Monday 11 November 2019

Your questions answered: Can architect insist on his own builders?


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Aine Carroll - Director of Communications with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (

Q I am about to start a large extension project on my house. I have hired an architect to help with the design and tender for a builder. A friend of mine has recommended a builder who did some work in her house, but my architect is refusing to let him quote for the job and is insisting on only letting builders he has worked with before tender. Can he do this as it seems very unfair? Jenny, Co Wicklow

A It sounds like your architect is operating with an exclusive panel of builders and while you think it's unfair, there is nothing legally wrong with what he is doing. Exclusivity can become a concern if either a contractor or a buyer has significant market power, but that's not the case here as there are a large number of architects and builders in the country.

The architect might argue that by only using builders he has worked with in the past, he can vouch for the quality of their work.

On the other hand, the builder who is recommended by your friend may also work out.

If you are really unhappy and you are sure you want to use the builder recommended by your friend, you will need to speak to your architect about what your options are. It may depend on what your contract with the architect says, as you may already be committed to using a builder from his panel. Bear in mind that using the builder recommended by your architect may be helpful if any issues arise in during the project.

Confused by cryptocurrency

Q I know lots of people who say they've made money investing in cryptocurrency. There are so many options and I'm not sure if I've missed the boat or whether to go with one of the newer ones. Any tips? John, Dublin 3

A As with any form of investing it's important to understand the risks first. A cryptocurrency is a digital currency held and traded online. Cryptocurrencies are not regulated and don't have any of the protections that regulated investments have, such as being able to make a complaint to the Financial Services Ombudsman.

Most cryptocurrencies are created by a process known as "mining", which involves people using powerful computers to solve complex mathematical problems to release the virtual currency.

You can get cryptocurrencies either through mining or buying from a broker who deals with digital currency. Another common way to get cryptocurrencies is through cryptocurrency exchanges, which are businesses that allow customers to trade cryptocurrencies for other assets, like traditional money or other digital currencies.

Be very careful of potential scams when it comes to cryptocurrencies. Be wary of 'initial coin offerings', which is a way of crowdfunding the launch of new currencies or companies.

They are not regulated and could turn out to be scams, meaning the currency may not launch at all and your investment may be wiped out.

Also be very wary of getting involved in cryptocurrencies where the main focus is on recruiting more people into the scheme, as this could be a pyramid scheme - and these are illegal.

You should only ever invest an amount of money that you are willing to lose. Remember too that past increases in the value of coins do not guarantee their future results. The value of cryptocurrencies is very volatile and has increased and decreased very sharply at different times.

Can I replace a faulty phone?

Q I recently bought a new mobile phone in a shop but I am having ongoing problems with it. Can I demand a new phone from the shop? Niall, Co Clare

A In general, if any product or service you buy turns out to be faulty, the law says that there are three outcomes you are entitled to - repair, replacement or refund. However it does not state exactly which outcome you're entitled to, or in what order, so you will need to negotiate this with the shop. If you ask the shop to fix the fault with the phone, you should not be charged for the cost of the repairs, postage, labour or materials. The repair should be permanent. If the same fault reoccurs, you can ask for a replacement or a refund. The business cannot insist on a minimum number of repairs before offering you a replacement.

For most people, having a mobile phone is essential. If you think the time it takes to repair your phone is a significant inconvenience, you should ask the business to provide a similar phone for you to use while yours is being repaired. If the phone cannot be fixed or replaced or the business has failed to fix or replace it within a reasonable time frame, you can ask for a refund.

You can also ask for a replacement phone. Any replacement should be on a like-for-like basis. Where this is not possible, the shop can offer you an alternative, but you do not have to accept it. Also you should not be charged for any costs relating to the replacement - such as delivery costs.

You do have a right to reject the phone if it has a major fault - in such cases, return it to the shop and claim a full refund. A major fault is one where the phone does not work as it is supposed to from the outset. How long you have to do this is not set out in law but the sooner you return the phone, the better. If the fault is minor, you do not have a right to a full refund.

How do I start pension plan?

Q I am 35 and have not done anything about setting up a pension. I am now working full-time and can afford to set a bit of money aside each month. Where do I start? Aine, Co Galway

A The first step is to decide on the type of pension that's right for you. This depends on your personal circumstances, for example: are you an employee or are you self-employed?

The Pensions Authority website,, allows you to personalise information to your own circumstances, so it is a great place to start. It also has a handy pension calculator which helps you work out the amount you need to be paying into your pension to have a certain level of income in retirement.

There are three main types of pension plans which you may be eligible to pay into - an employer pension scheme, a Personal Retirement Savings Account (PRSA) and a Personal Pension Plan (PPP).

If you are an employee, ask your employer if it has a pension scheme you can join. The advantage of an employer pension scheme is that you make contributions directly from your salary and employers will often make a contribution in addition to your own contributions, which increases the value of your fund.

If your employer does not offer a pension scheme, you must be given access to a Standard PRSA. PRSAs are a type of personal pension that are open to anyone - employed, self-employed or those currently not working - to save for retirement. These are more flexible than traditional personal pension plans.

Another alternative you may be eligible to take out is a personal pension plan.

A personal pension plan is a private pension managed for you by a life assurance company or investment firm. Anyone who is self-employed can start a personal pension plan - however you must have a source of relevant earnings (or have had so in the past) to be eligible. This type of plan is not open to everyone.

Once you have set up your pension, it is important to regularly review your plan.

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