/ Home & Energy

The new government must deliver for consumers

We’re determined to put consumers at the heart of the government’s priorities. It’s vital when key decisions are being made about the UK’s future every day.

We’ve already reached out to new and returning ministers, and we will work with and challenge the government to deliver on our vision for consumers – one that embraces the benefits of the digital revolution, but ensures that no one is left behind.

At the heart of this are a number of core, interlinked issues; connectivity, payments, and fraud.

Core issues

Too many people still do not have decent broadband and mobile connectivity. We recently revealed that eight in 10 areas in the UK lack full 4G mobile coverage from all four operators.

Whilst we welcome the government’s ambition to speed up the rollout of full-fibre broadband, we want to see a clear plan for how they will meet the target of 95% 4G coverage across the UK, including coverage from all four operators.

We must also not leave people who use cash behind. The creation of a government taskforce to protect cash is a welcome step, but the government and regulators should consider all options – including legislation – to preserve access to cash for as long as it is needed, and ensure that we don’t sleepwalk into a cashless society before we are ready.

Access to cash is currently vital, but we can’t ignore that the way we pay for things is changing.

Digital banking and payments services continue to grow, and so it’s critical we make sure everyone has the access and skills to use them, so that we’re all ready and able to benefit from the opportunities that the digital revolution brings.

However, alongside these opportunities, fraudsters have found new ways to target and exploit victims. The number and complexity of scams is vast and shocking.

Last year alone, bank transfer fraud cost consumers £228.4 million. But, with the right commitment from government and industry, much more can be done to protect people from fraud.

Looking further ahead

We want to see the government strengthening the UK’s regime for enforcing consumer rights. The UK has world-leading consumer rights, but the systems that underpin and enforce them are no longer fit for purpose.

We have clear recommendations for building a consumer enforcement system that protects consumers from harm and ensures that when things do go wrong, companies take responsibility and are held to account.

These include expanding the role of the Competition and Markets Authority and giving independence to the Office for Product and Safety Standards so it is more robustly equipped to deal with big industry players.

As we leave the EU, shape our future relationship with the EU and negotiate new trade deals, the role and perspective of Which? should be absolutely crucial. We set out our position in our Consumer Charter for Brexit, which outlined key tests for the government to meet to deliver for consumers; around standards, choice, rights and price.

We now stand ready to ensure that the government seizes opportunities to deliver better outcomes for consumers, including benefits around price and choice in trade deals, while minimising risks and without weakening the rights and standards we currently enjoy and value.

Improving pensions

Finally, pensions remains an area where we are determined to improve the consumer experience.

From delivering pensions dashboards displaying clear and concise information around fees and charges, to boosting workplace pension savings by increasing the median contribution rate and addressing the ‘motherhood pension penalty’, there are opportunities for the new government to help more people plan better for retirement.

The new Prime Minister has already indicated his priorities, and Secretaries of State will set out plans for their individual departments.

It’s clear that Brexit will dominate much of the political bandwidth in the coming months, but progress must also be made on domestic policy.

On both fronts, we’ll continue to make the case for consumers to be central to the government’s decision making process.

Do you agree with the focus areas we’ve raised? What do you think should be a priority for the new government?


My top priority is for the government to look at sustainability issues. For example, we need to tackle commuting, and getting more people living within walking and cycling distance from work will reduce demand on rail and roads, save resources and reduce pollution.

I cannot see this being achieved without incentives and legislation and would prefer incentives.

Post Brexit, I really would like to see the Government spending an extra £350 million per week on the NHS.

Not a chance. The whole Brexit project is a bunch of lies promoted by a bunch of charlatans. If Brexit happens, stand by for reductions in workers rights, food standards, product safety standards, consumer rights and just about any other advancement of the last few decades or more.

The recruitment & training and accommodation requirements make it difficult to spend so much extra money on the NHS; it hasn’t delivered on the last wad of cash yet.

Why would the UK wish to shoot itself in the foot and reduce these protections and thus make us unable to sell into the rest of Europe, a market that remains only 13 miles away, unlike India, Brazil or California? We have to stay competitive and keep up with European policies, especially since we created many of these rights and standards in the first place.

