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Announcing our consumer agenda for government

Whoever wins the keys to No. 10 needs to deliver positive change for UK consumers. Our consumer agenda for government sets out our priorities.

Ahead of December’s General Election, we today launched our consumer agenda for government.

It sets out the commitments that we want all political parties to make to deliver positive changes for people across the UK.

From buying products online from a global marketplace, switching energy provider on a smartphone, or making payments from a banking app, the digital revolution has delivered opportunities for wider choice, faster deliveries and enhanced personalisation.

Tackling the challenges

But it hasn’t all been good news. Fraudsters use advances in technology for sophisticated scams, unsafe products repeatedly make their way onto online marketplaces, and fake reviews take advantage of consumers’ trust in online reviews.

At the same time, the move to digital is leaving behind those who have poor mobile or broadband coverage and those who rely on cash. We also need to ensure that those who aren’t online can still get a fair deal with their day-to-day bills.

We know from research we did this summer that eight in 10 areas in the UK lack full 4G coverage from all four operators.

And our latest research – published today – has found more than 250 communities across the UK that have poor cashpoint provision or no cashpoints at all.

Parties need to commit to policies that tackle the challenges and risks posed by this transformed consumer landscape, whilst widening access to this new digital world, and not leaving behind those who aren’t ready or able to go fully online in all areas of life, such as banking and making payments.

What we want to see

We need the next government to set out an ambitious, joined-up strategy to deliver an improved digital infrastructure that guarantees a reliable online connection for everyone – whether they are at home, at work or on the move.

The next government must work with industry and regulators to guarantee access to cash for as long as it is needed. And we must ensure that those who bank online are fully protected from Authorised Push Payment (bank transfer) scams.

We have one of the strongest consumer rights frameworks in the world, but the enforcement systems that support it are broken.

That’s why we’re calling for a stronger Consumer and Competition Authority that can stand up and impose tough sanctions on businesses that are breaking the law, as well as an independent product safety regulator to tackle dangerous products.

There must also be greater responsibility on online platforms and marketplaces to prevent scams, fake reviews and the sale of unsafe products, and security needs to be built into the design of connected devices.

Working with Which?

The next government must also work with Which? to build a fair and transparent pensions system –  one that enables people to track their pensions, addresses the pensions gender gap, and helps ensure that retirement income products are value for money.

On the increasingly important topic of trade, our position is clear; future trade policy must be built on the foundation stones of world-leading consumer standards, consumer rights and enhanced choice.

Whilst a future national food strategy must maintain the UK’s high food standards. 

We’re really excited about our consumer agenda for government, because we believe that it embraces the best of the modern consumer world, but will also help everyone have a stake in it.

Read our full manifesto here.


Which area from our consumer agenda is your top concern?
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It would be nice to see a return to moralistic values as laid out in the Human Rights legislature. With a focus on providing affordable housing for those in need, jobs for the employed and youth clubs on housing estates to try and eradicate violence between youngsters.

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Anabel and other Which staff, I think you should read what wavechange said about Trading Standards


would be nice if you could also give your own comments on how to improve it and who you’re asking about it

Hi Comp,

There have been many conversations here about Trading Standards not being up to the challenge of consumer protection. While in the consumer agenda for government covers the issue in one page we have a comprehensive report into the issue. Annoyingly the link to the report isn’t working – I’ve asked a colleague to look into why and will get the link to you when it is fixed.

Our Policy and Campaigns teams are working with Government and stakeholders to keep pressure on so we can see the change that is needed.

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We (many) have been complaining for a long time that Trading Standards is prevented from doing the job it is required to do – as our Market Surveillance Authority – through inadequate funding. No point in setting up other bodies if we don’t re-establish the financial and human resources TS should have.

Consumer protection affects 66 million of us and should be top of the list. I would have hoped Which? would campaign to ensure we are all properly protected, certainly before we give free broadband to everyone.

Hi Abby

I’ve read the report you mentioned and it doesn’t say anything about Trading Standards, what’s wrong with it and how it should be improved, like increasing funding, making TS a national body instead of a collection of local offices, or strengthening consumer rights law

It just talks about the Competition and Markets Authority

How is improving the CMA going to help consumers like me, who have bought things that turned out not to be what we expected because the adverts misled us or left out crucial information? Where is the call for Trading Standards to guarantee an investigation for every complaint made, and for everyone’s money to be refunded to them?

