Annual General Meeting

This year’s Annual General Meeting will be held on Thursday 22nd February at 5.30 pm at our Office in Valletta.  Nominations from paid members are open and should be addressed to secretary@camalta.org.mt.  The nominations will close on Thursday 15th February.  The nominations must be accompanied a copy of the ID card (both sides).  The nominations are for the following posts:

Chairperson

Secretary General

Financial Secretary

8 members

Motions to be discussed at the AGM are to reach the Secretary General by Thursday 15 February 2018.

 

 

Dieselgate – the Saga continues

Dieselgate started in 2015 when it was discovered that Volkswagen implanted fraudulent software to show lower emission of harmful fumes when its cars are being tested.  After much pressure, Volkswagen started to install what was supposed to be corrective new software.

However, a recent Euroconsumers’ survey showed that 45% of the cars which underwent the software update that Volkswagen proposed as a remedy to the Dieselgate scandal face problems (such as increase in fuel consumption, loss of power and/or mechanical problems).  In Belgium although 23% of garages recognised that the problem was related to the software update, 78% of the car owners impacted by VW’s fraudulent practices had to pay for repairs to the tune of  an average amount of 859 euros!

Test Achats, the Belgian consumer organisation and its sister organisations in Spain, Italy and Portugal conducted a survey of 10,600 VW car owners.  The survey shows that more than 4 out of 10 car owners of those who made the update of the software reported a negative impact on their vehicle including an increase in fuel consumption, a loss of power and even mechanical problems. The new survey shows that the update of software has not rectified matters. The survey showed that consumers experienced problems also with the EGR valve which regulated the emission of nitrogen dioxide.

It is shameful that VW continues to refuse to pay compensation while it does not seem to be able to fix the fraudulent software it installed in its cars.

It should be remembered that in the United States, VW paid 15 billion dollars to its customers as compensation.  Not only that but legal action had been taken against VW officials.

In contrast, in Europe nothing of the sort took place and no compensation is planned for Europe.  The European Union institutions are complacent and do not intend to take any action to defend consumer rights against the interests of a big European company such as VW in spite of the fact that apart from implanting fraudulent software to give the impression that the diesel emissions are low they have funded ‘unjustifiable’ diesel fume tests on humans.

European consumers, including many Maltese, are frustrated that the European Union Institutions seem to be impotent with regard to this issue.  The Consumers’ Association Malta is writing to the Maltese MEPs to put pressure on the European Parliament to take initiative and take action for the benefit of European consumers and ends this saga once and for all.

 

Travel Insurances – Are you covered?

Following the publication on our website regarding Citadel’s travel insurance policy (Citadel’s Travel Insurance Hidden Limitations) and also Citadel’s legal action against the Consumers’ Association Malta (Citadel sues CA for alerting consumers), the Consumers’ Association took a further step.

In October 2017, the Association wrote to the MCCAA, the regulator in charge of consumer affairs, to investigate Citadel’s travel insurance policy especially regarding the Section1: CANCELLATION AND CURTAILMENT CHARGES where we maintain that consumers were not given essential information in contravention of the Consumers’ Affairs Act.

However, we believe that this is the tip of the iceberg as other insurance policies being offered by other firms might also not be giving the necessary information to consumers so that the latter would be able to ensure that the travel insurance that they are buying satisfies their needs.

Consequently we asked the Consumer Affairs Unit to investigate other insurance policies to ensure compliance with the Consumers’ Affairs Act.

We urge consumers who would be taking more than one flight to arrive at their destination to ensure that the insurance policy that they would be buying does in fact covers all the flights to be taken.  We believe that inspecting the policy may not be enough and encourage consumers to ask specifically about such coverage.  We also urge consumers to have confirmation of this in writing.

We would be grateful to those consumers who would contact us if they find that some travel insurance has essential information missing.  As usual you may contact us on info@camalta.org.mt

 

 

Meeting with the Energy Regulator

ARMS

At a meeting which was held recently with the CEO of the Regulator for Energy and Water Services (REWS), the Association raised a number of issues.  But the main emphasis was the highly unsatisfactory customer service provided by ARMS.

