Sunday, 16 July 2017

Want strangers to know you're away? Have a smart meter

Our trials and tribulations with Eon over our non-functioning, not so Smart Meter were recorded in a May IDGOM.
Well, late last month a very nice engineer arrived to have a look at the offending object. Within the hour he had removed the meter from the wall in the garage, installed a new “old” meter and taken away the display unit.
He said I would now have to give meter readings online every quarter. Something I had been doing since Eon went online in the last century.
It seems that some areas do not have a good enough mobile phone signal to allow the smart part of the meter to do an ET and call home.
When I first enquired about having a smart meter installed I mentioned the poor mobile phone signal in our area. No problem, Eon said, and the new meter was fitted in June 2015.
A word of caution if you have a smart meter that works. Did you realise that you are, in effect, letting a third party know whenever you are on holiday or even away for a weekend. The smart meter sends readings back to base every 30 minutes. And I would guess you don’t use as much electricity if you are not at home. Just saying.

Thank you, my dear reader. Another £0.35 towards future care home fees.
Poor old Wayne Rooney – having to take such a heavy hit in his family’s income. His £160,000-a-week deal at new club Everton is just over half his Man. United wages. I look forward to seeing the long-lens shots of Colleen at the local food bank in due course.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

STOP PRESS: Car hire firm employee spots minor scuff

My piece at the end of June about hire car company scams has elicited a response from my reader. He writes:
“That’s interesting in that we hired a minibus from Europcar over Easter. Main problem was that it was not what we ordered.
“However, when we got back they claimed that there was a minor scuff on a side door panel which was minute and could have been there when we took it, as it was odd how the man spotted it so quickly.
“That cost me nearly £250! Unfair as firstly they were never going to repair it and secondly it probably would have disappeared with rubbing compound.
“Don’t think I would use them again.”

Back in March I told my reader that I had calls from a “company” on numerous occasions which consisted of a pre-recorded message from a fellow in a fairly clipped English accent who excitedly told me I was eligible for a new, free gas boiler paid for by the Government.
If I would like to discuss this, press “2”. If I would like to cancel future calls from the company, press “9”. Yeah, right.
Good news - they stopped at the end of May. It may be a coincidence but I reported every one of the 25 calls received to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).
Bad news – a new version of this unsolicited and unwanted verbal spam started this month.
This time with a real person on the line, a woman with a Scottish accent who said we could be entitled to a Government grant for a new boiler if ours was more than five years old. When asked who she was calling from, she mumbled something unintelligible.
I have reported the call to ICO – and would suggest you do the same.
Call 0303 123 1113 or look them up online at and report the call.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Beware the overseas car hire scoundrels
It was interesting to hear this week that Trading Standards raided the UK head office of car hire firm Europcar as the company was accused of raking in millions of pounds by fraudulently inflating repair costs.
I say interesting because this practice has been prevalent in the tourist hot spots of Europe for many, many years.
How do I know? Well, I have to admit, my dear reader, that I have been a victim of such scams.
And I knew someone who worked for a car hire company in southern Europe who told me of the various schemes used and how they increased significantly when bookings were low in order to boost takings.
I should also add that my car hire experience is not limited to once a year for that big holiday – I was renting cars in Europe roughly eight or nine times a year as I was a partner in a business in the Algarve, visiting our office every six to eight weeks.
My experiences included a little scratch on the front bumper, a small graze on the wheel arch, some scratches around the door lock, a burn hole in the back seat and a dent in the boot lid. All cost me varying amounts from my credit card deposit.
On one particularly galling occasion the car hire company assistant went out to check our returned car. I followed her out (I’m like that) and was surprised to see her go straight to one of the rear passenger doors, exclaim and then call me over.
No checking the mileage, no checking the external bodywork for damage – just straight to the rear seats. Where there was a burn mark the size of two Euro coin.
Yes, I was a smoker in those days but SWMBO and I feel sure we would have noticed that I’d set the rear seat on fire!
And no, we did not think of checking the back seats when we collected the car.
As we were due to depart the Algarvean shores in about an hour and a half I didn’t have the time or the inclination to argue too much – and I think the car hire companies know that. Would you want to risk missing your flight?
When my next credit statement arrived it had been debited with almost €500 by the hire company.
After a lengthy battle, and with a great deal of help from one of my business partners (you know who you are), I got the money refunded less a reasonable admin fee.
I just pity the next person to hire that car – because I am convinced the seat was never repaired and I wonder how much the hire company made out of that one piece of damage?
I eventually learned my lesson and would like to share my wisdom (?):
1) Photograph the car from all angles (digital cameras are great with their time stamp utility)
2) Check the bumps and scratches against the paperwork given to you BEFORE signing it. Add any damage not shown and DO NOT leave until the car hire assistant has counter signed.ll
3) Check the interior for marks, burns etc.
4) Use a company that offers a fair fuel policy i.e. return as you collect it. If the tank is a quarter full, you take it back a quarter full.  A common wheeze is to give you a full tank that you pay for upfront. You're then told to return the car empty, often with no refund for unused fuel. And the amount charged can be much more than local prices – basically they seem to think of a number and double it.
5) Use a company that offers CDW with zero excess liability. Basic insurance cover will usually be included when you book car hire, but when you collect your car, hire firms often say: "Without our excess insurance, you'll pay a large amount for a scratch". This insurance can be up to £25/day – don't do it. Instead, look to get an excess policy from a standalone provider for as little as £2/day. These policies work by you paying and then reclaiming the money back from the excess insurer. I bought such a policy for around £60 a year. Worth it if you hire cars abroad a couple of times a year.
6) Even so, the car firms will require a deposit of €600-€1,350 on a credit card to cover any potential damage. If you have an accident, they'll take the money off your card. You then claim back the cost off your own excess insurance. Keep all the documentation to help your claim.
7) Make sure you have unlimited mileage included.
I can’t guarantee this is all totally fool-proof but it will certainly help. And, in true BBC Crimewatch style, please don’t have nightmares.
There are good car hire companies out there – just don’t pack your commonsense with the holiday clothes.