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Duncan, you seem to be very knowledgable about this

Could you please post a collection of your thoughts along with web addresses for the facts, to Labour’s Policy Forum website? I’m sure they would be interested to hear what you have to say and what solutions there could be

The Competition and Markets Authority is no friend of big business. It effectively stopped the merger between Sainsbury’s and Asda because it considered it would be against consumers’ interests by reducing competition and leading to higher prices. It also blocked rail companies with major bus interests from monopolising passenger travel in certain parts of the country. It was instrumental in getting Openreach detached from BT [the telecom service provider] in order to provide a level playing field for all TSP’s and prevent favouritism to BT in installing new infrastructure and repairing faults.These are good protections for the public.

The CMA is a semi-autonomous agency of central government that has no direct relationship with the public and acts in cases of possible market manipulation, market domination, supply monopolies, price-fixing, cartels and other anti-competitive practices. It succeeded the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. It acts independently of government in order to provide political neutrality and has its own statutory powers. It receives references from the government for investigation. Which? also has the power to raise relevant issues for investigation by the CMA and there is a statutory timescale within which a response must be given. By its nature, the CMA is a creature of government, has government appointees on its managing board, and has to operate within government policy so it cannot properly be described as a non-governmental organisation [NGO].

There are a number of improvements that could be made to the scope, reach and resources of the CMA in order to allow it to undertake more investigations, look deeper into consumer issues, and take more interest in consumer affairs rather than corporate structural issues [although those are important because they affect the consumer experience and the functioning of the market economy].

There are many areas of consumer dissatisfaction [a topical one is the responsibility of ‘market place’ hosts for the safety of products sold by traders who are provided with a ‘pitch’ on the market place, promotion and marketing support, and a sales and fulfilment function] where a more consumer-oriented CMA could improve conditions for consumers like Comp [see above].

The other major bulwark of consumer protection is ‘trading standards’. This is a local authority activity that is funded via council tax and has seen its resources stripped to the bone by government restrictions imposed on council expenditure and the withdrawal of funding. This was traditionally a front-line municipal service with a public presence and convenient means of access. A large number of orders, controls and regulations were repealed during the 2010-15 government reducing the local TS services’ room for action and reliance instead was placed on the Consumer Rights Act 2015 [and its subordinate legislation] as the means by which consumers could assert their rights and seek remedies for unfair trading practices or breaches of consumer law. I believe this was a major mistake and has left action in the hands of consumers at their own expense and according to their own inclination.

Accompanying this development was the allocation to Citizens Advice of the public point of access to the local trading standards service so it is no longer possible to raise a complaint or a question directly with a qualified trading standards officer. CA has become a gatekeeper and harmed the relationship between the professional service and the local community. I don’t think there is a case for making this a national service although much could be done to improve the ability of local trading standards services to deal with problems with major corporations [satisfactory resolution of the Whirlpool tumble dryer safety problems failed because of ulterior motives and a conflict of interest between Peterborough City Council in its role as the designated ‘home authority’ for dealing with Whirlpool and the council’s desire to safeguard the company as a major employer and ratepayer in the council’s district]. The county councils and the large metropolitan authorities are the providers of local trading standards services and overall they have done a good job down the years while they had the resources and expertise.

An organisation that was created separately [and causes some confusion] is National Trading Standards that seems to have been set up to handle complex cross-authority issues such as counterfeit goods, rogue traders, mass marketing, organised crime and internet scams. It exists primarily for intelligence gathering for enforcement purposes and has no direct relationship with the public. Its public accountability is weak compared with local trading standards services.

Finally, there is the Chartered Trading Standards Institute which is an independent professional body tor trading standards practitioners. It advocates improved standards of consumer protection and new legislation, and provides guidance and advice to local TS services.

Hi everyone,

Here is the document I was referring to – 41 pages of policy document for you!


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Hi Comp and Duncan, We are more than happy for people to discuss policy but as we are deep in general election mode we would ask people to steer away from party politics. 🙂

When I wrote in the second paragraph of my previous comment above that the CMA succeeded the Monopolies & Mergers Commission, I obviously had a memory lapse and forgot to mention the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading [OFT] as the CMA’s immediate predecessors. This correction is entirely due to my reading of the Which? policy document referenced by Abby.

Having skipped quickly through the policy document I might have missed any reference to a major weakness of the current consumer protection set-up, the lead authority process for dealing with companies through their home local authority.

