Could a government-led consumer strategy smarten up our essential services?

Houses of Parliament

Today marks Theresa May’s first 100 days as Prime Minister. And while we’ve heard some positive things from her new government about prioritising consumer interests, we think what’s needed is a comprehensive consumer strategy to smarten up essential services.

From our research and from what you’ve been telling us, it’s clear that several essential markets in the UK aren’t working effectively enough for you.

If we’re to see an end to the mis-selling scandals and poor customer service that have blighted markets, such as energy, banking, telecoms and rail, over the past 10 years, then corporate culture needs an overhaul.

Consumer strategy

A cross-cutting government consumer strategy would promote competition, while protecting us when we’re at risk. Action could be focused on essential regulated markets, such as energy, banking, broadband and transport.

These are markets where we know (because you tell us so) you frequently face significant costs and where poor customer service is rife.

And, as the government starts negotiations to leave the European Union, the consumer strategy would put you right at the heart of them. It would safeguard the most important consumer rights in EU law and remove regulations that aren’t in your interest.

So what practical steps should the government take in these sectors this autumn? Well, here are our suggestions:

Energy
We’ve long been campaigning for a fairer energy market. This autumn and winter, Energy suppliers should take responsibility for engaging customers stuck on expensive gas and electricity tariffs and demonstrate that they’re going the extra mile to ensure they get a better deal.

Banking
Earlier this year, Which? revealed that unarranged overdraft fees can be much higher than the cost of a payday loan – punitive charges that are really taking their toll on far too many people. While payday loans have now had their charges capped, the cost for unarranged overdraft fees hasn’t been challenged.

To add insult to injury, in 2014, banks made £1.2bn from these charges, yet the competition authorities failed to address this issue as part of its banking inquiry. A consumer strategy should require the Financial Conduct Authority [FCA] to review these sneaky fees as soon as possible.


Broadband
Access to reliable, high-speed broadband is essential for enabling people to participate in the wider economy.

Far too many of you feel frustrated by lacking internet connection, people like John Vincent, who told us:

I live about three miles from a major city, yet we were without our internet connection for a week, and our phone line for two weeks (I run a small business from home, so this makes it really difficult).

The government needs to press ahead with its plans to ensure that people are automatically compensated for broadband service failures, putting the sector in line with the water and energy sectors.

Britain cannot duck the importance of creating and maintaining a modern communications network. The government must ensure its Universal Service Obligation for broadband is delivered cost effectively and that people are able to easily apply for a connection. A consumer strategy would deliver on this agenda and ensure that the level of service people receive from Openreach improves.

Train travel
Far too many rail passengers are being let down every single day, either enduring miserable train journeys or finding it impossible to get the right fare. Rail passengers deserve better. Action is required this autumn to help passengers to find the best priced ticket for their journey.

We need a new independent ombudsman to resolve passenger complaints and it should give new powers to the Office of Rail and Road [ORR] so that it can take action against train companies that continually let their passengers down.

Over to you

So, do you think a new consumer strategy is needed to ensure the government implements change in these failing markets? What else would you like to see put on its agenda?

Comments
Jeanne Kendrick says:
21 October 2016

We have been wasting all our resources and talent on illegal wars – no wonder “there is no money” for anything requiring imagination.

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Neither ‘Green’ nor ‘ Non-Green’ energy are the main issue.

What matters most is the affordability of energy – particularly for those who cannot afford the luxury of being ‘green’.

Over-population and therefore over-demand are the main issues.

Absolutely agree, poulation growth is out of hand. Too many people in such a small island country.
Building more and more houses for this huge increasing poulation will only make things worse, requiring more and more energy and infrastucture [gas, electricity, transport, an ever expanding NHS demand etc.]
Reduceing the overall poulation in a sensible long timed programme would ease most of our problems.
In fact this should be a world wide aim because the planet cannot continue to sustain the population at this ever increasing rate.

