A rubbish service

In my other agony aunt column (which runs in tandem with this one, albeit with different content, in Forecourt Trader’s sister paper Convenience Store) I have featured PHS Wastetech on numerous occasions. The company promises a better deal than your current collector but then, oops, remembers that it needs to also charge for extras due to various compulsory compliance levies that were already in place before they signed you up.

Suddenly the service is costing more than your previous collector so you try to cancel. But PHS operates much like utilities companies, putting you on a rolling contract. If you don’t give them three months’ notice you’re stuck for another year.

And sometimes you’re still stuck.

Yogesh Chag emailed from his business, Craven Park Service Station, to say: "Even though my contract with them was stopped in writing and which they even confirmed in writing they did not come to take the bin away.

"After about a month still out of contract and making phone calls to them to take the bin away, they did do it. But now they have invoiced me for the rubbish they say they have collected even though I was out of contract with them.

"I have invoiced them back for the storage of the bin on my premises for four weeks. Like any big company they just do not want to know." Well, I have to say, I like his style. I have suggested that, if they don’t cough up, he could consider the small claims court.

I’m not the only one criticising this company. Just search Google and you will be spoiled for choice at the lengthy list of woes. I did try getting in touch for a response for the first couple of complaints but it didn’t work. The company says it does not comment to the press about its customer accounts.

Cracking the energy code

Where do you stand on selling energy drinks? Jo Winters (Breckland Garage, Weeting in Suffolk) says they are pretty popular. She sells Monster, Red Bull, Relentless and Booker’s Euro Shopper own brand which is doing very nicely at 35p a pop (pardon the pun). So she was a bit taken aback when a staff member from a nearby Londis who happened by her store said she could be reported for selling the stuff to 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds. Could she?

Short answer is no. It’s nothing to do with Trading Standards or any other form of authority.

I spoke to Richard Laming, media director for the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA), who explained that, owing to the caffeine content of energy drinks, there was a code of practice drawn up in consultation with the Association of Convenience Stores.

"We say these drinks are produced for adults but it’s not for us to dictate store policy. Each retailer must decide for themself."

The BSDA has published some guidelines on the subject under the heading ’Drinks high in caffeine’ in its 2011 Responsibility Report.

It says: "BSDA and its European trade association, UNESDA, have agreed codes of practice regarding the promotion of soft drinks with a high caffeine content, often referred to as energy drinks.

"The codes of practice specify advisory labelling statements about consumption by children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine.

"Furthermore, marketing and promotion activities are aimed only at over-16s."

Of course, those low in teenage years are legally still children but no one involved in the manufacture or distribution of the products has taken a ’rules is rules’ approach here. Laming mentioned that the code of practice was introduced owing to the "spectrum of effect". A lightweight 12-year-old might get a nice hit from the caffeine; a big 14-year-old would just roll with it; an adult would probably be entirely used to it owing to a coffee or tea habit. So, another grey area to rejoice in.

Car hire... Paris style

Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s hire bikes scheme launched in London last year has not been without its glitches. The latest concerns gangs using them to pinch people’s phones and make a quickish getaway.

The equivalent of BoJo’s bikes was launched in Paris three years earlier and now, for those Parisians who are not that keen on peddling, the city has moved on with the imminent launch this December of the electric bubble Bluecar (which is actually grey, a far more classy colour). It will cost 10 euros a day plus more euros depending on how long you want it for.

There will be 1,100 stations where an average of six cars can be parked. Just unplug it and off you go. More or less.

The tester whose report I read gave a very droll account of the glitches he encountered which included attempts to scan his passport and driving licence and paying by debit card.

Once this was achieved (and he had the help of a guide) he received a badge which also needed to be scanned and his PIN inputted. After determining which car is free (a blue flashing light will indicate), you unplug the electric charger andgo? Well, you get the picture; there will be some frustration if you are not familiar with the technology.

The correspondent didn’t actually go. He tried to dial the helpline in the car and got through to a recorded message.

Apparently they were at lunch. Vive le dejeuner! And not much gets between a Frenchman and his lunch.

Trials and glitch fixing are ongoing and I wonder when all of London will follow?