This let consumers down when it fell to Peterborough City Council to respond to the Whirlpool tumble dryer safety crisis [Whirlpool has its main establishment in the city council’s area]. The authority’s response was weak, timid, and ineffectual leading to applications for judicial review. I was hoping there would be some proposals from Which? to improve the handling of such complex cases and, perhaps, place them under the supervision of large-scale local authorities independent of the company and having the resources and expertise to act purposefully on behalf of consumers.

I noted the references to the Primary Authority Partnerships [PAP’s] but I could not see any recognition of the drawbacks of the present arrangements.

There did not seem to be much in the way either of pressure for reinforced local authority trading standards services with proper funding, a raft of accountable statutory duties, and performance targets, in order to restore public confidence in the system and provide straightforward access by consumers to local professionals.

Overall it is a very thorough policy document, if somewhat bureaucratic [understandably] and a bit of a heavy read, but it seemed obsessed with rearranging the geography of consumer protection without demonstrating how that would by itself improve what it repetitively called ‘the landscape’. It examines various options for changing this and that and, for me, the headline outcomes, and the demonstration of their proof as remedies, seemed to get lost in the in the overall verbiage. It probably went down well with civil servants and bureaucracy engineers, however, as, for those who like that sort of thing, it’s the sort of thing they like.

Duncan – Of course it was government policy to provide a corporate structural separation between Openreach and BT within the BT Group. There was evidence that the combined BT Openreach was obstructing the other telecom service providers [not ISP’s which are different animals] in developing their networks and was also giving priority to repairs to BT customers’ lines and broadband services.

BT owned probably 90% of the installed landline infrastructure in the UK and had a significant monopoly in service provision. It was held that it was using its market dominance to abuse its monopoly position so corrective action was required and was taken eventually after some resistance.

So far as I understand the position, BT was funded by the government to undertake the faster broadband roll-out in the rural areas. Other companies could have had a slice of the action but declined for their own commercial reasons.

The fact that the cable networks in the metropolitan areas were developed rapidly was due to the likes of Virgin Media and TalkTalk putting up the capital to acquire the networks, investing in new cable technology, and offering customers a more appealing package of services at prices they could afford.

I don’t know what happened to the Radio Interference Group; perhaps it now comes under Ofcom where it more properly belongs.

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Thanks for the correction, Duncan. TalkTalk obviously buys capacity on Openreach’s network whereas Virgin Media uses the infrastructure it acquired when it bought out a number of the cable companies.

In roads like ours where there is a choice of using BT or VM for broadband I presume those who want the higher speeds and capacity opt for VM which takes some pressure off the BT/Openreach capacity.

A law forcing companies to publish the ratio between highest earnings (of any director or employee) to lowest earnings (of any employee or semi permanent sub contactor). This should be published as part of the company accounts and corporation tax should be levied on a sliding scale according to this ratio.

All of the above are admirable but no one is talking about our failed Justice system.
People are, in some areas afraid to leave their own homes after dark because of thugs and drug abusers.
Drug laws should be enforced and all people convicted should serve their full sentence.
Perhaps give the people a say in whether we need a death penalty or much harder prisons or both.
Politicians should be made to keep their promises or be expelled from office.
A maximum time should be set for MPs to serve and then have to stand down (eg 3 terms). There should no longer be career politicians who are only enriching themselves.

Abby, I don’t think you ever needed to worry about party politics

We had 10 years of a Conservative government, and they were the ones who got rid of the Office of Fair Trading and the Consumer Direct service. They underfunded Trading Standards to such a degree that TS can’t be bothered to contact most people who make a complaint

Now we’re going to get another 5 years of the same thing. Maybe we’ll also loose some consumer rights and protections as part of a trade deal agreement

The Conservatives were never going to improve Trading Standards or consumer rights, so we had to see if other parties were willing. And if you were serious about it, you should have given that document to everyone to see if any party would endorse it or put it in their manifesto

Martin Francis says:
18 November 2019

I am still concerned about the long-standing Hotpoint dryer problem. We had our dryer modified in 2016 and we have a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher with the dryer which is in the garage near a gas supply pipe. After a number of calls to Hotpoint, I am still told that the modification is safe. IS THIS STILL TRUE? They also say that they will not provide an alternative dryer. I would be grateful if you could enlighten me as to the current position of Which and Hotpoint. Martin Francis.

