/ Money

What the new government must do for consumers

As the new Conservative government starts to take shape today, we believe that it must act swiftly to put consumers and their concerns at the heart of its agenda.

Our latest research shows that more people are starting to feel better about the economy but many are increasingly worried about public services, their pension and savings.

We believe that the new government must take swift action in its first 100 days.

Our top priorities for the government

–      Appoint a consumer minister to the Cabinet​ with the power to deal with issues ​across the whole consumer, competition and regulatory landscape, and ​who can drive through reforms across other government departments

–      introduce fairer energy prices to help you with your household bills

–      encourage savings so more people can become financially secure

–      put people at the heart of public services, for example by making complaints count.

Consumers must be at the heart of their plans

Making consumers more powerful is good for the economy and now is the time to make consumers central to the economic plan.

We found that three in 10 people now describe the economy as good, compared with just 8% two years ago. And just under half of people are happy with how much they earn.

But big changes are still needed.

What are your biggest concerns?

We found that six in 10 are worried about public spending cuts, making it the second highest area of concern, and half about the quality of public services.

More than half are worried about the value of their pension and 45% about how much savings they have.

And household costs are still high on people’s list of worries – more than half are worried about energy, fuel and food prices.

In the last Parliament, consumer issues were a high priority and, after pressure from Which?, the government took action in key areas such as banking, pensions and energy. We want to see this momentum continue.

Are you worried about your energy bills or the value of your pension? What are the issues that matter most to you?

Comments

I use LPG living in a rural location I don’t have access to a mains gas supply. I have remained loyal to my original supplier since moving in over 15 years ago. However, being fully aware of the drop in wholesale fuel prices and no reduction notification from my supplier I took it upon myself to make enquiries of competitors. This was especially so as even the major six gas suppliers had all reduced their prices by then. My enquiry established I could save over 50% on the unit price per litre for 12 months. Once my original company had been notified I was changing they immediately offered me a similar discount, which I refused. Is this scandalous or what? I’d say even more so than the big boys of gas normally under fire.

Isorene says:
13 May 2015

Is there really nothing we can do to prevent the ‘water-stuffing’ of chicken (and God knows what else!) so they can charge us more, just for the weight of water??? Is it me or is that just outrageous???

Hi Isorene, thanks for your post about ‘water stuffing’ of chicken. Here at Which?, we’re continuing to work on food fraud issues and look for opportunities to do testing where we think that there is a problem that needs to be exposed.

As you may be aware, we have also been highlighting the need for more effective enforcement, including of labelling laws. Fresh chicken shouldn’t have water added to it, but if it is a chicken ‘product’, it can have other things added to it legally. Limits are also set allowing some water in frozen chicken.

This can be more difficult to check if you are ordering in a restaurant or getting a take-away. We will certainly consider whether there is more that we can do on water in meat, as well as other foods such as fish.

Reed b says:
13 May 2015

this is my first comment on which but I felt I must comment on my ‘journey’ through the nhs when my father encountered them over quite a long period of time. My main issue is that there is no continuity of care – mainly because doctors ‘switched’ over bays and wards weekly sometimes daily! Whilst my dad was still being treated by them it meant that we would be told one thing on a Monday and then something completely different on Tuesday. I was told that this was a good thing that it meant that we would get different opinions on the matter. What it actually meant to me was that I had to explain the situation CONSTANTLY to every person,sometimes daily. We started from square one every day and the same procedures were done several times before the penny dropped! Also my dads hospital stay started on Christmas Eve – he was still talking on Christmas Day but the day after Boxing Day he was nearly dead of septicaemia it was taking HOURS for a doctor to come. In the end no doctor came and the matron had to attend to treat him. My dad never got over this and suffered until in the end he passed away! To my shock at one point I was also told by one senior doctor that this is ‘how things go -people come into hospital and go down hill!

it high time we had a government with some guts and stood up to Brussels and not let them dictate to us any more and distroy are country any more than it has
we have know longer any companies who make foot wear ,clothing or any kind of trainig programes or teach the next genaration anything
at my age i have seen this country go down hill which use to be a great in any things and i am ashame to be british

Many of our grandparents and great-grandparents lost their lives fighting for the freedom of our nation yet our politicians have just give our country away – to the Europe they fought against.

