Sunday, 18 September 2011

I hate . . . 'Please Recycle' on Junk Mail

I got some junk mail the other day, the typical credit card application stuff.

Rather presumptuously it contained a full terms and conditions booklet, as well as a 4 page application form, a glossy flyer on the benefits and return envelope. Printed on the back of the envelope it all came in was a great big 'Please Recycle' logo.

If you want me to recycle it, why are you sending it to me? Could you not just recycle it yourselves and save me the bother? Why are you sending me applications for an American Express Credit Card when a simple check would show I already have one?

While I briefly considered sending the whole lot back to them, I decided to do my bit for the environment. I recycled the junk mail into a means to light a fire.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

I hate . . . Legal Lies

After a recent conversation with a public sector organisation, I've noticed that public and private companies will often tell you things that are not entirely truthful. If they want to avoid doing something, or prevent you doing something, they regularly say that the law stops it - even when it doesn't.

Shockingly, this even happens in the police - so here are a few things you should know about the law. This is for the UK, but similar legislation exists across Europe and in North America.

The Data Protection Act

One of the favourite excuses is that a company cannot give you information because of the data protection act. I'd say, about half the time this is used it's nonsense.

The data protection act concerns personal information about a named, living individual.

  • A company is NOT an individual. Requests for information on phone numbers, addresses, and similar do not fall under the DPA.
  • The DPA specifically allows you access to information about yourself.
  • It does not cover information that does not identify the individual, such as information on a building, or group of people

Check the Data Protection Act and it's rights and obligations for yourself - and be armed for the next bureaucrat.

Health & Safety

Wide ranging Health and Safety legislation covers all sorts of things - but a lot of them are to do with industrial equipment, fire exists and similar. Most of what you hear quoted as Health and Safety legislation is in fact either guidance, or just company policy.

I recently asked to use the toilet in a shop, and was refused on the grounds of Health and Safety Law. A shop is a private building, so they have no obligation, but refusing on the ground of H & S is stupid - I'm not going to be causing danger to anyone.

One of the core rules of the Health and Safety legislation is that risks should be reduced to as low as reasonably possible. Unfortunately many organisations seem to take this as 'reduced to zero' - and in doing so just prevent many things with relatively low risks. See Health and Safety Law, and the next time someone quotes 'Heath & Safety', ask them to show you the section in the regulations.

One friend was told recently he could not hire a car on his licence as he had it less than two years, and 'Health & Safely' prevented them letting him have it. That's NOT H & S, that's insurance requirements. They can still refuse, but switching the reasons is not helpful, as it reduces you chance to expplore options, like paying for additional insurance.

Paranoid and stupid, home made rules are also the causes of one major blight in most places - pointless safety signs. A sign sign 'Danger: Steep Slope' at the top of a steep slope. Signs on hot water taps saying 'Water may be hot'. Even 'Slippery When Wet' on wooden steps, and even signs on the backs of trucks warning people not to pass on the inside.

How about this for a suggestion: let's go back to everyone being responsible for their own safety.

Arbitrary 'Legal Reasons'

After being told recently that an organisation could not email a form for 'legal reasons', I questioned why, and the customer 'services' handler could not tell me under which laws. After escalating to a supervisor, who initially said the same thing, he eventually admitted it was because their systems only allowed printed forms to be posted.

Any time someone says 'legal reasons' or 'the law stops us doing that', ask them which law, which Act, which section. 95% of the time they cannot tell you, and neither can their supervisor, or the boss. Rules are instituted by companies, and then they have to justify them - and an unnamed 'law' is the perfect excuse.

The next time you are told 'You cannot do that because of...' check they have got their facts right - the answer may surprise you.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

I hate . . . Corporate Marketing

Flushing your money down the toiletIn the UK, water and drainage is provided by private companies with a total monopoly in their area. Unless you are happy to drill a well and build a cess pit, you have to use them, and pay whatever they decide to charge.

Let me tell you a little story or what happens when a company gets a monopoly.

Out local water firm decided to switch everyone to water meters. This, in itself, is not a problem. Water is a resource like any other, and measuring it ensures it's fair for everyone. There was no choice, and minimal disruption - the meters are generally installed on the stop tap, outside the property. What really bugs me is the way they went about telling everyone affected.

First, a letter, saying what they were planning, and when they were planning it. So far so good. But then we get another letter. An another, this time with a handy leaflet. It advertises a freephone number if you have questions. I'm fine. thanks. I under stand the difference between a fixed price and a meter.

Getting closer now - just a couple of weeks away from the upgrade. Surely everyone knows by now.

No. Another letter, this time with a stupid little pop-up cardboard cube with the same information again. It was well made. It was well designed. It looked expensive. And signs on every lamppost - probably 30 in a street with only five times that in properties.

Next we have door to door visits, a couple of very helpful people, calling at every house. They have lovely hi-vis vests. There are some big ads - half page - in the local paper too, just in case we missed the visits.

Now, the day of the big change. There's a little portable office appeared on a patch of grass. It's going to be staffed 12 hours a day for the next week, just in case we had questions not answered by the letters, leaflets, pop-up cubes, visits.

They actual upgrade comes a goes almost without anyone noticing. They did the whole street in a day - pretty impressively efficient. Unlike everything else.

What is really infuriating me is the cost of all this. I have no access to the costs, but I would not be surprised if the marketing campaign cost more than the upgrades. An I HAD TO PAY FOR IT. It's not as if we have a choice, or can switch to a budget supplier - monopolies can and will do what they think is best, especially if that means their communications director getting a healthy increase in budget.

So if you work for a big company with customers that cannot move think on this - I would far rather have 5% off my bills than pay for your latest pointless marketing campaign.