The real issue here is, that all businesses are run to make a profit for their owners. Businesses expect to make larger profits every year, if they cannot sell more, they put their prices up. Unfortunately, Directors and Managers, and their self worth is linked to every growing profits. Their success and their next job are all linked to the idea of making bigger profits and paying bigger dividends.
What we need is nationalization, where larger yearly profits are unimportant, and companies are merely judged by their ability to provide a service

Charles says:
22 October 2016

The Climate Change Act that aims to reduce carbon immissions should be scrapped. We are the only country that has such a requirement to constantly reduce carbon.
There are better and cheaper ways to make power generation more efficient, at the present time we are spending more than any other country, and yet because we have lost a lot of our power stations, we are not able to cope with demand in the winter.
Wind and solar can not and will never be able to provide enough energy to keep the lights so very expensive contracts have been agreed that will allow polluting diesel generators to run when needed to help provide backup. We are even paying a high price to keep some coal fire power stations on standby, this means that they will be burning coal but not producing any power but should they be required they will take 24 hours before they can turn the turbines and provide power for the National Grid
Germany is shutting all of their nuclear power stations and starting to build new coal-fired power plants, even worse the coal they will use is brown coal! This more dirty that the black coal we use in the UK.
Carbon capture is talked about but has not been developed and may well not work.

Let’s have some sense, scrap the Climate Change Act at once.

Julia Somerville says:
23 October 2016

Green energy is so obviously crucial! Renewables are future proof , safe, and create jobs. Fossil fuels are costly, destructive and short sighted and nuclear is dangerous and crazily expensive. It’s a complete no brainer to invest in a future other than renewables (unless you are a multinational with a fortune at stake). We need a national government co-ordinated joined up policy .

Yes and we can all sit in the dark when the wind stops blowing , I suppose it’s okay if your a hippy and live in a tent.

Charles,

Most countries, including China and the USA have committed to reducing carbon output and have signed up to levels of achievement. If sun, wave and wind energy was properly funded and organised it would be just as effective at meeting demand as coal or fossil fuel -fired power plants and indeed nucleur, without the carbon – you believe the propaganda you’ve been told. How about informing yourself?
Here’s just a few sites you might want to browse and glean the scientific facts from –

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/how-wind-energy-works#.WA0nMdyFBFU
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36131442
http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2440481/uk-wind-industry-smashes-records-in-2015

Bob,

If sun, wave and wind energy was properly funded and organised it would be just as effective at meeting demand as coal or fossil fuel -fired power plants and indeed nucleur, without the carbon – you believe the propaganda you’ve been told. How about informing yourself?
Here’s just a few sites you might want to browse and glean the scientific facts from –

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/renewable-energy/how-wind-energy-works#.WA0nMdyFBFU
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-36131442
http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2440481/uk-wind-industry-smashes-records-in-2015

Sorry to be a spoilsport, but none of these important issues is going to get better in the longer term unless we get a good deal from Brexit – a deal which is at least better than what we’ve got at the moment. Irrespective of which way we voted in that referendum, we need Which to kick some sense into the Govt, and get some issues on the table so that we can judge them. If we get the overall improvement we hope for, then’s surely the time to choose where to spend it – but not now with the country in turmoil and the outcome uncertain. Which should use its enormous strength to get the options into the public’s gaze.

I am sorry to disagree with you, but I suggest that you stop watching the BBC because the country is not in turmoil.
One of the greatest challenges we face when it comes to energy choices is driven by the Emissions POLICE.
Fully investigate all of the misinformation given out by the vested interest groups and then make valid choices rather than blindly following Al Gore and his cronies

Interesting phrase ‘Emissions POLICE.’. You don’t say what you believe, though. Do you think emissions are not linked to global climate change?

robert says:
22 October 2016

100 per cent agree with this comment

What we should be told is the exact cost of making the item, research/development, wages of all especially directors and profit. Exactly how much the customer is going to be charged and for what?

None of these matters are reliant on us getting a good deal from the EU, as they are, and will continue to be within the gift of the Government of the day. In fact by leaving the EU we will have vene more power to change these issues as we will not be constrained by EU law on how the Government applies to changes. How can the deal be better than the one that we have already got, the likelihood is that we will be trading under WTO rule if we are not granted an opt-out from the free movement of people. This is not a problem as most of the rest of the world trades with the EU under WTO rules, and as we have seen from yesterday, the EU does not have the ability to effectively negotiate free trade agreements, which is why Canada has pulled out of their negotiations with the EU, and why the deals with the USA, Japan, India, China and Brazil are all falling apart. I have no doubt we will succeed where the EU has failed as the UK only needs the agreement of our newly soveriegn Parliament, rather than 27 national Parliaments and a rag tag of local assemblies. The EU is dead on its feet, thank god we now have the opportunity to leave this basket case organisation….

