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

Citadel sues C A for alerting  consumers 

Following the article on the Consumer Association’s (CA) website entitled “Beware: Citadel’s Travel Insurance Hidden Limitations”, CA first received a letter from Citadel’s legal counsel where CA was told that should it not immediately remove this post from its website and publish an apology with wording  that will be agreed to by Citadel, Citadel  would then proceed “judicially” against the association “both criminally and civilly, for libel, defamation, and consequent damages.”  The letter is being reproduced below.

CA decided to maintain its stance primarily because:

  • What CA published was correct and factual, and there was nothing defamatory in what was written in the piece objected;
  • CA’s main role is to inform consumers about any lack of information or misinformation which traders give when describing their products or services;
  • Failure by CA to act in such instances would mean that it is abdicating from its role to alert consumers when the need arises, moreso when vital information about a product or service is not given or worse is given incorrectly.

Because of the above, CA didn’t succumb to the threats and left the article on its website.  Subsequently, Citadel sued us civilly. CA noted vis-a-vis the claims by Citadel that:

Citadel in their letter [through their legal counsel] tried to link our article to a specific complaint.  The article objected to is not specifically about the complaint.  CA referred to the complaint simply because during the investigation of the complaint CA noticed that Citadel was basing its position on ‘terms’ which were not factored in the actual terms and conditions provided by it to its clients. CA published the article because such a shortcoming could impact other consumers.  We categorically deny that we acted in an abusive or illegal manner as alleged by Citadel. CA cannot understand how highlighting such incidents amounts to libel or worse justifies the threat of criminal prosecution!

CA believe that as a consumer association it is duty bound to inform consumers of their rights and to ensure that consumers are given full clear and unequivocal information on the products or services paid for. This is especially important since Maltese consumers are ranked by the EU as being the third in the classification of those consumers who spend most on travelling.

Travel insurances are very important today. The current turmoil created by the unilateral cancellation of thousands of flights by Ryanair and the demise of Monarch Airlines, makes insurance policies vital for the mobility of consumers. Unless explicitly informed, consumers rightly assume that their full journey is covered as the journey does not constitute the first leg of the journey but the whole journey to their destination.  This is logical.

In the case of Citadel, it transpired that the interpretation of the section under which such circumstances fall depends on the definition of what constitutes ‘cancellation’ and ‘journey’.  However, the definition upon which Citadel seems to base its position as to whether certain circumstances are covered or not, does not feature in the information that consumers are given. Hence the reason why CA wrote article to which Citadel are so vehemently contesting even to the extent of stating that they are considering criminal proceedings!

If the definition used covered the whole journey one would understand that there is no need that such information is given to consumers as all circumstances except those explicitly mentioned would be covered.  But when the definition is a restrictive one in which only the first leg of the journey, consumers have the right to be informed as such limitation is an important characteristic of the product.  It is upon the characteristics of the product that a consumer decides whether to buy a product or not.

The definition which we quoted was given to us by Citadel through an email while we were assisting the said consumer to attain redress.  We leave it to consumers, especially those who require to change flights to reach their destination, whether to determine if they should be informed of such a restrictive definition:

‘Cancellation means cancellation of a journey by the insured person(s) before leaving their Country of Residence, due to illness etc.  Before the journey actually commences.’

We asked Citadel more than once to inform us where such a definition is included in their policy.  However, they did not do so as this essential definition did not form part of the clauses governing the insurance.  We are also reproducing the policy (see below)  which is given to consumers in order that readers may verify whether such important information which determines the characteristics of the product/service is included in the policy.

The Association notes that such unwarranted steps by Citadel only serve to strengthen our resolve to ensure that the rights of consumers are safeguarded especially in such essential sectors as travelling.

Citadel L C letter 100117

Citadel L C letter 100117 TRAVEL INSURANCE POLICY – Advanced 2015 FINALV sent by Citadel 070117

 

Gozo Channel’s unresponsiveness

One thing that distinguishes firms is their customer care.  This shortcoming is found in all sectors of the economy.  However, those firms which are in the public sector are more prone to such shortcomings.  This is in spite of the efforts that are being made to make public sector firms more responsive to customer complaints.  Some time ago, we mentioned ARMS Ltd where it is virtually impossible for someone to get a proper answer to his/her queries.

Today, we are including Gozo Channel where in spite of several emails to the firm to answer a query, remained unanswered.  The Association received a complaint from a family whose son travelled to Gozo with a group of friends.  He was charged €2.30 for a small bottle of water (500ml) while on the trip last April.

The family of the concerned consumer wrote 3 times but received no response.  The Association wrote to the firm several times on 14th and 30th June and 22nd August 2017, but again we did not receive any reply to our query.

Consumers should be weary when buying from the canteen of Gozo Channel ships as we had also reports that consumers are rarely given receipts even though a receipt is issued from the till.  The problem when not given a receipt is that one would not be in a position to see if they are overcharged or not.

