/ Which? Membership

Help us shape the future of Which?

This is your space to discuss all things related to Which?, including our governance. Together with other Which? Members and our Ordinary Members you can discuss our past, present and help shape our future.

For those of you new to Which? Conversation, welcome! Our community website is your space to discover and debate the burning consumer issues of the day.

While our community enjoys getting down to the nitty-gritty details of big issues like stopping nuisance callers or exposing the wider risks of product safety, we also want our Ordinary Members* to be able to connect with one another and have their say on the governance of Which?. If you want to have a say in how we’re run and help to shape the future of Which?, you can become an ‘Ordinary’ (or voting) Member.

We’ve just celebrated the 60th anniversary of Which?. The views and support of our members have been key to helping us get this far, and so your views will also help shape our next 60 years.

Which? discussion

So we’ve created this space for you. Here you can connect with other members and discuss all things Which?, including governance, feedback about our organisation and issues you want our Council to consider.

To keep things running smoothly, we have a few simple rules specific to this area for you to follow:

  • Keep comments relevant to this area – sharing your thoughts about Which? and its governance
  • If you have something off-topic to share, please share it in ‘The Lobby‘ or find a relevant conversation to join. If you’d like to talk about the closure of Which.net, we’ve created a dedicated discussion area for you here.
  • Before you share a resolution, please check to see if another member has shared something similar and add your support to it by replying
  • Please be polite and speak to others as you’d like to be spoken to, whether that’s with other members or Which? staff.
  • Keep personal contact details private (eg email, phone number or address) – whether they’re yours or someone else’s.
  • We’re here to listen to your feedback about Which?, and we’ll try to answer any questions as soon as we can, but please be patient with us and mindful that we don’t work weekends

These guidelines are here to keep things running smoothly, so if you spot a comment that breaks these rules, please bring them to our attention by using the ‘Report’ button.

It’s easy to register on Which? Conversation, just click this Sign in/Register link and click the ‘Register’ tab. Our ‘Help getting started’ guide should explain any questions you may have about getting involved in Which? Conversation. Now, it’s over to you.

*If you aren’t already an Ordinary Member and are interested in finding out more, you can read about how to become an Ordinary Member right here.

Becoming an Ordinary Member means you can:

  • Vote in the annual Council election – the Council is the ultimate governing body of our charity, the Consumers’ Association, and oversees our whole organisation. We’ll send you the ballot booklets every November.
  • Come along to our AGM – meet our chairman, chief executive and team. You can find out more about what we’re doing and why, hear from our teams and ask your questions, and see how Which? works from the inside.
  • Stand for election to the Council – you can nominate yourself and ask for support from other ordinary members.
  • Nominate other ordinary members who want to stand for Council – to help make sure we have the right people governing.
  • Get our annual and interim reports and accounts – we’ll keep you up to date with all that’s going on, so you’re always in the loop.

Read the 2017 AGM Q&A here.

Read the 2018 AGM Q&A here.

 

Comments

[Moderator: this comment and its ensuing replies originally appeared in our “Does your accent affect how you’re treated as a customer?” discussion. We’ve moved this discussion here so as to be more on topic]

I am not sure if it is polite to suggest that a consumer charity concentrate on what it was set-up to do. Incidentally you will note the mention of other countries which I am afraid Which? Ltd rarely draws lessons from. I do not think the Articles have been changed but Guarantoe members would know!

2.1 The objects for which the Association is established are:

2.1.1 to promote for the benefit of the public impartial and scientific analysis of and research into: (i) the standards of goods and services available to the public as consumers; (ii) ways in which the quality and availability of such goods and services may be maintained and improved for the public benefit and to publish and disseminate the results of such analysis and research to the public;

2.1.2 to advance and disseminate knowledge of the laws of the United Kingdom and other countries and in particular (but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing) the law relating to consumer protection in the United Kingdom and other countries;

2.1.3 to carry out research into the law of consumer protection in the United Kingdom and other countries and to publish and disseminate the results of such research to the public;

2.1.4 to promote and advance the education of the public in all aspects of public health and in the principles of physical and mental health; and

2.1.5 to promote in a manner beneficial to the community the improvement of the skills of horticulture and good housewifery.

It is disappointing to see that these objects are generally to inform the public but not to develop proposals for constructive changes and to campaign for their introduction, nor to engage with members. In a few ways they have gone down these routes. Perhaps the objects need upfating?

Perhaps it is useful that Which? has embraced the digital age and focused on scams and the perils of buying online.

I don’t know what the purpose of this Convo is. Maybe it’s just a subject to debate, or perhaps there is useful advice that can be given to those who suffer consumer detriment because of their accent or maybe a speech impediment.

Thank you Patrick. I have long believed that Which? lacks proper governance, direction, focus and consistent formulation of consumer policy. Many of these Conversations have reinforced my belief, although I had seen no evidence of this, until just now. The most obvious of these is seen through conflicting objectives within the organization about what is selected for tested and how it is being rated.

One group is driving luxury, high performance motor cars and consistently giving them Best Buy status (with the except of the Indian-owned Land Rover). Another group tests the latest iterations of expensive electronics and, almost without exception, gives Best Buy ratings to the top consumer brands.

It may well be that these are the very best, but that does not make them “Best Buys”, which I equate with value for money. How does any of this reconcile with “… impartial and scientific analysis … for the benefit of the public … “, if the public cannot afford to own a new Lexus, Miele, Apple or Samsung? There is the now rarely seen “Best on Test” category if Which? really feel the need to signal some aspirational consumer goal.

Holidays involving long-haul air travel to exotic destinations are being normalized as what the typical Which? consumer does all the time, at least before Covid-19 disrupted their lives. Proof? Which Travel? requires an annual subscription. It is not something you can pick up at a newsagent when planning – what should be – a once in a lifetime event for normal people.

Even the annual Christmas test of Champagne and mince pies caters more to the chattering classes that the “… public benefit …”. If you don’t have money to waste, it doesn’t matter what Champagne is the “Best Buy” – you still can’t afford it.

At the same time, a different group within Which? focuses on sustainability and eco-friendly credentials, (correctly in my view) berating high energy consumption, mounting e-waste waste and built-in obsolescence. Surely, you are arguing against yourselves. Are you promoting profligate consumerism or are you against it? Raising issues for debate is fine, but there needs to be some consistency and follow through from all the hot air being raised.

But what really causes concern is the number of apparently random Convos and campaigns that seem to lack direction, consistency or an end result. There is a lot of hand-wringing and cries that the Government needs to “do something”. That is what unqualified campaigners do when they have a single issue they want addressed, but do not understand how to implement change. That is also what newspapers do when they want to sell more subscriptions. I strongly suspect Which? are the same in that regard.

An organization like Which? has the experience, lobbyists, contacts and resources, including legal professionals, to set out clear policies and statutes they would like the Government to adopt. Price gouging and scalping has been discussed ad nauseum without apparent effect. It has been going on for years with tickets, but now too late for essential PPE and even PS5s. This could have been dealt with long ago, by borrowing model regulations from jurisdictions where Which? has relationships with other consumer groups.

It frustrates me to see repeated Which? requests to “sign our petition”, when it is not clear what I am signing up to, except maybe a change to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

So what has triggered this long-simmering rant? A eye-opening realization that Which? are not being governed by any principles or policies. One final word demonstrates that the Consumer Association haven’t bothered to read their own Articles of Association or make any meaningful progress in the last forty years.

That last word is: “housewifery”.

To paraphrase the OED: “[The] main occupation [of] a married woman, caring for her family, managing household affairs, and doing housework.”

It is, I expect, all part of an obsession with level playing fields.

The above was in response to wavechange, not to Em. I agree with much of what Em says and have made similar comments. I accept that Which?’s business model requires it to appeal to a broad group of people and has to say popular things, as well as amass material for its regular magazines.

Somehow, amongst this, we need an organisation that, in representing the interests of consumers, actually takes really important issues by the scruff of their necks, investigates them thoroughly and fairly, draws up constructive proposals to sort the issuesout, and then pursues them doggedly until something gets resolved. Just how many of Which?’s campaigns have achieved this? And how many just fizzle out or generate only recurring hot air?

Bah humbug.

Perhaps this discussion would be better in this Convo where there is at least a chance that it might possibly be seen: https://conversation.which.co.uk/which-membership/which-discussion/

Aiming for a level playing field has often produce useful results, for example legislation to reduce disability discrimination and dare I say, giving women the vote.

That’s an interesting assessment, Em. I think it’s perhaps unfair to judge W? on the past year’s work, as this has truly been a unique year – certainly in modern times – but as for the overall direction W? has been taking for some years it’s perhaps more accurate.

