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This week on Which? Conversation: 23 August 2021

Here’s what’s happening during the week of 23 August 2021 on Which? Conversation and elsewhere around which.co.uk.

Thanks to everyone who joined in for Customer Service Week last week. It was good to speak with so many of you about what you’re experiencing when trying to get redress from a retailer when your order doesn’t go as planned.

Which? also released its best and worst online retailers for resolving complaints as rated by more than 5,000 consumers from across the UK. Check out the list to see how the retailers you’re shopping with rank, and as always, if you have any issues in returning your online purchases please do share in the comments below.

This week’s poll

Looking back at our poll on whether you’re planning on travelling this year, it’s looking like those travelling abroad are very much in the minority. This poll is open through 5 September, so feel free to vote if you haven’t already done so.

Are you planning to travel during the summer now that restrictions have eased?

No (53%, 813 Votes)

Yes - only within the UK though (33%, 514 Votes)

Yes - travelling abroad (14%, 220 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,547

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If you are choosing to travel, Which? Travel’s checklist for hassle-free holidays may be of use in planning out where you’re going.

For those of you traveling inside of the UK, how are you travelling? Earlier Which? research showed that domestic flights cost far less money, but far more in their carbon footprint. Would you choose to pay less, or would you aim for your transportation to be as carbon-friendly as possible?

If you are planning or have taken a UK holiday during the pandemic, what was your main mode of transportation?
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What’s new this week?

The hot weather may not have materialised as much as we’d hoped, however we’d still be interested to hear your experiences of making your own ice cream.

We’ll also be asking whether you prefer ordering your drinks via an app, and whether the convenience of avoiding the bar is worth a potential privacy tradeoff.

And also, have you thought about Christmas yet? We have, and we’d be keen to know what you think goes in the testing schedule.

What’s new with you? Let’s chat in the comments.

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I won’t be travelling anywhere much further than local, as public transport here in Britain is only being made more and more totally unusable for anyone so severely disabled like me and absolutely NO-ONE, EVER wants to know. Instead all those in power and control ever do is keep on piling ever more more outrageous barriers in the way and then insisting that such services are somehow “fully inclusive”. Well don’t believe a WORD of it, it’s all propaganda and blatant NONSENSE! No-one, not even disability campaign and advocacy groups ever want to know, or any of the operators, or them in authority, or the local mp either, or the media, it’s always STUFF you JACK to anyone like me who’s needs and voices are constantly TOTALLY IGNORED which I FURIOUSLY resent as anyone would when so outrageously treated. Why should folk like me have to accept what is practically a life sentence of being confined to their own locality just like some poor peasant in medieval times?! It’s totally unacceptable in 21st century Britain yet it’s become the expected norm despite all the wording of the so-called “equality” act supposedly outlawing all such appalling EXclusion. Just how long does this absolute outrage have to carry on before someone deals with it?!

Crusader — I have considerable sympathy for your condition and the difficulties you encounter in life. It is though, and you presumably accept this, an exceedingly rare set of reactions to situations and circumstances. According to what you have told us, it combines misophonia with other intolerances, especially heat, to the point of insufferability. To a large extent they are unclassified within the general description of disability and, to most people, completely unknown. This must have a bearing on how the law is implemented.

I do not pretend to know all the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 but, like several others [such as the Health & Safety at Work laws] there is a test of reasonability in the obligations the Act places on those required to implement it. Service providers are required “to make reasonable adjustments” to the arrangements they make in order to meet and accommodate the needs of people with various ‘protected characteristics’, which include disabilities, in order to avoid placing such people at a disadvantage in the provision of their service.

However, there is a specific exclusion: the Act does not apply if the service provider can show that it did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that the disadvantaged person had the disability, and I suspect that that is almost universally the case in respect of the recognition of your condition.

The general requirement of the Act is that all service providers must “take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage”. This relies on judicial interpretation with regard to the specific circumstances. The service provider has a defence under the Act that a desired ‘adjustment’ is not ‘proportionate’.

You have mentioned several times previously that travel is a very difficult experience for you because of your acute sensitivities to certain sounds, especially from some other people and from broadcast material of particular types. For travel to be satisfactory, if not necessarily enjoyable, you require isolation from other passengers in a compartment either solo or possibly with others who require similar protection. On trains this would be practically possible: so long as a reservation process was in place this could possibly work, albeit at considerable expense to the operators, but whether it would be a reasonable expectation is questionable. The loss of capacity on every commuter or inter-city train by the inclusion of such a compartment in one or more of the carriages would be an issue that would invite the argument of proportionality to be tested given the exceedingly low prevalence of your condition — although that is not to say that making such provision for you would not at the same time be a potential benefit for some other people with similar intolerances or protected characteristics.

