our customers to see the benefits of this advanced technology for themselves.’

HMRC

The taxman is no stranger to the Wooden Spoon shortlist — and it’s had another miserable year. HM Revenue and Customs’ new tax-free childcare service, launched in April, has been plagued by technical problems, leaving parents locked out of the website and unable to log into accounts to pay nursery fees.

When parents then tried to ring the helpline, they routinely couldn’t get through. In August the taxman had to set up a compensation scheme for those who had lost out.

HMRC has also come under fire for unfairly pocketing thousands of pounds from savers.

Money Mail revealed in November that people in their 50s and 60s who made extra payments to top up state pensions found they didn’t actually qualify for an increase. Yet when they asked for their money back, the taxman refused.

There has also been a great deal of confusion around the marriage tax break. In September we reported that 2 million of the 4.2 million couples eligible for the perk had not claimed it, missing out on around £1.3 billion between them. 

You tell us the application process is cumbersome and it is difficult to find out if you’re eligible.

Letters to Money Mail’s agony uncle Tony Hazell also suggest HMRC is still giving customers the runaround when they’ve paid the wrong amount of tax and need to correct their records.

Sometimes it has taken the tax office months to reply to your requests — and then it’s failed to apologise.A spokesman for HMRC says: ‘We’re delivering better customer service across the board.

‘Call waiting times are below five minutes, we’re now available seven days a week, and 13 million people have signed up to online tax accounts to manage their tax online.

‘We’re sorry that some parents didn’t receive the standard of service to which we are committed. We’ve improved the new service.’

SANTANDER

At the start of this year Money Mail was flooded with heart-wrenching cases of Santander customers who had lost their life savings to online banking fraud.

Con artists pretending to be from telecoms firms and even Santander itself had found a way to exploit the bank’s payment verification system to empty people’s accounts without them being alerted by text message. 

In one of the worst cases, a 49-year-old from London lost £180,000.

Santander refused to cover these losses, claiming the victims should not have given out their details over the phone.

In some cases it sent victims standardised letters claiming to have investigated their case fully just 24 hours after the customer had reported the incident.

Santander also failed to tell some customers that they had the right to appeal to the Financial Ombudsman Service if they disagreed with the bank’s decision.

Since Money Mail highlighted the flaw in Santander’s text message system, the bank has tightened its security.

But many victims are still thousands of pounds out of pocket.

A spokesman for Santander says: ‘We work hard to prevent our customers becoming victims of scams. 

We invest heavily in processes and systems to detect and prevent fraud. We are sorry if some of our customers feel we have not met the simple, personal and fair standards we strive to meet. 

We take our responsibility in this area very seriously and will continue to fight back against the criminals who are ruining people’s lives.’

SCOTTISH POWER

After Scottish Power won our Wooden Spoon three years ago, its service appeared to be improving.

But over the past 12 months its name has again started to crop up in our postbag with regularity.

You tell us time and time again that the firm is unable to deal with the simplest of queries.

Readers routinely say their bills and direct debit payments are wrong — sometimes because their address has been confused with a neighbour’s. Then, when you ask for it to be corrected, nobody comes back to you — and sometimes Scottish Power compounds the error with another bungle.

In the worst cases, customers are being threatened with debt collectors over money they don’t owe.

Scottish Power has been ranked bottom of the Big Six suppliers for service by Citizens Advice in its latest ratings.

And the firm’s own figures show that complaints are starting to creep up again. Between July and September it received 138,877 complaints.

That’s a 14.4 per cent increase on the 121,320 it received in the final three months of last year.

Its figures also show that complaints are taking longer to resolve. Colin McNeill, retail director at Scottish Power, says: ‘In a recent survey we had the best call answering times out of the big suppliers and throughout the year we have continued to make solid progress in our service.

‘We are working hard to keep making service improvements and developing new products to look after our existing customers.’

VIRGIN MEDIA

Not a week goes by without a fistful of complaints about this telecoms giant appearing in our postbag. 

One of the biggest gripes is around moving home. Customers who have been loyal to Virgin Media for years tell us that after moving to an area where the firm doesn’t supply broadband and TV, they are being charged hefty fees to exit their contract early. 

How much they have to pay depends on how long their contract has left to run. In some cases, bills of up to £240 are being charged. Customers say they feel as though they are being exploited.

