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.
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.