I can well imagine that the train operating companies would argue that the implied exemptions under the Act allow them not to have to make separate physical provision for such a minority condition as yours. Whether they should make some alternative travel arrangements for you if you inform them of your condition, so they cannot claim they did not know you had a disability, is debatable. They would probably suggest you make your own private arrangements although that would probably be much more expensive than a train ticket, but my feeling is that most people would not consider that to be an unreasonable reaction.

You have also complained in the past about the glazing in the roofs of some buildings like railway stations that intensifies the solar gain and makes you extremely uncomfortable with heavy perspiration. I am not sure what can be done in such places other than provide shaded or air-conditioned places where people can wait. The extreme heat of enclosed glass-covered spaces is something we all have to endure at times.

You have also referred to similar problems in motor coaches which have translucent roof panels. Public service buses rarely have such features in my experience but touring and excursion coaches usually do. It would be practically possible to fit such vehicles with louvres or blinds that could be adjusted to shade the glare while still allowing ventilation, but you would need to inform the operator in advance that you would require such facilities. Passenger vehicles designed specifically to provide panoramic vistas would presumably remain unacceptable to you but I cannot see what possible adjustment could be made to mitigate the disadvantage and you would rightly feel that you were excluded from experiencing such a journey.

There are, unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of people who, on account of their disabilities, cannot reasonably expect to enjoy all the experiences available to others, notwithstanding the Equality Act, and I suppose they reconcile themselves to that situation.

I am sorry that your attempts to raise this issue with MP’s, representative bodies, and other organisations have not been fruitful or given you any meaningful responses. I would urge you, however, to give up your criticism of the prevailing approach to disability exclusion as being all about “white sticks and wheelchairs”; I can appreciate your frustration, but it does not endear you to those who are probably likely to be the most sympathetic to your cause.

At the end of the day there is absolutely NO excuses for “not knowing” about folk like me, but far too much is being done to only suppress all knowledge of such folk, and they’re not even covered by statistics which they SHOULD be. And under the so-called “equality” act service providers, whether it’s transport or shops, or stations etc, there is a legal requirement to anticipate IN ADVANCE what disabled people will need, and NOT wait until it’s far too late and people are EXcluded, that is illegal, but it’s happening on an industrial scale. This is the information age so there is no excuse for not knowing about stuff that the service providers need to know, but they all just don’t want to know, and it’s a far too widespread culture which must change. And the buses on the main route past my home and elsewhere a few miles away nearly all have full length skylights because they’ve been introduced by a french multinational who bought the operator back in january 2018 and they arrogantly brag about it as if it was some kind of “luxury” and they insist that it’s now “impossible” to sort it out regardless of legal obligations. Well it’s NOT impossible, as there is such a thing as heat reflective glass which has been around for years so there’s no excuse for not knowing about it, but they just don’t want to know, they just assume that everybody, regardless of disability, has a body just like a reptile, all cold-blooded and always desperately seeking brutal frying heat as so many here in Britain constantly do and I can’t help noticing how so many here in east lancs. carry on wearing great big thick heavily insulating winter coats, always in matt black for maximum heat absorbance even when there’s absolutely BRUTAL HOT sun well in excess of 20c! So they casually and wrongly assume that everybody is the same and expect them to be. AND because so many including plenty of “disabled” folk so thoroughly revel in raucous rowdiness the operators again just casually and of course WRONGLY assume that again “everybody” is the same in that category. Well there’s an old saying about assumption, that it’s the “mother of foul-ups” and of course it is. So there is absolutely NO excuses, and the “equality” act defines disability as ANY long term condition which adversely affects a person’s ability to carry out everyday tasks, like travelling and shopping etc. so it does NOT mean just conditions affecting mobility and hearing and/or sight etc. but all sorts. But it seems far too many of them in power and control, both public and private and at every level just see folk like me as some kind of “plebs” who are less than human and therefore have no rights and don’t matter. Well that is so NOT the case! Just what on earth have so many fought and suffered and DIED for in so many brutal conflicts? To protect and maintain our democracy which as I need to remind my local mp is NOT “subject to status” here in Britain, it applies to ALL who are registered to vote as I am and so are plenty of other disabled folk of all kinds. It’s not like applying for credit or a trade account etc. it’s a RIGHT! People like me are NOT some kind of “subspecies” who don’t have any such rights and such people DO matter. AND the media need to stop being so outrageously prejudiced as well and start giving folk like me an EQUAL voice and stop locking them out as they constantly do and I must’ve written to them at least a HUNDRED times if not more so they’ve no excuses either. And of course folk like me have to pay the licence fee too so should have equal representation. But it all looks like just another case of “don’t rock the boat”, and “don’t make waves” etc. and “maintain the status quo” etc. Well it’s about time someone tipped the boat right over! And I hope someone senior at Which? reads this too and takes it seriously.

