/ 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?

Sparky says:
29 December 2015

Stop blowing your own trumpet all the time and stop charging a fee for consumers to see best buys etc.

I would like to see better supermarket and high street chain loyalty schemes – run more for the benefit of customers, i.e. with more realistic spending thresholds for vouchers and with longer voucher redemption periods. I think it is not acceptable to set the bar of the spending threshold for getting points so high that the amounts are beyond my budget. Expecting me to spend e.g. £60 pounds on shopping for myself to use a voucher is simply unethical. And often there is hardly any time to use them if I don’t go shopping every day. And what’s with all these bits of paper anyway? Today’s technology allows for all the schemes to be run online (virtual vouchers and points redemption) – do companies hope that people forget or lose vouchers, so that they don’t have to pay out? I have complained several times without getting anywhere, so maybe it takes bigger guns for the supermarkets to listen? You might argue that using the schemes is not essential, but we all pay for them as customers, so I expect the benefits to work for us.

To pursue the effort to preserve the planet, ranking of the producers of “best brands” should include a rating for the sustainability including specific indicators covering environmental, labour, human rights, impacts on society aspects (paying tax for example).
In the case of best buys a rating for the sustainability of the product through its life in particular the environmental impact should be included (emissions contribution to air quality for example).

Ethical Consumer magazine provides. Run on a shoe-string from the expensive base of Manchester.

Yes there are some voices for ethical and sustainable criteria in choice of brands and products so it would be appropriate for Which? not to exclude these aspects in their evaluations.

I would like to stress that the UK is full of SINGLE people who cannot make good use of the ‘two for one offers.’ Sometimes, I can’t even buy the product as it only comes in that form. Useless for me where fresh products are concerned. I know I can freeze half……However! even items such a bacon or fish……they are not the same after being frozen….plus…..why pay for a fresh product, only the to freeze it. Two, two litre milks last forever. I usually have to throw half away. This method of trying to get people to buy more, is so wasteful!

Maureen, equally the UK is full of families who can make use of these offers. We both have a choice. We shop at M&S and most of their offers allow a variety of products to be bought under their offer price, which may well be different from other supermarkets.

If Which could have a say in the EU referendum that we keep being promised.

My guess is that Which? as an organisation would be strongly in favour of staying in the EU. Like most of us, it probably can’t make its mind up until the outcome of the negotiations is revealed. There’s still another two years before the political deadline for holding the referendum

Will we ever be able to prevent this, Oh! it’s broke down and it’s only two years old, Not every user is as bright as the best user and coupled with the rigors of the tasks the item is handling will always give the manufacturer a get out of jail card, a recent argument over a critical piece of electronic equipment which was built by a well known electronics firm, using components below a standard requested by the user resulted in the manufacturer who was as guilty as hell walking away scot free, the user then ditched the equipment and went to the USA for a similar piece of equipment which works well and has not to date malfunctioned in over nine years in normal use. In the UK we are ripped off so many times in a day we have come to accept this a the norm.

I hope that, in perusing these responses to its quest for campaigning priorities guidance, Which? actually takes note of the strength of support for many of the suggestions from the community as shown by the thumbs-up symbols.

What possible reason can there be for not “letting any cats out of the bag”? The list of possible topics is hardly a mystery. Is this a blockbuster movie where spoilers would be commercially damaging? No, it’s just a consumer website. Which? hasn’t entered Tutankhamun’s Secret Chamber or found the Holy Grail. I am baffled as to where this rather peculiar behaviour comes from. Perhaps Which? people allow themselves to become absorbed in too many commercial promotions and think they have to mimic the eccentricities of the worlds of marketing and advertising with their teasers and their cliff-hanger suspense. Harmless really I suppose. . . . But I like your final sentence.

A very valid point JW – why the secrecy?.

I do not see it as harmless. I have no doubt that there are many readers who have insight in and specialist knowledge of certain subjects and yet Which? will not have tapped into them.

I realise that the Connect? newsletter may ask and the magazine does however that is not really effective in leveraging the knowledge bank.