The main complaints focused around the smart meter.  The Association made the point that in its opinion these meters are anything but smart.  First of all, they do not provide any further information than the old meters and thus do not contribute anything to energy efficiency.  But the bone of contention is the basic function that these were supposed to have – issue on time water and electricity bills without the need of a meter reader.

However, many meters, for some reason, do not provide this service with the consequence that bills are not issued on time and more often than not, consumers receive bills which cover many months, at times even years.

To make matters worse, the service provided by the customer care instead of providing an answer to consumers for their questions, provides a bureaucratic answer which does not provide an answer to the query raised thus further frustrating consumers.

A further consequence of not issuing timely bills is that families are faced with huge bills.  Most, at first would press for a satisfactory answer, but after a while, succumb to paying the bills as they are threatened that unless payment is made within a time period, they would face the withdrawal of electricity and water supply.

We also pointed out that, when consumers complain about the high bills they are faced with, the bills are presumably sent to the Bulking Committee to see if the bills issued are correct.  However, whatever the outcome, no explanation is given to consumers on what basis the bills were adjusted.

The reason for the high bills is not only due to the period of time covered but also due to the way the Eco Reduction is computed.  We do not agree with the way the eco-reduction is being implemented as in our opinion it is being manipulated in an unfairly manner to the disadvantage of consumers.

The Association is to send the complaints that we received to the Regulator.

 

Distribution of gas cylinders

The Association also complained that the decisions which were taken by the Ministry for Consumer Affairs in 2015 regarding the distribution of gas cylinder are still not been implemented.   Amongst them one finds that the gas cylinder distributors were to start giving a receipt to consumers.  Other changes which were supposed to have taken place are:

an appropriate price display on vehicles and selling points; 

provide schedule of deliveries to final customers;

to assist final consumers where possible with all matters relating to the proper use and connection of LPG gas cylinders free of charge;

delivery persons to be properly dressed and well mannered;

delivery of LPG cylinders not to cause any nuisance to the general public;

to provide/set up a call centre for deliveries within six (6) months of signing of this Agreement, and maintain such service in operation thereafter;

The Association has been pressing that these changes are implemented as the 31 distributors mentioned in the decision are being given a subsidy which according to some reports amount to thousands of Euros to implement these changes which were planned to improve the service.

It should be remembered that the Association was not in favour of this subsidy to these distributors. The reason is that the justification to the improvement of the distribution service was a cover-up to give these 31 distributors following the loss of their monopoly which they had for years.  Thus these distributors not only benefit from their previous unjustified position which also contravened the Competition Law but also received compensation!  To add insult to injury, they are receiving this ‘compensation’ without even honouring their obligations.

The Association will continue to press that these distributors will have to provide the service stipulated in the 2015 decision as otherwise consumers, who are also taxpayers, are being twice cheated.

Ryanair Cancellations

Following the recent arbitrary cancellation of some flights by Ryanair, the Consumers’ Association Malta would like to inform impacted consumers that they may consider seeking redress in line with EU Regulation 261/2004. Consumers should in the first instance ask Ryanair using its complaint form on:

Ryanair Claim Form

If the Airline fails to give a satisfactory reply within six weeks then the consumers should communicate with the relevant national enforcement body where the incident occurred. Consumers may in this regard communicate with the European Consumer Centre in South Street, Valletta at:

ECC Malta

Alternatively, consumers may consider seeking redress before the national courts. Consumers should seek professional advice about their specific rights and procedure to follow. It is pertinent to note that for flights from one Member State to another Member State, carried out on the basis of a contract with a single air carrier which is the operating carrier, a claim for compensation under the EU Regulation can be brought, at the applicant’s choice, before the national court which has jurisdiction over either the place of departure or the place of arrival, as stated in the contract of carriage.

At the end of September Ryanair also announced that it intends to cancel around 18,000 flights.  Thus it is in your interest to check if your flight is amongst those affected.

