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.

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)

Competition Office lacks will to investigate

At the beginning of October, the Office of Competition of the MCCAA published its decision regarding an investigation on the distribution of diesel. The investigation started after a petrol station in Rabat reduced the price of diesel but had to revert back to the set price after being pressured to do so by the supplier.

The Association in its request to the Competition Office to investigate this incident also asked for an investigation on the distribution of both diesel and petrol since we believe that the incident reported is not an exceptional incident but the current situation. However, in spite of this request and the fact that the Office took more than one and a half year to investigate this incident, the Office did not pronounce itself on this issue.

In our press statement on the decision, we commented that we were disappointed that the Office did not investigate this market. In its comments on our press release to the Times of Malta, the Competition Office spokesman, however, said that “parallel behaviour alone between competitors is normally not sufficient to prove the existence of unlawful anti­competitive behaviour”.  Moreover, the spokesman quoted the legislation to try to justify their lack of action.

The Association believes that the law is there to give authorities direction and not to inhibit them from investigating. Unfortunately, many a time the law is used as an excuse to justify inaction. This is not the first time that Offices within the MCCAA used this tactic. One example was when the Consumers’ Appeal Tribunal decided in favour of the Association when it took action against the Consumers’ Affairs Office because it did not investigate the Association complaints against ARRIVA.   On that occasion, this MCCAA’s Office also used the legislation to justify their inaction.

It seems that the Office for Competition wanted to take us for a ride. Parallel behaviour does not prove the existence of unlawful anti-competitive behaviour. But it does give ground for an investigation. The investigation would not have taken many resources as all it needed to do was to inspect the contracts that the petrol stations have with their suppliers. All it takes is the will to ensure that competition is the order of the day and that its benefits are transferred to consumers – something that this Office does not have.

The seriousness of this decision of not taking any action is not a light one. It should be noted that diesel is the fuel most used by industry and businesses especially to transport goods.   Thus in order not to disturb a few operators and the organisation behind them, this Office is depriving the whole economy, including most businesses, of the benefits that could be reaped if this important market were truly competitive.

Call to improve bus service

The Consumers' Association has urged the director of consumer affairs to take measures to ensure operator Arriva improves the bus service, a week before the company's self-imposed September 11 deadline for an efficient public transport system.

The association had filed a complaint before the Competition and Consumer Affairs' Authority in July, listing a range of problems Maltese consumers were facing.

Now association president Benny Borg Bonello has raised the issue of the validity of the €1.30 two-hour ticket, which according to Arriva's conditions could actually expire mid-journey.

If the validity of the pass or other relevant documentation expires, the passenger must leave the bus or pay another fare to continue to his intended destination, according to the conditions.

If the commuter does not hold a valid ticket, pass or other relevant documentation, he will have to pay the fare for the journey together with a penalty of €10.

The Consumers' Association said it was unfair for commuters, who were not responsible for the duration of the journey, to be fined for something they did not have control over.

“You can't keep your eyes glued to your watch,” he said, adding that passengers should be informed of these conditions.

None of the 10 commuters at the Marsa park-and-ride and the Valletta bus terminus who spoke to The Sunday Times were aware of this condition of carriage.

A man from Mellieħa said he bought a two-hour ticket every day between Monday and Friday to return home after work, and did not need a day ticket as he was given a lift in the morning.

“It has at times taken me more than two hours to reach home1 and we had been promised punctual service. Why would I have to pay extra for a trip which was not supposed to take more than an hour?” he asked.

A British couple on their way to Buġibba who bought a two-hour ticket from the vending machine said they had been waiting to get on a bus for nearly an hour, therefore eating into the two-hour threshold.

A spokesman for Arriva said the company believed this condition was “already clear in publicity material, conditions of carriage and reiterated by (the company's) people on the ground.” However, Arriva said it would take the complaint on board.

The Arriva spokesman said public information campaigns would continue through the media and via the customer care centre, adding Arriva employees and representatives at bus stops and interchange sites also provided commuters with information.

The Consumer Association is also asking for a more comprehensive information campaign, explaining terms of use, new routes,and changes implemented to the system.

The consumer association also voiced concern over the company's promise of a service of the highest quality, which was “far from reality”.

