ITEM 1: Yourtel
Tadhg Enright investigates complaints about the telecoms company Yourtel, most of which relate to how its sales people have signed up older consumers. Yourtel is a Berlin based company which offers Eircom customers the option to route certain landline calls through its network. Yourtel customers continue to receive bills from Eircom for their line rental and calls to numbers which cannot be routed through Yourtel.
Most complaints that The Consumer Show is aware of, including those at the centre of our investigation, have come from older consumers or relatives speaking on their behalf. Many consumers believed they were being contacted by a representative of Eircom. Most we spoke to didn't realise they were entering into a legally binding, verbal contract over the phone. Many didn't understand that they would continue to receive bills from Eircom as well as Yourtel. And those who refused to pay disputed bills were threatened with having their debts passed on to debt collectors.
Ray Carney contacted The Consumer Show to complain on behalf of his parents, Nora and William. Nora, who suffers with a long term illness, answered a phone call from Yourtel in January during which she was signed up to pay ¤23.95 monthly for 24 months.
Ray told The Consumer Show: "She remembers (thinking) that the caller was from Eircom and that they were giving her some sort of enhanced package on what she already had."
Yourtel has refused to allow the Carneys cancel their contract before the 24 months have elapsed.
The charity Alone, which works with older people told The Consumer Show about its experience of helping "Jimmy", a vulnerable man whose identity we are protecting after he was signed up by Yourtel. Jimmy doesn't remember receiving a sales call but Gary Blanchfield, a case worker with Alone, said it would have been clear to anyone who did call him that he does not have the capacity to enter a contract over the phone: "His communication skills wouldn't be great so you'd know instantly once you spoke to him."
After sending Yourtel a letter from Jimmy's GP, Gary managed to get him out of his contract and his money was refunded but the experience has affected his mental health.
Pam Donlan got a sales call from Yourtel in December: "They gave me the impression that they were associated with Eircom and that as an Eircom customer they were offering me a cheaper deal."
She felt uneasy afterwards and only realised she'd been signed up by Yourtel after contacting Eircom directly. Pam cancelled her contract within a few days but Yourtel pursued her for the cost of calls she had made before her cancellation and has added "fees/interest" and a "disconnection fee". Pam has paid some of bill but Yourel has told her that the remaining debt has been passed on to a debt collection agency.
The communications regulator, Comreg has been investigating Yourtel. In January of this year it found that it had been phoning people who had told their phone providers they did not want to be contacted by salespeople. Furthermore Comreg found that Yourtel hadn't explained in writing to new customers that they had 14 days to change their mind.
There have been investigations into Yourtel's sister companies by regulators in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Their findings sound similar to what people in Ireland have told The Consumer Show about their experiences. Company representatives were found to have been calling people who had asked not to be cold-called by salespeople. Consumers in Austria and Switzerland thought they were being called by their existing phone provider and it was found that sales staff didn't properly explain they would still get bills from their existing phone provider. In Austria it was found that consumers did not understand they were entering into a verbal contract.
The Consumer Show asked Yourtel to comment on concerns raised about its business practices in Ireland but the company did not provide a response for publication.>
ITEM 2: Bread
There was a time we had a bakery in every village and on every street corner but now the majority of us buy bread from a supermarket. How does this commercially produced bread differ from traditional bread? Traditionally bread contained just four basic ingredients - flour, water, salt and yeast. This week The Consumer Show takes a look at our daily bread - what are the ingredients in it and what makes it stay fresh for up to a week?
Reporter Ella McSweeney meets Derek O'Brien, who runs the Baking Academy of Ireland and teaches consumers how to make their own bread using traditional methods. Derek believes that if consumers started eating crafted, naturally fermented bread it would be hard from them to go back. But the consumer would have to be prepared to pay more for this product than the mass-produced bread.
Ella visits Edinburgh to meet food writer and investigative journalist Joanna Blythman to find out more about what goes into commercially produced bread. This type of bread has a long list of ingredients - emulsifiers, enzymes, preservatives, flour treatment agents. What are they and what's the purpose of these type of ingredients in a loaf of bread? Ms Blythman explains that we've got into the habit of thinking bread is dirt cheap and if we want to buy bread at a low cost, we should understand what we are getting - a lot more yeast, emulsifiers to produce a softer crumb, preservatives to keep the bread for fresher for longer and enzymes to make the bread look golden. These enzymes also make it possible to produce a loaf in 2 hours that would take 20 hours using traditional bread baking techniques. With 71% of Irish consumers buying sliced pan at least once a week, we are consuming these additives regularly.
Cheaper bread became more widely available with the advent of highly mechanised bread-making techniques about 50 years ago and this process is still used today. For the first time a major commercial bakery in Ireland that produces thousands of loaves an hour, has let the cameras in to look behind the label and discuss some of the commonly held beliefs about bread. Derek Beatty from Brennans Bakery explains that bread is a low fat food, with little or no added sugar. He says there are laws in Ireland that ban using bleached flour and any nutrients lost in the milling process must be added back in by the bakery.
Patrick McCloskey of the Flour Confectioners and Bakers Association explains that the labels are there for the consumer to make an informed decision about the bread they buy.
Making bread in commercial quantities means lower cost but more added ingredients, while craft bread means higher cost but fewer, if any, added ingredients.