/ Money

What should we campaign for in 2016?

2015 was a bumper year for us at Which? as we managed to persuade the government, regulators and private companies to help achieve a whole host of aims. But what does 2016 hold?

In 2014 we achieved a win a week for consumers, and were a little anxious about being able to keep that rate up – but we have and there are more people taking more action with us than ever before.

Which? now has a campaign supporter base of over 600,000 people, and together they’ve taken over one million actions since July alone. At the start of December we had our busiest week ever, with more than 108,000 actions taken in just seven days.

Our campaign wins

At the end of last year, thousands of our supporters wrote to their MPs asking them to pressure the Chancellor to stop sneaky mortgage fees and charges. During 2015 we’ve been working with the Council of Mortgage Lenders on how to make sure each fee is clear so you know what you’ll be charged. And this year we launched a new ‘tariff of mortgage charges’ which introduces a standard format for how lenders communicate their fees.

We also persuaded the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) to say that insurers should print last year’s premium, convinced the Government to take action on mobile unlocking and made switching savings accounts easier.

The insights of supporters and community members helped us make sure that these campaigns kept the pressure on decision makers. As one MP remarked to me; ‘I can really tell when you are campaigning on an issue. It makes me take notice.’

Using powers that set us apart

One of the things (and there are quite a lot of them!) that makes Which? special is our super-complaint powers. These are conferred on just a few organisations and enable us to take action on behalf of all consumers to regulators about elements of the market we feel are harming consumers’ interests.

We don’t take filing a super-complaint lightly, but this year we decided to publish two. The first on supermarket pricing saw us ask the regulator to clamp down on misleading pricing tactics. The second, launched just last week, took issue with delayed train refunds.

We wanted to see how our supporters felt about these issues beforehand, to see if their concerns match the ones we have identified. This occasion was no different with thousands of supporters responding to our surveys.

Developing tools

We’ve begun to develop more tools to help people solve problems themselves, whether it’s helping you get compensation for flight delays or with returning faulty goods (particularly handy this time of year). You can also help us take action on nuisance calls by reporting the calls you receive with our free tool. I’ll give you a very large hint that we are looking at doing more of these in the new year.

Relaunching Which? Convo

It’s been a long time coming, but we were pleased to give you a brand spanking new site this year. The old one had become clunky, and after four and a half years it was time for a spring clean. Many of you were extremely generous in giving your time to test and refine the site and we still have some way to go. However, with more comments than ever and lots of new regulars, we’re pleased with the results so far.

Don’t stop us now

We may be on a roll with campaign victories, but we can always get better. The ongoing energy and banking inquiries from the CMA will continue to loom large in the campaigning activity we do and we will use milestones, like the first anniversary of pensions reforms, to reassess progress.

We’ll also be looking to see how we can better use the feedback we get from you on Which? Convo and our campaign supporters. Seeing the views that were left here get raised in Parliament to hold VW to account for rigging emissions was a personal highpoint of the year. That thread also showed the brilliant depth of knowledge that exists in people who use this site.

We’re committed to our work on the core issues that affect people – from the financial sector, energy market, supermarkets and telecoms providers – but we’re always open to new ideas. What campaigns would you like to see us work on in 2016?

Comments
Guest
Lestraites says:
31 January 2016

More help for the older generation, They had it tuff when young, and now when old still find it tuff and are blamed for the struggling NHS. More is given to Animal and Children charities

Guest

we need to pressure the government to make sure that brown sites are built on first and put the extra runway at Newcastle or Manchester airport

Guest

Mark you have hit on a major controversy ,from Land,s End to John,O Groats most people would agree about using Greenfield sites . But things could be changing ,now the Government ,led by economic planning and forecasts say that they are not enough and more land is needed . Even the Scottish government ,which is not so left -wing as people think have actually okay-ed a greenfield development in Clydebank causing so much unrest that they are having second thoughts and a government official is “investigating “-aka- we dont want to loose votes -do we ?

