/ 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?

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

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

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“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.

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.

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?

Well said, Beryl

Thank you John.

Me too,,,,,,,well said Beryl,,,,,,,,,,,,,,we call them vultures for obvious reasons but if we could get the information as to who they really are it would be nice,,,,,,it may even be surprising or not surprising according to which way one see’s things
Again well put and to the point

Thanks DeeKay. I also feel for the first time buyer who, unable to save for the hefty deposit required by the banks, ends up having to pay for someone else’s mortgage on a property they will never own.

For those genuinely in difficulty with funding affordable accommodation, we should be campaigning to provide more council houses (and flats). Councils should have the power to use land at sensible prices to keep the costs contained, they should never be sold to tenants at a discount, and when a tenant is in a position to pay a market rent they should either pay that to the council or relinquish a subsidised property to someone else who needs it. At present it is taxpayers who fund many buy-to-let landlords mortgages (or income) through housing benefit. I’d rather see housing benefit used to fund housing provided by the public sector.

Oh Malcolm,,,,,Oh Malcolm you are singing from my hymn sheet
When they build the council houses do so in proper council rows to keep the heat in and cost down……………Nice little back yard and small lawn
My Granda and Granny retired to and end of row one in a nearby town
You could not have beaten it………….But now its been sold off and is ugly as sin with bits sticking out of it every shape with bits of roofs and hips everywhere…………..Disaster in my eyes
Should never have been sold
The lower paid and there will always be lower paid could have affordable housing and the old similar but do not sell the things…………..Thats just taking tax payers money and sponsoring the housing market
Yes Malcolm,,,,,,,,,,you were right on the money there

The discount introduced under the right-to-buy policy was a political fix, not part of any sensible economic policy, intended primarily to eliminate local authority activity in housing supply and management. Many of the properties bought out under RTB are now in the hands of some fairly unsatisfactory landlords who are not interested in maintaining the condition of the properties nor the surrounding amenity.

The changes to tax relief on mortgage repayments by buy-to-let investors will temper some of these irrational consequences but the point is well-made. These investors are exploiting a shortage of supply to meet increasing demand and artificially capping rents does not work. The only way to rebalance the market is to increase supply and Malcolm’s proposal [below] is right.

There is a great deal of discussion about providing more housing and better transport links but the problems created by our growing population are ignored.

I don’t expect Which? to help deal with the problem of population growth but perhaps we could have a campaign to make consumers and businesses more environmentally aware and responsible.

It’s not just the absolute growth in population which causes the problems [longevity and birth rate acceleration being the most significant contributors]. The continuing sub-division of domestic units is raising demand beyond sustainability.

I support your idea for a campaign on environmental responsibility. Unfortunately most consumer-oriented businesses have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from population growth.

It would be interesting to explore ways of introducing greater environmental awareness and responsibility. I used to refer to Which? as the Consumerism Association, in the days when there was more focus on new products and product reviews in the magazine. I am strongly in favour of evolution rather than revolution and see gradual change as the way forward.

I would like to see an environmental charge to be phased in for new goods to cover the costs of proper disposal. For years we have paid such a charge when buying new tyres for our cars, but why not do the same for fridges and washing machines? Environmental charges could help to pay for collection of large items to discourage fly-tipping.

I don’t think it is likely that Which? would campaign for an environmental charge on new goods but perhaps a campaign for longer guarantees would help address the problem of cheap appliances that are not economically repairable after a few years. No company is going to offer a long guarantee if there is a chance that they will have to pay for lots of repairs, so product quality would have to improve.

You might like to bear in mind that Which? mortgage service actually assists people to get mortgages for buy-to-let. I personally think it unethical for any charity to be assisting people to have more than one property.

If you feel the same let them know. The Consumers’ Association [not Consumerists] has been branching out into what are meant to be profitable areas as subscriptions are not deemed enough.

I have also written that Which? is not informing subscribers of quite valid matters relating to major purchases such as houses. It does seem bizarre that the red-tops and the BBC can illustrate disgustingly poor building practices by major companies but never a word here.

There are new extremely efficient forms of double glazing, the all-seasons tyre specifically for cold damp climates ……..
Stuff where major cost or safety implications are concerned.

This is not the organisation it once was. Perhaps you should have a look at the YouTube video of staff testing a £990 unicycle in a London park to see where the emphasis appears to be.

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We still have several little parts of towns villages that still have their WW2 prefabs or as they were called locally TINTOWNs for obvious reasons of tin roofs
The inhabitants simply refused to move out in the 1970s and boy were they lucky because the 1970s brick built were rubbish draughty damp little houses…….
If I know of several “tintowns” here I sure there are many more
They were actually very good or the one’s we had were very good little houses……….I’m not sure but I think I was told they were made in Canada or the US where timber and tin was common and accepted
Accepted is a big thing
The UK has to have bricks and tiles to be accepted,,,,,,,,,,,,,near anything else is frowned upon yet near anything else is often unaffordable to the less well off
It is difficult for a developer to build affordable homes given the price of the site’s……….A slightly larger/taller/wider home will fetch much more money here than a prefab home
Perhaps it is only Gov who can supply this because all the social housing around here is quickly as dear as normal housing
Personally I have no problem with prefabs……………….I actually dont like concrete………….but I’m one of a very few

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Unfortunately many of these properties are deemed to be of non-standard construction and therefore ineligible for mortgage funding. Many have been acquired from local authorities under the right-to-buy and their market value is severely depressed which, if people are prepared to live in them, is an attraction. However, they will eventually have to be demolished as their fabric deterioration will make them unfit for human habitation. Those two-storey properties made of precast reinforced concrete [like ‘Airey’ or ‘Orlit’ homes – there are many other types] have actually been designated as defective properties under the housing acts. I have seen examples that have been re-skinned in brickwork and this presumably complies with building regulations. Many of the asbestos-clad or aluminium ‘pre-fabs’ removed from cities in the 1950’s were bought and re-erected as bungalows with brick outer walls and pitched tiled roofs and I can recognise them today because of the distinctive window arrangement.

