Trading standards are doing nothing about supermarkets!

Supermarkets can ineffect get away with anything that they want. They are not subjected to the same laws/regulations as anyone else with a business. They are a law unto themselves and we are suffering in our pockets because of it.

I've just come off the phone with a trading standards officer, what a complete joke!

I reported Asda in my area and on a national scale for clearly misleading customers in their recent "price drop" campaign.

Asda:
On January 3rd 2012, Asda post on twitter about their "price drop" campaign, linking to their national blog on the Asda website (No doubt an email campaign as well?) stating that "Warburtons toastie loaf was now only £1.15 down from £1.35" alongside some other products that were reduced.
I replied that this was not the case at all.
The price in the week of 10th Dec 2011 the price was £1.15 and reminded them that they had increased the price to £1.30 from the week of the 18th Dec 2011, over the Christmas and New Year period (ie, the previous 14 days).
The new price of £1.35 represented another increase of 5p per loaf, both instore and on their website.
I could not find any store that was offering the £1.15 "price drop" price advertised.
I reminded them that a higher price must be charged for 28 days before it can be claimed to be "on sale"
Asda did not reply.

24 hours later, I notified Asda again.
Asda staff on twitter did not know which blog post I was referring to, despite these same staff posting on twitter about it and including a direct link to it.
I sent them the links to both their national campaign blog and to their website price checker showing the new higher price of £1.35
I received a reply back saying "Thanks - we'll look into it" around teatime on the 4th of January 2012.
That evening, their national blog was changed to drop the claim that warburtons toastie loaf (and some other products advertised in the same paragraph) was part of their "price drop". Nothing from Asda since and the price continues to be the increased price of £1.35

I notified Trading standards of this and awaited a call back.

This morning I spoke with my local trading standards office.
I'm told that trading standards have "home authority agreements" with other trading standards departments - which means trading standards in the area of asda's head office would have complaints referred to them for investigation.
This complaint will be referred to them but they may not act upon it, as it's only an individual complaint.
- How many complaints are required before trading standards will act?
* It doesn't go off the number of complaints!
- So breaking the law doesn't mean that a complaint will be acted upon?
* But this is just one complaint... it will be logged. They [trading standards in asda head office area] will be working closely with asda...
- I hear this all the time about how official bodies are "working closely" with companies, it's usually code for "doing nothing," and the logged complaint will be dropped after a short while. Who is working closely for us, the customers?
* [Silence!]
- We the taxpayer, fund trading standards to monitor supermarkets and other businesses, and to act when the law is broken, as is clearly the case here
* We do monitor the supermarkets!
- So how did trading standards manage to miss a national blog that mentioned a product directly, miss twitter posts of which trading standards is listed as a user of, miss a national advertising campaign, miss that the price hasn't been charged for 28 days at the higher price and now state that it won't act upon clear information given?
* We can't monitor every single price...
- I'm not talking about our local asda having one wrong price, this is a national campaign probably backed up by an email campaign?, a prime time television promotion, promoted via twitter, facebook, etc, and listed on their national website and instores across the UK at an inflated price which doesn't tally with their advertised "price drop"?
Don't you think this is reason enough to act?
* We do not have the time or resources available...
- Resources? It is free, costs are claimed back when the case is put before a court.
* We are going around in circles now...

Always the same response from businesses when they don't have an answer... "we are going around in circles now" - we wouldn't be going around in circles if they provided us with a straight answer!

I left the trading standards officer with one more issue - how could it be, that despite claims that there is no collusion between the big supermarkets, yet for the entire Christmas and New Year period, rival supermarkets across the country had exactly the same opening and closing times?
* There is nothing wrong with having the same store times between supermarkets...

Totally and utterly useless.
If I were to run my business in this way, trading standards would be all over me like a rash.
It would appear that supermarkets can do whatever they like, and that regulation and trading standards are quite happy to do nothing about it what so ever!
If trading standards are not working for us, why do we continue to pay them millions of taxpayer's money each year?
Even more worrying, who will stand up for us, the customer?

At a time when family finances are stretched to the limit, we need to know that trading standards are doing their job correctly and on our behalf, not on behalf of the big four. Clearly, this is another example of a watchdog/regulator not being fit for purpose!