Arriva reiterated that due to the shortage of 180 drivers in July, the company was unable to deliver the quality of service intended.

“Significant improvements have been made and we will be sharing more about that and talking about future developments and the next phase of changes after September 11,” the spokesman said.

Mr Borg Bonello said the association had aired its concerns with Arriva and Transport Malta in July, but had not heard from them since.

In an appeal filed last week, the association said the director of consumer affairs was duty-bound to protect the interests of consumers and called on him to issue the interim measures.

When contacted, the Transport Ministry said the association had made most of its complaints when the service was launched.

“The association will probably agree that several of its complaints have since been addressed as rapid and substantial progress in the transition has been achieved,” aministry spokesman said.

published in the Times of Malta of the 4th September 2011

Consumers 'better off before' on TV contracts

Right to end contract if channel line-up is rendered unattractive

The Consumers' Association has promised to hound the authorities over their handling of last year's removal of popular stations Comedy Central and Living TV from the line-ups of TV providers Melita and Go.

Antoine Grima, the association's lawyer, describes the recent voluntary agreement reached by the consumer authority with the two telecoms companies as “a step backwards”.

“Consumers were better off without it,” he argues.

The agreement ensures that if five channels (or more than 15 per cent of the channels) are removed from the line-up during a one-year period, consumers can withdraw from their contracts.

It was reached after an eight-month “investigation” called by Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said, following a report in The Times which quoted a Living TV spokesman saying the providers were told to stop broadcasting the channel illegally.

(Comedy Central never made a statement on the matter.) When the story broke last December, the Consumer and Competition Department said its investigation would establish whether the service providers had the rights to broadcast both channels and whether consumer law was breached.

The investigation was also meant to establish whether consumers deserved a refund but these issues remain unaddressed.

The Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, as the department is now called, simply laid out an agreement with the two providers and left the other matters “pending”, according to Dr Grima.

He maintains that consumers were better off before, when a ruling by the Malta Communications Authority last year indicated that it would evaluate matters on a case by case basis, taking into consideration “content”.

In its September 2010 decision over Melita's removal of four popular football channels, the MCA had left an element of leeway for each channel's removal to be judged on its merits. The MCA pointed out that these channels were popular and that “any unilateral variation of the original channel line which in any way substantially changes the line-up constitutes a material change to the original terms and conditions”.

This, according to Dr Grima, meant that consumers would not have to wait for five channels to be removed before taking action because the MCA would intervene even if one channel was removed.

Ideally, consumers who subscribe to a TV service should have the right to end their contract if they feel the changes in channel line-up render the service unattractive to the consumer, he says.

“If I sign up for a contract with Melita or Go because I love the Wine Channel, for example, but then, the next day, the Wine Channel is removed, why should I be forced to continue paying for say two years?” He says if this is not acceptable to the providers, consumers must be fully informed of what they are signing up for.

The association was not consulted over the Living and Comedy channels issue. But Dr Grima fears that there was not even any consultation with the MCA, since these agreements seem to challenge its September 2010 decision.

Furthermore, the MCCAA, which was supposedly given more teeth through recent changes in the law, said it was not its remit to investigate whether the channels were broadcast legally.

Various consumer-protection related laws were amended this year, he says, questioning why this matter was not seen to despite the ongoing investigation.

Dr Grima points out that the MCCAA should have at least passed on the information it has to the authority whose remit it is to investigate such matters. Instead, it did not say whose this remit was.

“Why is there someone who can investigate the legality of Dreambox but not the issue of whether these companies had the rights to broadcast Living or Comedy?” Meanwhile, the MCCAA and the MCA have already told The Times it was not in their remit to delve into whether the two channels were transmitted illegally. Even the Broadcasting Authority said it could not do anything about the matter.

Dr Grima said the association will set up meetings with MCCAA and the MCA to follow up the matter accordingly.

published in the Times of Malta of the 17th October 2011

Consumers' Association hails EU court ruling on football rights

The Consumers' Association has hailed the recent judgment by the European Court of Justice on the way football rights are distributed, describing it as a victory for fans.

Lawyer Antoine Grima, on behalf of the association, said consumers and sports fans had “a window of opportunity” to acquire a television service from a different jurisdiction at a more competitive price.