I’m sure I read somewhere that the super rich elite responsible for funding Brexit want the UK to leave the EU before 31 Dec 2019, to avoid the implementation of the latest EU DCA6 tax disclosure legislation in the UK.

Verrry interesting, Meester Bond…

From elsewhere: “The big one for super-rich (and a few less rich, very unscrupulous) at the moment is the permanent loan dodge”

We see scare stories about shortages. Perhaps this will wake us up to manufacturing more in the UK. Are we unable to manufacture Insulin for example?
As far as maintaining standards, for example in product safety, most products are manufactured to meet international safety standards. If we export we have no choice but to comply; if we import they will automatically be expected to also comply, unless we bring them in from rogue manufacturers – no different to the present situation. I’m disappointed to see no mention of funding Trading Standards to police the system properly; just enhancing the seemingly ineffective OPSS.

Another dubious Which? drum being beaten? “the ‘motherhood pension penalty’“. Only 3 people responded to the Convo so where is the support for such a scheme?

As seems often the case, Convo comments appear to be ignored when compiling wish lists such as this that will get us nowhere. 🙁

Which? published a document entitled “Creating a successful enforcement system for UK consumers”

It would be encouraging to know that those in government and relevant agencies (e.g. relevant to food and product safety) have read the report and taken into account the advice. I wonder if there has been any official response to this document.

When we talk about “trade deals” just how much compromise should we make? For example, sugar. Let’s forget the emotive issue where some uses simply contribute to obesity; there are other essential uses. At the present time cane sugar, imported into the EU, is subject to a tariff of between 40 and 140% apparently. There is a consultation on whether we change (reduce, abolish) this when we are free to negotiate our own tariffs. This would impact our sugar beet industry.

Should free trade mean just that or should we be protectionist? If sugar beet production were adversely affected could the land produce other crops? How important is it to protect vital products (and retain the processing infrastructure). Should our home grown industry be more competitive?

I’m glad I’m not involved in such matters; I suspect my brain would be full in no time.

For many purposes, sugar can be replaced by artificial sweeteners. Today I have been eating damsons that would be unpleasantly sour without sweetening. Many are not keen on artificial sweeteners but those based on stevia seem to have a clean bill of health, and I have been using them for years. Maybe we could produce it in the UK.

Never mind sugar, what about fish and fishing?

Are we going to be able to set our own rules now? We need to sustain fish stocks by not overfishing and taking young fish, but do we just have exclusive use of our territorial waters and compete on equal terms in common waters?

Here is a relevant article: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/46401558

“But it’s worth remembering that fishing is only a tiny fraction of the overall economy both in the UK (less than 0.1%)…”

To some extent the propensity of the wealthier parts of the world to consume more than their fair share of certain foods sustains the economies of the poorer parts of the world. To what extent should that be taken into account?

I am not averse to protectionist policies [as I have advocated in relation to the threat to UK poultry production from a trans-Atlantic trade agreement] but it could contravene WTO rules and make it more difficult to enter into reciprocal agreements for our own exports. I would prefer universal free trade but I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle now. Perhaps the only way forward is for bilateral agreements only so we have different terms for different countries on different products as is generally the case already outside major trading blocs.

I would like to add something to the agenda for both the Government and Which? Campaigns. That is the lack of regulation of the management companies put in place by developers when creating housing developments on a leasehold basis. The practice by the major housing developers of creating new and unfair leasehold developments has already been taken up. However, the management companies whom those developers appoint – without any involvement on the part of the property purchasers/owners are allowed to operate without any public or Government oversight at all. As a result they can impose charges, create “reserves”, undertake works, decline to undertake maintenance or repairs, appoint their own favoured contractors, without any constraints. Technically they can be changed by the relevant property owners but it is not practically possible to form owners into any form of group to act as any form of lobby group, never mind instructing group. Ultimately these companies will issue requests for payment which they will not debate but instead will quickly and smoothly move to court action to collect those sums – plus additional charges. There is plenty of evidence on various forums – Trustpilot as an example. A major concern is that residents have no way of having maintenance and essential repairs undertaken by the management company if they fail to take action or decide not to. In my own case I have been waiting since January for action – the management company have told me they “do not have the funds “ to do that work! That said they have been able to charge a 12.5% “administration fee” to cover the non-essential replacement of carpets in shared spaces. To be clear, this is not new behaviour – it has been my consistent experience for over 10 years. Time for Which? Campaigns to take a close look please. I am sure there is plenty of evidence if an appeal to members is issued.