I am reminded of a cruise where the entertainment crew neglected to consider the possibility of superior knowledge aboard and missed the fact that the captain of a ship who had regularly [6mthly] stopped at Pitcairn in the past was aboard and knew a huge amount about the island and indeed was in annual Xmas card contact with the main man.

Still the verbal commentary from Wikipedia probably satisfied the masses as the ship sailed past.

Thanks, Ali, for your helpful response.

1. Having recently flown out of Heathrow T5 for the 3rd time in 4 months, I’d like Which? to return to what duty free really means and campaign for fair pricing at airports. The VAT issue is blatantly ignored in every airport shop but prices in general seem to be much higher than on the high street. How is that possible? We need to compel airport commercial organisations to justify their pricing and what they have done to assist passengers flying out of the EU zone to avoid VAT taxes. we should also be better informed if all VAT receipts are being paid to H M Treasury.

2. With the latest news from Italy about Apple’s tax bill, we should encourage H M Government much more forcefully to ensure there is fair tax payments on huge profits from the likes of Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter, Starbucks et al

Shops at UK airports are a free market like anywhere else. If, as a nation, we are daft enough to pay silly prices for so-called duty free goods, then our penalty for this stupidity is that we will be charged these silly prices.

If we don’t like these prices, then all we have to do is take our custom elsewhere.

I am slightly amazed that this scam had not been stamped on by Which? sometime in the last decade. That CMA power came in around 2004?

I want Which to recognise that Scotland where I and nearly 6 million other UK citizens live, has a devolved Government and our own national newspapers (Herald Scotland and Scotsman) and also NHS – realities that should be reflected in your surveys . Currently, you totally ignore these facts. Not good for an organisation that claims to apply to all of the UK. (The UK is not England!)

More to the point, Scotland has its own legal system and lots of parallel but independent institutions and this is often overlooked in the general UK mash-up. Which? needs to get out more.

I would like to see Which look into the process of moving house and why it is so costly. Having just gone through this process, it appears that estate agents charge a fortune and don’t do a lot and solicitors also charge a fortune and make many excuses as to why their paperwork and legal issues take so long. Everyone I have spoken to has been totally stressed out with moving, but why does this happen all the time, when it shouldn’t. Who are those ripping us off?

We should make automated marketing calls illegal. These calls cost next to nothing, and the system can make numerous simultaneous calls. Forcing companies to employ real people to make these calls would severely limit the number of calls that can be made, and every call would cost money. For many companies with a “scattergun” approach to marketing, this would make cold calling unviable.
I am sick and tired of electronic women telling me I’ve had an accident, can claim PPI payments, am entitled to new government payouts and such nonsense.

Fair pensions for all, I firmly believe that there should be one pension scheme for all of us MP’s, civil servant’s, nurses, dustmen and firemen. The rules for contributions and redemption the same for all. In otherwords a level playing field with no exceptions.

I have completed the Which? survey emailed to members today “Please help by taking our survey to let us know what you want Which? to stand up for in 2016.”. It sort of pre-empts this convo – so how are any of the views expressed here going to be used as they are being posted after the survey?

I must admit to completing the survey more out of a support for Which? than with any great enthusiasm. The topics they asked me to rate as campaigns were old ones. I was only asked to suggest one of my own. I have been critical in the past of the way some campaigns are “supported” by incomplete information – biased in some ways. One problem is you can only vote for a campaign as it stands. You can’t vote against it. Nor, it seems, can you question the facts, lack of, or case behind it particularly if it seems to be misleading.

I hope some substantive campaign issues do become evident from this convo – plenty of ideas have been put forward by interested contributors. But unless a lot (an awful lot) of people contribute, 20 or 30 supporters of a topic hardly forms mass support.

Which? has around 800 000 members. You’d think there was a way to tap into this resource to establish a campaign that a large majority supported.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I didn’t get this survey but I have completed some in the past.

I agree with Malcolm, they can seem biased. Very often you are asked a question and the only way forward is to give an answer where your opinion does not fit the choices offered so gives a false impression. I have mentioned this at the end when invited to do so.

Thanks Ali :-). As for numbers, I’m glad you get such a good response overall. My comment on smallish numbers was those who give thumbs up on Convos. I guess partly due to limited number of contributors, partly because “popular” suggestions get lost on earlier pages.

