Today marks Theresa May’s first 100 days as Prime Minister. And while we’ve heard some positive things from her new government about prioritising consumer interests, we think what’s needed is a comprehensive consumer strategy to smarten up essential services.
From our research and from what you’ve been telling us, it’s clear that several essential markets in the UK aren’t working effectively enough for you.
If we’re to see an end to the mis-selling scandals and poor customer service that have blighted markets, such as energy, banking, telecoms and rail, over the past 10 years, then corporate culture needs an overhaul.
A cross-cutting government consumer strategy would promote competition, while protecting us when we’re at risk. Action could be focused on essential regulated markets, such as energy, banking, broadband and transport.
These are markets where we know (because you tell us so) you frequently face significant costs and where poor customer service is rife.
And, as the government starts negotiations to leave the European Union, the consumer strategy would put you right at the heart of them. It would safeguard the most important consumer rights in EU law and remove regulations that aren’t in your interest.
So what practical steps should the government take in these sectors this autumn? Well, here are our suggestions:
We’ve long been campaigning for a fairer energy market. This autumn and winter, Energy suppliers should take responsibility for engaging customers stuck on expensive gas and electricity tariffs and demonstrate that they’re going the extra mile to ensure they get a better deal.
Earlier this year, Which? revealed that unarranged overdraft fees can be much higher than the cost of a payday loan – punitive charges that are really taking their toll on far too many people. While payday loans have now had their charges capped, the cost for unarranged overdraft fees hasn’t been challenged.
To add insult to injury, in 2014, banks made £1.2bn from these charges, yet the competition authorities failed to address this issue as part of its banking inquiry. A consumer strategy should require the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA] to review these sneaky fees as soon as possible.
Access to reliable, high-speed broadband is essential for enabling people to participate in the wider economy.
Far too many of you feel frustrated by lacking internet connection, people like John Vincent, who told us:
I live about three miles from a major city, yet we were without our internet connection for a week, and our phone line for two weeks (I run a small business from home, so this makes it really difficult).
The government needs to press ahead with its plans to ensure that people are automatically compensated for broadband service failures, putting the sector in line with the water and energy sectors.
Britain cannot duck the importance of creating and maintaining a modern communications network. The government must ensure its Universal Service Obligation for broadband is delivered cost effectively and that people are able to easily apply for a connection. A consumer strategy would deliver on this agenda and ensure that the level of service people receive from Openreach improves.
Far too many rail passengers are being let down every single day, either enduring miserable train journeys or finding it impossible to get the right fare. Rail passengers deserve better. Action is required this autumn to help passengers to find the best priced ticket for their journey.
We need a new independent ombudsman to resolve passenger complaints and it should give new powers to the Office of Rail and Road [ORR] so that it can take action against train companies that continually let their passengers down.
Over to you
So, do you think a new consumer strategy is needed to ensure the government implements change in these failing markets? What else would you like to see put on its agenda?