Hi there, thanks a lot for sharing this. I’m very interested in the issues around property agents and plan to look into it further. Would you be happy for me to get in touch with you?

Lauren – I agree with Mapleshire.

There are a number of unsatisfactory practices used by management companies to charge leaseholders and landlords for various services of dubious value ranging from the high cost of insurance cover compared to other properties through expensive consents for alterations, and the cost of enabling lease extensions, to charges for tenant registrations. Ultimately these all impact on rental levels. I suspect they are designed to compensate freeholders for the ‘poor’ yields of ground rents but at a time when the stock market is depressed and investment returns are low I expect ground rents are quite lucrative. They also usually involve a commission element for the managing company and incur VAT.

I have a house on an estate with a management company who look after common areas and such like for an annual fee from each property owner. There is a committee of residents appointed to work with them, hold them to account, there is an AGM and minutes are issued together with annual accounts to show how each resident’s charge is arrived at. There was a change of management company instigated by the residents and charges have reduced slightly. It seems to work well and the keep the estate neat and tidy.

Some developments work well and the residents are in control, but for many others, typically where leaseholds predominate, that is not the case. Ground rents and management charges are seen as profit centres by the freeholders; fair enough, they are entitled to a fair return on their investment but charges should always be justified and reasonable. As Mapleshire indicated, the letting of contracts is not always done in a transparent manner with the interests of the residents uppermost. Where blocks of flats are managed commercially and most of the flats are occupied by sub-tenants, the leaseholders are generally unconcerned over these costs because they just pass them through to their tenants within the rents.

We know some elderly people who live, as leaseholders, in apartments in small two-storey blocks of four flats each, all of conventional and fireproof construction, self-contained with no common parts, where the annual buildings insurance is apportioned at nearly £400 per flat [including VAT and insurance premium tax]. This seems excessive and is far more than buildings cover for a typical semi-detached house yet the risk appears to be no greater overall; to my mind it suggests that the management company and the insurers have not acted primarily in the interests of the leaseholders. For reasons I don’t know the residents have found it impossible to join together to take over the management or buy out the freehold but possibly their age and other circumstances have prevented it.

Whether this is a good use of Which?’s time I am not sure about because it is a very broad subject with a lot of complexities and few identical common features. A superficial exercise would be of little benefit, but perhaps Which? could press other, more appropriate, organisations to look into it, take evidence, and make recommendations. I don’t know which organisations might be relevant to this; as a group of consumers, leaseholders and sub-tenants seem to have little representation and are not perceived to be experiencing hardship.

I think that Which? could prompt other more relevant organisations to take on issues that are rather out of their own remit and expertise. Then keep tabs on progress and inform us. That would maybe free them up to spend more time pursuing its own projects more thoroughly.

I’m aware some seem to have run out of steam. For example, little has been said lately about Whirlpool dryer and washing machine remedial progress yet I suspect many affected customers are still waiting? No proposals have been pursued for a product recall system. The lack of effective consumer protection remains with an inadequate OPSS and under-funded Trading Standards. Excessive plastics packaging and alternative materials has not been pursued. Unless it is all going on behind the scenes.

I think we need to complete jobs when we start them, or when on firm ground hammer away at those who should provide solutions. With limited resources only so much can be accomplished. Although, as Patrick pointed out, members contributions of £100million a year could have been spent more wisely and maybe still could.

I agree with you, Malcolm. Advancing on too broad a front means any achievements are always marginal and in tiny increments. I presume Which? has a campaign plan for general causes that are outside the bounds of its basic day hob – product testing and reporting – and uses some form of analysis to support it’s investment of time, energy and resources against an assessment of consumer gain. It slightly concerns me that Lauren wrote “I’m very interested in the issues around property agents and plan to look into it further”. I didn’t realise that was how it works.