I am, however, concerned that campaigns are introduced with adequate factual, balanced and impartial information. Not always the case.

The question ‘re transport used is not very disability aware. I had to give up driving and now use an electric scooter or taxi, neither of which were included in possible answer. I now notice that more people use mobility scooters so they should be included in questionnaires. Which is not the only one that is remiss in this. Maybe Which could take this up with others

I have consistently mentioned RICA here over the past 24 months and mentioned with some sorrow that Which? seems to ignore them to the detriment of subscribers. It is here rica.org.uk

Many people with mobility scooters need more information than just the 10 models mentioned by Which? so used in conjunction make a much more useful offering :

“We have details of over 600 scooters and powered wheelchairs. Use our Quick search to find models that suit your needs. If those don’t match what you’re looking for, you can search by specific dimensions and features with our Advanced search.
Our guide to choosing a mobility scooter gives advice on what to look for, and has more information about using this search.
Some smaller scooters are allowed on low-floor buses, but you will require a permit. Please see Scooters on buses for details of the permit schemes, including requirements and participating bus companies.
You can also use Find a factsheet for details about a particular make and model of scooter or powered wheelchair.” RICA

AFAIR RICA also goes to the length of checking car boot size to model – a particularly useful feature.

Make banks / financial services companies properly prepare – far more radically than required currently – for the inevitable next global crash only a few short years away, so that the UK is not one of the worst affected countries next time, hitting the least well-off (and everyone to be fair) very hard.

Society needs to get the rose-tinted spectacles off and realise that it WILL happen, and need to plan much more strongly for its fall-out now (including, of course, consumers not being allowed to get so heavily indebted as they are still allowed to do).

martin says:
31 December 2015

I’d like to see Which? stop developers building new homes for the “right to buy scheme” over valuing their properties by 25%. Barratt homes have been doing this for the past 4 years (at least) and yet nothing is being done to stop them. Spains economy collapsed as a result of this same practice surely thats a concern over here as well or is it profits before people as usual!

Help to buy homes schemes always seem to get abused by people who don’t need help.

I know of one couple who could not afford a mortgage but could afford a buy to let. They are letting it out for a few years until they can afford to live in it and living with parents in the meantime. They are being helped to own their own home and it is people like these who these schemes should be for. Why landlords can get on these schemes is beyond me and steps need to be taken to stop it.

Some farmers are to blame for the flooding too. Some years ago they were given the all clear to build ditches so that the water from their land of crops could drain off into the ditches. The water from this practice is not guided into drains, so excessive water when it rains like it has done recently, has to go somewhere and that is adding to the flood waters.

I would like to comment the overseas aid budget.I feel the public has every right to know where all this money has gone.The goverment should print an online list of the countries and projects receiving this aid.That way we can judge whether this money has been well spent.If not, it should be used at home,certainly at the moment with the floods.

On your survey, when asking what transport do you use, why arn’t buses listed?

Our mistake Ivan, we’ve corrected this for when we send this out again. Thank you.

On Brands – I should mention for subscribers you can start your own threads in the Community Forum accessed by clicking firstly on Your Account [top right] in the main part of Which?

I have posted comments on Kwikfit, Barclays, Amazon, Uber etc so far where they have been highly deceitful or consumer unfriendly. That does actually include off-shoring profits as this means you and I are picking up the cost of their avoided tax.

It is a pleasant hidden little of Which? that has been the beneficiary of a “soft-launch” which means very very few people know of it or go there. It was , im my mind, a place for the Trustees to see unexpurgated topics chosen by the subscribers/shareholders.

dt, Whch? member community says ” Find out how you can get involved in the governance of Which? by joining the thousands of other members who are known as ‘Ordinary Members’.”

They go on to say “There are currently 46 unique posters on the member forum, and an average of 55 posts per month.”

I have seen no sign yet that ordinary members have any successful involvement, but so few use the community, and so few comments are posted. Comments about Which? seem to be brushed off with “commercial speak” and direct questions are not always answered directly.

If only those members who support the convos would also look at the member community more might happen? Topics are generally concerned with the way Which? works and deals with matters.