For some years, around 24, I think, W? has been drifting away from the vision which Young had when he started the organisation. Young envisaged an organisation which harnessed the potential of its membership, and not simply in the arm-length governance arena which is popular among the senior management. There’s a great deal I can say (and have said) about this, but I think Anabel’s had just about the worst introduction to a new, senior job as anyone could imagine. So I believe credit should be given for managing the place through almost war-time conditions.

That said, some aspects of the Annual report caught my eye, and made for very interesting reading. The mission statement (used to be called ‘the objective’) is well written but a tiny preposition caught my attention: the word ‘with’ in the line ”the pre-eminent force driving positive impact for and with UK consumers.”

The use of the preposition “with” implies a team-like approach, yet that superficially worthy aspiration has rarely been achieved. It’s only a tiny word, ‘with’, but in the context of the Consumers’ Association I think it’s pretty important. Why? Because Young’s philosophy was to harness the power of ordinary folk to bring about change.

The Report continued with five ‘Key Shifts’ identified, none of which detailed how the “with” bit might work. But then we do see the “How” identified: in the subsequent five boxes, the middle states “What it means to be part of the Which? family”. Perhaps, given the withdrawal of the which.net email service two years earlier, the unintended irony of the phrase ‘We’re connected’ might well have escaped some.

Oddly, the five ‘How’ boxes then merged into three “Objectives” which, given their aspirational tone, are in fact aims, rather than objectives. In the final box, however, the third aim is very interesting: “Working together to achieve more”.

It’s that last heading which goes to where I believe the root of many of W?’s current problems can be found.

Which?, over the past 24 years, has come to interpret the phrase ‘working together’ as equating to ‘follow our lead’. Over time, Which? has developed an avuncular culture towards its subscriber base and has, I sincerely believe, failed to recognise the very real contributions the ordinary subscriber and member can make. In a sense, Which? is almost monastic in its approach; it believes it has a mission of high moral importance, but doesn’t feel the ordinary supplicant has any major contribution to make. Like the ancient religions it adheres to the concept that it’s engaged in a divine crusade, but one in which only the duly anointed can directly participate. Sociologically, it would make for a fascinating PhD study, but the main point is that until and unless Which? recognises the quality and capability of a large chunk of its contributor base, I fear it will become increasingly irrelevant.

contributions the ordinary subscriber and member can make.”. I have, for a long time, attempted to get Which? to engage more with its members, but have now virtually given up on a hiding to nothing.

A question I raised on this subject at the AGM received the response that Which? does involve its member, through Connect, Convos, and the like. I think they just miss the point. Involvement is about members contributing their knowledge, expertise, and not just about having an online chat (in which Which? virtually never participate) and answering questions about their vacuum cleaner or only being able to answer “yes” to a campaign without previous discussion.

https://conversation.which.co.uk/community/english-language-accent-customer-experiences/#comment-1614838
Level playing fields do not produce equality. There is far more inequality in disability discrimination than there is equality, but making some gestures helps keep the activists at bay. We do not have level playing fields in race equality, gender pay, representation of minorities, and I doubt we ever will. We can make attempts to help placate the proponents but I think true equality is an illusion.

We still have Women’s Hour but no Men’s Hour.

I wonder in which direction the EU level playing field will be tipped?

Which? has always very much ‘do as we say not do as we do’ but 24 years would take us back to Sheila McKechnie becoming CEO. A technophobe who had no understanding of science or technology and with a strong dislike for anyone that did. She thought Which? could survive without product testing, ran down and sold their testing facilities and filled the magazine with essentially dross like this which would sit better in ‘Hallo!’. It would appear that her legacy continues.

Product Reviews – Smoke Alarms

I have just been looking at smoke alarms on Which?

The loudness of the alarm is very important for its intended location, so one of the features I needed to check.

Unbelievably, decibel ratings are not included in product reviews.

I am looking at the FireAngel ST-622. The Which? image is of an ST-622Q.
I have yet to find out the difference and have also found for sale ST-622R and ST-622T. It would have been very helpful for the review to explain these different models especially as it appears there was a bad batch a few years ago.

The Test Results give the full 5 stars for Sound Output with the usual poor wording:
How we test sound output (smoke alarms only)
Sound output is based on decibel levels, measured in a fully soundproofed chamber. Three stars or above are louder than 85dB – the equivalent of a lawn mower. Ones rated two stars or below should probably be avoided by those with poor hearing. This test isn’t carried out for heat alarms, which are tested to a different programme. Only applicable to smoke alarms.

Where are the results of that test? What decibels did the test register?

The Tech Specs give
Battery test (Heat alarms only)
– Sound output test (Heat alarms only)
– We measure how loud the alarms are initially when they sound and then again after they have been sounding for a few minutes. Only applicable to heat alarms.

Now, the noise of our lawn mower at 3 stars definitely wouldn’t wake me up. But there is no indication what decibels 5 stars indicate.

Surely, loudness is a basic test where the result should be given in the review?

The best solution is to have interlinked alarms, so that if one sounds the others round the house do too. In a new-build these would be mains-interlinked but battery operated wireless interlinked alarms are also available. Interconnected alarms mean that they will be heard. It would be helpful for Which? to cover these options.

Smoke alarms should comply with BS EN 14604:2005. This specifies the warning audible alarm signal, modulated with an off period not exceeding 2s, nominal max frequency < 3.5 kHz, and at least 85dB(A). Which? should state those alarms that claim compliance with the standard and also achieve it in all respects, in their reviews and not recommend any that do not.

When there is a standard that gives a requirement for a particular characteristic – say warning sound – it is quite pointless giving it a star rating (at least, without qualification). At least it should add whether or not it achieves compliance with the standard. Whether giving an actual value is worthwhile I do not know.

The British Standards are minimum requirements and products can exceed these requirements in one or more ways. My mains interlinked alarms and battery-operated alarms are both compliant but the battery-operated ones are much louder.

Which? reports on a few of the alarms available and I expect that they all meet or exceed current standards.

I see Which? online reviews have had a facelift. Why-oh-why don’t you get feedback before making such awful changes?

Firstly, all launch and review dates in search results have been removed so now we have no idea how old a product is and when it was reviewed. These are the first things I look for in the list of search results and consider them to be the most important point when making a purchasing decision. Depending on the product, I don’t want to buy a 5-year old product where spare parts or repairs might be a serious problem in the near future and I don’t want to buy a tech product that could soon be out of date, so I need to see those dates.

This is the only image I have of the old style reviews, but they clearly showed the launched and reviewed dates.

Secondly, why do search results only return 10 items per page? This is absolutely ridiculous when different colours of a product each get treated as separate items. Who wants to wade through 33 pages of kettles when many of them are the same product? Is listing one pro and one con more important than dates? Not for me.

Reviews get even more ridiculous when we look at the Top five best kettles for 2021.

We have the Best Cheap Kettle 2021 that was launched in Jan 2013 and reviewed in Dec 2013 ?!?!?!?!?!? Really???? No other best cheap kettle has been produced for over 8 years now?

A couple of years ago, I think it was in 2019 maybe 2018, I noticed the top products for 2019 were already being renamed the top products for 2020 and it was still November 2019. This is very lazy and deceptive.

Which? product reviews just get weaker & weaker and more meaningless. Why? I keep hoping they will improve, but they just get worse and these changes were a total waste of manpower.

Hi Alfa,

Thank you for the feedback on this. I passed this over to the reviews team to have a look at and wanted to address your points.

The removal of the dates in the reviews has drastically improved the perception of recency, which is something that the team has actually been aiming for. This is especially important for categories in which the best models or products aren’t always the newest (e.g kettles). A lot of the time people do check the product for the newest model, but they would argue that the buying journey is sub-optimal and judging products based off of merit is a far better way of making a choice. Hence the prioritisation on the product page.

In terms of the wider point about showing only 10 products per page – the reason for this is that we want to encourage people to use the filters, rather than scrolling through pages of less relevant products. The data we’ve been collecting since launch suggests that this has worked, and filter usage has gone up significantly. We also saw a dropoff on the old page, suggesting that there were too many products displayed. We have recently been considering an A/B test to see how many products on the page are optimal, although we think we can perhaps ascertain this from data we already have. (this is still ongoing and to be continued)

In regards to your point about only top products from 2019 showing in the results. These pages are regularly checked by the content owners (researchers) to make sure the products listed on them are the best ones on offer.If we’ve not tested any products in 2021 that make the cut, the content owner will keep any product/s from the previous year/s. Every time new products are tested in that category, the content owner will check the page and add/remove any of the best products listed accordingly.

