/ Home & Energy

Why I’m hoping for fewer cards this Christmas

Christmas card saying 'bah humbug'

This December, I will be measuring success by the number of Christmas cards I receive. A dearth of cards tells me that Which? has had a good year for challenging the status quo.

It’s 10 years since I joined Which?, and I have been looking back at the organisation we were, and how we’ve changed. There are, of course, strong threads running through our entire 57-year history: ferocious independence, robust research, attention to detail, scientific, comparative testing – and everything focused on making life better for consumers.

But what’s changed in the last decade is the scale of our ambition and the impact we’ve had as a result.

A revolution in pensions

I believe that 10 years ago we would have felt that certain powerful elements of the financial services sector were too big for us to take on. But our research and persistence in highlighting the patently broken market of annuities have helped to bring about a revolution in pensions.

Reforms coming in next April will finally remove the pernicious need to buy an annuity, which kept that market uncompetitive for too long. Now there will be a market with potential, and the power will be with the individual to choose what to do with their own money. It’s unfinished business – and Which? will scrutinise new offerings to ensure they’re fair, flexible and clear – but this is change on a scale that was unthinkable a decade ago, and is something to celebrate.

Your privacy online

Looking ahead to the next 10 years, I think that digitisation will continue to give consumers greater choice and better service – you can already order something online at 2am and get it delivered the same day. But hand in hand with this is the collection of increasing amounts of personal data. I think Which? will have a role in helping people to take back ownership of their personal information. There’s also been an explosion in user-generated reviews online. These have a part to play, but they’re not a substitute for trusted, rigorous research and comparative testing.

Which?’s independence means we will continue to say what we think – regardless of how unwelcome the message may be, and whether it’s about printers or pensions. And we will continue to think the unthinkable.


Allow me to wish you a Happy Christmas, Peter, in case your mantel piece becomes a void and desolate space this year. The Which? team certainly have something to be proud of this season and have undoubtedly disturbed a lot of cosy set-ups. I hope though, that the people whose corns you have trodden on and whose nerves you have set jangling, will not forsake the spiirt of goodwill to all men and will remember you with fond greetings of hope for a prosperous and beneficent new year. Lo, though thy neighbours do offend with their barbecue, and your telephone rings with false calls, let there be warmth in the hearts of the castigators and contrition in the minds of the perpetrators.

Sophie Gilbert says:
27 November 2014

That’s the comment of the year!

John has made it to Comment of the Week, so it’s looking good so far. 😉

The first two Christmas cards have just dropped through the letterbox. I will keep on sending them until people have stopped sending them to me for a couple of years.

I remember writing on a few cards that I would be in touch after Christmas, but now I need to make these calls.

I haven’t been sending, or giving Christmas cards, for many, possibly 20-30 years! However, despite saying so, I still receive some cards, usually between 4 – 10. I do not see the point of sending cards with no news in them, just ‘love from’, especially from someone who you see regularly and lives nearby! I still get cards for a previous resident of my house, with no surname and no return address. So they go in the bin! Christmas has become too commercial.

“ferocious independence, robust research, attention to detail, scientific, comparative testing!
Dear Peter, how do these words of yours apply to Which’s survey of “Care Homes”, please explain how 4 out of work actors under 60 years old can possibly reflect the views of thousands of residents practically all of whom nearing the end of their lives.Only four homes were covertly visitted out of thousands and then only poor performers according to CQC, none of these being in the NHS or Public Sector

I don’t think Which? was endeavouring to bench-test care homes. What it has done is show up the fact that the Care Quality Commission hasn’t been doing its job adequately. Merely opening the lid on some operations and activities is a good start. The fact that it cannot do everything some people might want is not necessarily a failure. Which? relies on private individuals’ subscriptions and purchases for its income – it’s not there to duplicate the work of the publicly-funded authorities [apart from anything else, it wouldn’t necesarily reflect the members’ expenditure priorities].

That’s it in a nutshell, John. In many cases, Which? uncovers possible problems, discusses them with the relevant organisations and let’s us have brief details of their responses.

I would love Which? to devote more resources into things that interest me and report in much more depth, but recognise that others have different priorities. I place a lower priority on product testing than many of the current activities of Which? but recognise that this is their core activity and what most subscribers are looking for.

It would be good if Which? occasionally used their Connect surveys to find out about what we feel is most important.

Dear John

Just quoting Peter’s own words, surely my observations are not unreasonable ? Maybe now that the CQC are exposing massive problems in NHS Trusts providng similar services, knockers such as Which? and Panorama might just get around to doing some more balanced critisms ,surveys or smear campaigns or whatever you would like to call it.
You will remember I did try and bring peoples attention to the one sided,unequal , biased approach which parts of the establishment was taking towards Elderly Care, even I am amazed at the scale of the cover up, I belive that we have only just seen the tip of the iceberg Thank goodness the Government has now given the CQC some teeth.

