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Which? Campaigns: our proudest moments of 2021

Like most things in 2021, our campaigns experienced highs, lows and peaks of optimism for change. We’ve looked back at what we’ve achieved this year.

Our campaigns activity in 2021 was dominated by issues that have affected consumers across the UK during the pandemic; the exponential rise in scams, further deterioration of access and acceptance of cash in communities up and down the country, and the ever-changing rules and restrictions to getting on a plane in order to see family and friends, have a break, or see the world again.

But how we campaigned and connected with each other and with you was also directly impacted by the current climate. For much of the year we were unable to work side by side with colleagues in the office, share ideas over a whiteboard, or meet with people at events to hear how their lives have been affected and how we could help.

It is because of, and not in spite of, these new challenges and uncertain times that I am particularly proud and grateful for what we have been able to achieve in 2021 – at many times against the odds. With the determination of colleagues across Which?, we’ve worked with industry in new and creative ways. Alongside the support of nearly 750,000 people across our four major campaigns, we’ve pushed for much-needed change when so many of us have felt voiceless, powerless or just plain tired in such turbulent times.

So to end our year, I’d like to give a huge thank you to everyone who has given their time and support, and share some of the highlights of what we’ve been able to achieve together. 

Scourge of online scam adverts

This year it’s been clearer than ever that no one can ignore the rising epidemic of scams. As our lives have become more reliant on digital platforms, scammers have made the most of the lack of protections online which saw a 30% increase in online scams in the last year.

Joining forces with the finance industry, law enforcement and other consumer groups, Which? led a coalition calling for the government to tackle fraud in its upcoming Online Safety Bill, so that the online platforms we use everyday help to prevent scams appearing on their websites .

Which? and MoneySavingExpert made a powerful case in parliament which culminated in securing a major milestone, with a key committee recommending that the government should include paid for scam adverts in scope of the new legislation – the biggest driver of online scams.

Bank transfer fraud

We haven’t lost focus on the other big area that has driven the rise in scams. Five years on from when we first issued our super-complaint to the Payment Systems Regulator on the lack of protections on bank transfer scams, the government has committed to bringing in much-needed legislation.

This will help to ensure reimbursement for scam losses are made mandatory and that getting your money back won’t be a lottery depending on who you bank with.

Access to cash

Accessing and spending your cash became much harder in the last 18 months. For some it was an easy shift to using a range of digital payments, but for many cash has been critical to buying essentials such as food and medicine. 

More than 200 businesses, including major retailers, signed up to our new Cash Friendly Pledge to give people the confidence that they could spend their cash in store. At the same time we brought key government, regulator and industry leaders together (over Zoom!) at our second Cash Summit event to agree how consumers’ access to cash could be protected for as long as they needed it.

As a result, in a year in which we’ve seen the fastest rise in bank branch closures, the industry-led Cash Action Group has committed to ensuring that communities’ needs for access to cash will be met by alternative provision before closing any branches in town in future.

Travel turbulence

With frequent and often last-minute changes to rules, restrictions and red lists, it became clear that people needed to be confident they were protected if things didn’t go to plan when travelling this year.

We were therefore delighted that by combing over 80 providers’ terms and conditions, we’ve been able to help more than 50,000 people find the best and most flexible holiday providers through our Holiday Checker tool launched this summer. We’ve secured the return of around £8 million in refunds to affected travellers through CMA enforcement action. 

Our investigators have also been on the case of the emerging private travel testing market, which we found to be plagued by rogue providers, wildly misleading practices and poor quality service. Seeing the Health Secretary request a rapid market review by the Competition and Markets Authority that led to enforcement action was a great stride forward. However, there are still many issues remaining that we’ll be keeping an eye on.

Finally, we’ve talked directly to nearly 8,500 of you who have been directly affected through our Which? Travel Facebook Group – sharing experiences and concerns, tips and advice to travel safely and the latest news.

What’s next for 2022?

While we’ve made some major strides on our long-running campaigns, our focus will continue to remain on securing those final wins to get the changes we need into law.

We’ll be keeping a watchful eye on how any future changes will be affecting people across the UK, ready to champion your voice and help to secure the protections you need.

And regardless of whether we’re still toiling away at our kitchen tables, bedrooms, children’s nurseries, or back in our offices, we will continue to find ways to connect, campaign and make change happen with you. 