In the forty-two years the UK has been a member of the European Union, most of the consumer legislation has been beneficial [some of it has been crackpot, I agree]. Remembering back to the sixties and seventies, most major British industries were in a state of terminal decline and British products generally had a poor reputation for quality and reliability. Not all our problems can be laid at Brussels’ door. The problem we are facing today is that consumers are in a global marketplace where scruples are in short supply and we have a government that will be able offer very little protection. In this situation we probably need Europe more than Europe needs the UK!

l think that the government do NOT think of those aboth those that are above eihgt

Bill says:
14 May 2015

I can’t help feeling concerned about grouping the NHS into something for ‘consumers’.
Public services are different to private businesses, the NHS has patients, not consumers. Isnt thinking otherwise to shift consciousness towards privatisation of the NHS?

Suzi says:
14 May 2015

Re: NHS and public services, I agree should be different, but in fact the NHS is already way down the line of being a massive (failing) business, the one with most “customers” who are patients and relatives and the rest of us, and the largest number of employees. It’s a special case, unfortunately the new government (with such a small majority of the total votes) has few checks and balances now and the “consumer” (all of us potentially) needs more representation than ever. NHS managers/GPs are drawn into the political arena through financial constraints and privatisation is here already.

Richard Lloyd would like to see a consumer minister in the Cabinet. Jo Swinson, and she was not in the Cabinet, so denied the opportunity to have a major role in how the country was run.

We do not seem to have any minister representing consumers so far: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/her-majestys-government-12-may-2015

Please could Which? find out what is going on.

I am seriously concerned about the influence that business has in running this country, compared with consumers. Look at the new Consumer Rights Act which will replace the Sale of Goods Act later this year. That is going to do little to help consumers if they take their broken products back to the shop after the warranty has expired.

Let us put consumers before business.

the Consumer Rights Act, like the Sale of goods Act, contains the provision to help consumers – a guarantee is in addition to your statutory rights, it does not replace them. What we do not have is the help needed to exercise our rights legally. The Consumers Association could do a lot to support consumers to use the acts provisions. So could a decent Trading Standards set up. We need to fix these problems and the sooner the better.

Absolutely, but durability remains undefined, as it has done since the Sale of Goods Act was introduced in 1979. Thanks largely to internet sales, counterfeit and dangerous electrical and other goods are coming into this country and Trading Standards is unable to cope.

Which? could provide us with actual examples of how real people have made claims under the relevant legislation to help us fend for ourselves.

Wavechange – As I suggested earlier, now the government is liberated from coalition, a deliberate decision has been taken to cut out specific ministerial reponsibility for consumer affairs [“employment rights” has also been given its P45]. Just as the Citizen’s Charter, the Passenger’s Charter, and the Patients’ Charter have been allowed to wither on the vine, we are entering a new – and probably tougher – era of “stand on your own feet”. As you say, business will have the upper hand [the stock markets recognised that in an instant].

Sorry John – not keeping up. Unfortunately consumer issues were not at the forefront of the campaigns in the run-up to the election. I have been studying the campylobacter issue in detail for several months and am convinced that the Food Standards Agency is being manipulated by the commercial world, though it is difficult to know the stance of our government.

I have noticed that Which? is very guarded about what it says in its reports when it criticises industry for valid reasons. It will be interesting to see their stance regarding your examples of declining consumer protection.

The situation is rather worrying. Which?’s relationship with the government might have to change. Will the various Task Forces [e.g. nuisance calls] in which Which? participates survive the lack of any ministerial impetus? The closetting of Trading Standards from public interface behind the revolving door of Citizen’s Advice is another disturbing example of a retreat from active consumer protection. The way that the various “independent” regulators have been affected by political manoueuvring and a stifling of their powers is another warning sign. Like a receding hairline, the progressive loss of fragments of our public services don’t look much on a day-to-day basis but eventually the contents no longer resemble the picture on the tin. I am certainly not in favour of Big Government as a solution to our problems but with few supporters in government, consumers will have to exercise much greater vigilance. I think we need a separate Conversation on Trading Standards so we can discuss its future role and purpose and the resources available. I am convinced that even the basic weights & measures inspection and enforcement work is being relegated following the virtual collapse of the high street and the consolidation of 80% of household weekly requirements into the hands of just six major retailers. Can we be satisfied that the barcode scanner weighing plate on every supermarket checkout, and loaves from the instore bakeries, are being independently checked frequently enough to ensure correct weight? I hope my suspicions are unfounded.