I hope that helps, but do let me know if you have any further questions.

@chiragkhetiya, Chirag, what products will this new policy be applied to? Clearly there are products where “recency” will be an important consideration, especially technological ones.

Who made this decision? Were the views of members sought, through a survey or Connect? Thy may well have made useful input, and in the spirit of Which? telling us they want “Member engagement” it could have been a good example.

Hi Chirag,

Sorry, but that is one big load of bull💩.

Who on earth wants the “perception” of recency? The optimal purchase is a combination of a high score and newish model that will hopefully give maximum years of service, something we should all be striving for in this age of trying to live sustainably. I agree not all products (e.g. kettles) need to be latest models, but I expect Which? to give me ALL the facts so I can make an informed decision.

This perception of recency gives a very unfair impression of AfterShokz headphones – one model with a score of 28%. This is now an old model. There are newer models and the company claim an improvement in technology.

After reading up and also contacting the company, I ignored the Which? impression and have just bought Aftershokz Aeropex headphones. I absolutely love them.

Aftershokz does not deserve to be at the bottom of the reviews for that one product and if they were dated, would reflect the old product instead of making them look current and giving a bad impression of them.

As to reducing the selection to 10 products per page to encourage people to use the filters . . .
and concluding it is working???????????

Doh!!! Of course it is working when the alternative is wading through 33 pages of kettles although by the time you have applied different filters that still only present you with 10 on a page, sorting and wading might be preferable.

I used kettles as an example because I know there are many products, and just tried to imagine I wanted to buy a new kettle but found it would be impossible to make an informed decision with this new layout. There are far too many filters.

The best layout would be 50-100 products on a screen with the option to sort them by name, rating or date. Filters could then be applied but wouldn’t be necessary for many products. As Which? review so few products these days, that shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish and is only the way they used to be presented. Or is this new layout to hide the fact that there are few new reviews these days?

@malcolm-r
We keep hearing about this ‘Member engagement’ but it never seems to happen.

Kevin says:
16 February 2021

With regret I have recently cancelled my longstanding Which? subscription.

This was partly due to annoyance at the lack of easily accessible information on subscription fees, and the Which? policy on not informing members of the options available. I don’t recall any information about what I was subscribed to, and it’s line item cost, in my account details either, and certainly no proactive communication from Which? on other options available. The policy looks a lot like the kind of inertia selling they are meant to campaign against.

I also echo the comments from members here on the content of Which? – “perception of recency” seems to me the kind of doublespeak expected from a marketing “professional” rather than a consumer rights organisation. The point about obsolescent electronic goods is particularly relevant here, since most products lose functionality AND security once out of support. In my case this happened within 2 years OF IT’S RELEASE on my Samsung mobile, which, at several hundred pounds, was not cheap. A similar thing occured with my smart TV. Rather than removing “perception of recency” facts, Which? should be showing the lifecycle support cycle provided for the devices they review.

Hi Alfa,

Thank you for getting back to me, I’ve passed on your additional comments to the team.

Regarding recency, they told me that things are working well for most users. They understand that it’s very difficult to please everyone, but for the majority of users things are working well.

I am however keen to continue passing your points over to the team. Would you mind if I emailed you directly so I can arrange this in future?

@chiragkhetiya, Chirag, how do you know most users are finding it works well? Has there been a survey? I haven’t seen one.
I did ask a couple of questions above.

Patrick Taylor says:
16 February 2021

From the history books it was I think Coke who changed a soft drink slightly one year which rec’d acceptance, and then it changed again, and again as the brand managers worked through. The amusing upshot was that after several changes some one had the bright idea of comparing the original with the newest version – instead of the newest version with its immediate predecessor.

The original was hands down the winner in that taste test.

Rather like surveys I suspect that getting an answer you want is not impossbie. Which is why I have always favoured surveys being published so people can see whether or not they are leading respondents to answers.

There are also types who ram through changes they feel right for an organisation but provoke outrage from their customers. Losing customers is an expensive choice compared to trying to recruit and retain new.

Hi Malcolm, sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. I was seeking out the information for you from the team. They’ve told me changes that were made to the catalogue listing page were tested with users during four rounds of user testing last year. They’ve also run numerous A/B tests to validate the findings from those qualitative tests. Also, since launch they have been monitoring internal metrics, and are planning future tests.

As I mentioned to Alfa, I’m always happy to pass this feedback on and do my best to get answers to questions, so do always feel free to let me know. We can’t always agree on everything as everyone’s different, but I will always pass feedback on to the relevant teams.

@chiragkhetiyam, thanks Chirag. I was not aware of Members being asked. It might have been a useful Convo topic as well.

@chiragkhetiya
Hi Chirag,
Thank you for your answers but . . . .
“Regarding recency, they told me that things are working well for most users. They understand that it’s very difficult to please everyone, but for the majority of users things are working well.”

“…the team. They’ve told me changes that were made to the catalogue listing page were tested with users during four rounds of user testing last year. They’ve also run numerous A/B tests to validate the findings from those qualitative tests. Also, since launch they have been monitoring internal metrics, and are planning future tests.”

As a member who pays for these deteriorating reviews, I would like the following questions answered please:

🔴 How many users did these tests involve?

🔴 Were they the same users for all tests?

🔴 How did these tests take place? i.e. social media or questionnaire invitation by email.

🔴 What were the questions in these tests?

🔴 How does Which? know that regarding recency, ”things are working well for most users”.

🔴 How many people found ‘things were not working well’ for them before the dates were removed? How do you know?

🔴 How does Which? justify withholding vital information that enables subscribers/members to make real informed decisions.

🔴 How does Which? justify not supporting sustainable purchasing. Dates empower users to buy products that are likely to last longer, something we should all be striving for.

🔴 How does Which? justify giving a bad impression of companies because dates been have removed showing a product is old.

🔴 Which? subscribers/members pay for these reviews and a Which? survey reflected reviews were the main reason for subscribing. How does the UK’s main consumer organisation justify the reduction in ‘value for money’.

You can email me if you like Chirag, but this affects all subscribers who pay for reviews, so is better aired here.

Hi Alfa,

Thank you for getting back to me. I understand your points and will relay them back to the team to improve the way information is delivered in the future. We have provided guidance on why the changes were made in relation to the reviews and appreciate that it may not work for everyone but we do believe the changes made are working well – testing and changes to the way information is displayed are always an ongoing process.

At this point I’ve supplied everything that the team has been able to give me. If further detail/information is needed I’d advise requesting it from Member Services, as they should be able to help further – you can email them at which@which.co.uk

Hi Chirag,

Sorry, but your reply answers none of my questions or why the changes were made.

Have you read the intro to this conversation?
This is your space to discuss all things related to Which?, including our governance. Together with other Which? Members and our Ordinary Members you can discuss our past, present and help shape our future.

Cutting items to just 10 per page and reducing information on the front page of reviews so users are forced to use filters is not proof the changes are working and do not justify removing dates.

I do believe Which? has made a serious blunder here and has gone into denial trying to defend itself. It is also being less than transparent over the methodology it has used to explain or justify its decision. I expect Which? to set an example to commerce and industry, not play the same games.

I consider Alfa’s requests to be entirely reasonable and that no reader would object to having the information she wants to see in product testing reports; some might not read it but those intent on making a purchase probably would.

Hi all. I’ve read the above (plus the team’s responses to him) and Chirag has done all he can here going directly the team and asking them to explain as much as is possible. I completely appreciate that when changes are made not everyone will like them – it’s inevitable. There have been many times over the years I’ve seen changes made at Which? that I don’t agree with, believe me!

However the team has explained that there were four rounds of user testing in 2020 that contributed to the decisions that were made. They have found that what they’ve done is working well for the majority based on the data, but they too accept that if you make any changes to a design of anything, not everyone will agree.

If you feel strongly that errors have been made then you’re right to let us know here, but I’d also definitely recommend you make the case via Member Services too – it’s what they’re there for and they’ll be able to pass that feedback on effectively – in some cases more effectively than we can.

This isn’t trying to close down any debate or push the problems on to other teams etc – but we do have to set reasonable expectations sometimes on just how much Chirag, Jon or I will be able to find out and pass on (as well as publish in public).

As always, we’re available by email directly for a chat.

@gmartin, Morning George. I am still waiting for a response from Which? after sending a message over 3 weeks ago though the website contact form. 2 phone calls to pursue, 3 emails not received at their end…..

Will we ever see a proper open dialogue between Which? and, at least, its Members who pay their wages? The last real open link, the Members Forum, was closed. No attempt made to improve its structure or encourage its use. Just as Convos receive virtually no publicity or reporting in the magazines; nor do they encourage Members (“subscribers”) to join in

Which email did you send it to? I can try to find out what’s happened to it.