ANEC’s Cross-border Health Care Survey

ANEC is the European consumer voice in standardisation. It represents the European consumer interest in the creation of technical standards, especially those developed to support the implementation of European laws and public policies.

The purpose of collecting views from consumers is on cross-border healthcare. We are also interested in your experiences using hospitals, or visiting doctors, dentists or other medical specialists in other EU countries.  The survey would only take 5-10 minutes to complete.

This is a chance to have your voice heard at the European level.   The wider the response the more representative would be the proposals to be put forward to the EU for consideration.  Malta is small but our importance can be made significant through more participation at a stage where proposals are being drafted.

Make your voice heard by completing the survey which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Beware: Citadel’s Travel Insurance Hidden Limitations

It’s the travel season and most of us are careful and  buy travel insurance to cover any mishaps that may happen whilst on holiday  However, though we read the insurance cover, few of us realise that in some instances the cover paid for is extremely limited  or worse because of hidden limitations.

In our website we had already highlighted  two instances where the interpretation of the insurance companies was restrictive and seriously changes the nature of the cover provided.  In yet another  more recent complaint about travel insurance it resulted  that there was nothing in the information provided to  indicate  to the consumer that the travel insurance covered only the first leg of the journey.  Thus if one was travelling to a place where the journey is not one direct flight, only the first leg is covered.  The same applies if someone travels to a place to take a cruise, the insurance covers only the first leg, namely  if anything happens and as a result you miss your cruise, you are not covered.

Absurd, unbelievable but regrettably  true.  This is the section of a policy issued by Citadel Insurance which covers Cancellation and Curtailment.  If one goes through it, there is no indication of this limitation.

A consumer went for a holiday in the States.  Part of the trip included a cruise.  While in the States, days before taking the flight to catch the cruise, she got sick.  The doctor who examined her recommended that she should not take the cruise.  When she returned back home, she made a claim to the insurance.  The claim was turned down on the basis  that

‘Cancellation means cancellation of a journey by the insured person(s) before leaving their Country of Residence, due to illness etc.  Before the journey actually commences.’

We examined the policy to try to find this definition.  Yet we could not find any such definition in the information that was given to the consumer.  We asked Citadel to indicate where one can find this definition in the policy.  They could not indicate where as it is not part of the policy.  We thus maintained that the insurance should pay the consumer compensation.  Yet Citadel refused as they are claiming that their interpretation is correct.

Our position is clear:  This interpretation severely limits the policy.  Since the consumer was not informed beforehand of this interpretation, this limit should not apply.

Our question is thisWhy are consumers not given the definition of cancellation?  Is it possible that if consumers are aware of this limitation they would not have taken the policy?  BEWARE.

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.

BEWARE of these traders:

Beware of these traders mentioned in the Public Warning Statements issued by MCCAA.

 

This year the Director General of the Consumer Affairs Directorate published 4 public warning statements all in connection with traders failing to honour the Consumer Affairs Tribunal decision.  The following are the traders against whom the Public Warning statements were issued:

Gianluca Ciprini of IGC Group Ltd:   The trader had promised to deliver, from Poland, a folding door which was supposed to be with three openings, double glazed and with a mosquito net installed , for which a deposit of 1, 400 euros was paid. However, the consumer noticed that it was actually made in Malta, had 4 openings instead of 3 and a mosquito net could not be fixed to this door; thus, not as ordered by the consumer. The trader was ordered by the Tribunal to pay the sum of 1, 000 euros to the consumer

Vincent Agius of Agius Photo Studio of Paola:   The consumer had ordered a package including photos, album, pre wedding and post –wedding sessions, two smaller albums and the wedding DVD. The photos were never delivered as they were not ready yet.  Trader was ordered by the Tribunal to pay the sum of 1, 300 euros.

Franz Camilleri (472061M):   The consumer had engaged the trader to carry out works on her Maltese timbered balcony, paying him the sum of 450 euros. The said works were never carried out.

Alucare Mosta Ltd :   The consumer had ordered aluminium work from the company, but it turned out to be faulty due to rainwater seepage. The Tribunal ordered the company to pay the consumer three hundred (300) euros.

The Directorate for Consume Affairs within the MCCAA has recently issued a Public Warning statement against a trader who failed to honour the Consumer Affairs Tribunal decision.

The Consumer Affairs Act empowers the Director General to issue a Public Warning Statement identifying and giving information in relation to:

  • goods or services that are unsatisfactory or dangerous and the persons supplying the said goods or services;
  • trading practices detrimental to the interest of consumers and persons who engage in such practices;
  • and any other matter that adversely affects or may adversely affect the interests of consumers in  connection with the acquisition by them of goods or services from traders.

One thing that we noticed is that it is the second Public Warning Statement issued by the Directorate responsible for consumer Affairs regarding Agius Photo Studio of Paola.  The first one was issued last year.  It shows that as we had been saying all along, the setting up of the Consumer Claims Tribunal on its own is not enough.  Harsher measures for those who believe they are above the law need to be introduced.

Would you buy from a trader who thinks he is above law and thus does not recognize your rights as a consumer?!

 

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)