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This month on Which? Conversation: March 2022

Welcome to our monthly open discussion on everything that’s happening across Which? throughout March. Get involved in the comments.

There’s a lot going on in the world right now – January and February have flown by and we’ve been hard at work covering and discussing all the latest consumer news.

Why not take a look back at the previous month by taking our quiz? Don’t forget to let us know your score!

Pancake day

And speaking of looking back – what better day could there be than to revisit a discussion from 2020: how do you like your pancakes?

In what must have been a very hard decision indeed, Which? reviewers have had a look into whether supermarket chocolate spread pips Nutella in a taste test. Which one do you prefer?

Nutella or supermarket chocolate spread?

Neither! (45%, 5 Votes)

Supermarket brand (27%, 3 Votes)

Nutella (18%, 2 Votes)

Either / no preference (9%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 11

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Ending free lateral flow tests – the right time or too soon?

The UK Government’s “Living with Covid” plan means the end of many of the legal restrictions we’ve lived with for nearly two years, including the legal requirement to self-isolate and wearing face coverings.

A key change as well is the end of free lateral flow tests from 1 April, after which they will only remain free for individuals classed as “vulnerable”.

How do you feel about this change? Do you feel tests should remain free for all, or do you believe it’s the right time to start winding down mass testing?

Do you believe lateral flow tests should remain free for everyone after 1 April?

Yes (80%, 20 Votes)

Not sure (16%, 4 Votes)

No (4%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 25

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As we’ve seen many times with Coronavirus tests, this change may also mean scammers attempt to take advantage of the situation. If you see anything suspicious, we’re keen to hear about it!

Coming up this month

As the cost of living continues to increase we’ll be exploring a range of topics this month across Which? News and Which? Conversation.

Last month’s discussion on car headlights most definitely struck a chord with the community. We’ll soon be visiting another car-related topic from Daljinder Nagra: are modern touchscreen media systems a step backwards for vehicle safety?

Don’t forget we’ve also got our latest live event on Thursday 3 March. Got a question for our campaigns team? Let them know!

As always we’ll be discussing the latest Legal Advice and Scam Watch columns from Which? Magazine, as well as publishing the latest opinion pieces from our columnists.

Team updates

A brief update from me: after a three and a bit years at Which? I’ve decided to move on from my role as Community Manager here on Which? Conversation to pastures new.

It’s a quiet transition to be sure, but equally I’m only one part of a much larger community that we all play our role in building and constructing each and every day. Plus it’s not a goodbye either – you’ll still see me jump in the discussion from time to time, though appreciate the schedule I’ve kept here may be a bit different going forward.

So from me to you – thanks for everything these past few years, I’ve been lucky to play the role I have done here in the conversation. You’re in good hands with George and Chirag here, and I look forward to seeing what the team will do next in the months and years to come.

Your views

What’s happening in March for you? What issues would you like us to cover and start a discussion on?

Let us know the topics that matter to you this month in the comments.

Comments

What issues would you like us to cover and start a discussion on?

CUSTOMER SERVICE EMAIL AND PHONE CONTACTS

When contacting companies and other organisations I prefer to use email and phone calls, but many companies no longer provide an email address and expect customers to use a web form and some no longer provide even that. Simple email provides the obvious advantages of making it easy to keep track of correspondence and to send images and other files as attachments.

Making contact by phone became easier when companies were banned from using costly. phone numbers for calls related to products and services that had been purchased and for complaints, but some companies no longer provide customer service phone numbers.

Some might be happy to use online chat or social media to make contact. That’s fine but I want to use email and phone calls.

Some of us have discussed this periodically and recently Adam French commented on the legal position: https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/most-effective-complaints-shopping/#comment-1634440

I know I’m not alone in being frustrated about this problem and would be very grateful if Which? would consider pushing for a clear requirement for organisations to provide standard email addresses and phone numbers for customer services.

I fully support this. Businesses failing to provide required information such as a postal address, email address etc are in breach of Legislation and should be held accountable.

100% agree wavechange and would include the addresses they trade from not virtual offices.

I would also include GP surgeries in this.

At the start of the pandemic, we could email our GP and got a very speedy reply. That was stopped and now it is very difficult to make contact as the NHS Patient Access messaging is not enabled and their phone is permanently engaged.

Thanks both.

Alfa – I needed to send a document to my GP having had a few days in hospital at the end of last June when I was going on what was supposed to be a socially distanced holiday. I phoned up the surgery and was given an email address which I used to send a scanned copy of the discharge letter.