I went shopping in Tunbridge Wells yesterday – a prosperous town in Kent that I used to know very well indeed, from the many lunch hours spent walking, browsing the shops and looking for different places to eat. It is also a tourist destination with the Pantiles and the High Street boutique shops, as well as the Royal Victoria Place shopping mall and independent department stores, like Fenwicks and Hoopers.

What I saw after two years was shocking and discouraged me so much. Up to 50% of the retail shops were shuttered and gone. Those that remained had reduced stock levels, such that there was practically no choice left. One travel wallet, one suitcase, one bum bag, no shoes in the right size – and not just at one retailer either. This rapid decline seems to be almost entirely the result of Covid-19 lockdowns, rather than the rise of the Internet sellers.

A few of the smaller independent shops were still in business and had somehow managed to survive. But for how long? Without the larger stores to bring in shoppers, their days must be numbered too. I used to enjoy Christmas shopping in TW, but unless things change rapidly, it’s going to be a waste of time.

What is the Which? view on this? What should be done to help retailers recover, attract consumers back back in to stores and give them a real choice? Is shopping going to become an activity that can only be carried out online with a few large distributors fixing the market?

Maybe time to review some campaign policies and priorities at Which?

Access to Cash is all very well, but not if there is nowhere to spend it. Amazon and Currys Online don’t take cash.

Sadly Em, you reflect a trend that is hitting many High Streets and big cities. We have discussed this here many times and haven’t found any realistic answers. More importantly, there has been no contribution from anyone connected with the town/city planning to give us a bit of perspective on the thinking in the town halls and council chambers. I suspect that they are in as much of a quandary as we shoppers who see this decay.
I have suggested in the past that unless public attitudes change, things will not improve. It is the public who shop – or don’t shop in towns and cities and their absence is what is causing the problem. Following that train of thought, one asks why? Various answers suggest themselves. Cities, like Bristol make entrance and travel round an unpleasant experience. People find it an effort to go to town when they can armchair shop and guarantee to find what they want somewhere on line. However small, parking fees and jammed car parks with small spaces make for stress, which people like to avoid and, while quite magical in concept, the idea of a megga shopping centre with car parks to get lost in and miles of retail avenues is probably something to be done once or twice and put down to experience. Maybe we must recognise that wandering round a large department store is a thing of the past. They can not compete with on line sales when staff and buildings have to be added to the cost of items in stock. When they close, the city centre dies with them.
There seems to be a reluctance to work out what a new city centre should look like. Efforts to restore the past are not working and city pollution does not help, because countering this brings restrictions and charges that make retail problems that much worse. Cities were built round their trade and their centrality to a common crossing point and their ports. Towns round their wool, industry and position on main trunk routes. This is all history with motorways, retail and industrial parks dotted everywhere except the city and town centres.
If cities and towns became even more residential then a different demand would provide different shops to cater for their needs. Less aspirational and more practical. Work might follow in to be near to the population and avoid commuting. Leisure facilities would also be popular and public transport would work in this enclosed environment with a ready travelling public. There would be less desire for those elsewhere to travel into the cities to shop, but they would visit houses and maybe use the new leisure facilities as well. Building societies and estate agents would flourish as would all the customer trades like hairdressing, dentistry, and DIY sheds. Here would be a society, with a purpose, that belonged to its environment and went about its own business within it. No longer would it be mourning the past, it would have its own agenda and drive to carry it along.
The public have to decide what shops stay open and how they use them. Social, climate and population changes and evolution will drive this and it is this that decides our retail future. If the internet becomes dangerous, there may be a return to shopping centres, except they may not then be there to return to. Do we start again and build some more? It is not just down to economics when we look to the future of shopping, they step in when society has moved on to new pastures.

Sorry to hear that Em. I did notice my local village stores with a small Sainsburys is still going strong.

It is time the government evened out the playing field.

High Street stores are usually properly documented and have many financial outgoings. VAT is paid at point of sale to the business. The majority will be registered for VAT.

Smaller internet sellers equivalent to independent High Street stores can operate under the radar, may frequently change their name, and will pay little in taxes, so can afford to undercut the High Street. Many (maybe most?) are not registered for VAT.

Businesses don’t have to register for VAT unless their annual turnover exceeds £85,000 which is why many marketplace traders have less than 12 months history as they switch to a new name before they reach the threshold. (Many names in the case of Chinese Amazon sellers)

Large internet sellers seem to divert funds to other countries so also pay little in taxes.

I think all internet sales should be taxed at point of sale with taxes going directly to the government.

This would pay to reduce taxes on our High Streets to enable them to recover.

A few thoughts on internet sellers . . .

Should all internet sellers be registered in some way?