On improving two-way comms, I know you’ve had years of us always saying we’re working on it, hoping for change, new features etc etc – it’s frustrating. We are doing a lot of work right now on reviewing the platform and making recommendations that I hope to see implemented this year. No one wants the site promoted and utilised more than I do, especially in the magazine. I will keep banging that drum.

Also I was in the January mag with a link to Which? Conversation and no one mentioned it 😬 I hope to appear more soon. You can find me in Which? Money this month (with another link here)

Clearly Alfa’s questionnaire needs to go before Which?
Limited Board, “which is responsible for overseeing and setting the strategy for our commercial activities.”

It is normal practice in any organisation, issues concerning major changes are dealt with by its Board of Directors who, in line with company policy, will expect lower ranking management to correspond with clients with a view to diffusing and placating any disagreements or disputes that may arise as a direct result of those changes.

Much has been written about resistance to change. It has its roots in homeostasis, (the tendency not to stray from the range of favourable or ideal conditions,) which can often result in a permanent state of inertia if taken to the extreme.

Take climate change scepticism as an example:

Q: How many sceptics does it take to change a light bulb?
A.: None. It’s too early to say if the light bulb needs changing.
B: None. It’s more cost effective to live in the dark.
C: None. Eventually the light bulbs will change themselves.

Or to add a touch of humour:

A duck was about to cross the road when a chicken looked at him and said……. “Don’t do it man, you will never hear the end of it.”

In the final analysis, in my opinion, there is a need for Which? Limited Board of Directors to analyse and evaluate a situation that has come about through a generalised lack of consideration for its regular contributors to Which? Conversation who, through their dedication and commitment to solving the many problems posted by consumers, have also become resistant to the miscellaneous and indiscreet changes taking place at top level without (a) first discussing these and (b) explaining the necessity and rationale in relation to them.

George – I did notice your piece in the January Magazine and was gratified by the reference to Which? Conversation. I am disappointed that Comments traffic does not seem to have increased much as a result though!

You mention that the team are doing a lot of work right now on reviewing the platform [Which? Conversation presumably] and making recommendations. Will they be coming in our direction for consultation?

Thanks John. It does need promoting more obviously to result in more members coming here – as I said, I’ll keep that up.

In terms of consultation, I would argue that you and the other regulars here have already made your views abundantly clear over the course of many years. We’re very aware of what’s wanted, but we’ll have to balance that with what the organisation can reasonably do to fulfill those requests – some may not be possible, while others could be workable.

Once we’re in a place where we have proposals we’ll inform you all and I’m sure feedback will be taken onboard – we’ll accommodate as much as we can.

But as we know, changes never please everyone. There will always be a fine line between the old/familiar and the new to balance out. We will do our best.

Beryl – Thanks for today’s chuckle.

I’m not sure why a duck would want to cross the road on the level though; unlike the domesticated chicken it is not a flightless bird.

@gmartin, my apology George. I had seen the article you wrote on cladding but had not noticed the link to Convo. I would hope you get more opportunities to contribute and use information given in Convos. However it does not promote Convo as a discussion forum to attract more Members. To do that I think many (well me, anyway) would want to see a real purpose to Convos – Which? making better use of the material offered and using Convos to develop particular topics – to bother spending time contributing.

As to contacting by email I’ve used which@which.co.uk and which.support@which.co.uk from two devices, as well as using the messaging service. 🙂

Thanks, I’ll see what I can find out.

I agree on promoting more as an entity rather than just links. I know I pop up now and then saying all the right things but believe me it’s not easy getting ideas/suggestions into concrete actions – but I do try my best from the position I’m in.

I’d argue that the topics do have purpose and that we do use the insights and experiences posted here in more ways than are immediately obvious. For example, you won’t know this, but a Convo commenter (not one of the regulars) actually appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain last week based on an experience she posted here.

The insights are taken away and fed into research and analysis, but it’s making that more obvious that can be a problem. E.g. someone can write a new topic based on an idea for a future story which will get a lot of comments or poll votes that they do take on board, but because they haven’t been back to explicitly reply in some cases it’s not clear they’ve used the site in that way.

Trust me, I know all this better than anyone. We will make progress.

I am attempting to fill in for Ian until he returns John, but to answer your question, for the chicken it was a case of ‘been there done that’,,,,,,,he was just looking out for his friend.

Educated humans are now taught at uni the benefits of rationalisation with a view to, first and foremost, when it suits their particular purpose, convincing themselves of the justification of any unpopular issue that arises, enabling them to convince others, in order to detract from a sensitive issue, thereby assisting them to evade answering an honest and straightforward question. Politicians do it all the time and It’s now becoming common practice in most business precarious and tricky situations.

George and Chirag are only doing the job they are trained to do. The current problem is; the Which? Team collectively, are failing to recognise the individual talent and expertise from years of experience afforded to Which? Conversation by some of the regulars who, in turn, have dealt with equally difficult consumer cases for many years, from which they have increased their own knowledge and understanding of consumer regulation and law to the point where frustration can sometimes incite a desire to have more say in any potential future changes made by Which?

This situation, understandably, is bound to cause a few problems for younger highly educated employees with lesser experience than some of the equally highly educated volunteers accredited with years of experience under their well briefed and knowledgeable belts.

”… comments or poll votes that they do take on board, but because they haven’t been back to explicitly reply in some cases it’s not clear they’ve used the site in that way.… ”. Perhaps I am the only one who feels Which? should take constructive comments and proposals and develop them. To illustrate:

– when a lot of products, say washing machines, tumble dryers, are faulty and potentially dangerous, Which? demand a “full recall” despite knowing this is not possible because most owners don’t register appliances. They then appear to ignore, not acknowledge, proposals that could be introduced to allow a full recall. Indeed if I remember correctly it was said it was not their job to make proposals.
– when campaigning for access to cash they almost exclusively focussed on ATMs, despite alternatives additional methods being in place and proposed. Suggestions were ignored, and still are.
– proposals have been made to improve the safety of large domestic electrical appliances but with no response, not even if Which? discuss them with BSI.

I could give more examples. My impression is that Which? do not want to engage with those making constructive proposals. So making them is useful in a discussion with Convo contributors but pointless if we expect Which? to take any interest and take any action.

As I say, my view of what a consumers’ association should be doing for, and with, consumers may well be a lone view. But I find it very disheartening to largely ignore a body of people who are trying to help.

This is one of the reasons why I am thinking of not renewing my subscription when it elapses in a few months time. I have not made my mind up yet because, with over fifty five years of continuous membership, it would be a bit of a wrench and I would miss it; it would also diminish my continued participation in Which? Conversation which to a considerable extent relies on cross references to the magazine. The fact is that at this stage in my life I no longer need the product reviews, am not interested in many of the subjects and topics reported, and no longer consider the expense of the subscription worth while.

John, the factors you mentioned also influenced my decision to unsubscribe a few years ago now.

Thanks for trying George, but saying there were four round of user testing and the changes are working well for the majority based on the data just doesn’t cut it.

These changes go against what Which? promotes:
– now a dead end that can be seen here:
https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/get-involved

This is not about being resistant to change.

It is about removing vital information up front i.e. launched dates, forcing users to waste time with filters and going into reviews unnecessarily because the information has been withheld.

It is about withholding launch dates that empower users to buy sustainable products i.e. a mobile phone that will still be supported for the maximum length of time instead of this new impression of recency on an old product.

Changes should be an improvement not a backwards step which this most certainly is.

Of course data is going to make the changes look good when users are forced to use filters, multiple pages and look at reviews they are probably not interested in.

Beryl said:
‘Educated humans are now taught at uni the benefits of rationalisation with a view to, first and foremost, when it suits their particular purpose, convincing themselves of the justification of any unpopular issue that arises, enabling them to convince others, in order to detract from a sensitive issue, thereby assisting them to evade answering an honest and straightforward question.’

Well said Beryl, that is exactly what is happening here.

@gmartin

This convo was set up to discuss all things related to Which?

George, please ask the head of ‘the team’ responsible for these changes to come here, answer my questions and discuss these changes.

I had a quick look at https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/dishwasher-tabletsbest buy dishwasher tablets” that could save you £40 a year”. On the feature page it shows scores for 8 presumably economical buys but nowhere does it give the cost per tablet, only per pack with, presumably, different quantities. Had I missed it? I could only find it by loading pages until I got to “technical spec”. Would anyone be expected to find it there? Would many go beyond the feature page?

