Thank you for the pre-submitted questions to this year’s AGM.

Here are the summarised answers to the questions we received. We would encourage members to listen to the audio recording of the AGM to get the full answers that were given on the day. We will be making this recording available shortly.

The notice of AGM

Questions: Will the Association consider a different start time for future AGMs?

Does the Council appreciate that with registration from 10.15 for an 11am start, for those living outside London this means rush hour travel at peak fares?

The 2017 AGM lasted 2.75 hours. Has the Council considered (a) starting the AGM later at, say, Noon or perhaps after lunch at 1 or 2pm or (b) dividing the proceedings into two parts with a later start than at present. An 11am start means a rush to get to the meeting and insufficient time to see the displays and meet staff.

Answer: We look to host our AGM at a venue, on a date and at a time that is suitable for as many members as possible. We really appreciate the effort that ordinary members go to to attend the AGM, and the costs associated.

Each year we do review the AGM logistics and next year are considering hosting it in our Marylebone office on a Saturday in November, the date and time will be confirmed shortly. We have made this change in the hope a weekend would allow for a more diverse and larger group of Ordinary Members to attend as there is less likely to be clashing work commitments. It would also remove the week day peak travel cost.

We welcome the feedback we receive so we can make improvements, and we will certainly consider alternative timings and how we can split proceedings.

Remuneration

Questions: Why is the Chief Executive of the company paid several times what an NHS consultant is paid? Does he/she treat several times the number of patients treated by an NHS consultant?

Can you please give an explanation as to why 18 members employed by Which? earn more than the Prime Minister of the country?

A request for a more detailed explanation regarding the very substantial rise in the cost of employing key personnel:

i) the necessity of the very substantial uplift and how this compares to the past three years?

ii) how job evaluations are undertaken. In a way that determines some 130+ staff are remunerated above £60,000 p/a?

Answer: To make the lives of consumers better we need to be able to attract the right talent to the organisation and remunerate them fairly for the job that they are asked to do. Roles are benchmarked against relevant market data for the skills we are seeking.

Our current Chief Executive, Anabel, receives a base salary of £250,000. We believe this pay is fair and reflects the commercial and charitable responsibilities associated with the role. To reflect the current climate, we have capped the bonus capacity that she can achieve and in the 16/17 financial year we closed our Long Term Incentive Plan.

There was a significant increase in the cost of key employees compared to 2016/17 (we define key employees as members of the Corporate Leadership Team). This is primarily due to a larger group forming the CLT. Previously the Corporate Management Group had only around 5/6 employees. Furthermore there was an uplift in costs relating to compensation for loss of office for employees within this group.

Job evaluations are undertaken using widely accepted external methods of HayKornFerry supported by Willis Towers Watson. Each role is benchmarked against roles of equivalent skill, responsibility and scope against a “Hybrid” subset of external companies that includes both the Not for Profit/Charity sectors and relevant commercial markets. We take a total remuneration approach, so remuneration reflected is not just base salary, but also benefit contributions such as Pension, Medical Cover, Life Assurance Cover and so on. This ensures we attract, motivate and retain the talent needed to deliver against the Group strategy.

The accounts

Question: As a Trustee of an educational Charity I am conscious that whilst it does not mirror the activities of the Consumers Association they are Charities!
Whilst I concur that charity work and monetary work are of necessity together in operation, they require a very delicate touch regarding donations and payments for services.
Can we, the Ordinary Members, be assured by the Auditors that no donations, Membership fees are appropriated against Directors fees and salaries paid. Furthermore that all such derive only from the economic activity of those so paid. Furthermore may we be appraised of the percentage split of salary/income and commissions or bonuses paid to Executives are reviewed by the audit committee and such figures are returned to the Charity Commissioners having been so audited, and thus to ordinary members. Charities are not like for like. The Consumers Association (charity)and especially its commercial offshoots, whether Lawyers like it or not are deemed to be “A charity” by the public at large. Any feeling that monies are misspent or overspent, instead of returning to the Charity(CA), will damage its reputation for neutrality which is its whole raison d’être.
This is correctly voiced regarding ”political” matters on Brexit, but back numbers some time ago regarding Diesel vehicle makes as an example make one feel that neutral caution was possibly not in place , whether for commercial reasons or just plain bad testing or acceptance of figures given.