Comments
keith turner says:
31 December 2021

when are you going to try and stop the ban on petrol and diesel cars electric vehicles are not yet fit for purpose i am sure that petrol vehicles could have their exhaust filtered more if the trade felt inclined and then we would not have to stop every 150 miles to charge for 45 mins i will give you an example i live in cambridge i could not get a t atxi to heathrow airport because they are all electric in cambridge and they did not have suffient power to get their

There seems to be a rail service between Cambridge and Heathrow.

Keith — I feel sure you are bound to be disappointed in your plea to stop the ban on petrol and diesel cars. The government is highly unlikely to change course on its programme to deliver a nett zero carbon transport system and reduce emissions and pollution levels.

Cambridge to Heathrow is not a difficult journey by public transport: taxi from home to Cambridge railway station, non-stop train to London Kings Cross [frequent service, 45 minute journey], Underground [Piccadilly line] direct to Heathrow. It could be cheaper than a taxi which has to make an empty return journey.

There is also, from what I see, a coach service direct from Cambridge to Heathrow 5 times a day.

Comments about use of public transport from others accepted. Also parking charges would be avoided.
Unfortunately Keith, you can’t filter out CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels either from transport or home heating. Electric cars are already reliable, comfortable and have very low running costs compared to petrol or diesel. As we buy more electric cars they should become cheaper due to benefits of mass production. Charging stations should also become much more frequent and reliable – maybe charging stations should be a campaign for Which? Also government incentives to rebalance costs so fossil fuels become less attractive. Given the outcome of COP26 we should all be pushing gov. to sort as recommemded by the Climate Change Committee – https://www.theccc.org.uk/2021/10/26/governments-net-zero-strategy-is-a-major-step-forward-ccc-says/ Happy clean air for 2022

Stuart Dowding says:
2 January 2022

What about the destruction of the environment in the mining of lithium and cadmium?
Also where is the electricity coming from when oil,gas and coal are banned.
Nuclear is way behind schedule because the “Greens ” had a knee jerk reaction against this one clean fuel.
Evolution NOT revolution

Stuart Dowding says:
2 January 2022

What about the destruction of the environment in the mining of lithium and cadmium?
Also where is the electricity coming from when oil,gas and coal are banned.
Nuclear is way behind schedule because the “Greens ” had a knee jerk reaction against this one clean fuel.
Evolution NOT revolution

Well done on your excellent work across many spectrums.

May I add my own plea for investigation. Modern car headlights are way too bright with little cut off when dipped. For a driver faced with these lights the effect is dangerously dazzling, preventing visibility of anything ahead, including possibly an innocent cyclist. The intensity and spread of light should urgently be investigated, please.

This review should also include modern farm vehicles fitted with such lights. My understanding was that the Construction and Use regulations set a maximum height for headlights. Tractors have always had much higher headlights, but now these modern white lights are appearing, the height of the lights renders the dipping effect useless. As the lights are set well within the width of the vehicle, being unable to see the huge wheels is downright dangerous for drivers of smaller vehicles.

Roger James says:
31 December 2021

Agree 100%

And I thought it was just my eyesight deteriorating as I got older!
I agree that this has become quite a serious issue and, given the long winter evenings, it affects a lot of journeys.

Bob J has my full support on those headlights. Also, on illumination , how manufacturers allowed to build cars with tiny,hardly visible indicators ? They are useless in certain sunllght conditions and when set at the side of headlights.

John S

Anthony Wright says:
31 December 2021

I agree with Bob J on this. I don’t drive much these days after dark but having just returned from Christmas in Norfolk I was thankful that the roads were dry. To add to the comments, there does seem to be an increasing number of vehicles with badly adjusted headlights and several, mostly cars and suv’s, had one headlight on dip and the other on high beam. Doesn’t help does it.

Richard Gwilt says:
31 December 2021

I agree too, 100%. They appear to be on full beam, especially when they come over the brow of a hill, over over a road with dips in it!

Cleaning the inside your car windscreen may make a significant difference.
It would also help if ALL drivers dipped their lights.

Cleaning the inside your car windscreen may make a significant difference.
It would also help if ALL drivers dipped their lights.

Janet says:
1 January 2022

I for one would support any action on bright headlights that make driving difficult and dangerous. I have had to stop driving after dark, and in the winter months, that could mean anytime after 3.30! Also, I have tried supposedly anti-glare glasses for nighttime driving but it didn’t really improve matters.