P.S I would really appreciate a response from Peter

Gerald, I understand your concerns about public vs private sector. However I don’t think exposing any malpractice should be condemned as biassed just because the investigation took place in one small area – it is bad and something that needs dealing with.
My concern, a little like yours perhaps, is that scratching the surface and then hoping someone else picks up the case is not very productive. The wish of big organisations to protect themselves and their staff launches huge defence mechanisms, so you really need a robust case in my view for it not to be dismissed as isolated cases. I’d like Which? to either look properly in depth at a topic or work with an organisation that can put thoroughly constructed and convincing cases together to, hopefully, force action (other than “lessons will be learned” of course).

Thanks for your support and advice, it is most welcome as usual. I must admit I am not practised in this form of communication as you point out.
All I try to do is to try to put a balancing view point from a different perspective .

The Which? investigation may have been superficial but like similar reports, it helped make me aware of a potential problem. From speaking to friends with family members in private care/nursing homes I have learned that there is a considerable reluctance to report poor practice. I don’t know whether this is simply embarrassment (which I can understand) or fear that the person in the home might be affected in some way. I offered to report an incident when I visited an old man who had been left bleeding on the floor for hours after a fall, and no-one attended, but his daughter did not want me to do this or take action herself. That was at a private home with a glowing report. I had helped my friend choose the care home for her father on the basis of the most recent report, inspecting the room and meeting with staff.

Perhaps Which? could pick some examples of poor practice and give legal advice to the families of several people who have families receiving substandard care, but I cannot see how they can devote more resources to this specific problem.

I may need a dental implant soon and hope that Which? will do an investigation to help me understand what the complications might be. I would not expect Which? to do a detailed investigation but it’s difficult to believe that implants are as straightforward as the advertising seems to suggest.

Another example of a limited but useful examination of a problem was when Which? looked at laser eye surgery earlier this year. This revealed malpractice and through comments on Which? Conversation, there is obviously much to be concerned about.

I read the laser eye surgery report – something I had considered briefly but discounted as eyes are too precious to risk scarring or worse. however the report was pretty mild in its warnings – it was not until the conversation that the many horror stories emerged, particularly of the attitudes of the High Street providers (and even Moorfields).
I think this is an example of the cart before the horse. It would have been much better, in my view, to seek the information as given in the conversation first, discussed with professionals and then put a complete story together.
Whether the conversation gives a complete and fair picture is questionable; I suspect the bulk of people who had satisfactory results may not contribute. But the consequences experienced by many were horrific and should have added balance to the original report.

I expect that if Which? looks into laser eye surgery again they will approach it differently. Everyone I know has been satisfied with laser eye surgery, so it would be good to have some statistics about how often problems occur and their severity, as you would with elective surgery. I don’t like the high street approach for something that could result in permanent problems, even if they are uncommon. We only have one pair of eyes.

It’s a difficult balance. With hindsight I feel that the report should have been more critical but don’t forget how much criticism Which? attracts for being too critical.

wavechange – “dental implant”. I see this as another very specialist area – not something for Which?’s limited resources or expertise. Maybe a subject for a conversation though. Something to get our teeth into.

Best discussed with your dentist I’d suggest. A friend of mine had a successful one a couple of years ago and is in process of having another done by a specialist dentisit. It takes time though.

I had a gap that was filled by a porcelain tooth with a metal wing that was glued to the back of the adjacent tooth. Despite taking the strain of a bite it has held up remarkably well for about 15 years – without having my jaw drilled. Incredible what glue can do.

I cannot believe that you or anyone else would have left a man “bleeding on the floor for hours” and then not reported this to Safeguarding or CQC. In my experiance if this had happened in the Private Sector the Public Sector watchdogs would have been more than eager to deal with this matter.
With regards to the Public being reticant in complaing, I would refer you to the recent appalling cases at the NHS trusts where the Public, The CQC inspectors and the Trusts own staff were complaining four years and years and all this was ignored and covered up by the Public Sector.
No clandestine Panorama Exposé’s were ever carried out either.
Why is there one law for the Private Sector and yet a completely different one for the Public Sector ?
Surely you learned gentlemen with your depth of learning could explain this to me, how does our so called “Public Servants” get away with this and other appalling beaches of duty.
After Winterbourne the home was closed down the staff responcible was taken to Court etc.etc. what happend at Mid Staffs Hospital ,Rotherham Council etc. etc.

My dentist thinks I’m OK with the missing molar and the only problem is with whole hazelnuts getting stuck in the gap at Christmas. 🙁 But I realise that having a missing tooth puts more strain on adjacent teeth, and my dentist has told me that fitting a bridge would be worse in this respect.