Moreover, we encourage consumers to be covered by an appropriate insurance.  As pointed out in previous news we encourage you to check carefully the type of insurance you take as otherwise you would be throwing away your money.  Check and check again as most insurance policies at face value cover almost any mishap that one might face while travelling.  Yet one would be flabbergasted with the amount of missing information and the number of exceptions and restrictive interpretations of what seems to be plain sailing clauses in many of travel insurance policies – see news.

We are also including an app which was developed by the Norwegian Consumer Council which will help you know your rights.

Know your rights app

PR: Vodafone/Melita Merger is not beneficial to consumers

In a new press statement the Association reiterated its opinion that this merger is not beneficial to consumers.  This was confirmed by the press statement that Vodafone had recently issued.  Vodafone said that the merger would benefit consumers as the services of both companies would improve through the amalgamation of the best of services that each provides.

The Association does not agree for the simple reason that the merger would not provide any new service to consumers.  At present consumers can still access the best services from each provider by subscribing to such services.  There is nothing which prohibits consumers from getting a service from one company and another from the others.

Not surprisingly, Vodafone’s statement does not refer to any price changes which may be in the pipeline for bundling these services.  The Association notes that in this sector it has become a common practice that consumers are notified that prices are to increase due to a ‘better service’.  In such cases the consumer has no choice but to accept to pay for the price increase.

Another thing which has not been tackled by Vodafone’s statement is whether subscribers would be allowed to be released from a contract due to the fact that they had chosen a particular provider and now they would be finding themselves bound to another provider which they had purposely avoided.

The Association is also concerned whether this concentration in the market would make it impossible for a new provider to enter the market.  The more providers the more competition there would be and, hopefully, the more better services they would provide.

Vodafone is also reported by stating that this merger is also being demanded by consumers.  From the consumers’ comments that we receive and see on the media we believe that the situation is completely the opposite.

Finally, the Association also asked what position the Malta Communications Authority and the Office for Consumers Affairs had taken on this issue.  We sincerely hope that they had taken a position to ensure consumer rights.

Vodafone’s press statement was issued after the Director General of the Office for Competition issued a statement.

The statement said that it has opened an in-depth investigation to assess whether the proposed concentration of Apax Partners Midmarket SAS (Paris, France) (hereinafter referred to as ‘Apax’) and Vodafone Malta Limited (Luqa, Malta) (hereinafter referred to as ‘Vodafone’) is in line with the Control of Concentrations Regulations (Subsidiary Legislation 379.08).

It also stated that the Office has serious concerns that the transaction could prima facie limit competition, mainly in the mobile telephony market and possibly in the fixed markets, without providing sufficient pro-competitive effects. This is primarily based on the potential harm to competition and consumer welfare arising from the fact that the concentration would significantly curtail the possibility for three players to operate in the relevant markets, as it would instead create a dominant player within a duopolistic set-up. This assessment reflects serious concerns arising from the proposed concentration with regards to the horizontal effects of the transaction in the mobile-only market, and the potential for co-ordinated and foreclosure effects in the mobile-only and multi-play markets.  The Office will therefore assess the proposed transaction in-depth by opening a Phase II investigation.

CA Malta was informed that the MCA submitted and published its views re this issue.  The submissions justify our concerns.

ARMS – Bad customer service

One of the things that always distinguished ARMS was that it had never had a good customer service in the sense that they rarely give reason for their decisions in a language that can be understood by consumers.  However, the last case that we referred to them was about a consumer who noticed that he was not receiving any payment for the power he was generating through the solar panels.

The problem was that ARMS had an incorrect ID number in their system.  The consumer presented his ID card but this was not accepted.  After many calls and letters from the consumer’s notary, the problem was resolved and ARMS corrected its records.

The consumer, rightly, claimed a refund of the cost incurred by him to prove that ARMS’ record was incorrect.  However, in spite of many calls, nothing happened.

We contacted ARMS in March so as the consumer receives an answer to his request.  To date, after 2 months, we are still waiting for the consumer to receive this reply.

We believe that this is very bad customer service especially since ARMS was set up to solve these problems which consumers experienced with the previous system.  However, in spite of the high cost that taxpayers had to incur for this change the situation is still the same – bad customer service.

