/ Money, Shopping, Technology

2015’s hottest conversations – what was your stand out debate?

Happy New Year everyone! As the weariness of our weary heads wear off, I thought it would be a good time to reminisce about the year just past. Here’s my round-up of 2015’s hottest conversations.

The VW emissions scandal – 1,493 comments

By far the hottest talking point on Which? Conversation in 2015 was the VW emissions scandal. So much so that three of our conversations on this issue dominated the Hot Convos (decided by you) section of the Motoring topic page.

When more than 10,000 of you voted for more stringent car tests, we were spurred on to launch our Come Clean on Fuel Claims campaign. When pressure from our supporters helped us get responses from the major car makers, Deekay left a comment which I think sums up the power of this community:

‘This was a numbers game of heads and posts/comments right across the world. It was being watched that I am sure of, along with loads more. I have read Which? for some time but only recently registered and contributed because of this subject. The answers Which? received from manufactures are so close to what I expected I am very pleased with them.’

Nuisance calls crackdown – 881 comments

Unsolicited calls continued to be a big talking point in 2015, as we stepped up our campaign to call time on nuisance calls. Our supporters helped bring about a change in the rules which allowed the regulator to fine more cold-calling companies – this led to a three-fold increase in fines, from £330k in 2014 to £1.14m in 2015. Despite this we know there’s much more to be done, and we’d like to see board directors held personally accountable if their firms make unlawful calls.

The new Which? Conversation – 649 comments

2015 was the year we relaunched Which? Conversation, using your feedback and hands-on help to rebuild the website from the ground up. As with any new website launch there are going to be niggles – this conversation has acted as a very useful place for you to tell me about the things we need to fix, and we’re working our way through the list. Thanks again for your support!

The UK’s slowest helpline? – 589 comments

Hundreds of you have continued to share your frustration with HMRC’s call waiting times. In our poll of more than 8,000 people, 75% said they’ve been on hold for more than 30 minutes. I hope Simon eventually got through

‘Tried last week and got cut off after about 15 minutes. Tried again and I hung up after 63 minutes. Tried another day last week; had to hang up after 16 minutes as someone came to the door. Tried this morning, hung up after half an hour. Now been on hold for 65 minutes and waiting…’

Fair energy prices – 316 comments

As we call on the CMA to use its competition inquiry to make the energy market fairer for consumers, we heard stories about how energy bills are affecting you, including from Val:

‘My husband and I are both retired and suffer a lot through the winter months. I suffer from fybromyalgia and osteoarthritis and hubby suffers from spondylosis, rhumatoid arthritis and dupitrons – the cold and damp weather causes immense pain to us both. We have no central heating, and live in a very old house, we cannot even afford to use our tumble dryer as it pushes electric bills sky high and we have minimal money coming in. It is a worry trying to pay all the household bills but we just struggle on.’

Ofcom’s new boss – 315 comments

We hosted Sharon White’s first public speech as the new chief exec of Ofcom. And her encouraging announcements, including letting you exit your broadband contract if you don’t get what was promised, got lots of you sharing your broadband woes.

Faulty goods confusion – 272 comments

2015 saw the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act, but we found that there was still confusion around what your rights are when returning faulty goods. We’ve put together a free faulty goods tool to help out, which prompted our regulars to talk about how to stop retailers from ignoring your legal rights to a repair, replacement or refund.

Barry fights parking penalties – 247 comments

Unfortunately Barry Beavis lost his Supreme Court case on parking charges. We intervened in the case to help protect important consumer rights, so it’s thoroughly disappointing that this judgement lead to even more excessive charges. Barry got a lot of support in the comments, and he’s now launched a petition against high parking penalties.

John on plastic bag charges – 240 comments

The fact that this conversation from long-time community member John Ward is featured on this list makes me very happy. When we first launched Which? Conversation our guest contributions tended to come from well-known individuals or organisations. 2015 was the year we wanted to redress the balance and get more of you writing conversations about your experiences and opinions.

This contribution from John on the hot topic of paying for plastic bags was voted for by the community in the Your Ideas section. Here’s to many more of your ideas bubbling up to the top in 2016.

Simplifying T&Cs – 243 comments

In our poll of more than 19,000 people, only 7% said that they always read the T&Cs. We’re not surprised, which is why we’ll be working with the Government and businesses in 2016 to change how terms and conditions are presented, especially online.

We were joined by….

As well as John Ward and Barry Beavis, we were lucky to have been joined by loads of other guest authors. Here’s a roll call for 2015 (remember you can find them all by visiting our ‘guest’ tag):

CHOICE, RSPCA, Ian, Alfa, Hannah Jolliffe, Nick Boles MP, Heidi Allen MP, Rica, Harriett Baldwin MP, Action on Hearing Loss, First Time Buyer magazine, Social Enterprise UK, myageingparent.com, Joe Churcher, TransferWise, TalkTalk, Prof. Chris Elliott, Brake, Ian Morgan, Virgin Media, National Audit Office, Prof. Liam Delaney, Ofcom, The CMA, Sense About Science, Pen Test Partners, the Food Standards Agency, Mark Tiddy, the Hair Council, DPD, the ICO, Esther Rantzen, Jo Swinson MP, Robin Hindle Fisher, Harry Parkyn, Consumers International, Newark Council, the CBI, the Electoral Commission and Utility Warehouse.