They say they were never warned about this trap when signing up and are paying the price for the firm failing to invest in full nationwide coverage.

Readers tell us that when they complain, Virgin’s staff are unhelpful and promise callbacks that never come.

The regulator, Ofcom, has said it will be investigating whether these charges are excessive.

It could introduce a cap, but the firm is continuing to bill customers in the meantime.

A spokesman for Virgin Media says: ‘Giving our customers excellent customer service is at the very heart of our business, so it’s disappointing to hear we’ve fallen short of their expectations and the high standards we set ourselves.

‘We take this feedback very seriously and are listening to the concerns raised by Money Mail readers. We have already taken a number of steps and are investing significantly to improve our customers’ experience.’

 VOTE NOW





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

New Liberal MP Gordie Hogg plays down federal implications of by-election win

12 Dec 17
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Even as Gordie Hogg prepares to go to Ottawa as South Surrey-White Rock’s new Liberal MP, he is warning his party against drawing assumptions from his milestone by-election win about its prospects of holding or bolstering its B.C. ranks in the next federal election in 2019.

“No doubt it’s a positive statement,” Mr. Hogg said of his win by about 1,600 votes over Conservative Kerry-Lynne Findlay, a national revenue minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper. “What that means in terms of the future? I don’t know the answer to that.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Hogg was crediting his personal profile, campaign team, shifting demographics and two campaign visits by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for tipping things the Liberal way in an area of the Lower Mainland that has not elected Liberals in decades. The South Surrey-White Rock area has tended to send conservative-minded politicians to Ottawa, most recently former Conservative MP Dianne Watts.

Among the four federal by-elections across Canada held Monday, the South Surrey-White Rock race was a notable wild card because it was close in 2015 when Ms. Watts won by about 1,500 votes over the Liberal candidate.

That narrow 2015 win meant an all-out fight this year when Ms. Watts precipitated a by-election by quitting the seat to seek the leadership of the BC Liberals. Mr. Hogg was a cabinet minister in governments of the BC Liberals, who have no connections with their federal namesake.

Mr. Trudeau and federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, each visited the riding twice for campaign events. With the NDP coming in a distant third in 2015, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh did not visit to make the case for the NDP candidate.

While Mr. Hogg was wary about grand forecasts, the Liberals and Conservatives seized on the outcome of the by-election, with its turnout of about 38 per cent, to speculate on its significance.

Braeden Caley, senior federal Liberal communications director, said in a statement that B.C. is now represented by 18 Liberal MPs – out of 42 seats – as a result of the work of party volunteers, “and that hard work to keep earning the support of British Columbians and all Canadians will continue in earnest on the road to the next election in 2019.”

Cory Hann, communications director for the Tories, said in his own statement that the party knew it was facing a tough fight in South Surrey-White Rock given the 2015 results.

“The Conservative Party was the only party to make gains nationwide, and like any good hockey team, Conservatives know that going down a goal in the first period just means we have to work even harder going forward.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Findlay declined an interview.

Mr. Hogg, 71, said his local profile likely helped clinch the seat. In addition to his work in provincial politics, he is also known for being a councillor in White Rock as well as serving as mayor of the seaside community. “One of the things for this riding that was quite meaningful for me was a number of people who were supporting me as opposed to political parties,” he said.

Political scientist Hamish Telford said Mr. Hogg was making a valid point.

“But I think it also has something to do with Trudeau just being much better known than Andrew Scheer and still, evidently, well liked,” said Mr. Telford, an academic at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Mr. Telford said it does not appear that scandals around, for example, Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s management of his personal assets, hurt. “Voters seemed to have been tuning out the scandals. It’s all inside Ottawa.”

He said it’s clear, from the by-election, that there’s a lesson for Mr. Scheer. “If he didn’t know it already, he has his work cut out for him. Certainly back in 2015, the Conservatives underestimated Justin Trudeau. They still love to mock him and there still might be some underestimating him as a leader and as a campaigner.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

December 22 and 23 2017 may be busiest supermarket days

12 Dec 17
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  • Friday and Saturday before Christmas may be record breaking for supermarkets
  • Kantar Worldpanel estimates £1.5bn to be spent in supermarkets in two days
  • Data also shows that Britons now have a taste for ‘premium’ alcohol 
  • Aldi is fastest growing supermarket in the last three months 

The Friday and Saturday before Christmas could be the busiest supermarket shopping days in history, according to consumer panel Kantar Worldpanel.