He said the decision confirmed that the way sports broadcast rights were being assigned was in breach of EU law.

“The decision is beneficial to consumers who can buy cards or decoders from other jurisdictions and use them in their country, provided that the service being purchased is available for that territory. Consumers now have an option which they did not have before,” he said.

On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice ruled that the system used by the British Football Association to sell exclusive territorial rights for the live transmission of Premier League matches infringed EU law, particularly the free movement of services and competition law. It said there was nothing wrong for an EU citizen to watch such matches via a foreign decoder obtained legally.

Although the particular case on which the ECJ ruled involved the British Premier League many other football associations and individual clubs in the EU use similar systems to sell TV rights. This may all have to change following this judgement, which still has to be confirmed by the British courts.

The case was filed by Karen Murphy, a British pub owner, who had been accused by the British Premier League of acting illegally when she used a Greek decoder card to screen in her pub live matches transmitted by Hellenic company Nova. A subscription to Nova is much cheaper than a subscription to Sky or ESPN, which hold exclusive broadcast rights to show Premier League football in the UK.

The Football Association Premier League Ltd, a private company set up to represent the broadcasting interests of English football clubs, sells exclusive TV rights to broadcasters across Europe on a territory by territory basis.

Ms Murphy was prosecuted and fined £8,000 on the basis that only games broadcast by Sky or ESPN could be shown in the UK. However, she decided to take her case to the ECJ and won it, opening the doors to a radical change in the way sports broadcasting rights will be assigned in the future.

Dr Grima said the judgement was very clear in pointing out that the whole system of how sports distribution rights were being assigned was in breach of the EU internal market. Asked for his opinion on the implications of such a ruling, Dr Grima said this would cause “a revolution” in terms of copyright and competition law and now “everyone will go back to the drawing board to weigh the implications of such a decision”.

One of the interested parties which is keeping its ears to the ground is certainly local television service provider, Go, which holds the rights to broadcast British Premier League matches for the current and next season. When contacted, a company spokesman said it was still “too early” to determine what the consequences of such a decision on the company could be.

“It is much too early to say. There are still so many different ways in which this could evolve that at this stage all we can do is speculate on the unknown, which is hardly wise! We are, of course, keeping a very close eye on this situation and on what happens next in the legal context,” the spokesman said.

Nationalist MP David Agius also hailed the decision, saying it was a victory for consumers, including pubs and establishments that broadcast live football. These, he said, could now shop around for the cheapest service provider and drive down their costs.

“It increased competition and strengthened the consumer's power,” he said.

published in the Times of Malta of the 8th October 2011

Let businessmen determine opening hours 'to reflect reality'

Regulations determining the days and hours shops can open for business do not reflect today's realities and are more reminiscent of a “siege economy”, according to the Consumers' Association.

Reacting to a legal notice published last week banning shops from opening on Good Friday, association president Benny Borg Bonello said the Maltese way of life had changed radically and, with more working couples, there was less time to shop. This made restricted shopping hours not only inconvenient for customers but also restricted shop owners from making the most of their investment.

The association believes opening hours should be left to the businessman. “The state should only interfere if such opening hours are really causing a grave inconvenience to the public,” Mr Borg Bonello said.

The association accused the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises – GRTU, which sparked this controversy after it called on the government to stop Lidl Supermarket from opening on Good Friday, of hampering businesses' competitive edge.

The Parliamentary Secretary for SMEs, Jason Azzopardi, who issued the legal notice with urgency, defended his decision and said employee interests were the principal reason. It was not motivated by reasons of religion or fair competition. Asked why the amendment was issued with such alacrity, Dr Azzopardi said the government had just noticed a “loophole” in the law that Good Friday could be interpreted as any other public holiday.

He explained that, for the third consecutive year, the Finance Ministry had exempted all shops from the prohibition of not opening for trade on Easter Sunday. Had the reason behind the legal notice been just one of a religious nature, then the government would have banned sales also on Easter Sunday as this was the most important feast for Christians.

Dr Azzopardi said employees had commended the government's decision saying the order secured them some time with their families.

GRTU director general Vince Farrugia reiterated his stand and said the order was necessary to ensure employees were not forced to work on Good Friday.