I totally agree, John. It is very clear to me that the views of the public are being manipulated gradually to make us accept what would previously been considered as unacceptable.

We have a small number of major supermarkets, major energy suppliers and mobile phone companies. The supermarkets have won the attention of a Which? super-complaint. I support that but feel that the energy companies had a better case.

Perhaps it was felt that since the energy market was already the subject of a major CMA investigation it might be better to await the outcome of that first [preliminary report due soon I believe]. It’s obvious from the very thorough super-complaint that Which? put in on the supermarkets that a lot of work goes into these submissions and there is probably a lengthy preparation period before they are delivered which has to be timetabled into staff resources and work schedules. I am convinced that, contrary to the media perceptions, super-complaints are never a surprise and I guess there is a fair bit of behind-the-scenes diplomacy between Which? and the CMA or relevant regulator or government dept on timing and scope to make sure that both organisations have lined up their media presentations, that it will not clash with something more important [like the budget – can’t avoid natural disasters], and that the key personnel won’t be on holiday, and above all that the complaint will be do-able wthin the allotted timetable for responding to super-complaints. I think Which? might need to contemplate more super-complaints going forward – the government has pulled up the drawbridge; we now have to go over the wall. Some of the niceties of the conventional approach might have to be put to one side for the time being. After some of the grandstanding during the election campaign I shall be interested to see whether the anomalous train fares and perplexing ticket structure get looked at with any urgency. Telecoms and satellite broadcasting are also huge consumer issues now and need a thorough investigation. So many markets are now dysfunctional because of overwhelming corporate consolidation and unconstrained exercise of power and control.

Hi all, thought you’d like to know that Nick Boles has been appointed as the Consumer Minister.

Thanks Patrick. When he has had time to settle in to his new post, it would be great if you could invite him to discuss the new Consumer Rights Act and how the consumer can get support from Trading Standards.

Thanks Patrick. When Which? talks to the new government will you be discussing improving Trading Standards and trying to make the Consumer Rights Act more usable in practice – especially making retailers deal with their obligations with less hassle and pursuing product “durability” to resolve consumer problems more fairly?

That’s a good question about the future of trading standards. As you can imagine, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) has been expressing its concern at the capacity of local trading standards services to enforce consumer and other laws given local budget cuts, as well as the challenge of enforcing the law outside of their local boundaries. With the Government, the CTSI commissioned a report (PDF) published just before the election which focused on the challenge they face.

At the same time, the National Audit Office confirmed that it would soon review how consumer law is enforced and whether the new structure (which included the creation of the Competition and Markets Authority, National Trading Standards Board, Consumer Protection Partnership and a large number of responsibilities being given to Citizens Advice) is working effectively. We will certainly be contributing to this review, including making suggestions on how local Trading Standards could be better organised to more effectively enforce consumer law, including the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Thanks Patrick. I hope you make some impact. Please keep us informed 😀

Thanks Patrick. This makes interesting reading.

Some of the content concerns me. For example, the section ‘Business advice’ on page 39 refers to the need for ‘optimum regulation’ without explaining who the regulation benefits. Perhaps this is explained in the documents cited.

Mike says:
14 May 2015

When the NHS screws up, why do people have to be dragged through the mire to obtain the truth.
Maybe the government bodies should learn the basic that if a mistake is made hold your hands up except cover up after cover up.

I would like to see a reduction in VAT which would help to boost the economy by increasing consumer spending on cheaper goods and services and create more businesses and jobs.

I agree with you Beryl. VAT is quite a regressive tax and certainly should not be raised any higher than 20%. One way of funding a reduction in VAT on household necessities would be to make a compensating increase in VAT on luxury goods and non-essential services. One virtue of VAT is that it is very difficult to evade and is a good way of making exchequer revenue from tourists, criminals, income tax evaders and avoiders, winnings, windfalls, excessive expenses claims, and other hard-to-track gains!

Why not go back to one supplier ,government controlled, no private greedy suppliers, it would then be under control of the government and the people.Privatisation is not good.