UPDATE:
In response to comments received, I have provided information on laws and codes of practice that can be applied, in this case. Where possible, I have also provided links to information online for your reference.

Section 20 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 makes it a criminal offence for a person in the course of his business to give consumers a misleading price indication about goods, services, accommodation (including the sale of new homes) or facilities. It applies however you give the price indication - for example, in a TV or press advertisement, on a website, by email or text message, in a catalogue or leaflet, on notices, price tickets or shelf-edge marking in stores, or if you give it orally, for example on the telephone.

Under section 25 of the Act, the act gives the Secretary of State power to approve codes of practice to give practical guidance to traders. It is addressed to traders and sets out what is good practice to follow in giving price indications in a wide range of different circumstances, so as to avoid giving misleading price indications.
It is guidance, rather than mandatory, although it may be taken into account in establishing whether an offence has been committed under the Act.

 

If a Trading Standards Officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a business has given a misleading price indication, the Act gives the Officer power to require them to produce any records relating to their business and to seize and detain goods or records which the Officer has reasonable grounds for believing may be required as evidence in court proceedings.
It is in the business' interest to be able to demonstrate that any claims they have made are accurate and valid. The Act makes it an offence to obstruct a Trading Standards Officer intentionally or to fail (without good cause) to give any assistance or information the Officer may reasonably require to carry out his duties under the Act.
This code of practice deals only with the requirements of Part III of the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

Where a reduced price is claimed then the product should have been offered for sale at the higher price for at least 28 days in the previous 6 months in the same outlet. If the comparison does not meet those criteria then they should provide an explanation which is unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible to the consumer

Where traders make use of advertisements they should have regard to the relevant rules governing misleading advertising via the Advertising Standards Association.

Other law:
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 -
As published on Trading standards own website
http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/advice/advice-business-ftbussum3.cfm

As is clear, there are many grounds for action by trading standards, a convincing argument for ignoring a legitimate complaint about a national campaign I have yet to hear.

No retraction was made by asda, no acknowledgement was published to thousands of people it advertised to that it got it wrong, made an error, etc.
It took almost 2 days before asda simply removed the text claims from their blog post. Nothing more about it was said.

Actual loss or penalty charge?

"Actual loss" is a gauge for determining whether or not the fees, charges, termination costs or administration fees (and many more charges dressed up with fancy names) are what your personal circumstances have done to cause a loss to a business where a contract exists.

This maybe your mobile phone contract, your bank account, your credit agreement, etc.

I don't think any person can deny that if you have gone over drawn by £3, you have cost the bank £3 plus an amount for recovering that £3. This is "Actual loss" and should be paid willingly.
Problems arise when a bank charge is levied against your account for say £25 for going overdrawn.
The bank wants its £3 plus cost for an automated letter, an envelope, a stamp. Being generous this [in the real world] would generate a charge to your account of around £6 in total. So why the £25 charge?

Banks *I'm using banks as an example, it could in theory be any other industry claim continuously that it lists the charges applicable in it's terms and conditions. This is completely irrelevant!
Continuing to repeat the same question, "Is this charge actual loss?" results in at best, some very bizarre and obscure attempts to justify it without giving you a straight answer. This is because in almost every case, the charge not only recovers money for the amount of actual cost to the bank, but an additional amount, that has nothing to do with how you manage your account whatsoever.
As the charge issued against your account is not entirely for the bank's actual loss, caused by your management of your account, under common law in England and Wales [legal precedent dates back to the early 1900s] this is deemed to be "a penalty."
"Penalty charges" are unenforceable under common law (in England and Wales) - it really is that simple!

If I had a pound for everytime a telephone advisor reels off how "charges are listed in their terms and conditions" and "our charges are very competitive compared to every other company in that partcular industry" I would be a very rich man indeed.

The simple test whenever you are faced with a charge/fee, etc, is to ask continuously, "Is this charge/fee actual loss?"
Nine times out of ten, you will not receive a straight answer.
Don't be bothered by this, most of the time the telephone operators have not been trained to answer this question, or have been trained to answer it in a manner that won't allow for any comebacks or claims.
Occasionally, you will get an advisor who will concede over the phone that a charge/fee does not recover actual loss. These are rare occasions indeed, but joyous ones. First declare that you wish for what was said to be confirmed in writing (don't panic, it will never happen) so write to them and demand a written transcript of the call.
Once they play it back and their admission is heard, a "goodwill gesture" of the charge/fee reversal, will often come about as if by magic!