It is not necessary to live in an up-to-date house. Near me there is a good-looking refurbished three-bedroom terraced house on the market for £240,000. Half of it dates from 1485 and it oozes period charm; non-standard construction, unfortunately, so no point in applying for a mortgage.

Near where I live, there are a lot of BISF houses in varying states of repair and renewal. Only one or two companies will give mortgages on them, so they tend to exchange hands at the “value for money” end of the market.

Where I am £240,0000 would buy me a very very grand house indeed but then we are not on the same money as bigger England
Given that what were frowned upon as prefabs are still standing and many in good condition……….The clad I think in cement board they were here…………..They have stood the test of time better than many conventional building of the era which were damp badly designed rubbish
Your 13C building may well be better than some post WW2 houses……….albeit it may need insulated to make heating it viable………….I have a stone house,,,,,,,,,,,dry as a bone except to condensate but heating it was expensive…………Its lined now and only uses a fraction of the energy it once did
I can remember waking to find ice on the quilt where I had been breathing all night
Not a bit wonder some of us are full of pains and ill’s

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There was a time when the council sent round inspectors from the building control section to examine the relevant parts of the structure as it progressed and ensure it met regulations. I believe this has been curtailed, at least by some councils, which would leave developers, large, small and individual home extensions, left without being examined. I heard of a new house where the owner found it cold, had it examined with a thermal camera, and discovered no insulation in the roof or wall cavities.

I like the old roof structure with decent-sized timbers that left the loft open for other uses. These days prefabricated roof trusses in thinner timber, carefully calculated for the load they are expected to carry, are widely used. It seems quite possible that a 17 stone (110kg) dynamic point load in the middle of a thin joist could cause movement, so maybe walking boards should have been used? Just a possible explanation.

Our oldest roof/ceiling 1957 has 3 x 1 1/2 ceiling timbers below a purloin and rafter roof and I dont have to tread carefully………I’m only 14 and a bit stones but they are not flexing unduly
Our newer kitchen is trusses but of a design that leaves 6′ clear in the middle which is as good as a purloin roof for access except to the sides there are timbers at 16″ centers all the way along which is not as handy as a purloin roof and the wife has her lifes hoarding up in there with no problems but……………and there is always a but,,,,,,,,there will always be those like Barrat that cut everything to the absolute minimum and often beyond
Things like barge boards attached with plain nails……….guttering brackets with plain screws……………Whats wrong with stainless…….they are only a few pence more per house…………
We here still have BC inspections at every stage from pouring the founds upward
……..We still have some rubbish houses though
They are in so big a hurry the dehumidifiers are running the minute the plasters start…………….
No I wouldnt want one………….I’ll stick to my cabin…………..fraction of the cost and it’ll run on buttons
I’ve gotten very miserable since I’ve had to learn to do on less
It’s all so easy when your on 30/40k per year…………….one can get a bit of a wake up call very quickly and when you do you’ll not be so full of opinions………I am one of those people although I did not waste anything otherwise my children would not have houses today
My main ambition is to run our little house on £5 per week…………….My Dads new cabin ran last year for less so I know it can be done
I cant work for s**t any longer so the only alternative is to have a smaller pipe out than the pipe in as such……………

I’d like to see a campaign against agency letting fees and contract renewal fees for private renting. In my area it costs £300-£500 in letting agency fees to secure a private rented property, and annual renewal costs around £100 a year. I’d also like to see some kind of regulation to ensure private rentals are ‘fit for human habitation’ and not overcrowded. It seems that it’s all too easy to quash any talk of this by scare-mongering the majority of decent landlords into thinking this would need to cause them unnecessary red tape and leave them open to unfair penalties when that’s not what is needed or wanted. With nearly 25% of the population in private rented accommodation there needs to be some sort of protection against a minority of landlords who are taking advantage of sky high rents to let tiny or uninhabitable spaces for extortionate rents.

Perhaps it should be compulsory for all landlords to employ accredited letting agents. Bad landlords do not use letting agents. Letting agents could not afford to jeopardise their reputations and attract enforcement action by allowing unsatisfactory standards and extortionate rents to prevail. Wherever demand exceeds supply exploitation will occur so the supply of homes must also be increased.

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Which?’s Alex Neill will be on BBC Radio 5 Live’s new consumer show today (Thurs 5 May) between 3-4pm. Hear Alex and SavvyWoman’s Sarah Pennells discuss the delay to applying the Consumer Rights Act to the rail sector; what the cut to EU roaming charges mean for you; changes to regulations on child car seats; and the ongoing safety alert for Whirlpool & Hotpoint tumble dryers.

Thanks Lauren. I’m going to miss this so hopefully it will be available on iPlayer.

It seems odd to have a consumer programme on what I’ve assumed to be a channel devoted to sport.

Hi Wavechange, it should be available on iPlayer soon after it’s aired.