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

What I cannot understand is WHY, they haven’t fitted every house with solar panels, then we could ALL charge the power companies. They should NOT allow ANY NUCLEAR POWER ANYWHERE in the country. The nuclear power stations might be “CLEAN”, while they are under control. but what happens when thney are decommisioned after about 20 (TWENTY) years. They will remain radioactive for centuries. I thinki that it is totally stupid to even think about having any more.

I have friends that have cut their bills significantly by installation of solar panels. They have also become more aware of their energy use. Not all houses are suitable for the installation of solar panels and they obviously work best on larger houses. I would like to see all new homes and other buildings with solar panels and when part of a new building they can be more visually intrusive.

Sorry, the last sentence should say that solar panels can be LESS visually intrusive in a new building.

The appearance of many houses is made less attractive by roofs covered in staggered rectangles of solar panels. When planners insist on using particular bricks, windows and roofing materials it makes a mockery of the system when they can be ignored if you fit solar panels. That’s if you care about the appearance of towns and villages. It makes much more sense, I would have thought, to put solar arrays of much larger size on commercial and industrial buildings, particularly in business parks, where they can be operated more effectively. Best done by the council perhaps.

Maybe they exist already, but tiles on new builds should be solar and part of the building not perched on the top as an afterthought.

What is even more unattractive on new housing estates that are the concrete jungles of tomorrow, is the lack of trees and very few areas that greenery can be planted.

That’s why it would be better to build solar panels into the roof – either on new homes or when a roof is replaced. I don’t like add-on solar panels but fortunately they are often not visible from the front of houses. TV aerials, satellite dishes and wires attached to walls have always looked ugly to me, but they have become generally accepted.

I envisage that there will be grants for householders prepared to replace their roof with a complete ‘solar roof’ that is both visually acceptable and produces more power than existing installations. With a larger house and a bit of common sense about use of power it is possible to become self-sufficient for months on end. One of my friends had solar panels installed and his electricity meter was running backwards to such an extent that he sometimes had to use electricity rather than gas to heat water to ensure that his he was not reporting negative use at meter reading time. That was when the feed-in tariff was 44p. The supplier eventually replaced the electricity meter.

bugrit asked “The nuclear power stations might be “CLEAN”, while they are under control. but what happens when thney are decommisioned after about 20 (TWENTY) years.”

This is a recognised issue and we have a government run Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) to take care of these matters.

Even if we decided to immediately discontinue our use of both civil nuclear power and “nuclear defence”, we would still need to manage the nuclear waste inventories that we have so far accumulated from these activities.

Also, it is now expected that future costs of managing any resulting additions to these nuclear liabilities are taken into account when new nuclear plants are costed.

To make best use of renewable energy from fluctuating sources you need to be able to store it. that will mean lots of households spending lots of money on tesla batteries – and others – using up large quantities of valuable resources, and no doubt creating a lot of pollution during manufacture.

We need a large base load of steady energy. This can only be currently fossil fueled, some hydro, nuclear, and in the future, I hope, tidal storage. Fracking, if successful, will help us in the transition without us being so dependent on fossil imports – for security, balance of payments and cost reasons.

Gas is a good power station fuel because it is clean and easy to store and can rapidly be turned into heat to drive turbines, but we must have security of supply as our offshore reserves decline and other sources are not under our control, which is where fracking comes into the equation.

we take more from europe than we sell to them,reciprocal arrangments would be the answer to any of the other (27) countries who don’t like the arrangements;they know they are wrong with the free movement of people so stand up to them;we voted to leave the union because of the corruption/mismanagment of monies(unaudited finances) not because we don’t want to be part of the european family;the european court systems are not worth the paper & the costs are disgraceful,after all the parliament are supposed to be the lawmakers??????: just think ! no lidl/aldi bmw/vw/mercedes/fiat/seat/renault/peugeot/citroen/ wines/cheeses from these countries it is not going to happen we are in the strongest position don’t give it away like blair & cameron; good luck for the future & the next election can’t come soon enough

Having watched a recent BBC programme about the use of private companies in local government and the NHS where transparency seems to be totally lacking and I feel we should all be very concerned. Much money is spent with so called management consultants where commercial contracts are employed, and local government ends up paying for “improvements” made. I think the figure quoted for the NHS of £600million which according to one doctor interviewed would be enough to pay for two medium sized hospitals. The body , The National Audit Office, which used to look into such matters has been abolished in the cuts, and no way seems to be available to clear the fog about such practices where the interests of companies and their profits have taken precedence over local/national requirements. Can The Consumer Association do anything here to raise this issue?

Jane Brown says:
22 October 2016

Ombudsmen are toothless and take months to reply, I have been waiting for another update for nearly a year now. The complaints procedure is too long and not designed to aid the person in the street, it is there to waste time and unless you are persistent (many people give up) and can wait and wait for a non committal reply, then still have take it further ( I last quoted a law) and the last response from the Ombudsman was ‘we are looking into this’.

Theresa May is just another in a long line of Tory politicians making promises that won’t make any difference, except to make things worse. She has promised to take down ‘Tax Evaders’ but I doubt if she will be starting with her own husband whose comapany has mad no profits for years and even got tax back (our money, the tax payers).
I wouldn’t trust this govermnet to run a cake stand let alone a country…..

Jane Brown says:
22 October 2016

As for Brexit? Just how we managed before the EU is a wonder known only to a few of us :). Why cannot we just have a trade deal as we had before we joined? I personally don’t think this is ‘rocket science’ We did all that was needed to join and we can do all that is needed to leave and put the former deal (common market) into practise, if the members of the EU start to throw their’ toys out of the pram’, it is because they will miss our money and our market. The EU wants to be the Dictator in this and we fought 2 world wars to rid ourselves of Dictators therefore we can do it again, lets get on with it.