Failing that, the scope for further action becomes available.
If you decide to go via the small claims route, (that's a big if) it would be one of your "3 strikes against them" in that, can they appear before a district judge and prove that their charge is "actual loss"?
Hopefully, it will rarely if ever, come to this.
Continuous questioning of "is this charge an actual loss?" - along with, "Please provide a breakdown of the charge/fee in writing" - usually gives you good grounds for senior people within the company to waiver the charge/fee.

Remember, this is not avoidance of paying charges/admin fees, etc.
If these fees are actual loss then fair enough. That they are listed in terms and conditions is irrelevant, they must, under common law in England and Wales, be ONLY for "actual loss."
If they are not, then they are a "Penalty charge" and you are within your rights to stand your ground and demand that they are reversed.

Be strong, stand up for yourself!

Energy saving fight back - Washing clothes

Saving money on doing the laundry every week in theory, should be easy.

As part of our home's energy saving fightback [in which we look at everything we do from week to week] applying the simple process of breaking down each cost the savings appear before my very eyes.

Not a lot we can do about the washing machine, as frugal as I am, even I would not advocate dragging the family washing to a stream and beating it on rocks. Nor would I go with throwing clothes in the bath and walking on them, etc.
I can however, monitor how much electricity, in money, we are using.

Since I started this action against energy companies, our home has completed seven loads of washing. I'm informed by our electricity provider that each washing cycle uses up between 43p and 47p. Already that's more than £3 used in electric, but that can't be helped.
What I can have an effect upon is washing powder, conditioner, drying clothes, etc.

Can you believe that some people use conditioner in their washer, then take clothes out, put them into a tumble dryer and add more conditioner?
Why not just use conditioner when drying?
Washing powder is an easy one, catering packs from the cash & carry, contain much more powder than the supermarket branded/own brand boxes. *If you could only see, 7KG-8KG of powder in catering packs, that do the same "amount" of washes as supermarket boxes, which have less powder in them and claim to do the same number of washes!

Fabric conditioner is again an easy one to save on. A concentrated 5 litre tub of branded conditioner, for around £8 lasts well over a month.
Another habit I've gotten out of, is filling the conditioner compartment in the washer drawer. Simple trick: Buy a concentrated 1 litre bottle of branded conditioner - use it - wash bottle out and refill it from 5 litre catering size tub. Not only is it easier to use, but it's also saving me money because the lid capacity is 1 measure for a wash!
It doesn't fill the conditioner section in the washer tray as it doesn't need to.
How many times have you filled the tray up with conditioner instead of just using the lid of the bottle? We've all done it at some point.

Next savings come from drying.
Tumble dryers are wonderful things, especially in emergencies. With a little bit of planning ahead, they can become redundant.
Using in excess of 50p per load, already I have saved over £3.50 from my electricity.
Sounds petty I know, but consider this...
£3.50 per week saved is equal to £182.00 electricity per year!

Yes, we use two washing lines, but what about the winter months? What about when it's chucking it down?
Going back to my childhood helps. We have an old wooden framed wardrobe in the spare room, I hang the t-shirts in there, I can only wear one t-shirt at a time, etc.
A cheap clothes horse looks after the smaller stuff and two radiator hangers are more than enough for the socks etc.
Dry by the next day, costing not a penny piece. Using just the heat from the burner and air from the windows blowing through the house, I can dry all the clothes at a saving of 50p per load.
Even if I only save on 4 loads of drying per week, that would be £104.00 per year, in the family's pocket.
Little victories.....

How do you justify this - British Gas, Energy saving trust, DECC and OFGEM?

I'll keep it simple, so that staff from the aforementioned companies and state bodies can understand it.