Only, it seems, were cheaper tablets featured. There was no performance comparison shown with main brands like Finish as a “control”. Were they as good?

Now, I am no fan of the pricing policy of Finish, as they continually change between full price and around half price, but only some pack sizes one time, some another. And if you store an online order, by the time you place it the offer may have changed dramatically. However, I have always bought the latest offer at half price which makes them very competitive with many other tablets. And they do produce totally satisfactory results in my dishwasher. Useful if this had been mentioned perhaps?

If I have missed the information I’m sorry.

Patrick Taylor says:
15 February 2021

Look on the bright side alfa – it probably looks great on a smartphone screen. Form over function; what a winner when dealing with data.

The listing of all the different colours I have been remarking on for probably a decade without success. But then numbers have often been used to “big-up” the organisation and unfortunately trustees have also been misled. This aided by Trustees not reading Conversations or looking critically at other aspects of the charities output.

Notably when Which? was claiming over a million subscribers when in fact it was nearer 600K. If I, and others subscribed to Gardening W?, Holiday W?, and Which?, I was still one person not three. I explained this to a Trustee at the 2013 AGM and he asked staff for corroboration that I was correct.

Nah Patrick, it doesn’t look great on a smartphone.

I have just looked up Which? kettle reviews on my phone and you don’t even get one kettle on the screen at a time. How on earth can you make a good buying decision from so little information.

Patrick Taylor says:
16 February 2021

Ah. So it is even rubbish on smartphones.

I am beginning to think that back to the original information dense Which? output and wonder whether the push for visual glitz no doubt promoted by creatives has been a slippery slope putting off those people who appreciate information, and making many of the general public think it is rather superficial.

This impression of superficiality now doubt added to by the confusion of colours being treated as different kettles and the same item filling the top spots in a variety of finishes.

I have suggested [!] that W? adopt the concept of two types of info derived from research on anything. Information dense article and also a quick read for those who want it simplified. This approach is used by the Christian Science Monitor and others.

Agree entirely

That is an excellent suggestion Patrick as not everyone wants dumbed-down versions of everything, some of us still try to use our brains to make sensible purchases.

. . . and some of us try to use sensible purchases to save our brains from doing boring or unnecessary tasks, so we need data. So long as the presentation is right, there is no such thing as too much information; problems and mistakes occur when there is not enough.

I agree with Patrick – there is too much space wasted in Which? Magazine with oversized graphics; they are clever but unnecessary.

I see nothing amiss with presenting full information for those who wish to make a more informed decision, and a summary for those who don’t. The pointlessness of the Porsche 911 “just tested” piece in the Feb magazine seems to illustrate how little Which? thinks of giving its readers useful information. The dismissive response to alfa’s and my questions about the loss of information – dismissive in the sense questions were not answered – seems to illustrate a continuing reduction in objectivity and dumbing down what should be useful reports upon which many of us have relied.

Can someone please tell me how the new presentation of Which? reviews has been dumbed down?

I’m not aware that any information has been removed. It was said that the launch date was no longer shown but this can be found at the top of the technical specifications for a product, which makes sense to me.

When buying a mobile phone it’s worth buying a recently launched version to maximise the length of time it will be supported and a list of phones can be sorted to show the most recently launched models at the top. I have found the filters useful since they were introduced and my initial impression is that they are easier to use and definitely more obvious.

I hope that Which? will continue to experiment with the layout and get feedback from users. I can see some opportunities for minor tweaks but nothing major. What annoys me most is the continued use of superlatives in descriptions, which makes me think I am reading advertising.

Every time a new version of Windows is released there is an outcry. Some preferred XP to W7 and probably now prefer W7 to W10. I would not want to be a software developer.

The use of stars for example when back up explanation is not provided. The lack of information on repairability. The lack of properly examining products for component quality, build quality. Very limited information in car reviews – remember the old days? …….. It seems Which? don’t think we need real comprehensive information., Maybe many don’t and I am on my own.

An example of neglecting information in a useful review is the cause of blue screen in some LG tvs. If Bob Owen’s comments about Vestel are correct it might be useful for Which? to take the back off a tv and give us some relevant warning?

What has been dumbed down between the previous and present interface, Malcolm? My impression is that the content has not changed.

As you know I have long been in favour of having plenty of detailed technical information in reviews and a benefit of having reviews online is that it can be updated and corrected when necessary. Those who don’t want this information can simply ignore it.

I think there has been a progressive deterioration. I, too, want full information for those who like it, with a summary for those who don’t, as I said above.

I agree with everything malcolm has said.

The reducing costs of data storage and cheap digital photography should mean reviews have been greatly improved over the last 20 years, but instead they get worse every time changes are made.

Dumbing down probably started with ‘Stars out of 5’ that are meaningless and a waste of space giving the same explanation for every product in a category. This space could be put to much better use. Where a test has produced visible results for example food processors, we should be shown the results to enable us to make up our own minds whether the product meets our needs. Product reviews should include ‘what’s inside the box’ and images from various angles but they rarely do unless they are copied from the manufacturer’s website.

Which? has to give us good reasons to pay for their reviews and the continual dumbing down of them and lack of information doesn’t make them worth paying for when better information is often available for free elsewhere on the internet.

I wonder how the DeLonghi kettles above managed to get top spot. They are noisy and only quite fast boiling. I would immediately reject them because they have no viewing window on the side.

Patrick Taylor says:
17 February 2021

Filters ! can be very useful however if W? do not overload the numbers by including every different colour it would make browsing infinitely easier anyway.

AFAIR remember several years ago W? claimed x number of kettles tested. In my research I found there were in fact only 31 types which was less than half of the Kettles “tested” . In fact the testing occurred on only one of the range anyway which illustrates the bigging-up of numbers.

QC in a review of 123 washing machines has 25 filters available on the summary page. One
of these is “ease of Use” ! I also liked you can look for which side the door opens. Anyway here they are. End of life is also useful for picking up a good machine for a lower price if you have faith that parts will be available. Double inlets! Apparently there are three.

Marque
Produit testé avec le dernier protocole
Nouveautés
Prix
Catégorie
Exclure les produits en fin de vie
Essorage maximal
Capacité de linge coton
Largeur
Profondeur
Hauteur à prévoir pour une installation sous plan
Sens d’ouverture de la porte
Étiquetage énergétique
Programme laine
Lavage à la main
Double arrivée d’eau (chaude et froide)
Afficheur
Lave-linge connecté
Efficacité de lavage
Efficacité de rinçage
Efficacité d’essorage
Consommation électrique
Consommation d’eau
Niveau sonore
Facilité d’emploi

Anyway W? lists over 260 but then it does have 30 plus with different colours. So they are probably duplicates included in the score of 260.

Now the fun thing is if you limit your choice to the ten black models only 6 of the 28 stores appear to be able to sell black models. I find this unlikely. And worrying.

The stainless steel model none of them sell. I suspect it is really all of them could order these models and we are simply seeing those that claim to have them in stock. Which in the case of CurrysPCW would seem highly suspect.

Alfa – I am very much in favour of providing plenty of information and have several times pointed out the benefits of online reviews compared with the magazine. If you look at adverts for secondhand goods on eBay, amateur sellers often do an excellent job of providing useful photos. I have agreed with your plea for photos and details of ‘what’s in the box’. Some people are happy with ‘Best Buy’ ratings and stars but some of us want more than that.

What I think we disagree about is whether there has been a recent dumbing down of information. I cannot see evidence of that. The information about release date is still there and now we can search for recently introduced products. I think we could have a useful discussion about what information users of reviews would find useful.

I don’t understand why Which? lists different coloured kettles as different products – something that Patrick mentioned years ago. If you buy clothes you can often view different colours simply by clicking on a small square. The same could be done for kettles although there would need to be some way of showing the model number too.

Patrick Taylor says:
17 February 2021

QC provides 20 photos and apparently sometimes videos. This the detail they provide under technical. Note the spares situation at the end. Do not get bogged down with all of it, some are obvious some not but I think it is more then W? supplies

Equivalent models This model is similar to the Miele WCG660 with straight headband.
Category Headband
Maximum spin speed 1,400 rpm
Double water supply (hot and cold) No
A+++AB
Energy class A+++
Spinning efficiency B
Annual electricity consumption 196 kWh/annum
Annual water consumption 11,000 l/annum
Noise level during washing 48 dB
Noise level during spinning 72 dB
Cotton linen capacity 9 kg
Synthetic linen capacity 4 kg
Width 59,70 cm
Height 84,80 cm
Depth 64,30 cm
Height for undermount installation 84,80 cm
Cord length 201 cm
Wool programme No
Hand wash No
Mixed Yes
Full tank stop Yes
Additional rinse “rinse+” Yes
Easy ironing Yes
Delayed start or delayed end Delayed start
Duration 24 hours
Prewashing Yes
Washing Not checked
Suitable for liquid detergent No
Automatic liquid detergent dispenser Yes
Softener Yes
Bleaching agent Not verified
Display Yes
Programme progress indicator Display
Audible signal at the end of the programme Yes
Possibility to switch off the beeper Yes
Door opening direction Right
Door size 29.8cm
Thermal protection of the porthole Yes
Inclined drum No
Parts availability period 15 years
Country of origin Germany

Wavechange, if you look at mobile phones, there are now no launch dates on the latest reviews. It now takes 3 clicks to find the reviewed date when previously it would have been on the front page of multiple phones. Look at Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G review.