Christmas Day falls on a Monday this year and the last time that happened, in 2006, the Friday before was the most popular day for grocery shopping that year.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel, says that if we see a similar pattern in 2017, Friday 22 December is likely to win out as the ‘grocers enjoy not only the biggest shopping day of 2017, but the most successful ever recorded.’

He adds: ‘Over Friday 22 and Saturday 23 December, we expect shoppers to part with an eye-watering £1.5billion as they fill their trollies ahead of Christmas Day.’

Christmas dash: It is estimated £1.5bn will be spent on 22 and 23 December - while data shows Aldi is once again the fastest growing supermarket

Christmas dash: It is estimated £1.5bn will be spent on 22 and 23 December – while data shows Aldi is once again the fastest growing supermarket

Meanwhile, its data shows shoppers have splashed out £172million more on alcohol in the last 12 weeks compared to last year, as Britons turn their attentions to upmarket tipples.

Latest supermarket figures show that the growth is mainly a result of shoppers choosing more expensive ‘premium’ alcohol, although the volume of sales has also increased.

Sales of gin are up 26 per cent, whisky 10 per cent and sparkling wine seven per cent – while a big seller this year is non-alcoholic beer, with sales up 27 per cent to the 12 weeks to 3 December 2017.

The figures show supermarket sales have increased 3.1 per cent annually, despite like-for-like grocery inflation of 3.6 per cent – the highest level since 2013.

It comes following a period of grocery price deflation which ran for 30 consecutive periods from September 2014 to December 2016. It’s based on 75,000 products.

Kantar says the price of butter, fish and fresh pork continue to rise, while only a few products are seeing prices fall, such as fresh poultry and crisps.

Market share: Tesco continues to be miles ahead of its rivals - while Aldi continues to make ground on Morrisons

Market share: Tesco continues to be miles ahead of its rivals – while Aldi continues to make ground on Morrisons

Aldi fastest growing supermarket 

Meanwhile, Aldi has reclaimed its crown as Britain’s fastest growing supermarket in the last three months, with sales up 15.1 per cent annually.

This compares to 14.5 per cent at its German rival Lidl.

Fraser McKevitt said: ‘Aldi saw notable successes in the chilled aisle, increasing sales of convenience products like ready meals and desserts by an impressive 40 per cent year-on-year.

WHY HAS ALDI BECOME POPULAR?

The German discounter has seen a surge in popularity in the last 18 months as it appears more shoppers are willing to give it a go.

Earlier in the year, This is Money went behind the scenes to see the secrets of its growing success, including using the same suppliers as upmarket rivals and the cunning strategy behind the ‘special buy’ middle aisles.

You can read the full feature here: Behind the scenes at Aldi – 17 secrets of its success 

 

‘Aldi’s Specially Selected line was the UK’s fastest growing premium own label brand during the past 12 weeks, enjoying a healthy sales increase of 25 per cent.

‘Meanwhile Lidl’s market share increased by 0.5 percentage points to stand at 5.1 per cent. 

‘This was helped by a strong performance from well-known brands, which currently account for 11 per cent of the retailer’s sales.’

The biggest four grocers saw collective growth of 1.9 per cent during the past 12 weeks, making this the ninth consecutive period of increasing sales for the UK’s largest retailers.

Tesco – with sales up 2.5 per cent compared to this time last year – was the fastest growing of the four.

Despite its market share falling by 0.1 percentage points to 28.2 per cent, Tesco remains Britain’s most-visited retailer – welcoming a huge 21million households during the last three months.

Sainsbury’s grew sales by two per cent, with its market share falling to 16.3 per cent. Meanwhile Morrisons’ market share fell to 10.6 per cent, despite an annual sales boost of 1.4 per cent year, showing just how much the German discounters are denting market share.

Sales also grew at Asda – up 1.2 per cent – with market share down by 0.3 percentage points.

