/ Money, Shopping, Technology

We’re calling for a government for all consumers

Parliament at sunset

With the final party conference season before the General Election now over and as Parliament returns, we’ve published the policies we want the next government to introduce to hand more power to you.

Whoever holds the keys to Number 10 next May needs to deal with the concerns of ordinary voters who are most worried about the issues they face in their everyday lives. Our research tells us food, fuel and energy costs are the top three consumer concerns, ranking higher than worries about public spending cuts and future tax levels.

The next government must act to restore consumer trust in the essential services we all rely on. Only a third of people say they trust banks – for energy it’s just over a fifth. Similar low levels of trust can be found in food, with half of consumers changing their shopping habits after the horsemeat scandal, and in public services, where just a quarter of people trust social care providers to act in their best interests.

This is why we want those forming the next government to give priority to promoting more competition in financial services, energy, food and communications; to empowering consumers in public services; and to ensuring publicly funded institutions and the government itself work in the interests of all consumers.

The big issues

We want the next government to deliver better banking by making fees and charges fair and transparent, introducing a national savings strategy, and ensuring all retirement income products are value for money. We want more action to ensure our energy is affordable including simpler, more comparable pricing; and moves to restore our faith in the food we buy including a national strategy for the future of food production.

But it’s not just private markets that should be addressed. We need more power for people in public services, with better complaints handling, more data sets publicly available to help people make better choices, and consumer protection strengthened in higher education.

To help bring this about, we’re calling for a Consumer Minister in the Cabinet and a Consumer Empowerment Bill in the first Queen’s Speech after the Election to help unleash consumer power and competition in both private and public markets.

And at a time when billions of pounds of investment is planned for the nation’s ageing infrastructure, we also need a new independent body to ensure that regulators are improving the lives of consumers and keeping these costs – which mostly end up on your bills – under control.

Heading towards the General Election

Putting the interests of consumers at the heart of policy making will enable the best businesses to flourish, help drive improvements in our public services, and support the economic recovery.

Today we’re setting out the big issues that affect people’s everyday lives. As we head towards the General Election, these are the issues that politicians of all parties should ignore at their peril.

A version of this article original appeared on Politics Home.

Chandra Morar says:
13 October 2014

Congratulations to Which for championing consumers rights which have been eroded since the financial crisis. One area that is a silent time-bomb is the the new employment based pensions schemes managed by fund managers. There need to be careful monitored by FSA on how well they are performing and whether they offer value for money to consumers. Otherwise we could find a generation of pensioners who put money into funds relying on them to finance their retirement but without the means.There should be national statistics on poor and well performing funds and ease with which consumers can transfer from one fund to another without hefty charges.

The recent discussion about fake iPhone chargers and misadvertised adapters is a good example of what’s wrong with consumer laws. Anyone can sell a fake dangerous item, or simply something that doesn’t work, but unless it actually causes damage, Trading Standards won’t withdraw it and confiscate stock, and the police won’t treat it as fraud.

Last year I saw a BBC programme where Trading Standards found hundreds of fake iPhone chargers in a diy and small goods shop. They were tested and found to explode in the lab in certain circumstances. The shopkeeper knew they were fake and the documentation showed he hadn’t bought them from an official Apple distributor. All Trading Standards did was take them away. They didn’t shut down the shop. They didn’t pass on anything to the police. The shopkeeper could still be selling fake chargers today.

How about Which? putting up their own candidates, as I can’t see any political party caring enough about the common person unless its polling day, otherwise they’re just in it for themselves.

If you want points for your manifesto here’s one: The Consumer Protection Against Unfair Trading Act 2008 needs the clause that lets shops not display unit prices on promotions for multi-buys to be removed. As that clearly isn’t benefiting the consumer.

Oh and whilst I’m supermarket bashing, how about a new law: That the price you pay for your online supermarket shopping is the price it was advertised at and not some fictitious price they’ve dreamt up on the day its delivered.

Very valid point that rules and laws not enforced make a mockery of any consumer “rights”.

” Action
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told TM Lewin & Sons Ltd to ensure that they held substantiation for all advertised prices, and to make clear the basis of price comparisons where the discounted price was available for longer than the higher price.”

In this instance one month at higher price and 5 months as a discounted item – yep thats playing the system.

It could be said that competition is very much alive in the food industry with the advent of cut price supermarkets and consumers opting to shop there, but there is a need for regulation to ensure that price cuts do not affect the quality of food on offer.

The same cannot be said of the energy companies however, with suppliers continuing to exploit consumers by introducing loopholes in order to ensure prices are maintained, irrespective of the now reduced 4 tariffs on offer. For example, continuing their practice of holding onto consumers credit balances, refunds not forthcoming without extensive hassle and pressure from consumers and when balances are paid, monthly online payments increased to redress the balance on your ‘Fixed Price’ payments. If the appointment of a Consumer Minister would motivate the Regulator to act in the interests of consumers to deal with such practices I would certainly welcome this.

There is no doubt something needs to be done to improve the congestion on our main arterial systems to keep up with the ever increasing traffic, but someone has to pay for it either through taxation, private enterprise, increased fares or a combination of all three. HS2, although very unpopular with many people, and especially those whose lives will be somewhat disrupted by it, could regard it as an expensive although necessary evil. A minimum of 16 carriages and a high speed train every three minutes with an unblemished safety record is something a country that invented the railways cannot afford to dismiss. To do nothing is not an option if we are to cope with the ever increasing population explosion.