Guest

“more land is needed”. According to PEYE the Local Government Association says that “developers are sitting on more than 475,000 plots with planning permission of which 111,008 are in London.” Presumably they are restricting development to keep prices high. Perhaps there should be some persuasion used to release these sites – compulsory purchase maybe and use them for sensibly-priced housing unless the developers take action themselves.

Local Authorities have responsibility for deciding where development can take place and what sort of housing should be built. Maybe they should also have powers to dictate the terms on which the housing is built on a proportion of the sites, including the pricing.

Guest

One of the things that the house-building industry keeps saying is that the requirements to build a set of ‘affordable’ homes before starting on the ‘commercial’ properties is inhibiting the development of sites. I would like to see this issue examined objectively for they might actually be right – it is taken as common wisdom that there needs to be a mix of house types on every development leading to a range of prices and resulting in a mixed and balanced community. This is how local politicians justify their policies – and they might be right instead. What do people think?

Personally, I think it is time we stopped repeating the 1990’s dogma of ‘affordable’ homes and balanced communities and provide what the market is actually wanting to buy and pay for without manipulation and half-baked social engineering. This would avoid the disreputable practices of developers cosying up to local councils and horse-trading various elements in order to get their planning consents, and the unappetising behaviour of local councillors thinking themselves big if they have managed to squeeze some extra ‘planning gain’ from the developer. I happen to think that the market will supply the affordable and starter homes that the country needs in most areas if it’s allowed to operate freely without interference [but always subject to correct planning disciplines]: my reasoning is that, for the most part, the property market works in an upward manner [characterised by the ‘property ladder’ analogy] so that when people buy the houses on a new development they generally are moving up-market to a greater or lesser extent. This releases a cascade of properties down the line which, in the lower price brackets of the market, supplies the affordable homes. So they don’t have downstairs toilets and wheelchair-accessible front doors and the highest standards of insulation, but they can make good homes and as people become better off they can improve them. Artificially stifling the new homes market is impeding the release of this cascade of accommodation and at the same time causing dissatisfaction from those who do buy new homes because of the compromises that have had to be made within the development.

I said “in most areas” and therein lies an important qualification. There are a number of areas in certain parts of the country favoured by second-home owners and retirees, or with restrictive planning policies, that have a substantial shortfall in homes suitable for local people, effectively pricing them out of the market. This is the result of longevity and affluence which are good things so we need to look for other solutions. The Chancellor is imposing a three-percentage-points surcharge on Stamp Duty Land Tax for second-home and buy-to-let purchases in a bid to reverse this tendency but I think there is a case for additional measures which would probably involve housing associations and local authorities [including county councils where district councils are slow to respond] building new homes targetted at this market using shared ownership schemes that progressively transfer the ownership to the resident over time.

The proximity to work opportunities is another significant factor and much more needs to be done to disperse employment away from the conurbations and major cities. This would have a lot of downstream benefits that are outside the scope of this Conversation but have been cited in others.

Guest

The Chancellor imposing a three-percentage-points surcharge on second homes and buy to let purchases is easily overcome by wealthy investors with cash at the ready, inasmuchas this enables them to go in with tempting offers at way below a property’s market value. Some people such as the elderly for example, recently admitted into care and desperate to sell to fund their care fees and looking for a quick sale may be forced to sell at an unfair and ridiculously low price.

As already commented on, Estate Agents have a host of wealthy investors who will be at the top of their buying lists, ready to snap up affordable houses as soon as they enter the market, leaving first time buyers unable to compete. The first two people who viewed my house were such people but both offers I declined.

As long as the rental market remains unregulated and landlords are allowed to increase rentals as and when they see fit, making it harder for tenants to save for a deposit to get onto the housing ladder, this trend will continue,

So Which? for 2016 would you please campaign for a complete investigation into the whole of the U.K. Housing Market so that dishonest Estate Agents and covetous landlords are better managed and controlled?

Guest

Well said, Beryl

Guest

Thank you John.