CONSUMERS in Caithness are continuing to claim they are being ripped off with unfair delivery prices as an advice service reports it has been inundated with cases during the summer.
The Caithness Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has backed calls from watchdog Consumer Focus Scotland (CFS) for companies to offer the same delivery charge to rural locations, including the far north, as the rest of the country.
Staff at its branches in Thurso and Wick have spoken to people who say they have had to pay extra surcharges due to the area’s KW postcode, with some companies refusing to deliver to isolated locations at all.
CAB is backing the national consumer watchdog in calling on retailers to offer the choice of delivery by Royal Mail’s standard parcel service, which delivers to all parts of Scotland for a uniform tariff.
Caithness CAB manager Jill Smith said complaints about increased surcharges for delivery to rural areas is still one of the biggest areas it deals with.
“We have been fighting this issue for a long time but we are still getting just as many clients as we had before who feel they are being dealt with unfairly,” she said.
“This summer we’ve had people who’ve come to us saying they have been charged an extortionate fee for delivery or been refused delivery services due to where they live.
“This is an issue which has caused anger not just in Caithness but across the whole of the Highlands and it is something which companies need to address.”
Last year, Caithness CAB was at the forefront of organising a national survey asking customers in rural locations their feelings on the issue of unfair delivery charges.
A total of 234 people in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross filled in the survey, describing the type of problems they were experiencing and the companies that were involved. Across Scotland, there were 3065 responses. Caithness, Sutherland and Ross residents made up 7.6 per cent of the total – far higher than the constituency’s share of the Scottish population at 1.3 per cent.
The biggest problem for consumers in Caithness was being charged extra for delivery as a result of their location, with nearly two-thirds of respondents reporting additional charges.
Over a quarter said they were often regarded by retailers as living on an island or in a remote area and more than a fifth were refused delivery altogether.
A total of 700 different retailers were named by consumers across Scotland. In Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, consumers who responded to the survey named 130 retailers as being problematic. The most commonly named retailer was eBay, followed by Screwfix, ebuyer and Amazon.
The results of the survey were reported to the Office of Fair Trading and to Trading Standards, as well as to both the UK and Scottish Governments.
Highland Council’s trading standards officials are co-ordinating work for eight councils in the north of Scotland using the data from the surveys run by CAB to take enforcement action against companies and educate them as to best practice.
Trading standards manager Gordon Robb said he wanted to reiterate the importance of businesses complying with distance-selling laws and providing full and early delivery information.
“Our recent survey uncovered a wide range of problems and we are in the process of dealing with the non-compliant businesses,” he said.
“A number of these online sellers have now made changes and so the situation is improving but much work remains.
“We will continue to work with Consumer Focus Scotland and other bodies to ensure that consumers get a fair deal on delivery.”
Last year, Royal Mail delivered 585 million parcels in the UK and parcel volumes increased by five per cent this year.
Delivery issues were estimated to cost retailers £1.1 billion in the last quarter of 2011.