Vodafone/Melita merger – no good

Some days ago, Vodafone Malta and Melita Ltd announced that they intend to merge as one telcom provider.  We believe that this is bad news for local consumers as this will continue to limit the number of operators and thus competition.

Thus that local consumers not only do not have a real choice but to add insult to injury have got to pay very high prices when compared with the prices other consumers have to pay in other EU countries. Reducing the number of suppliers will make the situation much worse.

Consequently, we wrote to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, MCCAA, (see below), the regulator empowered to approve such a merger, to register that the Consumers’ Association is against this merger as of now.  Therefore we would like to register ourselves as objectors to the said proposal and expect the Competition Office to keep us informed on the process including keeping us informed on its market analysis which we assume in the light of the media declarations would have already kick-started.

We believe that the Competition Division in its evaluation should give special importance to the impact such a merger would have on consumer choice and publish a consumer impact assessment study especially the impact such a merger would have on ordinary consumers especially the prices that these consumers would have to pay for telephony, internet and tv services.  Such a study would have to compare the prices that consumers would pay under the present and the suggested scenario.

In the event that the MCCAA would approve this merger, we expect that the MCCAA to give those consumers under contract with Vodafone to opt out free from their contract.   The reason for this recommendation is that when choosing to subscribe to a service offered by this company consumers chose the services offered by Vodafone over those provided by either Go or Melita.  From available information it seems that “Vodafone” would simply be a brand name as Melita will have a 51% majority shareholding in the new setup.  Therefore in reality consumers who chose Vodafone will end up having a contract with Melita, something which they chose not to in the first place.

We also expect that the MCCAA would then assume its responsibilities by making bi-annually market study to ensure that none of the remaining operators are exploiting the resultant dominant position to the detriment of the consumer.   Needless to say, we expect that such studies should be made public.

bbbHE Vod_Mel 260517

CA’s Election Proposals

The Consumers’ Association –Malta today sent its proposals to the main political parties in Malta.  Our analysis of the present situation in the sector led to these proposals which should be taken up during the next legislature.

This analysis and proposals are based on the experience we had amassed during our work these last thirty years.  The aim is to ensure that apart from identifying and solving the main problems in this sector, these proposals should form the basis through which local consumers enhance their trust in the local market.

These proposals are based on the following principles:

  • Everyone should operate in a transparent and accountable way;
  • Consumers’ interests should be given the same importance as those of businesses’;
  • Guarantee that there is enough space within the consumer affairs structure where they can perform their role in a sustainable manner;
  • Ensure compliance with the regulations;
  • Ensure that competent management of Authorities set up in the different economic sectors to safeguard consumers’ interest.

These proposals, in Maltese, can be viewed in the attached document.

20 May 2017

 

Proposti lil Partiti Politici elez june 2017 (f)

Cyber attack – Take Action

Over the past few days there has been an unprecedented worldwide cyber-attack that effected several countries and organisations. Security researchers are warning to expect more of these attacks (including variations) to happen in the coming days.
The threat posed by such cyber-attacks can be minimized by following basic steps:

  1. Do not click on email links or attachments that come from individuals you do not know. Also, extra care must be placed to check that the email sender address is correct. Ask yourself – was I expecting this email? Is this email too good to be true? Is the email using a tone which does not usually come from the sender? If in doubt, don’t click!
  2. Check that Windows Update is enabled and when prompted to install patches/reboot the machine, you do so without delays. Speak to your trusted ICT provider and/or from where you bought your machine if in doubt.
  3. Check that your home computer/laptop has antivirus software installed. Also, check that the latest antivirus definition file is being downloaded on your machine. Speak to your trusted ICT provider and/or from where you bought your machine if in doubt.
  4. Take backups (copies) of your most important data stored on your computer/laptop at home. If you use an external hard disk for the backup, do not leave the external hard disk connected to the computer/laptop when you are not doing a backup.
  5. Is your home computer/laptop slowing down unexpectedly? Are you seeing files changing without you knowing? These are potential signs of your machine having a virus. Speak to your trusted ICT provider immediately if the case.

15 May 2017