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Prime Minister May must restore trust to deliver a better deal for consumers

Theresa May

Our recent research has highlighted peoples’ fears over the economy. More than half of households expect it to get worse over the next 12 months. That’s more than double a year ago…

So it’s clear one of the many jobs our new Prime Minister has to do is to help build consumer confidence and restore trust in key markets, like energy, banking and rail, if we’re to have a strong economy.

Will Theresa May be pro-consumer?

Will Theresa May be a pro-consumer Prime Minister? Well as Home Secretary she rarely strayed outside her brief but indications are promising.

In her leadership speech at the start of this week she committed to tackling the governance of big businesses and announced plans to put consumers on company boards.

Her pledge to ‘use and reform competition law so that markets work better for people’ attracted less media attention but included a notable promise to address highly consolidated markets, such as utilities and retail banking.

This is a welcome commitment, given that our research also found that people’s trust in industries to act in their best interest has also declined by an average of 12% over the last year.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Which? champion, the Conservative Deputy Chair and MP for Harlow, Rob Halfon, claims that May will be an advocate of a more socially responsible capitalism.

Halfon has determinedly pursued energy companies and petrol price hikes and sees our new PM as someone who will take on so-called ‘crony capitalism’, something also echoed in her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street on Wednesday.

Taking on ‘crony capitalism’

Back in 2013, Theresa May pointed to this in her speech to a ConservativeHome conference. I remember at the time being struck by her commitment to tackle vested interests wherever they’re found. In the speech, she called for action to tackle the ‘appalling absence of care at Mid-Staffordshire hospital’ and ‘the treatment of elderly people at care homes like Winterbourne View’ – something that Which? has sought to address through our Make Complaints Count campaign.

And she also said that the Government should tackle businesses who ‘abuse their market position to keep prices high’ and ‘companies at the less scrupulous end of the credit industry (that) prey on the poorest and most vulnerable families’.

With our research revealing recently that unarranged overdrafts can cost you even more than a payday loan, perhaps our new Prime Minister will back action to tackle punitive bank charges.

Theresa May and Brexit

So there is good cause to hope that consumer issues will be a key part of a May premiership. They’ll certainly need to be central to her biggest challenge – negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU.

It’s vital that Brexit delivers for all consumers. This means ensuring that important rights and benefits, such as cheaper data roaming in other countries, compensation arrangements for flight delays and protecting food safety, are maintained during the negotiations – but also that as we gain new freedoms from EU laws, consumers reap the benefits.

It is also important that Theresa May recognises that a pro-consumer agenda will be a pro-growth agenda. We’ve seen big drops in consumer trust in essential markets, such as rail, energy and banking. That’s why reforms to these important sectors cannot be put on hold as we work out our future relationship with Brussels.

The new Prime Minister has a great opportunity to put consumers right at the heart of her agenda. This is a big ask. But if she can live up to her recent rhetoric, then we can have confidence that empowering and protecting consumers will be a pivotal part of our new Prime Minister’s plans.

Comments

We must take a sensible view of the Brexit result and accept what the people of Britain have decided. I note the rather sinister view in some people’s minds that there really ought to be another vote, presumably to obtain a Remain result! Should we then have another for LEAVE! Oh dear me no. The Remains will have won the day! I seem to remember the voting system in other parts of the world. The One Man One Vote Once when the result is OK and there are many others.

Maybe it is a simple point but very relevant. The EU costs money and the wealthier countries- ourselves, pay more in than we get out! This must be the case, so leaving means this contribution of ours will go to the British rather than to the EU bureaucrats. What is wrong with that? If we wish to help other countries we can still do so without the EU. Then there is the stupidity of the parliament going from Brussels to Strasburg and back again each month because grown men cannot agree and even worse, the Accounts have not been properly audited for 23 years. Are we supposed to go along with this for ever? Personally, I think the EU is the laughing stock of the world with low growth and growing unrest.

It is just about layer upon layer of Government on a gravy train. We are better off without them and their petty-fogging rules. We are fortunate in having a Commonwealth who will trade with us plus the good relations we have with most of the world.

To quote Lady Macbeth, We Fail?!!! But Screw Your Courage to the Sticking-Place and we’ll not Fail!

Very sensible, and very nicely put Kenneth F.

Brexit is a wonderful opportunity for the UK, both politically and economically. If we reduce taxes and regulation we can lead the world once again!