Annette Bilton says:
3 January 2022

I totally agree with these comments. I’ve been remarking for some time on the brightness of headlights on newer cars which are far too white and bright. These can easily dazzle a driver coming in the opposite direction. I drive a small car and find that the larger 4 wheel type vehicles travelling behind me cause a distraction as the lights are level with my rear window.

Hugh bryce says:
5 January 2022

I agree at the age of 75 i gave up driving at night because of those modern white lights, dipping them didnt make much difference.

Cars with the old 60/55 watt halogen bulbs were not a problem if properly adjusted but when high output gas discharge and then LED headlights came along they became a nuisance. I do not understand why anyone needs high intensity headlights when driving in a built-up area. It’s unpleasant to drive towards a car bouncing over speed humps. Some drivers seem incapable of taking their foot off the brake at traffic lights and the LED brake lights on some vehicles are uncomfortably bright for the unfortunate driver in the car behind.

I wonder how many people have converted their headlights to use Xenon with kits bought online. Most headlights are not suitable optically for such a change.

That is undoubtedly part of the problem but even new cars cause dazzle. I support the comments made above and below, and hope that Which? will investigate problems created by vehicle lighting.

When I took delivery of a brand new SUV since the MOT headlamp aim test changed in 2016, I was aware within the first month that the headlights were dazzling oncoming drivers on country roads, depending on the inclination and load of the vehicle. The problem was sufficiently obvious that I would sometimes dab the brake where there were no following vehicles, to change the pitch of the car and allow the other driver to pass unhindered.

I had previously driven a car with optional Xenon headlights, which are self-leveling by law with no driver adjustment, and which is why retrofix Xenon bulbs are not legal. Most are in fact just blue-tinted filament bulbs to give the same colour temperature as Xenon discharge lamps.

Finding there was no way to adjust the standard H7 halogen bulb beam angle myself on this newer car, I of course checked it in to the main dealer as soon as I could, along with another minor problem for rectification.

A few hours later, I received a phone call from the service department informing me that the headlamps “were within tolerance” as originally set by the factory, i.e. it was OK to drive around dazzling other drivers! I told the service advisor that I didn’t care what the test equipment showed – I wanted them lowered as it was dangerous to have other drivers flashing me! Having complied with my instruction, I noticed I had a slightly reduced dipped beam range but, as the saying goes, it’s a two-way street.

In summary, Xenon headlamps are less likely to cause dazzle. I notice that my latest EV, obviously equipped with LEDs to save energy, also does a dip and level up when “starting” the engine at night, so presumably it too keeps the headlamps correctly aligned when moving. I haven’t noticed any problems for other motorists, but it is irrational to single out any one technology for blame, when headlamps are being designed and set up according to the regulations.

I’m sure that you will be familiar with oncoming cars travelling over speed humps, Em. I’m not aware of any levelling system that responds fast enough to prevent dipped headlights from dazzling oncoming drivers. It’s not so much the technology as the brightness that is the problem. I’m glad you had your lights adjusted.

It never fails to amaze me that when I am courteous and give way to oncoming traffic I am often rewarded by drivers flashing their lights – and that is main beam. 🙁

As to the old, circular sealed beam headlamps, as fitted to the classic Mini and other cars of the time being better than today’s offerings, well they were complete rubbish! Not only did they cast a dim light for the driver, but the beam reflections were all over the place.

I know this because I was in the motor trade at the time, when nearly everyone customised their car in some way, from furry steering wheel covers and whippy aerials to retrofit rear screen heaters.

Money better spent was to install a pair of aftermarket Hella or Marechal headlamp units. These gave a much brighter, clearer light for the same bulb Wattage, and the dipped beam cut-off was razor sharp, so far less likely to dazzle oncoming motorists. Those that did take my recommendation were pleased as chuff with the difference it made.

@wavechange – I take your point about speed humps, but we had headlights first. The problem, if there is one, is with the speed humps and those that think they are a good solution to anything.

