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.

Vodafone-Melita Merger off

Earlier this week it was announced that the merger between Vodafone and Melita is off as they could not meet the demands which the Office for Competition (OC) within the MCCAA were imposing.

The Consumers’ Association is relieved that this merger is off as such a merger would have turned the telephone market into a duopoly. The Association was against the merger and it pronounced itself publicly many times against this merger. It also submitted its views to the OC on several occasions so that the consumers’ interests are safeguarded.

Though the Association is satisfied with the outcome, it expected that the OC would issue a statement where it would give an indication of the issues which underlined its investigation into the merger without divulging any commercial information.

The Association urges both the OC and the Malta Communications Authority to start issuing an annual joint report on the telecom market. While the Consumers’ Association notes that the MCA periodically issues such a report, it would be more useful if such a report is drawn by both Authorities as it would give a holistic view of how the local telecommunications market is operating.

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.