Some of the biggest consumer spenders are pensioners. With the savings rates so low their spending will slow. What ever you say about the baby boomers, they do keep the economy going.

We should raise their pensions. I’ve got another 30 years at least before becoming a pensioner, but I think Which? should start a campaign for this now for our current pensioners. It’s one of the best economic stimulus’s you can give. Many pensioners are not rich, they spend the extra they are given, and so it flows through the economy giving it a genuine boost – whilst obviously helping our much-loved pensioners in the process.

As we do not build up a personal pension pot for the state pension – it comes out of current tax revenue- I would like to see it go to those who need it most. In other words, means tested, but at a reasonable level. There are many pensioners with high private pensions and other income who do not need the state pension. It would make a contribution to raising the basic pension without raiding tax from other worthy causes.

We have contributed to the state pension during our working lives, so I’m not keen on just giving it away.

By all means increase capital gains tax and higher rate income tax. That could provide more state pension, which would help those with little other income.

I would not be keen to give my state pension away either, or the winter fuel allowance. But it seems to me if we are in hard times we need to support those most in need. And removing a benefit from those who do not need it to give to those who do is one way to a more equitable society.

I’m delighted to hear this, Malcolm. On numerous occasions I have pointed out that standing charges on gas and electricity mean that those in most need have to pay more for their energy. I have also suggested that the costs involved in supplying homes with fuel could be funded from taxation. You have consistently said that everyone must pay their fair share of the costs regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

I am not sure that energy prices and tariffs should be manipulated in order to iron out various inequalities – that surely is the function of the taxation and benefits systems. It should be possible for people to choose whatever tariff suits their domestic needs best and then, if they have special needs or low incomes, the benefits and pensions are adjusted to reflect these costs – either on an individual basis where appropriate or across the board within the cost of living calculations where the factors are constant and universal. We seem to be very good at using computers and digitisation to calculate prices involving a multitude of elements but very reluctant to use the same opportunities to provide relief where it is needed, with the result that we have slab taxes, benefit traps, and crude blanket policies with no discretion on meeting needs in an equitable and sensitive manner. Just because it has been ever thus is no excuse to perpetuate it.

Standing charges are supposed to cover the fixed costs of supplying energy but they bear no relation to these costs. For example, they don’t reflect whether a home is close to others or there is a long pipe or cable run because of an isolated location. My previous and present energy suppliers had different standing charges but identical for gas and electricity. My conclusion is that these charges are just made up.

Thanks to standing charges, those that live in large, expensive homes are paying less per unit of energy than those living in a small rented flat. Simple unit prices would make it easiest for consumers to make price comparisons.

I certainly agree that the anomalies in standing charges need to be rectified and that they are presently used by companies to distort their unit prices but overall I feel that consumers should have a choice. All standing charges should be submitted to the regulator for justification. Once gas and electricity mains have been installed [at the expense of the property developers and therefore the first owners of new properties] there is very little further cost to recover from consumers on an ongoing basis. New connexions and extensions are charged accordingly. Renewals are undertaken by the relevant distribution company and the costs should be recharged to the supply companies on an equitable basis. I am sure Ofgem could compile an industry-wide code of what is and what is not a legitimate cost to include in, and recover from, standing charges. It should also make sure that commercial gas and electricity customers are paying their fair share of the overhead costs so that the burden on domestic consumers is minimised. We tend to overlook that side of the question and it would be useful to throw some light on it from time to time.

A “fair share of costs” is a separate issue from the way state benefits are allocated. Paying everyone the winter fuel allowance is indiscriminate – giving some money they do not need. Hiding justified standing charges on energy would give many well-off low users an artificially lower bill at the expense of hard pressed higher users. Again, indiscriminate. However, that is a topic discussed in another Convo.

I’d like TM to introduce more equity into society, as she promised.

There are anomalies in standing charges; Ofgem does not dictate what costs should be included so energy companies have the freedom to structure their tariffs accordingly, and we have the choice to take the tariff that best suits us. However, these fixed costs will not go away – they will have to be paid for by the consumer. If we did absorb them into the unit charge (and there is no sign that we will) there would be indiscrimate and unfair consequences. The principal one would be that higher energy users would pay more to subsidise the costs of low energy users. There seems a perception in some quarters that high energy users are wealthy, and low energy users are poor, so its OK then. However, most of use use the energy we need, not what we choose. So I might be elderly, at home all day, need more heating, washing, draughty old rented house that leaks heat – and I’ll use a lot more energy than a well-off couple, both work, out all day, in a modern low energy house who have low energy bills. But under this scheme the unfortunate high user could pay significantly more to help the fortunate low user save substantially. A fair result? I don’t think so. It would be totally indiscriminate in who it helped. But, if you use little energy then of course you might want to promote it.