Answer: Which? Limited operates as a commercial business, and gift aids its taxable profits to the Consumers’ Association. Which? Limited is the trading company through which subscriptions, and therefore member fees, are received – these are not donations, but payments for services provided. As a consequence, member fees do contribute to directors fees and salaries. This is legitimate and intended, as the subscription business is a commercial activity.

Continued growth and success from our commercial enterprises, including the core subscription business, enables us to undertake more work for the wider public benefit to support consumers at key stages throughout their lives.

All decisions relating to the remuneration of our Executives are made and ratified through the Remuneration Committee, rather than the Group Audit & Risk Committee. This is in line with the Charities Governance Code and is generally considered best practice for larger organisations, whether a charity or otherwise. The total remuneration package for Executives is reviewed by the Remuneration Committee and these amounts are fully disclosed in our annual report and financial accounts, in line with statutory and charity commission requirements. A revised Remuneration Policy was adopted last year which reflects the unique position that the organisation has, and is designed to attract talent so that no more than is necessary is spent on remuneration.

Question: Why does the group borrow too much money when it has sufficient money in reserves?

Answer: Before the building work commenced on Marylebone Road, it was decided that it would be funded through a combination of a £10.0m mortgage facility with the remainder from the investment fund. This made sense because of the exceptionally low interest rates available at the time, which we have fixed for five years and the continued strong performance of the investment fund.

Question: How does Trusted Traders make a profit? If you charge for listing you are no more trustworthy than Checkatrade et al and the system is very disappointing

Answer: Before becoming endorsed all traders on the scheme have to pass our assessment process, this includes credit and insurance checks, and a face to face interview with one of our trading standards assessors. Businesses can apply to be assessed for £200 +VAT. If they pass the assessment they can then choose to join and pay an ongoing membership fee, varying according to the size of the company.

The application fee covers an assessment from a trained trading standards professional including all the necessary background checks and also consumer reference checking. A written report is produced together with recommendations on changes that a trader must make to their business prior to being accepted onto the scheme, a dedicated point of contact co-ordinates this process providing help and support to the trader should this be necessary.

Once the traders have been accepted on the scheme there is an ongoing monthly fee. This includes review moderation process, access to the dispute resolution service (ADR). Ongoing credit and risk alert checks as well as ongoing support from the Trusted Trader team to help them make the most of the endorsement within their business. Which? Trusted Trader provide a variety of tools including code of conduct leaflets, review cards, van stickers and the logo itself to help traders maximise the potential of the scheme within their business. Consumer feedback is monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure Traders are complying with the scheme code of conduct and appropriate action is taken should they be found to be non compliant

Once a business is endorsed they are able to use the Which? Trusted trader logo across all business and promotional materials and receive a profile page on the Which? Trusted Traders site. Typically, we don’t make any profit from traders until after 2 years – this is because of the high costs associated with policing the scheme.

We pride ourselves on the rigorous and ongoing assessment that our trusted traders undergo. Due to the high demands of the assessment, not all businesses that apply get through the assessment process.. Only those who meet our high standards can become Which? Trusted traders. As a result, the Which? Trusted trader logo is a sign of reputation and trust; helping consumers choose the right trader for them and giving good traders the recognition they deserve.

Council Election

Question: Would it please be possible in future years to use a slightly larger print on the booklet that gives details of those standing for election to the Council? I wear glasses and still had trouble reading the print.

Answer: A few members have mentioned that they have found the print too small when reading the candidates’ statements in the Council election ballot booklet.
We do offer members the option to vote online which they may find easier to read. If any members would prefer this they will need to opt in for email as their preferred method of contact from us.