C Timms says:
14 May 2015

The NHS is facing a crisis which has little to do with money. While patients and carers are being empowered, doctors and other health professionals are being subjected to unacceptable levels of stress. We need to look after our health professionals. Doctors in particular tend to be talented young people who will be welcome anywhere in the world. Many are already emigrating while older doctors are planning to retire early and many are moving entirely into private practice. Already we are heavily dependent on immigrant staff. However, in the future, as economies in Eastern Europe and Asia improve their young doctors will find conditions in their own national health services better than the NHS so we will not attract foreign doctors. Young medics work hideously long unrecorded unsocial hours because they feel professionally responsible for making sure patients are safe so unofficially have to cover where there are staff absences and unfilled vacancies. Their work is dangerous and difficult and after years of massive student debt a starting salary of £22,000 is not a fortune.

I agree. Something has to be done to take the pressure off the NHS. Lowering expectations might not be feasible but we could at least stop raising them for a spell.

Politicians have done a lot of damage – running the NHS down on the one hand and then promising a miracle cure with the other. I guess it will take a decade to increase the physician establishment by 20,000 [nett of attrition], because along with the basic headcount and training durations there are parallel requirements for the administrative tail, premises, supplies and technology.

I for one am getting sick and tired of being told the problems of the NHS are caused by people like me who are living longer than perhaps we are supposed to so there are even more of us than there should be. Since the last time I had a doctor’s appointment was in 1961, I plead not guilty.

From the Conservative Party Manifesto 2015:

“This Manifesto sets out our plan to do just that. It is a plan for a better future – for you, for your family. It is a plan for every stage of your life. For your new-born baby, there will be the world’s best medical care. For your child, there will be a place at an excellent school. As you look for your first job, we are building a healthy economy that provides a good career for you with a decent income. As you look for that first home, we will make sure the Government is there to help. As you raise your family, we will help you with childcare. And as you grow older, we will ensure that you have dignity in retirement.”

We obviously have nothing to worry about. Never mind those who fall by the wayside in this utopia.

I doubt that any of the other manifestos are any more honest.

And as we have seen, the manifold manifestoes do not exactly manifest the many things that will be dismantled or reduced to a shell.

Manifestoes? Which party put their foot in it? 🙂

I thought “manifesto” would have the same ending as “tomato” and “potato” in the plural form. I could have used a greengrocer’s apostrophe, which would have been worse. “Manifesto” must take after “calypso” and “soprano”. Or should the plural be “manifesti”?

taragsd says:
14 May 2015

energy companies levy a standing charge on gas and electricity why does this very with each offered tariff surely by definition it should be standard

The standing charge does not represent what it is intended to cover, as some people have realised.

I believe that the costs of bringing electricity, gas and water to our doors should be funded from taxation so that those who are living in cold homes due to the inability to afford much heating are not paying more for each unit, thanks to standing charges.

We need to stop exploiting the poorest members of society.

I would agree wavechange provided I am not required to pay for peoples second homes/holiday homes to be connected.

Perhaps you could give your policy on oil and LNG fueled property as I have not quite got clear in my own mind how far one can level out the iniquities of life by legislating and subsidising without creating a bloated bureacracy to administer it.

As for the concept that the standing charge should be the same as per taragsd in densely populated areas it is normally cheaper to connect each property than in rural areas. That is why cable is not all over the UK as it becomes uneconomic to install if you cannot get payback.

In the UK natural gas arrives on the East coast and should be cheapest there as the home supplier pays little for gas transmission. You can see the prices of take-off from the gas grid here:
www2.nationalgrid.com/UK/Industry-information/System-charges/Gas-transmission/Forecasts/

As I have said before, I’m concerned that those who use little energy because they cannot afford to heat their homes properly are – thanks to standing charges – paying more per unit of energy than large users. Having a fixed unit price that incorporates the standing charge, as for petrol and most products we buy, would help and has the advantage of making it easy to compare prices from different suppliers. Though I would like to see the fixed costs of providing homes with energy met through taxation, perhaps that is for the future.

It’s probably time we looked at taxation and second homes rather than complicating energy charges because of them. I don’t know enough to make useful comment on homes heated by relatively expensive fuels such as oil. Because of the high cost of homes, rental is becoming increasingly popular and most rental property is in built-up areas with mains gas.