Which? originally proposed this concept on the basis of the inability of we UK consumers being quite incapable of working out an energy bill – it involved multiplying two numbers together and adding a third. I found this insulting. However, Which? provide the answer to that anyway – use Which?Switch and all the work is done for you.

ray says:
5 August 2016

I am confident that our economy will grow, but even a sizable drop would be an acceptable price to pay for firm border controls.

It’s a non-starter; too many people have now realised the LEAVE campaign was loaded with disinformation. Farmers who voted to leave, now realise the UK govt isn’t going to offer the same subsidies the EU does. All the back channels are predicting that May will not trigger Article 50. A big relief? Or a stampede?

Why do you think farmers did not consider subsidies when they voted. I am sure they are not so unaware of the possibilities. Much of the EU’s agricultural subsidy was designed to support inefficient French farmers with unproductive holdings. I don’t know why it is necessary to subsidise one industry particularly well, and not others. If we think home-grown food security is important we will be free of EU regulations to do what we like. What I hope is any help goes directly to the farmer, whether an owner or a tenant, and not to those who simply own the land. But I would rather our farmers were helped to stand on their own feet commercially. One issue seems to be the obscenely high price of farm land, fueled by speculators, that inevitably increases farm overheads in either loans or rents.

Almost all Labour MEPs did either table motions and/or take part in debates and voted against the TTIP sections where corporations could sue governments for passing laws to safeguard health and the environment, if these laws affected their profits.

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We were tricked into joining the EU as it was claimed to be only a trading arrangement to improve on our membership of EFTA. The whole thing was a blatant lie on the part of Edward Heath.

joe says:
5 August 2016

The facts are that the EU countries are and will struggle over the next few years not for BREXIT but for being part of a humongous corporate gravy train that is the EU.
The euro is going south and is taking the poorer member states with it and if they express fears like Greece did, they are promptly crushed.
Speaking as a company director, unscrupulous employers will not be able to circumvent cheap labour employment laws, lowering wages and preventing fair tendering for contracts with local and national companies who invest in young people paying good wages, which in turn gives workers income where they can plan for the future and get on the property ladder.
For far to long worker migration has been to the benefit of the rich and wealthy whilst to the detriment of the working class and the poor, if you can differentiate between the two groups.
As for the the trade deals fanatically pushed by our corrupt bias media, as being all one way and laying in tatters, this has been shown to be untrue and fictitious.
Markets by nature have and always will be up, down, good, bad, winning and losing. corporate establishment manipulate these stocks and shares to their own needs and benefits, and a shining example of one horrendous trade agreement the TTIP can and should be thrown out NOW for the monopoly creating anti democratic nightmare it is which we can only thank OUR BREXIT VOTE for.
We where told just weeks ago, after the attempted coup in Turkey and apparent arrests that followed, the EU threatened that if any death penalties were carried out, that TURKEY’S ACCESSION to the EU would be denied, after we were told that turkey’s entry to the EU was not on the table by the REMAIN campaign showing the blatant lies and propaganda in all its industrious misdirectional glory.

In short LETS BUILD OUR OWN FUTURE OUR OWN WAY. For people, not for the globalist’s.

Brussels ruling the UK? Or the EU curtailing Tory maltreatment and slashing tactics?

Who knows? I’ll bet many think they do though!

The world won’t end because we left the EU. However, if GDP shrinks by 0,6% in the next 12 months that will wipe out any financial benefit from leaving the EU. The last forecast I heard predicted a 1.7% reduction. I don’t see the point of “getting our country back” if we are all going to be worse off. The only people who benefit in that situation are politicians clawing their way up the greasy pole.

We in Scotland did not vote for Brexit or the government that was stupid enough to have the referendum and I strongly object to us being made to go to along with this madness.

Until Scotland has exited the UK then a general vote will stand I’m afraid Eleanor. I voted to stay in the EU and, being a northerner, can totally sympathise with a Scottish independence vote and any condemnation of a Tory government.