Mr Farrugia demanded the law be changed “so that Good Friday remains as it has always been: a special holy day and a family day for all”.

Insisting the legal notice had not been issued for religious reasons only, Mr Farrugia said Malta happened to be a Christian country. Had it been Muslim, he said, the country would have had to abide by a Muslim calendar.

Three years ago, the GRTU had asked the Ministry to issue notices authorising shops and other retail outlets, including pharmacies, to open on Good Friday, March 21, as well as Sunday, March 16, and March 19, a public holiday. With the general election falling on March 8, the GRTU had said consumers had delayed their pre-Easter shopping. It had said at the time: “Given the particular circumstances and with two public holidays falling in the last week before Easter Sunday, the request is even more reasonable.” Mr Farrugia insisted the issue raised in 2008 was different, adding the cost of keeping supermarkets closed on all those days was huge. A compromise between consumers and retailers had been reached and shops had opened till noon.

When asked for a copy of the survey the GRTU said it had carried out among a “wide cross section of retailers”, which concluded the majority of merchants believed Good Friday should remain “a special one”, Mr Farrugia said this was an internal study. He said even people with no religious beliefs had contacted him questioning “why Malta should sell its traditions cheaply because someone from abroad wants to drink beer or buy a tin of tuna on Good Friday”.

Mr Farrugia described the situation as “a minor issue” and accused the media of “whipping a dead corpse”.

The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, Tancred Tabone too played down the matter and said nobody was interested in the issue anymore.

“Good Friday has come and gone,” he said, adding he had no comment to make about the legal notice in question.

Mr Tabone said it was “a waste of time and energy” and “nobody is interested in yesterday's news”.

published in the Times of Malta of the 27th April 2011

More consumers are aware and demanding what is theirs by right

Maltese consumers were becoming increasingly aware of their rights and the Consumer Association had never been busier, its president said.

Run entirely by volunteers, the association was receiving an “unprecedented” 20 to 30 complaints a week, mainly related to online shopping, Benny Borg Bonello said.

World Consumer Day was marked on Tuesday.

“On a local level, last year was interesting. We witnessed a whole shift in attitude, especially when it came to the petrol station and gas debates. Consumers not only want competition but they're also frustrated the benefits are not there,” Mr Borg Bonello said.

One of the main challenges the association faced was online shops, some of which stopped selling to Malta following agreements with local shops, the he said.

To mark the day, BEUC, the European consumers' organisation, launched a campaign calling for the introduction of collective action – or class action lawsuits – where clients having similar complaints with regards the same provider could join up and seek collective redress in court. This, Mr Borg Bonello said, would have been useful in cases such as the removal of channels by cable TV providers and the cancellation of flights when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland erupted, where the benefits would be outweighed by the inconveniences and costs wrought by an individual court case.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Consumers, Chris Said noted that work on the introduction of class action in Malta had started. He said regulations on home loans would be launched to afford more protection to those taking such loans.

The Consumer Association welcomed the proposed introduction of a consumer affairs authority but called for it to be as independent as possible from ministerial interference and to be accountable directly to Parliament.

published in the Times of Malta of the 18th March 2011

Safety fears grow as 'illegal' gas cylinders are uncovered

A number of illegal gas cylinders have been found on the market, according to the consumer watchdog, which, however, would not say what action it has taken.

Meanwhile, the police have confirmed they are carrying out an investigation into illegal practices concerning gas cylinders but refused to divulge any details.

“A number of cylinders were found on the market which do not comply with the legal requirements. Action has been taken with the operators to ensure that all cylinders on the market conform to legal requirements,” the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Association said yesterday.

No details were given about the number of cylinders or the type of action carried out. Nor did the MCCAA say to which operator the non-compliant cylinders belonged.

“Investigations are still underway on cylinders from both economic operators,” the MCCAA said, when asked for more information.

The Times yesterday reported that the MCCAA was carrying out an investigation following allegations made by Liquigas that Easygas was misappropriating old Enemalta cylinders, exporting them to Italy for modification and selling them in Malta without the necessary requirements. Easygas admitted sending the cylinders to Italy but claimed this was only being done for storage purposes.