The NHS is in danger of privatisation by the back door due to its inability to keep abreast of increasing demands on its resources and patients are being referred to private practice at the taxpayers expense, lining the pockets of shareholders and investors. Private medics are being paid a reasonable sum whereas NHS staff wages are being restricted due to the economic turndown.

People are being made to work longer to claim a pension they have worked hard for. George Osborne has introduced a new system whereby people have more say in how they claim and therefore spend their pension entitlements, but some vulnerable people who are unable to work due to disability may miss out owing to cuts in the welfare system imposed by this Government.

A Consumer Minister should be someone who is able to keep politics out of the equasion if fairness and equal rights are to be maintained within in the system, an extremely difficult and unenviable task in my opinion, but nevertheless worth consideration.

Thanks for a very thorough comment Beryl. We couldn’t have picked a better one for our 100,000th. That’s right, you’ve made the 100,000th comment on Which? Convo! Congratulations! 😀 *fireworks*

Wow what a privilege! I couldn’t feel more ecstatic if I had won the lottery…..thanks Patrick. Fireworks indeed!

When one reads about ambulances queuing outside hospitals, a case where an ambulance arrived two hours after a heart attack, where G.P. surgeries can’t give doctors appointments and hospitals are downgrading facilities and rationalising so that patients fail to arrive at a local hospital and face lengthy journeys when seriously ill. When one is more likely to end up with a hospital infection than a cure and where dedicated staff are under pressure from shortages and over crowding, it is clear that our National Health Service is in reverse and was probably better ten years ago than it is now. Politicians seem to have no answers and it would surprise me if this was not a key issue in the thoughts of many when they next place a vote in a ballot box. It seems unbelievable that such a vital part of our infrastructure is in decline. Consumer government needs to focus on the basics; the things we all value as part of every day life. By all means float grand ideas, but not at the expense of our basic building blocks and heritage.

Whatever political party is in power, about 70% of the country did not want them.

We have a general election next year and until then, we can look forward to strikes, dirt-digging, mud-slinging, lies, broken promises, etc. and then these people who act no better than children, will be given the responsibility of running our country.

I am fed up with our political system. No government acts in the best interest of our country but does whatever it can to get into power again. Schools, the NHS, energy, benefits, pensions, unemployment, the EU, immigration, are all used as political footballs and just get into more of a mess as each government sticks their grubby fingers in them.

We have a huge financial deficit created by Labour and many people have been hit financially but Labour voters will forget that and still vote for them.

Conservatives promised us a referendum on the EU but have they done anything to ease the burden of the EU on this country? What have they achieved whilst in power? HS2, unwanted smart meters?

85% of the country did not want Libdem but they have still managed to impose their policies on us.

Some places you could have a monkey standing for election and they would get in just because the area votes for a party.
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I would like to scrap political parties. They just don’t work any more.

I would like people voted into Parliament on their own merit so they all work together for the benefit of the whole country and not themselves or their party.

Just think what could be achieved by someone who had to work to keep their position and who did not get into power by the default of their party.

Instead of a Consumer Minister who will change at every election and probably in between elections as well, why not employ a person to do the job on a permanent basis to get continuity of policies, work in a single direction with the government and who gets to keep their position as long as they are doing a good job.

Prospective policies could be aired on the internet giving us all a say in how this country develops and giving more power to the people.

County councils working for the benefit of their communities and not their parties………

…………….OK, Dream Over !!!!!!!!!!

But this country does need a change. I have always been a floating voter, probably voted for Conservatives more than the rest but I am voting UKIP next election. The EU has far too much power over us and the rest of Europe, and we are not the only unhappy country in the union. Who knows, maybe a new and better EU will emerge in the future.

Does anyone think the Advertising Standards Authority needs a boost to its powers? It really doesn’t do much. It only works if advertisers cooperate and agree with its decisions. If there’s a dispute or the advertiser refuses to stop, it can’t do anything. It doesn’t even refer anyone to Trading Standards. And where advertisers do cooperate, it takes tens or hundreds of complaints to get a company sent to Trading Standards. It’s a very soft touch approach.

Absolutely agree. Lack of serious deterrent seems to be a common failing for many bodies in the UK. Perhaps the people tasked with setting them up actually are not that keen on giving these imprtant and reassuringly named authorities real teeth.

How do we campaign for the rights of the membership of the Consumers Association?

Good point mars. Perhaps after the AGM it might be clearer why it has declined in membership by around a third to 7500 in10 years.

I have read the pdf

and do agree with many of the points raised. However at the back of my mind it does rather tend to the ” we should have the right to breathe” list of things consumers should have rights to.

I know we are the consumers’ association but the continual reference to consumers rather than people or citizens seems to be making a distinction that is bogus. Everyone is consumer so why not use “people”.

I myself have been accused lately of trying to hit too many targets and diffusing the message and one might say that it occurs here. Personally I like well argued examples of what is wrong and what should be done to rectify the problem. The answer does not necessarily have to be legislation or another quango, posssibly at some stage Which? would encourage more direct action that is beneficial.

For instance the AllTrials campaign, beneficial to mankind not simply British consumers, is totally apolitical and manifestly good needs pressure to be put on WHO [World Health Organisation] very shortly. However Which? with a membership of around 800,000 has neither supported it as an organisation or encourages subscribers to join.

So come on Which? help subscribers know about important issues and how to join in. Making the membership more active may help Which? also.