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

Solving Dieselgate: First steps by EP

Today the European Parliament was asked to vote on two Reports submitted by two of its committees – IMCO and EMIS in order to deal with the problems that Dieselgate had created and which lack of action on the part of national regulators had perpetuated.  This lack of action was evident in the case of Volkswagen.  This inaction perpetuated the emissions of high NOx*, with serious consequences on both environment and people’s health but shielded powerful carmakers from penalties.

The Parliament’s plenary endorsed a draft law seeking to beef up the current, flawed car testing system. In a separate vote, MEPs also called for affected Dieselgate consumers to be financially compensated.  The EU Parliament adopted the following landmark measures to reduce the chances of another Dieselgate scandal in Europe:

  • A stronger role for the EU Commission to test cars and ensure Member States are applying rules equally across Europe.
  • Checks on a minimum of 20% of new models once on the road across Europe.
  • Greater transparency of test results which would mean that car manufacturers, Member States and testing bodies are held more accountable.
  • A split in the financial relationships between car makers and privately owned testing services.
  • Compensation for consumers impacted by the Dieselgate scandal – such as VW owners – and that a recall is not a sufficient form of reparation.
  • Car maker liability if consumers face damages as a result of non-conformity.
  • The Commission to come forward with a proposal for an EU wide collective redress scheme for consumers.

After this vote Monica Goyens, BEUC’s Director General, said:

 “Today’s vote shows the Parliament has drawn the right lessons from the emissions scandal and is standing on the consumer’s side. Consumers expected EU legislators to acknowledge the malpractices of the car industry and the failure of Member States to properly test cars. The opaque testing system currently favours carmakers over consumers and this vote helps reverse the tide. 

The EU Parliament has heeded our call for robust measures to fix the flawed testing system. More car checks, better oversight of national authorities and cutting the financial ties between car makers and inspectors are crucial measures that are needed to avoid another Dieselgate. However, it is a missed opportunity that the Parliament rejected the idea of an EU agency to oversee car testing, which would be the ultimate way to improve the system.”

The setting up of an EU agency to oversee car testing was seen as a more definite way to ensure that another Dieselgate would not occur.  However, the EU Parliament did not approve this agency, a move which many considered it as a blow.  It should be noted when asked about the fact that no European testing agency noted the fraudulent device used by Wolkswagen, the US Environmental Protection Agency director said that only a central European Agency with the resources and power to test cars and trucks will prevent another Dieselgate scandal.

As we said, this is the first step as the European Council now needs to work with the Parliament to adopt a final agreement.  This would not be an easy task as the car industry has a very influential lobby in Germany, France and Italy.

 

*  The 2015 EEA figures have for the first time put the number of premature deaths caused by NO2 excess emissions across Europe at 72,000 annually. A Report attributed around 1200 deaths due to the Volkswagen scandal.

When ‘Unlimited’ really means LIMITED!

In 2012 Melita used the term ‘Unlimited’ to promote certain Melita services.  However, in reality the services were limited

This case relates to the contestation by Melita Limited (‘Melita’) of a decision taken by the Director General (Consumer Affairs) within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) whereby the Director General imposed an one off administrative fine of 5,000 euros and a daily fine of 120 euros on Melita – an electronic communications service provider – because of advertisements which the Director General considered to be misleading. This contestation was filed before the Competition and Consumer Appeals Tribunal (the Tribunal). Subsequently the Malta Communications Authority (MCA) intervened in the proceedings before the Tribunal.[1] Melita has since lodged an appeal before the Court of Appeal (Superior) contesting the Tribunal’s decision. The intervention and decision of the Director General (DG) came about after a complaint made by the Malta Communications Authority in 2012 with the DG whereby the MCA argued that advertisements by Melita promoting some of its products as being ‘unlimited’ were factually incorrect and misleading and therefore constituted unfair commercial practices and were in breach of the Consumer Affairs Act.[2]   Melita subsequently contested the DG’s decision including the fines imposed before the Tribunal. One of the main arguments made by Melita that any ‘limitations’ on the service were because of the application of fair usage policies intended to ensure that the use of the service does not impact other subscribers negatively. The Tribunal rejected the arguments by Melita noting that in the advertisements produced as evidence the words ‘unlimited’ and ‘without limits’ were written in prominent fonts whereas the words indicating that ‘terms and conditions apply’ or that ‘an acceptable usage policy’ applies, were written in very small fonts and placed in a corner of the advert. The Tribunal said that while it does appreciate the purpose behind the acceptable usage policy and the fair usage policy, Melita cannot advertise a service without limits when in reality limits exist, this irrespective of the number of clients impacted by such limits. The Tribunal decided not to uphold Melita’s claims, confirming the decisions taken by the Director General as per his decision of the 11th October 2012.

[1] The Tribunal is composed of a judge who presides and two lay technical members.

[1] The MCA as a ‘qualified entity’ under the Consumer Affairs Act, made a formal request to the Director General requesting him to issue a compliance order against Melita since it contended that Melita was acting in breach of Part VIII of the said law which regulated unfair commercial practices.

 

Outcome of the Expert Meeting in Malta

On the 13 and 14 March 2017 BEUC held two meetings of the 2nd Enforcement Steering Group & Redress Expert Meeting in Malta. The first session discussed various enforcement issues, including specific cases, which BEUC is currently investigating through the collaboration of various consumer organisations members of BEUC. These cases included the campaigns related to ‘connected toys’ with a presentation by NCC BEUC’s Norwegian member. Other cases discussed involved practices concerning Pokeman Go and the use of the so-called ‘floor clauses’ in mortgage (home loans) agreements. The group also discussed briefly recent developments relating the Volkswagan emissions case.

In the second session the BEUC secretariat prepared a presentation focusing on the impact of internet on consumer choices and what steps can be taken to ensure that consumers are better informed when buying through the internet. In this regard various suggestions were discussed focusing on more coordinated action between member associations including sharing of information and of possible unfair practices. In this context presentations were made relating to new initiatives relation to enforcement cooperation, the General Data Protection Regulation and the work relating to the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network.

The second day focused on collective redress with a tour de table amongst those present updating measures in each member state concerning collective redress. Following a presentation by BEUC as to the possible issues that can be raised to promote more effective means of collective redress through the EU, a lengthy discussion ensued as to what requests should be made to the EU in this regard including the feasibility of having a directive in place to ensure that certain minimum measures are adopted.

The Consumer Association – Malta is always represented in these Expert meetings as apart from the collective actions that we participate we also take advantage of the expertise in this group to learn how other consumer organisation tackle consumer issues that Maltese consumer face.

Welcome

The Consumers’ Association wish to welcome the participants to the Second Enforcement Steering Group Meeting & Redress Expert Meeting which is being organised by BEUC in Malta.

We wish every success to this meeting as the subjects to be tackled during the meeting are of direct interest to Maltese consumers.  Amongst them one finds the developments in the VW case and further enforcements action by BEUC members.  Another topic to be discussed is enforcement in the field of internet of things which also includes connected toys, an example of which is My friend Cayla which we featured some months ago.