Patient Access and SystmOne are examples of private companies used by GP surgeries, which may not use all the features available. We certainly need to be able to contact our GP surgeries by email and phone and each surgery should publish how this can be done. My present surgery did not even tell me the name of my GP until asked.

Crusader says:
10 March 2022

Dead right, we need email addresses for contact, especially as far too many businesses, and other organisations, now insist on using absolutely appalling excruciating noises on their phone lines when they put you on hold making it totally IMpossible to continue the call, and when I fully justifiably complain by some other means they just don’t want to know and don’t even bother to reply, what an appalling condescending attitude. And it’s technically a serious breach of the so-called “equality” act, but of course it doesn’t provide any such equality at all and needless to say has the usual cunning little “get-out” clauses, and it’s only ever applied to something like 5% of the disabled population, to the other 90-odd percent it’s usually a case of “stuff you jack!”, or “stop the world and get off” etc., an attitude that absolutely stinks and belongs to the bin of history and has no place in a 21st century democracy, if you can call it that which is highly doubtful as far too many of us are expected to do without fair and equal representation completely and just accept total EXclusion from far too many essential services which I furiously resent. And in my experience even when they do have an email address they only totally ignore my messages and far too many organisations even outrageously block my messages, no matter how polite and civilised I try to be, it seems to me that they expect me to write to them in a fancy “professional class” language or else they just don’t want to know, or they even hide their email address.

Kevin says:
20 March 2022

Nationwide used to have a secure messaging system – effectively an internal email system. They have recently decided to replace it with an online chat system, which presumably will require their customers to negotiate with some kind of AI chatbot system before they get to waste any expensive valuable human employee time. It also undermines the audit function of an email messaging system, making it more difficult to track your interactions with the bank, should a dispute arise, but I’m sure that’s a coincidence.

What is it about e-mails that the big companies find so hard to deal with? And why is servicing Facebook and Twitter contacts so much preferred?

I have never found a chatbot process that gives satisfaction either in being able to express the right form of words to elicit a sensible response or to understand the rubbish one gets back in the eventual reply. If the enquiry doesn’t fit the AI algorithm template it’s a waste of time.

With Nationwide almost every bank service request [e.g. new cheque book] does have a place somewhere in the website functions but if it doesn’t then it is likely to be more complicated than a chatbot can cope with. Chatbots are also incredibly time-consuming as you wait for the cogs to mesh and the gears to grind.

I shall continue to send a letter or pop into the branch if something important is involved.

One might have expected a mutual organisation to have consulted its members before making such a change but like all their commercial decisions, like closing branches, there’s no time for that.

Kevin says:
20 March 2022

Nationwide helpfully deleted my secure messages which were older than about a year some months prior to turning off the secure messaging system. When I complained and asked for them to be restored or copies provided, they treated it like an FOI request and sent me paper copies of the messages they hadn’t deleted. This kind of corporate dumb insolence now seems to be part of the business model of many service providers. A few years ago I had an energy supplier steal money via an unauthorised direct debit transaction. Initially the bank’s response was to tell me it was nothing to do with them and to contact the supplier (I had already tried this and had no response); I had to point out their own direct debit guarantee to them, to get the money refunded. They don’t live up to the ‘mutual’ public image they portray in their adverts.

Chat systems have their uses for more casual issues, such as a query about broadband, but the ability to securely communicate asynchronously via secure messaging should be an essential part of an online banking or finance offering, especially since it provides a simple and accessible audit trail for the customer.

The best way to clean a burnt saucepan – Which?

I’ve burnt and salvaged enough stainless steel frying pans and saucepans in my time to know that a dishwasher tablet isn’t going to shift carbonized deposits and the characteristic metal discolouration, ranging from yellow to blue, caused by a thin oxidisation layer on the metal surface that starts to form at temperatures above 200 degrees C. This is also the point at which cooking oil starts to smoke and your pan is well and truly “cooked”.

Provided the pan is stainless steel and doesn’t have a non-stick coating, I use no. 400 fine grit wet-or-dry paper (you can find this at Screwfix or in the Halfords car paint section). Wet this with some water and add a drop of washing up liquid.

Work out from the centre and try to follow any existing pattern, but most stainless pans will already be well scratched by tablespoons and fish slices, so don’t worry too much other than to follow a circular pattern, rather that scrub backwards and forwards in straight lines which will leave marks that take more time to polish out later.