We are also happy to print a larger version of the booklet if a member requests.

The Auditors

Question: Non-audit fee activity creates a conflict between the duty of responsibility to shareholders, and treatment of the company as a customer. This conflict is thought to contribute to the shameful performance of the Big Four audit firms in softening their approach to clients. They failed to highlight problems in Carillion and several others over the last decade.

Could we not enhance transparency and avoidance of this possible conflict by stopping all non-audit work by the auditors, and employing other firms for these tasks?

Answer: Thank you for taking the time to pre submit a question.

We use a variety of firms when we are seeking external advice, based primarily on their expertise within the individual subject areas.

In our accounts we disclosed expenditure of £28,000 with PwC on non-audit fees. This was for work that focused on taxation, both corporation tax and advice on VAT.
This advice and support was completely separate from any audit work carried out, involving different personnel in different departments to ensure there was no conflict of interest.

We do use other firms for work in several areas and would consider firms other than PwC for such work in the future.

Reports

Question: 1. Why such ‘glamorous’ (costly) reports? – the paper is far too ‘posh’.

2. Why are the reports in Which? so short?

3. I often read in Feedback that Which? magazine didn’t have enough space to cover the point being made.

My question is whether more space could be freed up for reports, if the over use of large illustrations were to be curtailed.

For example page 29 of the October edition shows a full page of icons eg of eBay and Amazon and a title and sub-title. Some of these icons are repeated on page 30, where it would be possible to add a heading and move them up to the top, freeing up a whole page. In October’s Which? magazine there a 13 pages including the 2 full pages of ‘free’ adverts for Which? Wills, where single illustrations are half a page or larger. I appreciate the benefits of illustrations in an article, but do some of them have to be so large

Answer: Our annual report is our yearly opportunity to communicate with members about what has been achieved in the year, including campaigning success and financial performance. The size and type of publication we produce is inline with similar companies. We have created an online digital version of the annual report and are looking to ensure members who have expressed a preference to receive it by email do so in future.

In the magazine, we want to cover a wide range of different products and services regularly, to make sure we have something for everyone, whenever they need it. Each article or ‘report’ is typically between 3 and 6 pages long. With ‘test lab’ reports, we make sure we give a good range of product recommendations – covering the main different requirements that people have – whether type of product (e.g. size of washing machine) or price point

Thanks for the question on this. The way we use imagery in the magazines is something we consider carefully. We aim to pick images that will help to tell the story, inform and engage readers. But we also know imagery can polarise reader opinion – some readers would prefer fewer, smaller images, whereas others think the magazine already feels too text-heavy and needs more images to break it up and make the magazine easier to digest. So it’s a challenge to strike the right balance.

In the last two months we have been working with a cross-section of readers to understand what they really want from Which? magazine now and in future. We have had some very useful feedback on imagery in the magazine – not just around the size, but also the type of images we use – and we intend to take this on board when we refresh the magazine in 2019.

One thing I would add is that the space in any magazine is finite, so it will always be a challenge in fit in everything the reader wants while still making the magazine approachable and readable.

The Internet

Questions: You say ‘look on line’. 10 million people have NO access to on line computers. Why?

Will the Council give active consideration to one of those sections of society who are constantly the subject of discrimination, namely those who do not have access to the internet, etc? this group is subject to discrimination by a variety of organisations and businesses, e.g., charged more than those who go online and often denied the opportunity to participate because no alternative such as a phone number or address is quoted. A glaring example: Senior Railcard cost £30 for one year but only £70 for 3 years BUT the 3 year card can only be purchased online NOT at a staffed ticket office. WHY NOT?

Answer: We appreciate a large number of our members rely solely on the magazine, and so we have introduced magazine content to address those needs. This includes the test lab buyer’s guide, where several pages in each issue are devoted to tables of product recommendations.