  • We installed complete double glazing, including all our doors - we used more units of gas
  • We fitted cavity wall insulation - we used more units of gas
  • We fitted more loft insulation - we used more units of gas
  • We applied a double render to the exterior walls - we used more units of gas
  • We removed the gas fire - we used more units of gas
  • We removed a G rated (30 year old) back boiler heating system (without thermostatic controls) and fitted an A rated "energy efficient" boiler - we used more units of gas
  • We fitted thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) - we used more units of gas
  • We replaced all our old pipework - we used more units of gas
  • We had our meter, pipework, cooker and boiler checked by both an independant engineer and British gas' own engineer, finding no faults - we continued to use more units of gas
  • We had one adult less, living in the house for four months (less baths, cooking, heating, etc) - we used more units of gas
  • We installed and fired up a multi fuel burner, which has been used instead of central heating for the past 7 days - STILL we have used more units of gas!

For three years now, for the winter 6 months - October to March, our monthly costs for gas shoot up from £45 for the April - September period, to anything from £85 to £120 per calendar month. Here are some of the things we have been told, when questioning about why our usage increases;

  • "Just think how much more your energy bills would have been had you not fitted all those energy saving measures!"
  • "I don't know!"
  • "All you can do is wait until you get next year's gas statement"
  • "New boilers don't use any less gas than old boilers!"
  • "I don't have an answer for you!"
  • "Is your thermostat set at more than 30 degrees?"
  • "I'll just put you through to pre payment now" Phone goes dead
  • "I'll just put you through to pre payment now" Call is answered by another member of staff from the same department
  • "I'll get a senior manager to ring you back, they can go through things in more detail" No phone call came
  • "You have to be referred to our energy saving team for some energy saving advice!"
  • "It will even itself up when you get your statement next year"
  • "I don't know what else to say!"
  • "It's colder between October and March so takes more gas to heat up your water" After being told that September was actually a colder month, but used less units of gas, they retracted their opinion
  • "The gas supply to your boiler will be too high, read your instructions and turn the gas supply to it down!"

So come on British Gas, energy saving trust, DECC and OFGEM, what have you got to say for yourselves regarding your false claims of "energy saving," and the benefits of, and in our case, what has happened?

(You can have your say on twitter, email, comments on this post, etc.)

UPDATE:
We now have confirmation back that the pre payment meter that was replaced, despite being told by previous engineer that there was no fault with it, was not faulty.

The fee/charge for having the meter tested was £33 and has been waived (How much have you been charged for a meter being tested?)

A "Deadlock letter" and complaint reference number have been issued at my second request and a complaint to the energy ombudsman will be made (for all the good it will do).
I have to say, I do not find British gas' questioning of what will be reported to the ombudsman very professional.
More effort should be made to establish how a household can use more units of gas despite extensive "energy saving" measures being put in place, at considerable cost to the household, and on the advice of and marketing by British gas.

In our experience, all the energy saving advice given has proven to be false when the units of gas used are presented in a statement.
"It is not our responsibility" is not an acceptable stand to take when British gas are charging record prices for supplying what is a basic human right into our homes.

The energy saving trust (which are not impartial as they have centrica/british gas staff sat on their board and receive funding from them) have absolutely no comment to make.
All they will say is "If you have a complaint or query, please send it via our form so it can be dealt with via proper channels."

They will not comment on the issues raised here, nor will they comment on record price rises by the energy companies in any public forum.
They won't condemn any of the energy companies that provide half their funding. I think this speaks volumes.
All we get from them are guest posts on so called impartial blogs and switching websites, nothing but marketing bumph.
So here we have an open invite for you, the energy saving trust.

Frugal ways will give you an open spot, here on this website, to voice your views/opinions (for free) on so called energy saving measures and how they have failed to save any units of gas in our example.
I would also welcome any comments you have to make about the conduct of British gas in this matter and what plans your marketing organisation for the energy industry have to call energy companies to account for the way in which they are ignoring customers up and down the land.
Simply email or message myself and your response will be published word for word here for all our visitors to read for themselves.

The energy saving fight back has started...

multi fuel burner
Saving on energy bills with a multi fuel burner

For the draining of household finances, there is no bigger burden [that I am aware of] than that of the energy companies.
The examples of mis-selling, mis representation and often blatant untruths are out there for all to see.
Is there any other industry in Britain today that has been fined more than energy companies for their failings?