There was a time when more products were reviewed than they are now. There were probably up to 100 results on the front page that were sortable and gave you all the information you needed to decide if the product was of interest and whether it was worth looking at the full review. Now you waste time having to keep clicking on filters and multiple pages. You will still not know if the product is of interest unless you look at the review, all such a waste of time. Launch dates are an important tool that make your search easier.

I agree with the comments on colours being treated as separate products.

Great facts Patrick.

Alfa – If I was looking for a mobile phone I would start by looking at the page showing all mobiles and then sort by ‘Most recently launched’ because although older models can be cheaper they are likely to be supported for a shorter period. At the top of the list is the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G. Looking at the technical specification shows that it was launched in January 2021, suggesting that the sort feature does work. The ability to search on launch dates provides exactly what we need.

What we need is information about how long individual phones are supported with security updates, at least for those of us who don’t feel the need to have a new phone every couple of. years. Whereas we know how long Windows software is supported – to the day – the phone manufacturers don’t make this clear. I have seen it alleged that Samsung only provides support for two years and if that is true then their products deserve to be ‘Don’t buys’. Hopefully when manufacturers do publish dates when support for their phones ends, Which? will include it in reviews.

Funny, I couldn’t find the launched date yesterday, but why hide it on the 4th page of the review when it would make more sense to put it in plain sight on the front page of mobile phones? You might notice the reviewed date first, but Which? can take a year or two to review some products giving a false impression of recency if the user doesn’t read the tech specs page.

If you wanted the best scoring Samsung, the Galaxy S10+ gets top spot and if you didn’t know your models or read the review properly, you might end up with a 2-year old phone that would be unsupported within 18-24 months, whereas if the launch date is on the front page, it would be much less time-wasting to glance down to a later model.

The perception of recency gives a very false impression in this case.

You may think sorting by ‘Most recently launched’ works, but what if a product category hasn’t been reviewed for a year or two? Why is it necessary to give a false impression of recency?

I didn’t think I imagined seeing no launch dates. This Xiaomi doesn’t have one, only review dates.

If you start by viewing all phones and then sort by ‘Most recently launched’ the recent models will be at the top of the list. Click on ‘Samsung’ if you want to restrict your choice to that brand. The first two phones in the list were introduced in 2021 as shown by the launch date listed with other specifications in ‘Tech Specs’.

‘Most recently launched’ obviously refers to products tested so may not include the latest products on the market, particularly since testing takes time, but having this date should prompt the user to check if the date shown is not recent.

I had realised that not all products reviewed show a launch date. Either this is an error or the information was not available at the time the information was compiled.

Patrick Taylor says:
15 February 2021

Another thing to be considered is the ongoing sore of Currys being recommended by cheapness as the best place to buy [Feb11] whilst lambasting it in November 2020 for its horrendous record of dealing with customer problems. Not to forget taking customers money by saying an item is in stock and then it is not once payment is received.

The dilemma here is compounded by the fact that W? receives money from Currys for customers using its online site. This may be both a payment for viewing and substantially more on a purchase.

So baldly the consumer charity is benefitting from promoting a company with the most appalling record in customer service and which seems to be immune to legal requirements. I would suggest that the charity Trustees ought to be very concerned on reputational damage one of the major aspects of their role.

November
which.co.uk/news/2020/11/currys-pc-world-failing-customers-with-faulty-products-and-failed-deliveries/
Feb
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2021/02/best-deals-in-the-february-sales-revealed-by-which/

You will note that article does provide a note below the £99.99 Lenovo Tablet of Currys problems and a link; but nothing warning with the other two products – which by chance are the expensive ones. I would suggest if you were interested in a washing machine or any other product you would not even read the Lenovo part of the article.

P.S. The number of complaints and good reviews has risen by 7000 over the last three months to 45,000 which when you consider it has been on Trustpilot since 2015 ……. seems to indicate a serious problem.

@chiragkhetiya – Hi Chirag – Please could you let us know how best to report errors in reviews. I’m referring to mistakes that have not been picked up rather than anything to do with personal opinion.

Hi @wavechange, of course you can send an email to which@which.co.uk or if you would like to email me directly. I’m happy to forward these over to the content owners for you? Would it be ok for me to contact you?

Thanks Chirag. I had wondered if there was a specific email address for the reporting errors. I’d be grateful if you could drop me an email.

We used to be able to comment on reviews and post our own experiences of products. These got removed a couple of years ago. Why can’t we at least have a “report this review” button?

On the occasions I have contacted Which? about gross factual errors in reviews, nothing has been done.

When I was working in a university we could report problems to the the team responsible for that part of the website and they were dealt with very promptly without anyone having to decide where they should be forwarded to.

Patrick Taylor says:
18 February 2021

motherjones.com/environment/2021/02/how-the-fossil-fuel-industry-convinced-americans-to-love-gas-stoves

Basically there is proof that burning gas in a house causes problems with air quality. I assume that this is also true for the UK, and given the far smaller UK houses perhaps even worse. Ventilation helps but perhaps this is a story that W? should master quickly.

It would be regrettable to be recommending gas hobs if this is something that applies equally to the UK.

” In May, a literature review by the think tank RMI highlighted EPA research that found homes with gas stoves have anywhere between 50 and 400 percent higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than homes without. Children are especially at risk, according to a study by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health commissioned by Sierra Club: Epidemiological research suggests that kids in homes with gas stoves are 42 percent more likely to have asthma than children in homes with electric stoves. Running a stove and oven for just 45 minutes can produce pollution levels that would be illegal outdoors.”

Perhaps this is why many people who live in houses large enough to do so are merging their kitchens and living rooms into open plan layouts and extending backwards towards the garden with bi-fold doors. Such alterations will improve cross-ventilation and air quality where cooking is by gas [and that certainly appears to be the fashionable choice for the hob and a range cooker].

Throughout my adult life I have wondered why gas ovens and hobs are unflued. I assume it would be possible to design a flued gas oven, which would take care of nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide and water vapour. An extractor hood will – if used – deal with these problems when using a hob, and get rid of cooking smells. I’m sure that if gas ovens and hobs were invented today they would have to be flued.

Likewise I doubt that bacon and other meats containing nitrites would be allowed because of the cancer risk. This has only been known about for about 50 years.

My old gas fire had a wall vent which was supposed to stay open at all times. There are door vents on my boat to avoid calor gas fumes and the hob is vented from above with a fan. Gas cookers have never been seen as a problem in the house but burning gas does produce toxins which have to be dispersed somewhere. My old boiler was in a bedroom with a CO2 alarm above it. It was vented outside and never set the alarm off. The one before it was set in a chimney behind the gas fire. My current one is in the garage but vented outside.
I remember the horrific stories about the hot water geysers in old bathrooms with their sooty burners and carbon monoxide emissions. They were over kitchen sinks as well. My first house had one under the sink and there was a delay in it lighting up which caused a minor explosion every time it was used. I had it fixed quite soon. That house had hot air gas heating with a really archaic contraption that had a gas burner and a belt driven impeller to duct the heat. It smelt of burning rubber when in use and it was condemned shortly after I moved in. I never replaced it.

If your gas fire was connected to a chimney, the purpose of the wall vent would be to admit fresh air. Gas boilers and some wall mounted heaters and enclosed fires are room-sealed so that the flue both discharges flue gas and admits air without any gases getting into the room. It’s common for boilers etc. to be fan assisted and they will have a safety device to shut them down if the fan fails.

You are right about the old water heaters in bathrooms. Thankfully I’ve never seen one. These were often unflued and if not burning properly could discharge poisonous carbon monoxide into a small room. There were no CO alarms at the time they were popular.

As a boat owner, your vessel has to have a current Boat Safety Certificate to be licensed for use on rivers and canals. This specifies the total area of high level and low level fixed ventilators to meet the needs of occupants and this will be increased to meet the requirements of unflued gas appliances such as hobs. The Marine Accident Investigation Branch has published some very detailed investigations of fatalities caused by CO poisoning aboard pleasure craft, fishing boats and larger vessels.