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Which? has a ‘Brand alert’ for Hotpoint products because of the way that Whirlpool (the owner of the brand) handled the fire risk problem:

“Hotpoint brand alert
At Which? we’re committed to giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice about the products you buy and this includes telling you about how companies handle safety issues with their products. We have identified that this product comes from a group of companies that we believe has previously handled a product safety issue poorly (though the issue affected tumble dryers only).”

Standard condenser and vented dryers contain a powerful electrical heater that could set light to lint, especially if the filter is not cleaned before use. Heat pump dryers do not have a heater. They tend to be more expensive to buy but are cheaper to run.

The message seems to be, Martin, – clean the filter before every use in order to reduce the risk of combustion to as low as reasonably possible.

If Whirlpool are satisfied that the modification carried out to your dryer in 2016 has made it safe [provided it is used in accordance with their operational instructions] then they are under no obligation to replace your appliance.

If moving the dryer away from the gas pipe is a practical option that would be a sensible precaution, but it might not make much difference in the event of a fire and a subsequent explosion. It might be better to keep the fire extinguisher in a convenient place outside the garage for ease of access in an emergency. Also, make sure you know where the turn-off valve for the gas supply is located and how to get to it quickly and safely.

For real peace of mind I would recommend making as little use as possible of your tumble dryer and possibly buying a new one.

The link posted by Duncan includes a video explaining that fluff can build up unseen in a dryer. This is most commonly seen when lint filters are not emptied but I don’t believe that this will eliminate the risk. I first heard of tumble dryer fires in the early 1970s. This video illustrates the risk very well. Service engineers have periodically reported large accumulations of lint in dryers.

Radiant electric fires with bare heaters that were an electric shock hazard were either phased out or banned years ago and I would like to see the same happen with ordinary condenser and vented dryers, now that safer heat pump dryers are available.

I agree. The only way to eliminate the risk of a fire is to replace the appliance with a safer type with a heat pump or dry the washing by other means not requiring a heat source. In the conflict between speed of drying and complete safety the latter should prevail but modern living often dictates otherwise.

Because a heat pump dryer is more energy efficient they can cost half as much to run which over time could compensate for the higher upfront purchase price.

I presume the temperature in a garage is not an impediment to efficient running of a heat pump dryer.

Heat pump dryers are currently more expensive but the price is falling as they become more popular. I suspect that poor energy ratings rather than safety considerations will be what leads to ordinary condenser and vented dryers being phased out.

You are right about heat pump dryers being less efficient in an unheated room, John, and it would be interesting to investigate this further. White goods manufacturers usually advise against putting appliances in garages.

We can appreciate why you are concerned. The good news is the Office of Product Safety and Standards are conducting a review into the modified machines. In the meantime being careful about how you use it is key – here is our guide to maintaining your tumble drier:


Thanks Abby. I do wish Which? would investigate to find out if heat pump dryers are a safer option.

The lower temperature of heat pump dryers clearly makes them a safer option. However, the incidence of fires caused by heaters in conventional dryers is very low – but still exists, as in any electrical appliance. Many people cannot afford the higher cost of the more complex heat pump dryer, and will only recover the extra cost if used, perhaps 2 or 3 times a week. Which? have a guide to this, https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/tumble-dryers/article/heat-pump-tumble-dryers This is another critique – https://www.ukwhitegoods.co.uk/help/buying-advice/tumble-dryers/3845-are-heat-pump-dryers-worth-it.

Tumble dryers could be made with lower temperature heaters to abolish any fire problem from this cause; Which?, presumably, attend the BSI committee dealing with such appliances and could discuss this (although there is an international committee already looking at the question of fires in major domestic electrical appliances; perhaps Which? could keep us informed).

As John suggests the best way to dry clothes – for no cost and, perhaps, safer – is by other means. A clothes line in the garden, a clothes horse in the kitchen, and remember those ceiling-mounted dryers lowered on cords? I use these first two “natural” methods so rarely use the tumble dryer.

Like many people, I don’t have a tumble dryer, but those living in flats may have little convenient alternative, since drying indoors can create condensation and damp problems, and not everyone has a garden. If cost is a problem a secondhand heat pump dryer could be a sensible option.

Heat pump dryers are at present the only ones with low temperature heaters that I’m aware of.

It is something we are very interested in investigating. The problem is finding the data to back up the theory. When there is a fire caused by an appliance there will be a report but most of these reports will only mention the make, not the model of appliance, which after a major fire could be hard to ascertain anyway.