Could all payment systems (eg Visa, Paypal) check a register before accepting payment then divert taxes directly to the government? Would this help stop fraudulent websites operating. (Like those selling Clarks shoes.)

You know who you are dealing with when in a bricks and mortar store. You know the company name, the address, can talk to the staff and ask for a telephone number or the name of the owner. Very often this information is not available when shopping on the internet and it is time this changed.

I agree with Em that the series of lockdowns have severely restricted the opportunities to shop and partake of the hospitality trade.

The cancellation of so many functions from weddings to conferences has massively affected the demand for smart apparel which, coupled with working from home, has sent clothing sales crashing, and clothing had become the staple of the high street. With the best will in the world, buying clothing on-line does not compare with comparison shopping where you can touch and feel the quality and try on the garments.

With the ubiquity of trainers [even at some weddings I notice!] it is no longer necessary to buy shoes in shoe shops so that business has collapsed.

I should like to see furniture come back to town centres and away from the sheds on the ring road. Light fittings are another thing best bought in stores; carpets too — you can’t take them home with you — and other big things for delivery.

Maybe HMRC should look at extending their largesse to bricks and mortar retail establishments in the run up to Christmas? I hadn’t realised that the reduced rate of 5% VAT introduced last year to support hospitality and hotels had been extended to 30th September 2021.

Perhaps that explains why no one can find anywhere to eat or stay in Britain this summer. Might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but totally unnecessary. We can’t get the staff either.

Thinking about towns leads me to reflect on the marina where I keep the boat. That is one of the “industries” there and the town has a small industrial estate on the outskirts, together with quite a large residential hinterland with garages and small local shops. There is a cottage hospital and the Abbey adds gravitas to the centre. On the way in there are several very large mansions with stables and electric gates to their driveways. Walking in the countryside around one gets the impression that this rural charm has attracted many affluent residents who like to live quietly and anonymously out of the limelight. The estate agencies also suggest that this is not the place to buy a cheap house. The result on the High Street is surprising. There quite a few charity shops, a couple of pavement cafes one Supermarket just out of town -fifteen minutes walk from the boat, – and a couple of smaller food shops in the centre, near to a small (somewhat inactive) theatre c*m cinema. The remaining shops are small and varied with a Smiths newsagent, an Edinburgh Woollen Mill and a wonderful ironmongers that sells everything. There is a pound shop and three ancient hotels with suitable wood panelled entrances and dark interiors. By the river are various eating establishments and a pleasure boat takes river trips up and down a two mile stretch of water. No where can one buy a washing machine or a television. Clothing shops are rare except second hand and the Edinburgh one. Things like sheets and pillowcases can’t be found. Computer can be repaired but not bought. Phones can be both found and bought and one can have eyes tested and buy spectacles. There are two chemists in the High Street. Halfords has just closed and the shop is now vacant. There is thriving market twice a week in one of the car parks and the town boasts large open parks where sports can be played. The area round is a flood plain deliberately taking excess water from the town itself. Sometimes it doesn’t manage that successfully. There is a good bus service, every twenty minutes in the day time to the three big cities around it.
The town seems to have a self contained air about it and it drifts along quietly. It may not have an obvious driving force, but the mixture seems to assure it of a permanent future, and this might be an example of how towns elsewhere might evolve by providing their local population with what they need to survive. Well, why not tell you? Tewkesbury.

We like to stay in Cape Coral, a huge residential area in Florida. It doesn’t feel like a concrete jungle, is never crowded, and shopping is dotted around in mostly small malls. If one mall doesn’t have what you want, another probably will.

If you paste this reference into Google maps this is a typical small mall around a supermarket.

These malls all have free parking and the only time it has been a problem to park was Xmas Eve. This mall has a Staples, another might have a different large store. There are larger malls, but these types of smaller ones could be built around the edges of our towns.

Many of our town centres are no longer fit for purpose and I blame council meddling for that. Street narrowing, traffic rerouting, traffic calming that creates snail-paced flows of traffic, pedestrian zones, no on-street parking, expensive car parks that can take forever to get in and out of – if they even have free spaces . . . . . These measures might make it safer for pedestrians, but at what cost?

Need something from the centre of town? You used to be able to nip in, find somewhere to park and be home again in a flash. But no longer. These days you need to allow half a day. Out-of-town parking saves the hassle of getting to the High Street, but buses might only run every half an hour, they might be full at busy times and they might not go where you want to be – so a long walk.

Reference your https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/09/supermarket-shoppers-left-waiting-weeks-for-refunds/
A growing trend and not just with supermarkets.
Some firms now do not refund and wait for one to ‘chase it up’. Obviously hoping you forget to do so.
Excuses e.g. “It has been missed.”, “I shall chase it up.”
Money in their account for longer and some of it never repaid.