When I was taught night driving by police instructors (as a civilian), it was drummed into us NOT to look directly at the oncoming traffic, which affects your night vision regardless of how bright or dim the headlights are, and to focus instead on the kerb ahead. This habit has stayed with me and since speed humps are mostly installed on two lane carriageways, and vehicle speeds should be no more than 20-30 mph, there is little point in staring at the car coming the other way and risk being dazzled over and over. Frankly, there is little we could do to take evasive action in those circumstances and it is better to save our eyes to avoid pedestrians and animals lurking in the shadows than a smashed wing mirror.

And yes, drivers who flash me a night to thank me for my courtesy do not receive a courteous reply! If I really feel it necessary to flash a driver at night, I do it by switching to sidelights only, then back to dipped beams. Of course, those with foglights could use them, if they didn”t leave them on (illegally) in all driving conditions.

Highway Code – Rule 236 states:

“You MUST NOT use front or rear fog lights unless visibility is seriously reduced (see Rule 226) as they dazzle other road users and can obscure your brake lights. You MUST switch them off when visibility improves.” (Their emphasis)

Personally, I find this more of a problem than badly adjusted headlights. Perhaps they should only be type approved on a modern car when controlled by the vehicle electronics, not by some idiot who cannot read.

Em – I try not to look directly at the traffic when I know that it’s bouncing over the speed humps but it’s still unpleasant and as you say it affects night vision. We have some rather large speed humps even though drivers of sports cars keep doing their best to reduce their height.

If I feel the need to flash my lights I do the same as you.

I would love to see some standardisation of compulsory lighting on cars. I feel that many manufacturers are following standards for decorative lighting.

Phil says:
6 January 2022

High intensity halogen bulbs were sold under the ‘Xenon’ name for a while. I worked shifts for many years and fitted a set to the car. Very useful on country lanes at silly times of night or early morning although the high intensity reflections from road signs could be a pain. I believe they are quite legal; well the car’s been through several MoTs since fitted and never been flagged up. I’ve never been flashed by oncoming vehicles either.

The original Xenon lights appear to have died a death. The giveaway was the wobble from the self levelling system, I haven’t seen that for years. Outperformed by LEDs I guess.

https://www.rac.co.uk/drive/news/motoring-news/are-car-headlights-too-bright-dazzled-drivers-say-its-getting-worse/

I have no experience of “anti-dazzle” glasses but am rather dubious about their effectiveness.

If you are particularly troubled by “glare” at night, and are advancing in years, it is worth having an eye check for cataracts; these blur vision and, even if unnoticeable normally, will greatly increase the effects of dazzle. I have followed cars that slow on the unlit country roads around here every time a car approaches and can only conclude they are particularly nervous or overreact to lights, maybe caused by deteriorating vision.

Cleaning your windscreen, inside and out, is helpful. I wonder how many bother to replace wiper blades before they begin falling to bits? Mine were replaced at a recent service and I confess to how much better they cleared the screen even though their previous performance had not seemed at all bad; these things can creep up unnoticed.

As for speed humps, I see these as rather pointless and unnecessary. However, as they are on lit roads, their effect is more irritating than disabling, at least in my experience.

Phil – I am more concerned about high intensity dipped headlights than main beam, although the latter can be a nuisance if the driver forgets to dip them.

Whether speed humps are useful or not is debatable but they exist and so do natural ups and downs that result in dazzling oncoming drivers.

Yes, these bright LED lights are a hazard. I also wish people would switch to sidelights when parked, especially in a long narrow street where it is difficult to tell whether the car coming the other way is parked or has just pulled in to let you through. In any event, a parked car remains in your line of vision for much longer than one coming towards you and is a greater nuisance even with older headlights!

Rita Radford says:
31 December 2021

Totally agree with comments on headlight dazzle, if driving a small vehicle many SUVs have their dipped beam at your eye level, rendering poorly lit objects ahead of you virtually invisible – cyclists, scooters, pedestrians, animals….all accidents waiting to happen!!

Totally agree with the comments on headlights. Regulations give headlights up to a maximum and it seems that manufacturers have gone for the max, instead of using the max as a guide. Bring back older headlight brightness scales. Current levels are dangerous for oncoming vehicles.

Robert Montaque says:
31 December 2021

Your ongoing campaign has been an effective alert and awareness reminding we the consumer of the chronic dangers and abuse of the commercial business world and scammers.

Adrian Lyndsay says:
1 January 2022

I too agree with the above comments on headlights. I wonder whether headlight alignment and correction should be a mandatory inclusion in what garages have to do when they MOT and service vehicles. Or is this the case already but it is just not being done properly?