The consumer watchdog says customers should ensure that the gas cylinders they buy have a serial number “stamped or indelibly marked” on them, normally on the shroud around the valve or the cylinder's body. “Serial numbers are important because they lead to the history of the cylinder including when the cylinder was manufactured, tested and due for retesting.”

“A cylinder without a serial number is not traceable to any certificate and, therefore, its integrity and soundness cannot be confirmed,” the MCCAA said.

All cylinders are also required to have the contact details of the company distributing them and a telephone number which customers can call if the need arises, according to the MCCAA.

The authority added that it began investigating the matter mid-last month, “immediately” after it received reports about the cylinders.

Meanwhile, the Malta Resources Authority, which said it had initiated the investigation and was coordinating efforts with the MCCAA about the matter, said it has no reason to believe that cylinders were being filled at non-licensed areas.

This raises questions about the way gas cylinders are processed and screened before being filled and placed on the market.

The Consumers Association pointed out that, due to their hazardous nature, gas cylinders had specific regulations ensuring safe storage and distribution.

“We have to bear in mind that gas cylinders end up in homes of thousands of consumers which explains why safety is of utmost importance,” president Benny Borg Bonello said. “Our association expects the regulators to continue monitoring the cylinders on the market, inform consumers where to report suspected faulty cylinders and keep consumers informed of what action they are taking to ensure that all gas cylinders placed on the market are safe for use by consumers.” Liquigas pointed out that cylinders which do not carry a serial number constitute a hazard to safety at homes and during transportation.

“Without a serial number, there can be no effective and reliable traceability of each and every cylinder.

“This is a basic safety consideration as this is the only way by which both consumers and authorities can ascertain that the cylinder was manufactured and maintained up to the required standards. The directives stipulate that a cylinder without a serial number cannot be filled or sold – it is only good as scrap steel.

“All Liquigas cylinders have serial numbers and therefore are covered by insurance,” a spokesman for the company said, urging customers to always ensure their cylinders carry a serial number.

Easygas has not yet replied to questions sent by The Times yesterday afternoon.

published in the Times of Malta of the 3rd November 2011

Twistees producer silent on 34,250-packet discrepancy

The director of Darrell Lea Foods, which makes Twistees, has refused to clarify details on a recall affecting 34,000 potentially contaminated packets of the popular snack.

Steve Calleja said that some of the information given by the Environmental Health Directorate, including that there were still 34,250 packets of possibly contaminated Twistees unaccounted for, was “inaccurate”.

However, when asked to point out the “inaccuracies”, he refused citing the need to consult his lawyer. This has been the company’s position since Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Health Directorate issued a statement warning people not to consume Twistees batch BFF HD with an expiry date of October 16, as traces of plastic had been found in a packet from that lot after a plastic bucket fell into the oven in May. The plastic became fused to some Twistees in that batch.

Speaking to The Times after the health authority warning, Mr Calleja had claimed that only 1,050 packets had reached the market, and that only 250 packets were unaccounted for.

The health authorities, however, said that according to information given by the company, 731 boxes of 48 packets had been sold, amounting to 35,088 packets of 50 grams. After only 838 packets were recalled, this left a discrepancy of 34,250 packets.

Asked to clarify, Mr Calleja insisted he would not give any comments before speaking to his lawyer.

When contacted yesterday, director of Environmental Health John Attard Kingswell said he had not yet received a reply from the company on its statement.

He said that to date, no decision had been taken on whether to pursue legal action against the company. But consumers are demanding action. Speaking to this newspaper, Consumers Association president Benny Borg Bonello said “we hope that the authorities will not succumb to pressure to turn a blind eye to this incident”.

“Basing our arguments on the reports published, it seems that the management is gravely mishandling the situation. We consider it is very worrying if it is true that the firm is misleading both the authorities concerned and the public regarding the number of packets still at large,” Mr Borg Bonello said.

“Such accidents happen to all firms, even those most established internationally. What becomes an issue is when such firms do not own up and try to settle the problem in an efficient way in order to settle the problem once and for all.” He also said he was worried by some comments online criticising the authorities for warning people not to consume that particular batch.

“The argument that this is a good product and therefore we should turn a blind eye to this incident does not make sense as this would be a signal to all firms that anything, even inferior or defective products, are acceptable to consumers,” Mr Borg Bonello said.

published in the Times of Malta of the 30th July 2011