The water and soap is mainly for lubrication and to stop the grit from clogging, so rinse and repeat from time to time. Also do this if you are changing down a grit size.

Work up towards the rim of the pan, but do not overlap the more highly polished areas unless they are already in a bad state.

Rinse clean and wipe off any black metal residue with a paper towel. You should now have a brightly polished interior. If not, just repeat the process. Wash once again before use.

As an added bonus, you will have improved the non-stick qualities of a metal frying pan, ready for re-seasoning as you would a new pan with oil. If the sureface is really clean, you will see the water beading on the surface. This is also a useful tip if you just want to cook pancakes and you only have a sticking metal frying pan to work with.

If this hack works for you, you can buy commercial sanding pads that are washable and bonded with various grit sizes to keep your kitchen battery sparkling. I find 1600 grit pads works well on anodised aluminium baking sheets to remove burnt-on grease, where any caustic chemical cleaner (like dishwaster tablets) is a complete no-no and will cause discoloration and corrosion. Names to look out for are Mirka Abralon and 3M (Scotch), although there are plenty of generic manufacturers. Keep them away from standard nylon kitchen scourers to avoid any nasty mistakes.

If you are prepared to work down a series of grits to 2000 and beyond, you can restore the mirror finish of the outside of your pans as well, but that is a very time consuming process best left for dark winter evenings in the scullery when the ugly sisters have gone to bed.

I assume that Em’s advice is inspired by this article in Which? News: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2022/03/watch-whats-the-easiest-way-to-clean-a-burnt-saucepan/

For dealing with food stuck to the base of a stainless steel saucepan I put a little water in the pan and add some washing soda, bring it to the boil, simmer for a few minutes, allow to cool and dispose of the liquid. The pan should now be easy to clean. Washing soda is sodium carbonate, which is alkaline, and care should be taken to avoid splashing it in your eyes or getting it on your skin. I have not compared this with using dishwasher tablets, as suggested by Which?, but washing soda is a cheaper solution. Do not use washing soda on aluminium pans.

Thank you for posting the link Wavechange. I don’t understand what they don’t allow anyone to link to articles posted on Which? Must be some bad stuff out there.

No problem, Em. Any links posted are checked by moderators and I respect that Which? prefer not to take the risk of dodgy links appearing. Those who are logged-in can be given the privilege of posting links without them going into moderation. I don’t know if that would be possible for those like yourself who prefer not to log in. You did explain why you don’t log-in but I have forgotten. Other worthwhile contributors have done the same and I’m sure that they have or had their reasons. I have been tempted to do the same because of the login difficulties we have had over the years.

Em, you can provide a link, as far as I know, omitting the https//www bit. Otherwise you have to wait for the moderators.

That’s a good tip malcolm! Let me try below:

which.co.uk/news/2022/03/watch-whats-the-easiest-way-to-clean-a-burnt-saucepan/

Better than nothing, but it’s not a clickable link. You’d have to copy and paste that one into your browser.

This was done by a few contributors before some of us were allowed to bypass the automatic delay for moderation. Anyone who wanted to draw attention to dodgy websites could easily truncate the URL to escape automatic detection, which rather negates the point of automatically delaying posts with links.

I have always created clickable links cloaked by the reference text. It’s easy to do and George (I think it was) told me that the software is designed to determine ‘trusted’ contributors, so after you’ve been posting a while it ought to allow these links without question.

One thing that might cause an issue is being logged in, athough Derek had no issues and never logged in.

Which? test of Best Washable Paint – 22 March 2022

Why no Zinnser?

Much as I like – and use – both Farrow and Ball and Little Green paints, that has more to do with range the subtle colours and the chalky texture of Estate Emulsion in bedroom and living rooms. As Which? point out, you need to use FB Modern Emusion for scrubbability.

I’ve been using Zinner B-I-N for a number of years, to undercoat tricky surfaces, like polyurathane varnished pine. My paint merchant recently suggested I use Zinners Perma-White on a bathroom ceiling that we’ve had refitted. It was a revelation. Easy to apply by brush without streaking and no splashing or bubbling with a roller. I mentioned this to the bathroom fitter whose opinion I respect (he’s now done two bathrooms and a kitchen utility) and he was equally enthusiastic about Zinnser products.

I’m not saying Zinnser would be any better than the best buys – although it too has a Class 1 Wet Scrub Rating (ISO 11998). But it is certainly a lot cheaper and easier to apply than FB and LG paints. I’m surprised it would have been left out.

Sorry – that should be Zinsser paint.