Years of ineffectual "regulation" (use that term loosely) - a complete lack of reality or understanding of the financial damage that the energy companies are inflicting on the people from successive governments via the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) - an Energy Saving Trust (EST) body that publishes all over the media and internet about the so called saving money, energy saving features of everything from new boilers to lamp bulbs, which, on their own figures and percentages, a maximum "bill saving per year" will not cover the costs of having the energy saving measures put in.
The EST are funded by both the taxpayer and private sector companies [which conveniently provide not only the percentages for the "efficiency" of their goods, but also pay money to the EST!] to the tune of Millions of pounds a year.

For years now, my own home has been subjected to increases in prices, standing charges, lies, mis representations and, in the case of British gas and Eon, billing and statements that even their own staff have not the foggiest idea how to work out.

Well just two words for British gas and Eon * No not those two words! - NO MORE!

This winter, some of our friends and neighbours will have to decide something I didn't think could happen in my lifetime, they have to decide whether to heat or eat.
Back in March 2011, I decided that it was time to give our family something we have not had or needed for more than 20 years, a choice.
Unbeknown to myself, price rises would come soon after followed by an enormous price rise at the beginning of August.

In June 2011, I sourced us a 16KW log/peat/coal burner and had it delivered, where it has sat in the hallway until last Friday. The old back boiler ripped out, the brickwork repaired to a safe standard, rendering of sand, cement and lime has been applied, a metal shelf for the flue to sit in has been bent, cut and fitted, a stone hearth has been created out of a large stone flag and a huge piece of stone that took four people to lift into place. The area around the burner has been finished with two coats of sandtex and the flue pipe bought, sealed with fire cement and fitted.
The chimney has had a new pot put on and a cowl inserted to stop rainfall down the chimney.

Last Friday we fired it up for the first time, small fire at first to help the cast iron burner's paint to seal itself.
By Saturday we started cranking it up to see how warm we could get the house. WOW!
Sunday it was on since teatime as it was tonight. Our open plan front room is reaching 2 degrees higher that our gas central heating was when on full.
The chimney stack running up through our bedroom is heating it so much so, we have to sleep with a window open.
The heat from the burner is going through into the kitchen and up our open plan stairway, heating landing, bathroom and other bedrooms.

Now the beauty of it so far...

* Where you see a pile of newspapers to recycle, I see free fire lighters. Collected twice a week from family, at a cost to us of NIL.
* Where you see old white pallets, I hope to secure a regular supply of smashed up old pallets to use as kindling, at a cost to us of NIL.
* Where you see a tree chopped down where you may walk or pass on the way to work, I see, with a bit of application, 2-3 months energy to heat our home, at a cost to us of NIL!

For 7 small logs, I can heat our home for around 9 hours.
If there is a really cold spell this winter, as some of our neighbours found to their cost last winter, the breather pipes on their "energy efficient boilers" froze, leaving them without heating or hot water, we will not be effected too much as our burner is big enough to hold a large kettle and three large pans.
If there is a power cut, our boiler won't be able to fire up (most have electronic ignitions now instead of a pilot light) yet we can continue to have hot water and heat via our burner.

There is some initial outlay for the burner and fitting it, but nothing like the cheapest quote I got for "fitting" it, £650 was the cheapest fitting price, we have prepared the area where it is for around £240 (only because the old back boiler left such a mess after removal that it had to be bricked back up again) that is including materials.
There is also a bit of work in cutting the logs and driving out to get them, but I'd rather do a bit of work than pay way over the odds for heating/cooking etc.

Over the coming 6 months I will be monitoring the amount of gas we are using, as well as comparing what we are spending each month to what we have spent over the last 2 winters.
If comparison goes well, it is currently 4 days since we had to use the gas central heating, the burner should have paid for itself by February 2012.
Including the installation costs and a chain saw to chop up the logs, by September 2012, gas savings should have paid for those as well.

All this has been possible because the family have dug in and helped in some way, whether it's cutting logs, very heavy lifting, working long hours of overtime. Our neighbours have helped by giving up their time and advice.

I shall keep this post updated with falling gas use and real energy/money saving progress.
The message for British gas and Eon is simple, you have held our family to ransom for far too long... NO MORE!