Maurice says:
14 May 2015

When the last Conservative Government gave the energy supply to independent companies the claim was that prices would be held down by the competition and there would be more choice, whereas what has happened is the the six main companies run a cartel in all but name and the users have been paying much higher prices than are necessary.

It is difficult to compare energy prices now and before de-nationalisation because many factors have changed. However, a few years ago I read that in real terms [discounting inflation] the cost of domestic electricity and gas was lower than it had been at the time the regional electricity and gas boards were sold off. This was because the nationalised industry, which also included the Central Electricity Generating Board which ran all the power stations, was highly bureaucratic, overstaffed, extremely inefficient, lacked any form of competition, and made virtually no return to the Exchequer. The problem today is that the consumer price for energy has been artificially manipulated by governments through the incorporation of levies and obligations, the costs of regulation, and the imposition of VAT on the entire bill not just the supply and servicing element. There is still a lot wrong with the industry and a lot of the costs now impacting on consumers’ bills are of the energy companies’ own making. I would say that at least half of the customer servicing burden is due to the wasteful churning of accounts due to the complexity and multiplicity of tariffs coupled with bad selling, and the failure to address supply, metering and billing problems properly. So the old inefficiencies of the nationalised industry have steadily crept back in. The boards and quangos of the pre-privatised business were stuffed with knights and dames on unjustified rewards; today there are probably far fewer senior executives overall but they are on top-level “compensation” packages and the shareholders [including the odd ‘Sid’] also have to have their dividends [many of which are going abroad].

Suzi says:
15 May 2015

John, you are so right about the NHS, and the plural of manifesto:- it can be manifestoes, Manifestos or manifesti.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Liz says:
15 May 2015

The NHS is causing our family,which has 3 doctors, to despair. It has run out of “slack” and care is fragmented ,bureaucracy is a nightmare and management patchy. The complaints system is a shambles and difficult even for professionals to understand. Our advice to anyone with a relative who has need of the service …take no prisoners be polite but expect you may have to “shout”. Most staff are still caring but there are so many constraints not to mention the postcode lottery of funding! They will try their best to ” keep faith ” with their patients like so many , because that is why they became doctors but there is real despair .

As expected, very few real complaints about the first of Which’s ‘top priorities’, energy prices, indeed, I think there’s a general acceptance that the market is pretty efficient and that prices are lower than for some years.

Artificial ‘tinkering’ with the market will only harm it and the end user will pick up a bigger bill, as is usually the way.

Which? should drop this item from the priorities and concentrate on real problems.

If the energy market was generally accepted to be efficient, the Competition and Markets Authority would not be engaged in a major investigation of it. Energy was pushed down the agenda during the recent general election campaign by various personality sideshows unfortunately, but it is a very serious issue for millions of households and has been the subject of insidious government manipulation already. I agree with you that compulsory price caps are not the answer – politicians love the sound and bravado of such measures but they only make market distortions far worse in the long run. The energy market, which supplies a basic and indispensable commodity, is riddled with structural faults, inefficiencies and intolerable service performance, and is overseen by a timid regulator.

daveg says:
15 May 2015

What about Zero hours,how can workers save to get married, afford to buy a house.No wonder unemployment is falling with 1.4 million on Zero hours.

wev says:
15 May 2015

The Advertising Standards Authority has now limited people to 3 points they can make a complaint about per advert.

Very disappointing.

Despite that, I think that for an independent regulator the ASA does very well compared with the statutory regulators. It seems to be much more effective and reports its actions in a very clear and intelligible way. Very few other commercial activities are supervised with any degree of diligence or concern for the consumer. The number of TV shows that thrive on rogue traders and dodgy dealers is evidence of this.

Bob says:
26 May 2015

Having recently had a claim under section 75 refused by both the Credit Card Company and the Financial Ombudsman for different reasons I was eventually told by the Ombudsman that the Act was out of date and didn’t cover modern day transactions. Mine had been to pay for a Timeshare using me Credit Card but unknown to me I was paying another Company, which the Ombudsman said was not connected to the Timeshare Company though obviously it was. These changes, if made, would not help me but may help others in the future.