Comparison: Almost all supermarkets have seen spend up - only Co-op bucks the trend

Comparison: Almost all supermarkets have seen spend up – only Co-op bucks the trend

Waitrose and Iceland both increased sales, up by 1.6 per cent and 1.3 per cent respectively. 

Co-op’s sales fell by 1.5 per cent, taking market share down 0.3 percentage points to six per cent.

The data also shows that online supermarket sales growth has slowed considerably to just 2.8 per cent in the last 12 weeks – but it is still likely to be a record December for grocery e-commerce. 





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

Liberals retain two safe seats, Conservatives keep another in federal byelections

12 Dec 17
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The federal Liberals held on to a pair of safe seats and the Conservatives hung onto a safe seat of their own in three of four federal byelections held Monday night.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Liberals easily retained Bonavista-Burin-Trinity, the safest Liberal seat in the country.

Liberal Churence Rogers took 69.2 per cent of the vote — 46 percentage points ahead of his nearest competitor, Conservative Mike Windsor, who did manage to double his share of the vote from the 2015 general election.

Roger will replace popular Liberal predecessor, Judy Foote, who retired from cabinet and federal politics due to family health concerns.

In Toronto’s Scarborough-Agincourt riding, Liberal Jean Yip was leading with 49.6 per cent of the vote with 155 of 197 polls reporting.

The riding was left vacant by the death of her husband, Arnold Chan.

With 110 of 138 polls reporting in the safe Tory riding of Battlefords-Lloydminster in Saskatchewan, Conservative Rosemarie Falk enjoyed a strong lead with 69 per cent of the vote — more than 55 points ahead of any of her competitors.

The B-C contest in South Surrey-White Rock is the only one of the four byelections where the seat could change hands.

With 75 of 199 polls reporting, that contest was still too close to call.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Jo Johnson reveals plans for two-year university courses

11 Dec 17
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  • A new degree will be offered to students in the UK wary of high tuition fees
  • The degree is two years long and is thought to be 20 per cent cheaper overall 
  • Universities Minister Jo Johnson hopes the degree will mean no student debt
  • But some say that high interests rates on student loans is what needs changing

High levels of student debt – on average £50,000 – force many young people to think twice about embarking on a university degree. 

But the launch of a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete, rather than the standard three, is designed to attract those fearing high bills for tuition fees and living costs.

The so-called ‘accelerated degree’ will work out 20 per cent cheaper overall and save students thousands of pounds in borrowing costs, according to Universities Minister Jo Johnson.

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

The new degrees are set to launch in 2019 and are expected to attract mature students and those who cannot afford thousands of pounds in borrowing costs

Announcing the proposals today, Johnson told The Mail on Sunday he hopes universities will grab the opportunity to offer students more flexibility and choice by providing short-term degrees over a wide variety of subjects – in addition to traditional courses.

His proposition emerges against a backdrop of frenzied criticism of the higher education system. 

In the last week alone universities have been condemned for bosses’ fat cat pay, the loan system dubbed ‘diseased’ by Labour peer Lord Adonis – and the courses currently on offer denounced by watchdog the National Audit Office for providing poor quality for the price.

The new degrees, due to launch in 2019, are expected to attract mature students in particular who want to study but cannot justify the time or cost involved in a three-year pause from the workplace.

Johnson, says: ‘The aim is to break the current “one size fits all” model which I am concerned is squeezing out applicants. There has been a big decline in the number of mature students and I think that is why.’

But the planned scheme is not limited to mature students. He expects many school-leavers to seize the chance to pursue shorter courses. Johnson says: ‘There are plenty of young people who want a faster pace of learning and to get into the world of work more quickly. It will be the same degree with the same quality assurance.’

He says employers also like graduates with speedy degrees under their belt as it suggests they will make highly motivated, hard-working members of the workforce.

The teaching of the degrees will typically take 45 weeks a year over two years instead of 30 weeks a year over three.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Universities Minister Jo Johnson, pictured, has launched a new ‘value for money’ express degree that takes just two years to complete

Some smaller universities and colleges, such as Hertfordshire and Coventry, already offer two-year degrees but just 2,500 students are enrolled in such courses out of a total 1.5 million undergraduates in England. 

The Government hopes traditional universities will see the benefit of offering shorter courses as a flexible option alongside three-year arrangements.