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Well said

A government-led consumer strategy has already failed because the regulators that the government instigated are not fit for purpose – as many have already identified. As an example, the reduction in roaming charges has come from an EU directive and would never have been promoted by Ofcom. What of Openreach which is failing…. ???
Major changes would be needed before all the regulators did the job that people expect of them – it appears that it is not in regulators’ remits to ensure benefits for the consumer, regulators were created as a smokescreen to appease privatisation concerns.

I agree. The regulators, ombudsmen have never helped me, just send a load of trash about both sides of an argument. My complaints were based on fact not some daft argument.

No they need to concentrate on the Economy , Brexit, the NHS, defence and infrastructure. Get HS2 started and new runway at Heathrow. Must govern for the long term

I see no point in spending £billions on defence if we can’t properly fund education, the NHS and pensions, for example. It’s like spending a large amount on your personal insurances against all eventualities and then living in poverty because you have insufficient money left. A policing defence is sensible; one capable of world destruction is not – certainly for a small nation such as ourselves.

I’d rather have a healthy, prosperous, well educated population.

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Not a lot of good when your enslaved by a foreign power, we need to start spending less on foreign aid and the barmy projects this entails and spend that money on both defence, education and the NHS…

Couldn’t disagree more, we are part of the largest and most successful defence alliance in history – its called NATO – and the same maxim could be applied to every other member of NATO. Of course, every NATO member relies on the USA because they are the only country that spends eneough on defence to make a difference. The cut backs in our conventional forces are ridiculous, but we need strong conventional forces, as well as our nuclear detererrent – which we can use without the USA’s permission, the counter is nothing more than a myth – as well as our two new aircraft carriers and the most advanced aircraft in the world – the F-35 – to use with them. Which, by the way was jointly funded by Britain, Canada, Australia and other nations, and parts of which have and are being built under licence in the UK….

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I wish to add my tuppence worth of though in this interesting conversation.

I think financial education is first and foremost. Educate the people of what a weekly spending record is and how to manage their finances without debting. No more credit cards, overdrafts or loans. No more compulsive spending.

I would also redirect some of the Social Security budget, through a multi-disciplinary approach (so, a joint working system of GP, Health visitors, Social Workers, Parents and School Teachers) and send the money to local community health centres, to ensure the next generation of kids are fit and healthy. So I would give the money to swimming guards (salaries) and swimming lessons as part of Universal Credit and Child Benefit. I would give some of the that money to football coaches (again as wages) and football lessons or music teachers and music lessons, indoor rock climbing instructors and climbing lessons etc. I would make it part of the national curriculum and issue certificates for some of these achievements to enhance the childrens CV’s as they grow.

The point I am trying to make is that we are funding a growing obese, lazy and prosperous nation and we must start early to help combat future illnesses. By giving state benefits, we are destroying our future generations and I would redirect some of that money into funding healthy, outgoing pursuits to get the nation fitter and healthier. That would save a fortune for the ‘creaking at the seams’ NHS.

Target the kids and we start becoming a functioning healthy nation. My thinking would create jobs for thousands of people.

I am a member of the FSB. Great organisation, Through the FSB, I operate a business account with the Co-operative Bank. This move, about 12 years ago has saved my business countless thousand`s in bank charges. I recomend.

The issue of Energy needs more priority on the Brexit agenda, with a change in status the UK could be vulnerable to increases in Electricity and Gas/ Water . Education needs to address conservation of resources and with the number of elderly people in larger properties, often with inefficient heating and out of date electrical systems -and younger families unable to afford family sized homes – perhaps a Brexit re think on housing units and the exploitation of the Big Power Companies ( often owned by Multi Nationals).
Perhaps a re -Nationalisation programme for Gas and Electricity plus Water supplies would be the best way forward….I think Theresa PM may find an ally in Jeremy and John in the House of Parliament , with perhaps a few objections from her own cabinet! A radical approach is needed to tackle the rising Energy prices…….

Sorry but dithering Daisy May is as useless as all her pre decessors, what we need is a confident PM with a brain and some gumption.

I voted energy because of the ridiculous differential between fixed price tariffs and the variable ones. I would like to see a small percentage limit put on that differential even if it means I have to pay more for my energy.

However I am with those who’s say there are more important issues, particularly housing. I may be lucky that I don’t have a mortgage on my home but I do believe that constantly rising house prices are not a good thing. One has to assume that the problem is one of demand outstripping supply. So the solution would seem to be to build more homes.

