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2013: A year of change for Which? and its campaigns

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At the end of the year we like to take stock of where we’ve got to and set even more ambitious targets for the year ahead. So please join me as I celebrate some of the changes you helped us make happen this year.

We started 2013 with an emphasis on the behaviour of bankers. Our research showed that 86% of you want the banking industry to abide by an independent code of conduct to earn back public trust, as only 4% think bankers are likely to act ethically. If doctors, lawyers and other professionals have to follow the rule book – why not bankers too?

More than 150,000 people signed our petition for Big Change in banking, in conjunction with 38 Degrees. We shared your views with the body tasked with recommending ways to overhaul the banks, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. It issued its final report in June with amendments to the Banking Reform Bill and kicked into motion a Banking Standards Review, led by Sir Richard Lambert.

An independent body is now establishing the code by which we expect bankers to act responsibly or suffer the consequences should they decide to leave these ethics at the bank’s door.

Transforming toxic culture

Some of our campaigns can take time to come to fruition as we tackle not only the politicians, companies and regulators that deal with these issues but the laws that underpin them. In April the ban on excessive surcharges came into force – a ban that you helped bring about through your support in 2011 and 2012.

Not ones to rest on our laurels, we checked in six months later to make sure companies were abiding by the new regulations. We then named, shamed and changed those who had yet to embrace the new rules. We wouldn’t have been able to do this if you haven’t kept up your efforts, reporting those charging over the odds to pay by card.

Then came the campaign which was not only started by you but sealed by you as your support helped Ofcom take action to ensure Fixed Means Fixed. In October we received the great news that your mobile phone provider will have to let you exit your mobile contract without penalty if it decides to bump up your price mid-contract.

Food and fuel top your concerns

The rising costs of food and fuel have consistently topped our charts for the things you’re most concerned about throughout 2013. So we’ve made these issues a big focus of our campaigning work this year. Since the launch of our campaign, more than 30,000 of you called on the supermarkets and Government to simplify food pricing so that it is clear, consistent and easy to compare.

In November, we won – Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson confirmed 10 supermarkets have agreed to our demands. We also saw our call for clear and consistent front-of-pack nutrition labelling come to fruition at last, with all the major supermarkets and many big brands signed up to use the traffic light scheme we proposed years ago, allowing consumers more easily to make healthier food choices.

And we challenged the Chancellor to take action on energy prices prior to him delivering his Autumn Statement. The Government confirmed it would take action by cutting back on the levies we all pay via our bills. Thanks to your support for our campaign, the message seems to have got through – we need to see our sky rocketing bills brought under control.

Plans to tackle costly calls

And last, but by no means least, we ensured travel companies and public bodies wouldn’t be let off the hook when the Government implements its plans to tackle costly calls. (And don’t worry; financial service providers are next on our list!).

One of my personal highlights this year is the action we’ve prompted with our Calling Time on Nuisance Calls and Texts campaign, thanks to the 100,000+ who demanded action. The Government set up a working group to tackle the issue, with support from an All Party Parliamentary Group, and devised an action plan with input from Which? – there will be more news on this in the New Year.

Until then, I’d like to say a huge thank you to all who have made these changes possible – through your signatures, stories, comments and tweets. Here’s to an even more action-packed 2014!


Well done Which?

Some of these battles have taken a long time to win, so we need to look at tackling problems sooner, so that the consumer does not have to suffer for years.

I think it’s fair to say, looking back over the fifty years that I have been a Which? subscriber, that consumer power has never been so effective and while the scope and reach of the internet has been the force that propels the campaigns, without intelligent driving by the entire Which? team that energy would have dissipated itself to little avail.

Change doesn’t happen when people are apathetic. As a change manager and someone who complains effectively and brings about change I am always pleased and encouraged when someone tells me that I have encouraged them to fight for their rights. The more people who do something and fight then things will have to change.

It is with the support of organisations such as Which and people who won’t take things lying down that things change. Social media has also helped in getting the message across as organisations such as Which and 38degrees grow in momentum. More power to the consumer!

What I would like to see in 2014 is some quick wins.

Wouldn’t it have been great if the first companies involved in making nuisance calls had been taken to task before most of us were aware of the problem. 🙂

I am certainly not suggesting that we should ignore the more challenging problems but quick wins could help increase the number of people who are interested in consumer issues.

When I look at the areas in which Which? has spent large amounts of time, effort and money mobilising over recent years one significant fact strikes me . . . Most of these are areas in which there is supposed to be a statutory Regulator or a sector Regulator or Ombudsman (or both) looking after our interests.

If these people are falling down on the job then they are a fraud as we are already paying for them either through taxation or levies on the cost of goods or services. In the last year I have encountered the jobsworth attitudes and behaviour and unfitness for purpose of several of these and the newspapers and media have many others, everything from the medical and care oversight people to Ofcom who have failed on so many counts and issues such as nuisance calls and use of payback numbers by both private and public sector.

Maybe it is time to take the ‘wholesale’ approach and campaign for professionalism and consistency in these organisations, agreement as to what the general principles and framework of practice and accountability should be and then a measurement and weeding out of sloth, incompetence and arrogance in practitioners.

By way of example I find it unbelievable that Ofcom have had to be pushed and prodded to actually do their job and apply their powers and to act on the abuses in the telecommunications field when the issues have been staring them in the face for years. It seems that we must do their job for them as my brother has when it comes to the care of the elderly where quite clearly we have a national crisis of ‘quality’ which the various regulators appear incapable of addressing.