It makes sense to have a CO alarm in every room with a gas appliance or a solid fuel stove and I assume that it is essential for rental properties.

Patrick Taylor says:
19 February 2021

Thanks for all the comments and histories but does it indicate a significant consumer issue ?

And should W? be putting a warning on promoted gas products?

Avoiding living and working in areas with poor air quality would be my priority. A few years ago I spent a week in London and on the second day I had to call NHS111 and arrange to see a hospital doctor for treatment of asthma, which is normally very well controlled. Much has rightly been said about the contribution of vehicles to pollution in our cities and towns but gas heating makes a significant contribution to the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere.

Patrick Taylor says:
20 February 2021

I was under the impression that gas would be a dying supply source for the UK for climate change reasons which is perhaps a long-term consideration that together with the pollution/health aspect should be highlighted by W? when discussing unvented gas products.

I would like to see Which? look at air quality in homes. As we have discussed before, toxic volatile chemicals can be released from furnishings because of fire retardant treatments and plasticisers present in most plastics are another source.

I do not think Which? is the right organisation to do this when there are more relevant topics to consumers that they need to spend more time on. And their air quality credentials are not exactly good when they expect many of their employees to travel to, and work in, one of the worst areas in the country for air pollution.

A much more appropriate organisation might be the British Lung Foundation https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/indoor-air-pollution/about-indoor-air-pollution

Here is one article by Which? https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/air-purifiers/article/how-to-improve-your-indoor-air-quality-at-home-azaoP5x4Wcvl It’s a pity that it does not mention nitrogen dioxide as one of the problems.

Patrick Taylor says:
19 February 2021

Improving Which?

Choice have sent me an email advicing since I last visited on the 29th Jan there have been 20 new topics. I have rec’d 3 likes for my comments, and 53 new people have registered. Their mantra:

“Join the conversation
Ask a question. Share tips. Help others.”

And anyone can join and though some questions and answers are Australia-centric some subjects are universal. I try to bear in mind that my UK experiences are not necessarily relevant or useful. However having two different vacuuming robot models means one can add real value to a searchable Conversation.

For the life of me I cannot understand why W? has never adopted this lively and interesting way of engaging in practical consumer concerns. Too much power to the user?! Starting their own topics!!! Heaven forbid! I would mention that the Conversation is curated to stop idiocy.

Patrick Taylor says:
20 February 2021

My topic on gas and indooor pollutants has generated 17 responses in a day on Choice Community. It has also highlighted that Choice do not discuss this aspect when discussing Best Hob to Buy and I have highlighted this.
Its advice articles have a tick for being fact checked/verified – wise move.

” Our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers are dedicated to ensuring the accuracy of the content published on choice.com.au and in CHOICE magazine.

They investigate claims with skepticism. They corroborate information with subject matter experts and work closely with our expert testers, content producers and investigative journalists, who consult with external experts such as scientists, doctors and academics where appropriate. We aim to create unbiased and impartial content, so we are transparent about our sources and use primary sources wherever possible.

Our verifiers check the technical terms, statistics and data in our articles and tests to ensure its accuracy and compliance with our test methods or the appropriate standards. Calculations, scoring and other data are checked thoroughly in consultation with our in-house experts. ”

It then introduces ot’s four fact checkers/ verifiers to readers. Nice touch.

Let’s not overlook the danger of mould in both young and old homes to peoples health, which is more likely to affect babies and children, elderly people, those with respiratory problems such as allergies and asthma, those with weakened immune systems having chemotherapy and those with skin problems such as eczema.

See: http://www.nhs.uk – Can damp and mould affect my health?

Most mould problems in new homes are caused by lack of sufficient ventilation, especially during the drying out period, and in older homes by rising damp and insufficient insulation.

That’s absolutely right, Beryl. It’s important to provide sufficient ventilation to get rid of moisture produced by people breathing, bathing and cooking. Gas ovens and hobs add to the moisture content of the indoor air. The ventilation will also deal with nitrogen dioxide and toxic chemicals.

I remember back to the days when a lot of people heated their living rooms with paraffin heaters. At an advertised one penny [1d] per hour they were cheaper than electric or gas fires and central heating was still a luxury. The heaters created a large amount of moisture and the walls invariably became covered in mould. Very unhealthy. Paraffin heaters were so commonplace that many local shops had a paraffin dispensing machine outside that could be used to fill up a can at any time of the day or night.

There were two main paraffin brands, heavily advertised in the papers and on the commercial TV channel – Esso Blue and Aladdin Pink. This is the jingle from the Esso Blue advert –

They asked me how I knew
It was Esso Blue,
I, of course, replied
With lower grades one buys
Smoke gets in your eyes
.

Esso claimed their product gave off no smell.

Ah yes! I remember Jerome Kerns 1958 version sung by The Platters in 1958.

My daughter and son-in-law live in a 1930s semi and both are working full time 5 days days a week. After showering and leaving the house all windows and exterior doors are secured until they return home later in the early evening. My so-in-law has developed a cough which persists despite various medical tests and remedies prescribed by his GP. It transpires mould has been found underneath the bay window in the lounge and in the room above and they suspect rising damp as the cause.

They don’t appear to be in a hurry to fix it as it probably involves too much disruption, ie removal of carpets and floor boards etc, I have forwarded contact details of 3 Which? Trusted Traders in the area and advised they obtain quotes to fix the problem asap as I feel sure the mould spores are the cause of my son-in-laws cough.

I am presently considering purchasing an air purifier after reading your 16.24 comment and attached link Wavechange, as I am allergic to dust mites and other unseen nasties floating around in the air despite opening bedroom and bathroom windows for most of the morning every day.

Patrick Taylor says:
20 February 2021

I doubt very much that it is rising damp in your daughter’s property. I would bet heavily it is a product of their lifestyle. They should look for a humidistat extractor fan for the bathroom[s] and possibly the kitchen if that is where they dry clothes – and obviously cook.

With summer the problem should be abated. In the meantime they should, before leaving open all window/ most windows for ten minutes to blast out the warmish moisture laden air produced by themselves, and the modern style of living.

They should also treat the mould they can see with a fungicide taking all due precautions. Mould can cause illnesses and I was once a member of a specialist newsgroup on the subject of aspergillus etc. I only wanted to understand the fundmanentals and ongoing research.

I lost a friend to what was called double pneumonia a rare type of death for a 50 year old but when I was subsequently removing wall cupboards from his computer room where he spent most of his time I found a large amount of mould some of which had bridged the 2- 4cm gap to the back of the cupboards and was growing through.

The cause of the mould was either overflow from the gutters spilling onto the wall of the room; or it was warm moist air rising and cooling on the wall behind the cupboards. Possibly the gutter created the problem and the warm air condensing on the cold wall continued the process. Hard to prove if you cannot arrange for a heavy rainstorm and do not have the sensors to replicate the air currents.

When I managed blocks of flats this lifestyle created mould problem popped up reasonably frequently in the appprox 1000 flats on the various schemes we managed.

Vitamin D is good for respiratory health so I hope he is taking a significant amount. Hopefully he is aware of his D level reading and it is well above the UK govt recommended level.

I must admit that I would also check behind wardrobes and in underheated rooms for other mould growths. It is bad bad stuff.

Beryl – I strongly advise that the mould is investigated and remedied because mould spores are not good for anyone and a health risk for those with respiratory problems. If the window is on a north-facing wall that may exacerbate the problem. Hopefully the cause can be identified and remedied easily.

The Which? article is clearly promoting air purifiers but I would start with simpler measures such as more frequent washing of bedding, use of pillow protectors under pillowcases and vacuum cleaning in the morning to allow plenty of time for dust to settle before bedtime.

Patrick – As you say, mould must be dealt with and one reason that it is common in flats is because they usually smaller than other homes. Those living in flats may be unwilling to ventilate their homes if they have a tight budget because better ventilation means higher energy costs. If there are no structural defects, condensation can still occur on walls, particularly north-facing ones if there is inadequate ventilation and heating.

I suggest not taking much more than the current recommendation of vitamin D without medical advice.

On most modern sealed window units it is possible to lock the casements slightly ajar to allow a flow of air into rooms. It is best done on small upper lights to reduce the risk of them being prised open with a tool. Other window designs have a small trickle vent that can be left open all the time as it cannot compromise the security of the window locks. A good blow through the house using cross ventilation every day is sensible; it doesn’t reduce the temperature dramatically over a fifteen minute period and it soon recovers as the air is recirculated between cool and warm areas.