Universities will be allowed to charge 20 per cent more than the current £9,250 annual cap for tuition fees – making the teaching bill £11,100 a year or £22,200 for the whole course. That compares to £27,750 for a three-year degree – a student saving of £5,550.

Johnson says: ‘They will be the same programmes, same degrees, same quality but less debt and more value for money.’

He believes these courses plus newer arrangements from the likes of UK vacuum cleaner giant Dyson, which has set up its own engineering university in Wiltshire are set to shake up the system. Johnson says: ‘There is an appetite for something different as shown by the fact Dyson’s courses are oversubscribed by 20 or 30 times.’

Staffordshire University is another institution already offering fast-track degrees in subjects such as English, journalism and law (costing £18,500 in fees over two years).

Karl McCormack, who teaches two-year degrees in accounting and finance, says: ‘They offer students extra focus, the drive and immersive experience of learning over two years.’

Student Laura Montague, taking a two-year finance course at Staffordshire, says: ‘It prepares you well in terms of what the working environment will be like when you finish.’

The Office for Students, a new watchdog that will be in place next year, will support the provision of the new degrees. Government research suggests more than 70 per cent of universities report a craving for shorter courses among students and employers.

For many students a £5,550 reduction in the overall cost of a degree will only make a fractional dent in the giant debt they will carry for years. 

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

Jake Butler, pictured, of the website Save The Student is calling for lower interests rates

Fees on standard degrees have trebled since 2012 and students can now expect to graduate with debts of at least £50,000 – or nearer £57,000 for those from poorer families who borrow extra to cover living expenses.

For full-time students in England, repayments equivalent to 9 per cent of income over £25,000 only begin once they have left university and are earning £25,000 or more a year.

But interest racks up at March’s Retail Prices Index measure of inflation (3.1 per cent) plus 3 percentage points while at university.

So on graduation those earning more than £25,000 pay on a sliding scale of up to 6.1 per cent where income reaches £41,000 or more.

The Government plays down the impact of the debt. After 30 years, any outstanding student debt is written off though for many thousands of pounds of interest will have been paid along the way.

Danny Cox, of financial adviser Hargreaves Lansdown, says: ‘Reducing a course by a year might bring the cost down a bit, but it is still an astronomical amount of money to saddle young graduates with as they head into the workplace.

‘The student loan system teaches young people that unaffordable debt is perfectly acceptable and you do not need to worry about repaying it – which is a terrible money life lesson.’

Liz Emerson, of the Intergenerational Foundation think-tank, says: ‘Graduates who make repayments are effectively paying a tax of 41 per cent. Jo Johnson is in the age group who got their degrees for free and does not pay extra tax for it. The Government needs to rethink the interest on these loans.’

Jake Butler, of website Save The Student, says: ‘Would students on a two-year course really get the same value as those on a three-year course? Given the fact many students already feel their contact time is too limited, I am not so sure.’

He calls for an end to the high rates of interest charged to all students, particularly since the highest rate applies while they are studying and unable to make repayments.

He says: ‘After graduation the interest drops to just 3.1 per cent if they earn below £25,000 from April 2018. Why can it not be this low when studying?’

Johnson told The Mail on Sunday that student funding, including interest rates, is still under review. He said: ‘Details will be set out in the coming weeks.’ 

NO LOANS, A SALARY AND STUDENT DIGS…WELCOME TO DYSON UNIVERSITY

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

Sir James Dyson, pictured, launched the Dyson Institute in September

A desire to introduce innovation into the nation’s provision of university degrees was behind the launch of the Dyson Institute, which opened to its first students in September.

British technology tycoon James Dyson launched his own university in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills. 

About 850 school leavers applied for 33 places on the four-year course. Unlike most other undergraduates, the successful applicants have their £9,250 annual tuition fees met by the company – plus they receive an apprentice salary of £15,500 a year.

Dyson is also in the process of building student accommodation. These few lucky students will have no massive debt to carry with them – and there is no obligation to stay with the company.

The students spend three days a week working on projects and the remaining two studying at the Wiltshire campus.

The first students will have their degrees awarded by Warwick University. 

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills

Inside the Dyson Institute, pictured, in Wiltshire, which was launched in a bid to help plug the huge gap in the country’s engineering skills





Courtesy: Daily Mail Online