There will be very little chance of a good deal for consumers or anyone else once so called ‘Brexit’ gets going. No’one knows what to do, nothing definite will even begin until the end of the year , and the economy is already suffering.Added to which we have the three stooges put in charge of it. There are 40 years of agreements and documents to unravel, and Britain has no trade negotiators to sent out with a begging bowl to other countries. New Zealand and Canada might ‘loan’ a few. Commonwealth countries will only be minimally interested as they have had to make new trade relations following on Britain’s reneging on the Commonwealth in the 70s. Look forward to 7-10 years of downturn. If Britain is lucky, we may see where the economy is going after 15 – 20 years, by which time all the oldies who voted for it will be pushing up the daisies. Good luck!

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I live in the North East and Nissan car manufacturer is now cutting back on further investment post Brexit this will have a serious effect on the economy not forgetting Hitachi Train Manufacturer.
The other impact is the cut to the EU funding to help the voluntary sector that is an area the I am in and we need the funding given the cuts by local government. We need to be able to fund activities for the young people

Theresa May has to make BREXIT work for everybody across the board getting people round the table. Politicians, unions and consumer groups have to be involved to take us forward. We have to leave the EU soon as possible, NOW!, May said BREXIT MEANS BREXIT!!.

I AGREE WITH MARIA WE COPED BEFORE THE E.U. AND WILL DO SO AGAIN THE P.M. THERESA MAY WILL DO THE RIGHT THI NG AND MAKE G.B. GREAT AGAIN ON A DIFFERENT TACK I AM RATHER CONCERNED WITH DAVID CAMERON LATEST ISSUING SO MANY GONGS I SINCERELY HOPE HE WILL REDRESS THE SITUATION HIS STANDING WITH THE ELECTORATE LEAVES HIM IN A STATE OF FLUX SURELY THERE IS NO NEED FOR MOST OF THESE AWARDS

llamudos says:
5 August 2016

We have not let Europe just the EU’s tyranny. The transformation will cause some pain but in the long run UK will be able to govern itself, decide who comes in or out and what we want to sell or buy. I’m sick of all the naysayers and wingers being so negative. The fact is a majority of 1.4 million people decided the fate of the UKs future and thank god they did! We will be able to get better trade deal in the furure which can only benefit everyone in the UK. If its so bad now in the UK why are so many still trying to get here?

Joe says:
5 August 2016

Brexit is very unlikely to be delivered as the issue is so huge and complex. Even if you get near a deal on just one of the 6 negotiations then any country can veto it. The thing that takes real political guts is to say what 2/3 of Parliament are already saying in that leaving the EU is permanently bad for UK’s economy and we might as well tell EU we are definitely staying. 16M already have told Parliament they want to stay in EU. The bogus negotiations will drag on so long people will no longer care whether we are in or out but they will look back at pre june 2016 as the good days.

joe says:
6 August 2016

As far as consumer trust goes then the quality of the Regulators and UK Regulation powers are absolutely and pathetically weak. In USA they do not mess around – they threaten bad businesses with jail and huge fines.
They actually tackle our banks for fraud and money laundering. They tackle FIFA for decades of fraud on an epic scale. UK do nothing.
Ofgem cannot do anything if the power company does not comply within 28 days. One radio phone in had a customer who had not recieved a bill in 16 years. British Gas were still sorting it out. Even after going to Ofgem we had to go to our Conservative MP to get them to send is a bill after 3 years of trying to leave them. A tip that might not be well known is that MPs have direct lines to utility companies and the companies jump when their office calls. Ordinary customers get fobbed off.
The Regulators are filled with inexperienced civil servants. The Civil Service get the regulated companies to draft the laws that regulate them and the rules are all disadvantageous to the consumer.
Privatisation of UK utilities was the biggest Conservative con of all time. We once built nuclear power stations and led the World in that technology. Now we have to pay double the cost to get State owned French and Communist China companies to design, fund and build them for us. We bailed out the banks but they don’t invest in UK businesses, just housing and stock exchange speculation. British Gas used to have apprentice trained engineers you could trust- now they have salesmen. The nation once owned energy production and transmission. The company invested in new power, employed UK workers and paid taxes and profits to the Government. Now the profits go to France, Germany, Australia etc. If you want to take back control then take back control of our utiities and railways.

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