We will continue to invest in our magazines alongside developing our online offering as we know this is the must important element of the subscription for many of our members.

If members are unable to reach online content we would encourage them to ring our member services centre and we will go out of our way to ensure you get access to the content regardless not having internet access.

Often local libraries can also support with accessing the internet.

2) However, we do know that people are increasingly using digital channels to communicate and engage with one another and with services. And so in order to continue to be relevant and fit for purpose in the 21st century we must embrace this behaviour, and we know the majority of our members do regularly use which.co.uk. It is also useful for us to utilise the internet in circumstances where we want to provide a wide range of recommended products, for example, for categories where we have often tested several hundred products.

3) 11m people access our free content of which the majority is only available online. This includes consumer rights advice, aswell as Which? University, Which? Birth Choice and Which? Elderly care. We need the internet and our online platforms to reach these audiences and so best serve customers across the UK population, now and in the future

Reviews

Question:Why do Which? only appear to review and recommend the more expensive appliances, e.g., electric kettles? I often find that the cheap alternatives from say Argos or the discount supermarkets are as good even if they don’t last as long (but they often tend to).

Answer: Thank you for your question. We do try to test and review all products that you’d be able to find in the main retailers in the core categories we cover. As of September 2018, we’d tested 96% of the kettles on sale through major retailers, for example.

Across most product categories, we do also have cheaper options that do well enough in our tests to be rated a Best Buy. Often the better performing products are expensive, but by no means always.
We focus testing on the core performance and aspects such as ease of use rather than more complex product functionalities that might come at a cost, so there is no reason cheaper products can’t be recommended as highly.

Member Governance Committee

Questions:How do Which? now propose to engage with willing members now that the Member Governance Committee has failed to attract contributions, and the dedicated Convo has had no real interaction with Which? staff, other than Patrick Steen and colleagues?

Answer: Since the publication of the annual report, we have now received proposals for the Member Governance Committee. They will be considered when the committee meets on 4 December. The proposals themselves focus on the way in which the committee works and in many ways, are linked to this question.

The governance review will look at the role of the member governance committee and the bigger picture of how we can better engage and interact with members.We want to engage with members throughout the governance review and there will be plenty of opportunity for two way debate. You will hear more about the ways to get involved from Julia Unwin, in the governance review section of this AGM later today.

We actively promoted the new governance area of Convo to all Ordinary Members via email, and are pleased to have had over 1,000 comments since the area was created. We have used the discussion to openly and honestly discuss the closure of Which.net, remaining transparent about our ongoing plans and passing feedback to the Which.net team. We have answered membership queries and questions about how we test, and keep a close eye on discussions to understand how members feel.

We know we could be more active in the community, and we would like to encourage more OMs to join the discussion. We also understand that the technical set up could be better, which is why we’re also looking to develop our community technology so that it is suitable for consumers and members alike.

Single Sign On

Questions: 1) Much has been said about making Which? a 21st century organisation and creating a wide ranging and engaging digital landscape.With GDPR making it all the more important that an organisation controls personal information centrally in a managed fashion and that creating another login has been well identified as a barrier to engagement could the board confirm whether all the technology being used in the digital investment plan is being developed/procured with a view to a central, single sign on user management tool at its core?

2) When is single sign on planned to be available across the whole digital estate (Including Conversation and Wills for example)?

3) What is the current performance on users moving between our digital services?

Answer: We are committed to creating a single sign on across all our sites, platforms and products in the future. Currently our Wills product does not have single sign on, and we are continuing to review our Legal portfolio.We are unable to confirm the date when single sign on will be available, as some of the sites involved will be required to re platform for the process to be carried out.

The majority of the members come to Which? for product reviews, and we see very few people moving to other products and services. This is mainly down to the user’s needs and preferences. It is possible that having single sign on might make signing up for various products and services, including campaigns easier if that is people’s intentions.

Return to the Which? Discussion