Every where I look in London there are cranes. So why are prices still so high? My friends tell me it is because of all the foreign buyers and they leaving these properties empty. If this is true, we need some means of regulating this market. As has been said, the existing regulators, ofthisthatandtheotherthing are useless so I despair of any successful solution.

If May can sort housing and then shake up all those regulators then she will have shown superior political skills.

“I voted energy because of the ridiculous differential between fixed price tariffs and the variable ones”. This doesn’t need government intervention – it is something each consumer can do for themselves. Switch to a fixed term fixed price tariff; it’s easy. The market will then start to correct itself.

You and I are neve going to agree on this stuff but if it was so easy why doesn’t everyone do it? I don’t know as it seems easy enough to to me but if the majority don’t switch the high differential suggests market failure to me that needs regulatory intervention which has not happened and the new proposals seem unlikely to help at all.

Not everyone does it because they are too lazy….not enough people are willing to educate themselves or take control of their own and families finances. The ones that need real help are the elderly who do not have access to the internet. For the rest of us, if you are not on the best deal, you have only got yourselves to blame….

The CMA report said that many of those who don’t switch don’t see it as worth doing – they seem prepared to pay more than to bother.

For those who have never tried switching, at least go to Which?Switch, put in the brief details required, and see how easily you can get a long list, in ascending price, of all the offers available. They show the difference between what you currently pay, and what you could pay. If you then see a worthwhile saving in many cases you can click a button and start the switch process there and then. Believe me, it is easy.

I agree about those less able to tackle this, and they should be helped. But that should not stop those who can do it from being able to.

I recently switched; it took 20 days, including the 14 day cooling off period (I don’t mean I had no heating). 🙂

Just who are you trying to persuade? Is there anyone on this convo who hasn’t and wouldn’t switch? I doubt it but if there is anyone please let us know why.

I’m not sure what your point is, Peter. I’m not trying to persuade anyone, just pointing out the switching process is made pretty straightforward. Those who have switched will have benefited from cheaper tariffs.

THE GOVERMENTS ARE IN THE POCKETS OF THE POWERFUL CORPORATES..WHO HAVE CREATED MORE LEGALISED THEFT FROM CONSUMERS THAN EVER BEFORE….WE ARE A TICK BOX SOCIETY WITH A B*LLS**T ECONOMY -PRODUCING LITTLE…..PROGRAMMED BY THE BIASED MEDIA PUBLIC SERVICE EXECUTIVES ON OBSCENE SALARIES – AND PLANET LONDON CONTROLLERS WITH ITS HEAD IN THE SAND – RUN BY OUT OF TOUCH ‘POSH BOYS WITH FAMILY MONEY IN CHARGE OF A COUNTRY THEY HAVE LITTLE CONCEPT OF ( AND PREFER NOT TO)..HENCE THE LEAVE EUROPE VOTE AND THE SCOTTISH EVEN MORE DETACHED ..WITH HONESTY IN SHORT SUPPLY -THE MASSES ARE NOT AS STUPID AS THEY ARE PORTRAYED AND DUMBED DOWN TO-WHEN ASSESSING PEOPLE IN POWER.

This comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines [conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/]. Thanks, mods

In a few words, what a load of old rot….

Norm says:
22 October 2016

How many pensioners, who fought for the country or are disabled are going to die this winter due to not being able to afford to pay energy bills or sacrifice their diet to keep warm?

Unfortunately we are brainwashed into “carrying & wiping the asses of” the younger generation who feel they are owed everything and who see the elderly as confined to the history books! I feel it’s disgusting the way our own elderly, sick & vulnerable are treated.

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I appreciate that you are trying to be humorous, Duncan, but many who have witnessed how their aged relatives have been treated in residential homes could easily take offence at your comment. I thought it also had unfortunate references to Hitler’s Germany.

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Understood, Duncan – but it was your response to Mai above that provoked my reaction.

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what about us o.a.p.s who cannot get our pension money out in 2017 like we where told.

tony says:
22 October 2016

do they care they are sat on large amounts of money and sod the rest of us

Sorry, Duncan, but I don’t know what you are talking about so I think we are at cross-purposes. I was referring to your comment above, addressed to Mai, that starts “Mai- its one way of upping the wealth of this country“. I thought it was offensive but you have the right to defend yourself so it’s probably best to move on.