We need a better deal than the government is trying to get with brexit . We need free movement in Europe
Stop it all together from outside the EU if that,s whats needed . Also staying inside the free market is a must for me.
Brexit for me means loosing our voting rights , no EU parliament Im happy with everything else.

THE FIRST THING WE MUST SORT OUT IS OUR BORDERS , AND IMMIGRATION INTO THE UK.
NO FREE MOVEMENT INTO BRITAIN FROM ANYWHERE.

I’m strongly opposed to any renationalisation of the railways. I lived through British Rail as a daily commuter from Kent into London. The service was dreadful – delays almost daily; frequent strikes; surly staff; outdated carriages with virtually no room for your feet (I had to stand every day).

Also, the accident statistics (deaths and injuries) improved remarkably after privatisation (all the data is on Wikipedia).

The new PM Theresa May claims she will tackle many of the problems be-deviling this country. I think the Brexit negotiations will be a hugely expensive and long drawn out process and the UK is being torn apart by the issue. While certainly far from perfect, at least we have many important employment and consumer protection laws which – if we BREXIT – are likely to be lost. Yes, we do need to think about immigration- we are always being told that the NHS, local government services, etc are struggling to cope – so the UK needs to better control this. There is so much confusing and distorted information being put out that no wonder the public is confused. As for the railways – British Rail may not have been perfect but this whole mish-mash of rail companies and the complex fares structure coupled with ever rising travel costs and overcrowding on trains is a nightmare for the vast majority of people. As for Banking – there still is no effective challenge from the FSA to hold the banks to account. The mis-selling of financial products and financial traps such as overdraft costs and extortionate credit card rates – 15 % , 18 % – 39 % are a scandal and the punitive charges for getting into DEBT create a vicious and near impossible quagmire to get free of. WE ARE FOREVER IN THEIR DEBT – and it is ruining many, many thousands of businesses and lives. All through the greed of the bankers and money speculators ! We need strong action NOW to give people back their financial freedom and peace of mind.

jwilson says:
22 October 2016

Every thing in this country does it matter what we buy we all get ripped of one way or another just to give fat cats who sit behind a desk and do did all for it

lets start at the start, have the green book system we did have for all people arriving they had to register and could not work unless they did. all family had also to register, if they wished to marry, register other conditions also. if they left then we were aware, no guessing about where they were ,this applied to everyone. if scotland wishes to leave let them, but do not write off the billions they owe. [i am a scot but have lived in england since 1965] the entry system to america is slow but good. all ex commonwealth should have entry without above system. let us trade with everyone, and the country would prosoer.

Let’s see fairer funding in the UK. The South West gets a fraction of the payments based on per head of population compared with Scotland, Wales and the South East. Our road systems are breaking down, trains almost non existent and buses? What buses? As for our hospital in Cornwall, overstretched during the summer months when we are flooded with tourists breaking legs, getting sunburnt or having babies, our hospital waiting lists for locals is a disgrace.

We’ll be worse off for all those things listed as a result of Brexit so it needs to sorted which is going to be very difficult indeed – look at whats happening as a result of the Canada negotiations. I am very pessimistic indeed.

I’d like to have a decent, reliable mobile service. Living in North Norfolk there are days when I do not even get a strong reliable voice service. As for data, I have to be happy with 2G. That is my priority – 4G is a dream unless I go to the centre of Norwich.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Vibeke says:
22 October 2016

The main problem with energy consumption is that individual metering in flats sharing communal heating is not a statutory requirement! I believe it is an EU requirement, but it seems UK will prolong it yet another year, till end 2017, if not abandon it altogether.
It is well established that individual metering reduces energy consumption by around 30%, sometimes up to 50%. Very good for the planet and the economy of the individual. In Denmark individual metering has been used in communal blocks for at least 25 year. I hope WHICH will be active in enforcing this.

it’s not just these area’s that need up grading it’s lots of area’s,but they should bring every area into line,if she is for the people like us,then hopefully she will listen to our views,we need to go back to basic’s,where we nationalise every aspect of our country,she needs to make our country self suffient,i don’t class broadband as a nessecity,but all the other areas i agree with,but don’t forget the human value’s need to be put in place as well.

Don’t let the government lead anything do they ever get anything right?? It takes years of debate before anything happens and then not enough is done. !The major issues are usually ignored and the ones needed forgotten!

Privatisation of the utilities have made it into a business. It is there to make money. Consumers come last. All that they are worried are about is how much the company can make to give dividends of those wealthy people, who are making more money off those in society who are poor. Remember 99% of the wealth in the UK belongs to 1% of the population.

How utterly ridiculous to say you have heard “good things” about Teresa May’s first 100 days! Two of her appointments of ministers – to say nothing of BoJo as foreign ministers – have been a slap in the face to the electorate, Jeremy Hunt re-appointed to persecute junior doctors and Chris Grayling the most inept ideologue who ruined the Justice Ministry last time he was in government and is now doing the same to transport. No wonder Southern Rail is on strike, who will be next?

I have heard that BoJo’s appointment to the Foreign Office was a misunderstanding of why TM put FO against his name on the potential ministers list.

And there was I thinking it was a shrewd move by the PM to push the Johnson into a place where he had no remit of any kind to meddle in home affairs and keep him off the back-benches where the looseness of his cannon would have been a severe embarrassment to everybody.