I had a crown since my early 20s and never had a problem until a private dentist fitted another crown facing it. When he realised that it was too large, he ground away my existing crown rather than the one he fitted. The old crown, now weakened, started to disintegrate some months later and to cut a long story short I lost the tooth.

I agree that a Conversation on implants would be a good start and have suggested this a couple of times.

Which? should ask us to do a risk assessment before putting coins in our Christmas pudding to avoid the need for dental treatment. I still have three silver sixpences from when I was a child.

Gerald, my perception of those who run big organisations – public or private – is they seem immune from the normal consequences of incompetency. Health, banking, auditors, FSA, social services – the reward for failure is often a substantial pay-off and pension contribution followed by a high-power appointment somewhere else.
The way the world works sometimes perplexes my simple mind. You have to wonder whether being honest, diligent and responsible is a good career strategy.

It was a very superficial wound but messy because the chap in his 90s was nearly blind and had struggled to get back into his chair, which is where I found him. From the dried-up blood I presume that he had been left for hours. He said he had used the emergency call but I don’t know if that was the case, since he seemed confused. I did express my concern at the time but left it to his daughter to decide whether to file a report. She did not want to and there was no lasting damage.

If we are discussing NHS hospitals I can provide some worrying anecdotes. I don’t think it’s useful to compare the private and public sector, and we should do our best to address problems wherever they occur.

At the cost of £120 billion a year some one should question what value for money the Public are getting for their money. Isn;t this what WHICH? is all about? they have had numerous goes at the Banking Sector, Motor Sector, Building Societies etc. all with good results what is so special about the Public Sector ,please explain.
I was very interested to read your explanation for not reporting what you obviously thought was a blatant dereliction of duty , I must admit that I was suprised and disappointed ,what could we do in Care Home Management to encourage people such as you and your lady friend to be more open and to assure you that we welcome constructive and helpful critisism at all times.

Gerald – As I see it, Which? tends to focus on areas where we have choice or money is involved. I’m not defending or criticising that approach, but I’m glad they are doing a lot more than product testing these days.

I made my comment as an illustration that not all is well in the world of private care homes and to make the point that people are sometimes reluctant to complain. The only real criticism was that no-one had discovered that the old chap had had an accident. He was unsteady on his feet and if my memory serves me correctly, he was due to be inspected regularly. There was also a delay in getting someone to attend after I reported the problem. The staff who were chatting at reception were responsible for a different wing of the building, so I had to wait. I did express my concern at the time but left it to my friend to pursue, but she decided not to. I don’t ignore what happens in the public sector, and if you read my posts on other Conversations you will find some of my criticism of the NHS.

Wavechange: I discussed the pros and cons of dental implants with my dentist a while ago and he advised me to search the internet where you can learn all about the procedure. Having done that I decided it was definitely not an option for me personally but obviously its a question of choice and whether you are a suitable candidate.

Thanks Beryl. I will certainly look into this very carefully if I decide to go ahead. My experience of straightforward dentistry has demonstrated both good and bad. Most of the advice available is from those involved and I would certainly appreciate some unbiased information from Which? I’m sorry you were not a candidate for treatment and that’s a complication I’m very well aware of.

I sometimes think Which? spreads its resources too thinly by trying to do too much in insufficient depth and not following through. Which? was originally, if I remember correctly, essentially a product testing organisation – something as badly needed now as then. Perhaps instead of setting up a failed India organisation and a seemingly expensive mortgage consultancy Which? should revert to more focus on products and helping consumers to get fair treatment from retailers.

Services are equally important though so perhaps we need a parallel organisation that critically assesses these.

Incidentally, if you want critical comment on services – including from Government, Local Authorities, the Health service and their private providers, a subscription to Private Eye would add to your new year cheer. Perhaps Which? could benefit from a loose working arrangement? Hope this isn’t seen as an advert!

What has it got to do with Christmas cards? Nothing, except there is a good one of snowmen taking on the hot water challenge.

I am delighted by the amount of effort Which? has put into the problem of nuisance calls. I am never sure if I have already supported campaigns about this, so it would be really useful if Which? could let us check whether or not we have supported current campaigns.

I don’t understand why Which? has not pushed for stronger measures to deal with companies that make nuisance calls. The fines that have been levied so far are pitiful and likely to be seen as an operating expense. My view is that companies that are making unsolicited calls should have their phone service suspended for increasing periods until they comply. We have a serious problem. As with most people, unsolicited calls are just a nuisance for me, but they can be more serious for some recipients. It is almost two weeks since I last had a nuisance call, but I want to continue to support efforts because others are not so lucky.

Merry Christmas Peter. I support what Which? is doing but let’s have stronger action on nuisance calls. In one Conversation poll, 100% were concerned about the problem.

Sorry – that was not intended as a reply to Malcolm’s post.