Wyniechyd6Da Thomas says:
1 January 2022

Fixing guards over lorry wheels would reduce spray in wet weather and therefore increase visibility for following traffic.
Lorries to keep to inside lane on motorways for long stretches. It is frustrating when much slower versions of Hamilton and Verstappen try to overtake each other in their ;large trucks and block the middle lane for miles!

Electric vehicles all very well albeit unaffordable for a large proportion of people. BUT who oh why are buses exempt from regulations & STILL allowed to pump out filthy, foul smelling diesel fumes into the atmosphere?

There is nothing to stop any vehicle being used, whether old diesel car, van or bus. However, in London in the Low Emission Zone TfL imposes a daily charge on most vehicles over 3.5 tonnes unless they meet Euro VI (NOx and PM). This includes buses. The daily charge is, I believe, typically £100.

In her introduction, Neena asks: “What’s next for 2022?”

I look forward to hearing more about what is being done to tackle the problem of dangerous goods sold via online marketplaces. I presume that this will require the combined action of governments, but we deserve to be kept informed about what is happening.

A much smaller problem is the poor service that many have reported from Currys, but at least this could be tackled by the joint efforts of Which? and Trading Standards. I don’t want to lose Currys because there is now little local competition in the sector but some businesses need to learn how to run a business fairly.

Although it is useful to learn about the latest scams, perhaps it would be useful for Which? to look into the role of banks in providing banking and card services for scammers. I would like these banks to be obliged to return stolen money to customers’ banks.

Some issues you should be looking at is the way Regulators such the Environment Agency, ICO and Advertising Standards Authority are investigating complaints from consumers – you should support court cases fought against dodgy companies. Also there should be campaigns in respect of the cost of living and capping extortionate fees asked by fuel companies, Virgin Media and banks/insurance companies. Also complaints procedures have rapidly deteriorated the past few years (very difficult to get any redress).

Also publish more articles on the plight of Brexit – consumer power has been adversely affected and this needs to be fully addressed.

Calista – Which? is a private membership consumer representative organisation with, obviously, limited financial resources. It has to address the major consumer concerns over a very wide canvas. Your suggestions are mostly good ones and will no doubt be given consideration, but, in respect of the methodology employed by the Environment Agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office, and the Advertising Standards Authority, I feel you ought to explain in each case why you are making that recommendation. In other words, what do you think they are doing wrong?

In principle, all these organisations are, like Which?, on the side of the consumer whereas much of the work Which? has to do is in respect of companies and organisations that cause consumer detriment in one way or another, and I feel that should take priority. If you have concerns about how the Environment Agency and the ICO have dealt either with anything you have raised with them or with a general issue you can refer it to your MP because they are government agencies. The ASA is an independent organisation providing self-regulation for the advertising industry and you could express your concerns direct to that body.

With regard to your view that consumer power has been adversely affected by Brexit, could you outline in what respects this has happened and to what extent it is having a detrimental effect on our consumer rights [which in many cases were more advantageous than those in many other member states of the EU and, so far as I can see, have not been diminished].

The point you make about complaints procedures having deteriorated rapidly over the past few years is interesting because, on paper, it would seem to me that they have consistently improved in terms of scope and accessibility. We seem to have more ombudsmen, adjudicators and appeal bodies than ever before; there are more codes of practice covering more fields of activity in ever greater breadth; dispute resolution processes have sprung up like mushrooms; and laws have been extended to catch more malpractices and offences within their net. There is a lot more to be done, particularly in respect of on-line commercial and criminal behaviour. So where do you now see the major weaknesses in relation to redress for consumers when problems arise? I am sure Which? would appreciate some examples of where to shine their torch.

What I would like to see is for Which? to finish what it starts. No updates for a long time on the Whirlpool and Indesit issues, for example. How many customers are still left in limbo or not properly compensated? And what about the fuss made of dangerous repaired machines? Or did they just raise unfounded fears?

I believe that we were told that Whirlpool handled the problem of fire risk washing machines better than they did with their fire risk dryers, but it would be good to have updated the relevant conversations and provide advice for anyone still left with an unresolved problem. In both cases, most of the affected machines were branded Hotpoint, at least in the UK.

We are overdue for a report on what Which? and Trading Standards are doing about the poor customer service experienced by many customers of Currys.