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

Food for Health

We all know that we have to eat in order to live and survive.  We also know that sometimes we eat too much of one thing and thus we do not have a balanced diet which will make us unhealthy.  Sometimes we have our favorite dish that we do not even know how it is made or what is it made up of.  So what is food?  What is food made up of?  Why do we eat? 

All foods can be classified in basically three main categories: proteins, lipids (fats and oils) and carbohydrates.  60% of the human body is water.  A number of other essential factors are also important such as minerals, vitamins and fiber.

Proteins are obtained from meat, fish, beans, eggs, cheese and other similar foods.  Fats are obtained either from animal or fish sources, while carbohydrate

Proteins are large molecules made from smaller units of amino acids. There are only about 20 different naturally-occurring amino acids and are the building blocks for proteins. However, each protein molecule has hundreds, or even thousands, of them joined together in a unique sequence and folded into the correct shape. This gives each protein its own individual properties.

The basic units of carbohydrates are simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, they are mostly digested as glucose and used in our system in order to obtain energy.  These are also called monosaccharides. Glucose and fructose have the same molecular formula, C6H12O6. However, their structure is different.  Sucrose is a disaccharide. It consists of two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose, joined together. Starch (found in plants) and glycogen (found in animals) are polysaccharides. They consist of many glucose molecules joined together.

Lipids are fats and oils. Lipids are large molecules made from smaller units of fatty acids and glycerol.

farm-to-fork

What is the processes of having food transferred from a farm to fork in a safe way?  What is food safety, food handling, food processing and packaging?  What does the food label tell us?

Years ago food came directly from farms, fishing from sea, by hunting or growing crops.  Through the years and progress this a specialized profession.   To give an examples years ago everybody had their own animals and vegetables and fruit so there was no need to buy there.  Nowadays, most people need to buy these foods.  Sometimes these are also sold in supermarkets and sometimes even imported or exported to other countries.

So as one can see from basic raw food, now things start to get a bit more complex.  So let’s start with farming, agriculture and fisheries.  What we put in our soil, water, air, feeds for animals and fish, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, pollutants etc will most probably end up on our tables and we will eat these too.  So food safety is the term used so that a process is evaluated so that the final food product is safe for us. This include food processing ie cutting the foods and stored either fresh, fridge or frozen and a specific expiratory date has to be given to estimate till when the food is good for consumption and also to define different terminologies example fresh fruit.   These are defined as food processing and packaging.  During the packaging stage food labelling is also important and obligatory.  In food labelling the nutritional content of the food has to be clearly labelled, date of production and expiratory date.  Batch number and bar code is also important so that if something goes wrong and there need to be a re-call, there is traceability.   If the food is biologically modified, so it contains genetically modified organisms (GMO) this has to be labelled as well.  Also if allergens are present examples the presence of nuts this has to be clearly labelled too.  The labelling has also to start the storage ideal storage conditions and temperature amongst others.  The weight or volume of the food also need to be started on the label.

Food handling is another important process which defines what procedure are used in order to handle different food both in the packing stages as well and cooking and serving food to consumers.   In Malta legal notice 178 of 2001 clearly states that all food handlers must be registered with the Superintendent of Public Health after successfully completing a course in Food Handling.

nutritional info

So is the food we buy safe and is good for us?  How shall we read and interpret the nutritional information and health claims?

Through the packaging and processing processes a number of chemical are usually added to preserve the food better and even to extend the expiratory dates as well as for better tastes.  These usually include Sugar, Salt and Saturated fats.  All the big S products are very unhealthy and can lead to health risks if consumed in high amount.  So when buying or consuming food products we need to read the nutritional information carefully to know what we are actually consuming.

We also have to be careful about health claims, false claims and advertising, consumer cheating, and terminologies used.  To give some examples you can have a chocolate that states that it is made from 90% milk which might be true but it does not state that it is high is sugar too.  So of these claims are: low in sugar, low in fats, high fiber, made from real fruits, improves the immune system, made with whole grains amongst others.  So it is very important to read the nutritional label of the foods and use our intelligence and judgement of what we should buy or not.