It does seem like a logical assumption that lower temperatures would decrease the risk but it is very hard to prove one way or another.

Thanks Abby. I did contact London Fire Brigade a few years ago and was sent some figures but these mentioned condenser dryers and vented dryers and not heat pump dryers. Maybe there were no fires or the heat pump dryers included with ordinary condenser dryers.

I will contact LFB again and try to get some more information.

There is no possibility that a heat pump would produce enough heat to start a fire, though any mains-powered appliance can cause a fire for other reasons.

The IEC (International Electrotechnical Committee) would be a good place to start – probably through Which?’s connections with BSI. Try Technical Committee (TC) 61 / Working Group (WG) 47 on which we have two GB members.

Sorry @wavechange, I keep meaning to come back to this. Would you be able to share what you got from the Fire Brigade with us? Could you drop us an email at conversation.comments@which.co.uk? 🙂

Will do. Thanks!

My Hotpoint dryer is over thirty years old. It blows hot air into a solid drum and the only exit is via a filter mesh at the back connected to the exhaust pipe. I keep a very close eye on it in use and always clean the filter after use. I hope that any electrical fault will trip the circuit or the fuse, but it dries as well as when new and it seems a pity to ditch it while it performs as it should. I shall look at alternatives when I get a new kitchen next year.

I think that consumers priorities should be the protection of the environment. More emphasis should be put on ethically sourced products which help restore the land and water to it’s natural unpolluted and non toxic state. Animals should also be protected and products should give guarantees that the animals are kept in good conditions which lead to a good quality of life. If these protections are put in place then humans and animals alike will benefit.

ken stephenson says:
6 December 2019

with you 100%

I am a coeliac and I want goverment to make a law that protects people with allergy to gluten ,wheat ,etc better information on all products as we see things on products that say suitable for vegetarians and vegans but never a symbol with suitable for coeliacs vegetarians and vegans are by choice coeliacs we dont have a choice we could die ours is a disease so please will you help get this changed thank you

Paul m says:
6 December 2019

Homelessness , we need more council rentable homes 963 people died in England alone last yr through being homeless .

I’m a pensioner. 77years old and worked in this country for 55years. I never claimed any benefits and played my NI stamps and tax all those years. I’m even now paying taxes on my pension which is just a small amount from when I worked in Ireland. I think the government are being to hard on pensions you worked all their lives and now want to take our free TV licence away as well. Well I will refuse to pay and I’m sure it will cost a he’ll of a lot more to keep me in HMP because I am prepared to go there if need be.

Maureen Barnett says:
6 December 2019

First and foremost should be a culture of consumerism which chooses to boycott all products which entail the use of components that are harmful to the environment.

Ban Facebook and similar services as they lead to exploitation of children, people trafficking, crime and terrorism. All organisations made responsible for what they sell, Amazon etc are the prime contractor in ALL their sales and therefore must be held responsible in law just as the High Street shop is. The Chairman and Board of directors of any company must be accountable and liable in law for ILLEGAL acts within their companies and should personally pay fine – NOT the shareholders.

Steve Mayers says:
6 December 2019

Climate-aware purchasing, use of energy, transport including air travel, waste and related issues must be top of everyone’s agenda for our global future

Cures Should be developed by the NHS for “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”/M.E. & Fibromyalgia,ASAP!!… 🙂

John McIrvine says:
6 December 2019

All of the above…and more.

Julie Willis says:
6 December 2019

Reduce plastic packaging on food products in supermarkets.

Paul Batchelder says:
6 December 2019

Scams and on-line fraud worry me considerably. As a pensioner with a little bit of money put on one side it is most concerning as to the best place to ‘keep’ that money. We need access to on-line banking but the security element is a major, major issue

George says:
6 December 2019

Acknowledgement of service by pre-1975 Armed Forces Personnel by paying a pension for time served for this country as is paid for later retirees.

Tav Ratcliffe says:
6 December 2019

Protection of the Environment and Remediation of Global Warming

Proper consumer protection for 6 million leaseholders in England and Wales, from rip off ground rents, permission fees, service charges, estate charges and lease extension costs. Which needs to get hold of this as it affects so many people.
300,000 flats also blighted by flammable cladding, this problem made worse by the contortions of the leasehold system.

Doug Bailey says:
6 December 2019

The entire list. With protection from online scams very high priority.