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Personal Finance

Does Ireland have a consumer protection problem?

Does Ireland have a consumer protection problem?
Mark Whelan

Mark Whelan

Staff Writer

With the motor insurance and waste management industries coming in for widespread criticism, we ask: is there enough being done to protect consumers in Ireland?

It has been a dramatic 24 hours on the subject of consumer protection here.

Yesterday morning, there were surprise raids carried out on the offices of motor insurance companies and Insurance Ireland, as part of an investigation into alleged price-fixing and cartel-like activity.

And these were serious raids. European Commission-led raids, in fact.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has been running an investigation of its own since last September too.

As many of you have experienced first hand, car insurance premiums have sky-rocketed over the last few years.

Amidst all of this drama, the latest bin charges controversy drew to a close last night with the Government’s decision to appoint a watchdog to help prevent unfair pricing in the industry.

There has been concern that a new pricing system, set to be introduced in September, will leave consumers vulnerable to hikes.

There isn’t a regulator for the industry at the moment and many (including Fianna Fáil) believe that it’s the only solution.

It doesn’t do much for our international reputation to have two major industries - each of which impact millions of households across the country - mentioned in the same breath as words like “collusion”, “cartel” and “price-fixing”.

Industries under pressure

Sadly, these aren’t the only industries in Ireland to have gained a reputation for not putting consumers first.

Health insurance premiums are only heading in one direction, for example.

VHI, Irish Life Health and Laya have all increased prices since the turn of the year, and further increases are expected by industry observers.

And then there’s the banks.

Mortgage rates are slowly starting to fall here, but are still well above the European average.

The average Irish standard variable rate in 2016 was 3.38% (excluding renegotiations), but the euro area average was just 1.72%.

Last year, Fianna Fáil tabled a bill to give the Central Bank the power to cap variable rates, but this didn't make it over the line in the end. So, the debate rages on.

Whose job is it, anyway?

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is the body tasked with “making markets work better for consumers and businesses”, and it does a lot of good, not least in the area of providing a wealth of useful information to consumers.

But as the CCPC’s website says, it has “a very broad mandate and limited resources”, meaning it is “not possible to investigate every complaint...or pursue every issue”. Fair enough.

So, what’s to be done?

Should the CCPC be given more resources? Do we need the Government to take a tougher stance on consumer protection?

Do we need more regulation? Less regulation? Harsher punishments for companies that transgress?

As a consumer, you’re the one feeling the sting of the price hikes mentioned here. That’s why we want to hear from you on the issue.


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