Sometimes consumers are even cheated with the weight of the foods especially meats.  Meats sometimes are injection with a solution of fats and salts so that the weight of the product is increased.  Thus although the prices per weight may be cheaper, the quality is much inferior and in the end you will end up with less food.  Locally I can use the example of Maltese bread which is sold by size not by weight.  Thus a large Maltese bread can have million and one different sizes from different producers.  This could be fairer if it is sold by weight rather than arbitrarily.

Another example of why it is important to read the label is in case of juices.  Everybody know that fresh orange juice is good for us.  Sometimes parents do not have enough time to do this every morning so they go to the nearest supermarket to buy their fruit juices.  I am sure there will be a large selection all the different prices but most of the time they do not make a difference between fruit juice and fruit nectars.  European Commission some years ago issued a clear directive in 2001, 2001/112/EC and amended in 2009, 2009/106/EC– The fruit juice directive to define the difference between the products.  A fruit juice is made up from 100% fruit without anything added to it.  A fruit nectar may be diluted (to a degree limited by regulations) with water and contain additives besides fruit juice, including natural and artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.

 

Dr Renald Blundell

May 2017

Standards and consumers

Whenever we turn on a light switch, use the internet, unwrap food from a supermarket, or our children play with a toy, or we do hundreds of other everyday things, we’re usually using standards without knowing it.

In laymen’s word standards are guidelines prepared by a team of experts in order to obtain the best possible results for the best value whether from a product or service. Standards help support basic consumer rights, such as the right to safety and the right to be informed, which have their origins in former US president John F. Kennedy’s declaration of four basic Consumer Rights in 1962. Further, standards when followed also help to raise levels of quality, safety, reliability, and efficiency, exactly what consumers’ expectations are when purchasing products or services.

In short, standards can provide specific requirements and/or

                          guidance on addressing consumer concerns and help to

                          meet their expectations

pramLet’s take examples of some applications of standards. In Europe, in order to safeguard children, a standard was prepared for ‘child’s prams and pushchairs’ (MSA EN 1888). This standard gives guidance to manufacturers on how to make pushchairs that are safe and comfortable. A pushchair needs to be stable, durable, with good brakes and secure harnesses. It also needs to minimize risk of injury when folding. MSA EN 1888 covers all of these aspects and shows manufacturers how to meet minimum levels of safety. All pushchairs sold in the Malta must comply with this standard.

Toys are valuable tools for children’s development. As well as keeping them entertained, toys help children find out about the world, learn new skills and make friends. But the importance of keeping children safe while they play can’t be overstated. In the EU standards (MSA EN 71 series and others) have been prepared to ensure toys safety.

Before toys reach the shelves, they must undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe for children to use. Safety testing a teddy bear, for example, might include tugging its eyes, to make sure a young child couldn’t easily pull them out and swallow them, and setting it alight, to check whether a child holding a teddy which caught fire, would have time to drop  it before being burnt.

What role can consumers play in the development of standards?

Consumers can have a very important role in the development of standards. Personal experiences can help to improve standards especially where safety can be an issue. In these situations, ‘L-Ghaqda tal-Konsumatur’ is there to listen to your experience and put forward your concern to European body responsible for the preparation and review of standards.

Another role for consumers with some expertise in particular fields is to participate technical committees preparing and reviewing standards. One can visit the site of the local standards body MCCAA where one finds a list of standards at various stages of preparation.

Standards affect us all every day and everywhere,

we take these for granted. Consumers have a very

important role and their feedback through L-Ghaqda

tal Konsumatur is very important to ensure that

products are not only safe but also value for money.

MBL Garage Door Solutions – Problem Solved

We received a complaint from a consumer regarding a garage door he bought from MBL Garage Door Solutions.  The garage door was bought in March 2016.  After some weeks, the garage door motor developed a defect.  The consumer contacted MBL who agreed to replace the garage door motor.  However, to date, in spite of many calls to the trader during the last five months, the door motor has not been replaced.

The Consumers’ Association contacted MBL twice through email.  However, to date we still have not been sent an answer to our emails.

We believe that this is not the customer service that consumers expect.  As the consumer had his rights denied to him through no response, we advised the consumer to take his complaint to the Consumer Claims Tribunal for a decision.

 

18 April 2017

 

On the 5th May we were informed by the consumer that the complaint has been solved as MBL Garage Door Solutions replaced the door motor in question.

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.