As it is the NHS that is partly responsible for us living longer I don’t see that killing off the elderly can be seen as government policy, however many tv channels are scrutinised. As the proportion of elderly increases, and they become even older, it does put a bigger strain on society. I would hope that it is families who step up to the plate and meet their responsibilities in looking after their parents. just as their parents looked after them for the most important part of their lives.

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Humorous? We’ve been there before. It was called the Third Reich

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Thanks for the explanation, Duncan, but that doesn’t seem to have any connexion to the post earlier today by Mai who didn’t mention invalidity benefit tests, or Dundee, which is why I was completely baffled by your subsequent posts. A lot of people have suffered extreme anguish over the way their elderly family members are dealt with in care homes which is why I thought your parody of the German extermination camp system was in rather bad taste. It appears that others agree with me.

duncan, there are people without families, and those families who are unable to care for their relatives. But I think, where it is possible, the obligation should be for us to care for our own wherever we canand not rely on the state to relieve us of those responsibilities

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No, duncan, I don’t think that. but as I thought I was careful to say above ” I think, where it is possible, the obligation should be for us to care for our own”.

We have signed up to a climate change policy but continue to talk third runways and fracking.
Dangerous hypocrisy- we must spend more to develop natural sources.

Too many people have been brainwashed into the climate change theory when it has nothing to do with man made emissions, come on wake up…..

I voted for rail because the current Southern Rail fiasco has had a significant effect on the thousands of pensioners, who used to visit places of interest , concerts, gigs etc. We now tend to visit local places only. , impacting on the viability of countless venues, musicians, attractions and their staff. It has also had a disastrous effect on anyone who has to commute to their place of work. This is an issue over which we have no control, and needs to be sorted urgently. HS2 is a white elephant, with costs which will escalate, not to mention the cost to the environment. Scrap it now.

I believe a rule that any new deals should be open to all an energy companies customers has been rescinded. This is one reason why energy companies fail customers. If they wanted a fair energy policy they could provide one by not having extortionate energy costs for those who find changing companies difficult. All governments have failed consumers on energy. This policy of changing companies only suits the companies themselves.

Not really? Why? Cos what have they done to smarten up our country for us? =Bugger all.
They’ve turned it into to a laughing stock letting all and sundry in . We live in fear of what could happen
I’m sorry but I have no confidence in any of our so called leaders

Raymond Cook says:
22 October 2016

The NHS is the only priority, as a health worker working for an agency, I continue to see low morale workers on stress leave because of the cutting of community and mental health services. Workers define the term as fragmentation.

These are all vital parts of the economy. Rail should be nationalised, as it is in most continental countries, regardless of the colour of governments; power needs to be cheaper and more efficient and banking needs to be made completely accountable.

Why are we wasting so much time on leaving the European Union? I’m beginning to think that there is something sinister going on out there and a hidden plan NOT to leave.
Let’s go NOW! Simply leave. Stop paying our subscription immediately, say to Juncker and all the “free riders” in the European Parliament, “Bye-Bye” and get on with making our country great again.
Two and half more years of economic and financial uncertainty WILL de-stablise our country. Get on with leaving TODAY!!!!!

well said Micheal Stimson,i agree with you,Teresa May should stop mucking about and bring us out of the E U,she is wasting time and effort,and our MONEY,on other countries,i thought that CHARITY began at HOME, they can’t see that the E U,are bleeding us dry,we have survived all these year’s on a pittence,so it’s time to take back our own destiny and turn our country back to the second richest in the world like we was in the 70’s before the THATCHER YEARS.

I still do not understand why personnel outsourced by the UK Govt have the authority to cut my disability benefits with 5 days notice. It has devastated my life and caused me much hardship. If anything, my health has deteriorated. My MP & councillors all avoid giving me any attention. I’m sure there are many suffering more than me! We are sidelined and ignored. We have no voice!
The choice of Austerity has consigned us to an underclass! Austerity persuaded many of the electorate that we are undeserving, whilst cutting taxes for the deserving rich.
Anyone who has their income halved in such conditions suffers from cruelty!
This is not the unwritten contract with the Govt I understood when I paid 60% income tax for many years in my lifetime!

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Big-G-London thanks for mentioning this issue. I have been aware of this problem for a while and I feel for the plight of any disabled folk who don’t have family or friends who can help them out with any resulting financial difficulties.

At the heart of this issue, I believe we need a benefits system that can take care of genuine needs but also one that cannot be hoodwinked by undeserving benefit scroungers. In practice, of course, achieving both those objectives is much easier said than done.