Call for better protection for 'loyal' customers

Call for better protection for 'loyal' customers
File photo

The Government must "show more teeth" when it comes to consumer issues and not rely on the EU to lead the way, a leading consumer advocate body has said.

Bonkers.ie also called for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to look closely at proposals from its UK counterpart, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), after the UK watchdog unveiled recommendations to Government in relation to customer loyalty penalties.

The CMA said it investigated a so-called "super complaint" by Citizens Advice that companies penalise existing customers by charging them higher prices than new customers.

The UK watchdog looked at cash savings, mortgages, household insurance, mobile phone contracts and broadband, and said it found a total loyalty penalty of around £4bn (€4.44bn) a year in these markets.

It said vulnerable people, including the elderly and those on a low income, may be more at risk of paying the loyalty penalty.

It said its investigation has uncovered damaging practices by firms, which exploit unsuspecting customers, including continual year on year stealth price rises; costly exit fees; time-consuming and difficult processes to cancel contracts or switch to new providers; and requiring customers to auto-renew or not giving sufficient warning their contract will be rolled over.

The CMA said there were around 1 million in the mortgage market to nearly 12 million in the insurance market affected by paying more than newer customers.

It has made a number of recommendations to the Government including people being able to leave a contract as easily as they enter it; firms being publicly held to account for charging existing customers much more; and price caps to protect people worst hit by the loyalty penalty.

The CMA said phone providers must stop charging pay-monthly customers the same rate once they’ve effectively paid off their handsets at the end of the minimum contract period.

Pricing interventions should also be considered in the insurance market, the CMA said.

Bonkers.ie spokesman Daragh Cassidy said entities like the CCPC should look closely at the CMA's proposals "to see what can be replicated and implemented here".

Businesses rarely reward loyalty. The simple truth is that if you've been with your current supplier for over a few years, then you're probably overpaying," he said.

Mr Cassidy said the onus should not be on the EU to protect consumers if a national Government could do so. Recent changes such as the Central Bank's mortgage switching code were a good start, he said.

The mortgage switching code places an onus on banks to let customers know if they could get a cheaper mortgage either with the bank itself or elsewhere.

Mr Cassidy said: "Over the past decade, we've seen consumer rights strengthened in many areas. But it many cases it's been because of EU legislation and hasn't been initiated at a national level. It's time for the Government to show more teeth in this area without being told to do so by the EU.

"We're seeing some small changes for sure but more needs to be done at a Government level and coordinated among the various consumer bodies such as ComReg, the CRU, the Central Bank and the CCPC."

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