Your stand out conversations

So there you have it, those were the most popular conversations of 2015. I thought I’d end on a few stats: since we launched Which? Conversation in 2010 and up until the end of 2015, 133,436 comments have been left on 4,064 conversations, and more than 417,000 votes have been left on 448 polls. We couldn’t have done it without you, so here’s to many more conversations in 2016.


I am not log-rolling here – but my favourite Conversation was contributed by fellow community member Alfa on the subject “What annoys you most about TV programmes?”. Admittedly it started in 2014 [on 28 December] but most of its activity was during 2015 so it ought to be taken into consideration.

There were also some very interesting [and socially responsible] comments on the various Conversations about music in shops, bars. restaurants, and other public places. In fact, the malls are alive with the sound of music – and it’s getting on everybody’s nerves. If the entire topic’s comment counts were amalgamated it might have been high up the league table.

There have been plenty of really good Conversations and I would also pick out Esther Rantzen’s entitled “Older people shouldn’t be locked in loneliness”. It was a lonely Conversation unfortunately as there were only two comments although the theme has been picked up in several other Conversations.

It often seems to happen that good Conversation topics suffer a misfortune of timing as some other more popular topic comes in and drowns out the worthy subject. My own view is that the Home page format of Which? Conversation could be adapted to keep recent but languishing Conversations at the forefront or – too radical perhaps – that Which? staffers could pep them up with an injection of new comments in order to bring them back into the Recent Activity column.

On a statistical note I should be interested to see how the weekly traffic count now compares with the previous Which? Conversation. It certainly seems to have brought in hundreds of new contributors but many seem not to stay, and a number of former regulars have found other occupations for their time [just a coincidence I expect] so we miss their distinctive avatars. Many regular contributors lost their avatars through the format changes and it would be good to see them back in service again – picking people out by reference to their complex patterned dinner plates is getting increasingly difficult!

🙂 Fame at last !!! Thanks John & Patrick !!!

A couple of reasons conversations don’t get many comments….

Sometimes they are just informative and there is not a lot you can say but they still have their place, other times they can seem a waste of space.

Authors need to participate in their conversations a lot more and comment or reply to questions. I am still waiting for Richard Lloyd to answer my questions regarding nuisance calls and explain his reasons for going against the wishes of the majority of posters.

I agree with everything John says. I particularly noted that anything to do with old age and caring seemed to attract little attention. I suppose we are just getting on with it and the subject is just too “close” for many to comment on. There are a lot of families in the U.K. silently supporting elderly and sick relatives, yet it is something no one wants to talk about. Having made one contribution, I didn’t see the need to repeat when similar topics arose.
For all its faults, the old Which Conversation format did, as John implies, highlight all the trending topics neatly on the home page, so that one could instantly latch on to one of about five. Now there is quite a lot of information on the home page but it needs a fair bit of scrolling and searching to get the complete current situation. One can see what people are talking about, but not, so easily, what there is to comment on. The chosen quote of the week is also somewhere on that page, but there are lots of somewheres.
I look forward to a stimulating 2016 at one of my favourite havens on the busy internet. It certainly helps my world go round.

I always thought that a “home page” was a kind of introduction to everything else and one used the links therein to move around the site. What we have here, is a large panel going straight into the latest conversation, followed by a welcome paragraph and the latest comments. It’s very decorative and full of impact, but does it act as a home page should, taking the visitor by the hand and showing what the site has to offer? Should that panel be further down the page after the signposts have been flagged up more prominently? These remarks belong elsewhere, but since you were kind enough to reply…. I’m not sure I could build a topic page successfully or really would want to, because once a topic has “died” a few pages back, there is little point in going back to it, unless it revives.

Actually, having taken another look, I think nits are being picked and it’s back to the kennel. The topics panel at the bottom couldn’t be larger or more prominent. Maybe, just maybe, it should be at the top?

No, I refer to the large panel with the topic icons which take one to that area. They are the signposts to the rest of the site.

I share Vynor’s views on the ‘Home Page’ – I feel that the screen-filling prominence of the latest topic is too much. In fact, in the early days of the new look, it was some time before I found there was more on the opening page and that it was indeed the home page. There is no immediate indication that the pages continues downwards and this might be unhelpful to new visitors. Personally I think the title banner “Which? Conversation” is weak in design and presentation terms and perhaps something bolder would help. My comments are based on the appearance of the site on a desktop PC and laptop; I have not opened the site on a tablet or smartphone and it might appear differently in that format. I realise also that the large typeface and wide empty spaces on the ‘Recent Activity’ page are probably more compressed on smaller formats.

I have not had much luck finding what I am looking for in the topic boxes, but at least there are now six instead of four categories. I use the search facility more often than not and it usually delivers what I want quite quickly. I just wish it was available at the top of every Conversation.

Another little point – cross-referencing. I know there are usually links to other relevant Conversations within articles and at the end but now that the ‘back catalogue’ has grown so huge these are becoming very superficial and it would be helpful to have all relevant references [and their dates if possible]. I would hope there might be room on the back-burner for this one day.

I’m quite a fan of number seven – the new testing criteria for suitcases to include a ‘chuck-test’. My poor suitcase is unlikely to secure a ‘Best Buy’ badge, but a great idea to start testing this.