Thanks for the information everyone, I will be speaking to my daughter later today and will pass on the advice.

I will be interested in learning the outcome, Beryl, but maybe we can find a more appropriate Conversation where the discussions can be found in future. Here is one possibility: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/damp-home-mould-condensation-dehumidifier/

Dampness and mould are not good for anyone and as Patrick has mentioned can have very serious consequences.

Beryl, we are on our 2nd Daikin Air Purifier. The first one still works but the fan got a bit noisy after about 9 years so is resigned to a room we don’t occupy. I see they have an even newer model out now.

You might want to look at air purifiers endorsed by Allergy UK:
https://www.allergyuk.org/get-help/products/filter/product_type:Air%20Purifiers#products

I don’t know why, but Which? don’t review the air purifiers endorsed by Allergy UK.

I originally got one to give me some relief from pollen in the summer and it certainly helps clear the air especially at night.

When buying, apart from it being able to handle nasties in the air, it is most important to check whether the air purifier can handle your room size as many of them are intended for very small spaces. . . . . . And a remote control is very handy.

Thanks alfa. Theres certainly a wide choice and the website also states locations, in the event of malfunction. The little portable would make a nice gift for someone to use in the car. It would be nice to be able to test the sound volume before you decide to buy as noise could be a problem.

Patrick Taylor says:
22 February 2021

I asked W? why they did not link their comments on washing machines to the more specialised testing that AllergyUK does for their recommendations. I fear that as both earn money from linking product views to purchases that this was unlikely to happen.

A very sorry state of affairs where charities ignore the existence of more specialised charities that may be of greater service to their readers.

My understanding is that Allergy UK will take payment from manufacturers to test products and then promote them. I think they should focus on raising awareness of well documented advice for those without allergies and obtain income from donations and legacies rather than commercial sponsorship. They seem to have removed reference to homeopathy, so that’s a step forward.

https://www.allergyuk.org/partnerships/our-product-endorsements-and-awards
” Why Do Companies Work with Allergy UK?
The income generated from working with companies, is fundamental to the existence of our charity and by supporting the work of Allergy UK, companies are actively working toward their corporate social responsibility goals.

Manufacturers working with Allergy UK benefit not only from the guarantee of the reliable and robust testing procedures that come with any product endorsement, but also the credibility of the company’s association with a leading charity.

For product manufacturers, an Allergy UK endorsement is an opportunity to reassure consumers that a product has been assessed by leading healthcare specialists, and approved by a trusted organisation who specialise in helping people affected by allergy.

We know that there is an increasing demand for products which can help alleviate symptoms of allergy. This is why we pride ourselves on our relationships with corporate bodies who, like us, aim to improve the quality of life for those living with this often debilitating condition.

This is what Allergy UK say. If a product that is independently tested proves to be beneficial and helpful to sufferers then the association seems worthwhile. In other contexts some demand products are independently tested.

Is there any evidence that the association between Allergy UK and manufacturers is being abused?

I prefer the Which? approach of using independent rather than sponsored testing. I accept that it would be useful for product testing to consider allergies and perhaps this could be included in Which? testing.

” On most modern sealed window units it is possible to lock the casements slightly ajar to allow a flow of air into rooms. ”

Therein lies the problem. No doubt the 1930s semi has been ‘modernised’ with ghastly plastic doors and windows which are close to airtight. The very presence of anyone living in the house let alone activities such as cooking and washing/bathing is going to produce water vapour. Kill of the existing mould with bleach and improve ventilation.

When looking to buy our air purifiers, I looked at Which? reviews, Allergy UK and anywhere else that discussed them.

I found Allergy UK to be the most useful as a place to start. They list brands many people will never have heard of, and specialised products that require further investigation.

Which? on the other hand tend to go for well-known brands that often produce just a token gesture of a product. Their air purifier reviews don’t state intended room size or operating decibels, only quite useless stars out of 5 and their Tech Specs cover far too little.

Beryl, this is a link to our current Daikin MC70L that has now been replaced by newer models.
https://www.daikin.co.uk/en_gb/products/mc70l.html
I haven’t checked out the specs of the new models, but would certainly consider them if buying again.

If you compare whatever model you are thinking of buying with this spec, you shouldn’t go far wrong, although I can only vouch for the removal of dust, pollen and strong odours in the air, not other nasties.

We leave it on auto and anti-pollen 24/7 and forget it is on most of the time. It is very quiet on auto and even on turbo boost is nowhere near unbearable for the short time it is boosted.

The lights on the unit can be dimmed – handy at night, and the remote makes it very easy to operate. We have never used the timer.

It needs hoovering out about once a fortnight (at least the front filter – the rear parts and filter less often) and is very easy to dismantle with worded tabs and directional arrows to help you put it back together again. The rear filters are not cheap but do last at least about a year and the machine comes with about 7 years worth. I started washing the filters of our first machine that might not be good for complete filtration, but it does make them last longer.

We also have a Dyson Pure Cool TP04 bought as a fan with benefits rather than an air purifier. It is quite useless as an air purifier- measured by the lack of dust it ingests as it rarely needs cleaning inside. When it is not being used as a fan for summer TV viewing on warm nights, it sits beside my PCs to relieve their air inlets of dust but does a rotten job. Which? have given it an overall score of 50% which I think is over-generous. It gets a score of 5 out of 5 for both dust and pollen removal (Uhhh?); 2 out of 5 for quietness on high power (about right). Using the same measure, I would give the Daikin 50 out of 5 for dust removal and 4 out of 5 for quietness on high power.

If a charity like Allergy UK carries out objective, meaningful and independent testing of relevant products and their credentials are not suspect, why should we want Which? to duplicate that work. Unless there are relevant aspects of the product that are not covered, in which case a cooperative approach would seem appropriate. Perhaps they do that? Otherwise, providing a summary and a link would be appropriate and leave Which? to spend its limited money and resources on consumer issues other specialist bodies don’t tackle.

Maybe it should run a “Trusted Sources” scheme rather like Trusted Traders.

Allergy UK don’t publish results of their testing AFAIK and going back 18 years to when I first bought an air-purifier, looked to Which? for a thorough review. Reviews were much more informative then but I don’t think air purifiers had been reviewed at the time. There weren’t many reviews when I bought the last one either and most of the current ones seem to have been reviewed in the last couple of years although it is hard to tell with no dates displayed and only 10 items on a page.

It is a great shame Which? don’t work with other specialists to combine testing and results.

alfa, where did you buy your Daikin?

Hi Beryl,

I bought ours from https://www.air-purifiers-uk.co.uk/ . I’m not sure what has happened to them as they now only sell one product and their website looks rather sorry for itself. Daikin used to send you there as their authorised dealer but now send you to a company called Wolseley who I have never heard of but it looks like they have branches everywhere so you might be able to view before you buy in the not too distant future. Daikin could tell you all their authorised dealers.

I have just had a closer look at the new Daikin models but on paper, the specs don’t look quite as good – they cover a slightly smaller room size and are slightly less powerful. One also includes humidification that I am not sure I need. I would now look for another like we have already or have a very good look at other machines. Ours is not exactly small so perhaps the size didn’t appeal.

A company called Young Air Conditioning in Malvern who withhold their address might have them at a rather inflated price of £520. https://www.youngair.co.uk/2020/04/29/air-purifiers-back-in-stock/ . I paid £359 three years ago. I have found their van at an old address on Companies House.

I have had a quick look at John Lewis and another feature I would rather not have is operating the machine with an app on your phone. Philips purchasers are having trouble pairing them up and if you change your phone, how long will apps be available? What is wrong with a small dedicated remote control? Controlling machines with apps could mean the premature end of many products.

My gas boiler provides instant heat and water quietly and efficiently. Millions of other gas boilers do the same and do so more “efficiently” (not necessarily thermally) than electric equivalents. The electric ones do work, but the power needed to provide the instant output of a gas boiler would be too much for most household supplies. Some of the larger gas boilers are rated at 40+ kilowatts. The electric boilers use less power and store heat and hot water for use but even so they cost more to run than the gas boiler does and they are not as flexible in use. Because of this, for quite a few decades, gas boilers have been the automatic choice for any new house and replace old boilers in older houses. That’s the status quo, with heat pump technology being a niche market, and calor gas and oil being used for those off grid. If the revolution is to take place, it has to start here and recognize what is presently in place. Currently, British Gas, Baxi, Vaillant, Worcester Bosch et al are offering new gas boilers to the public. There are few adverts for any electric equivalents or much temptation to save the planet by ripping out perfectly good gas heating systems and replacing them. The alternative green boilers and their energy tends to be more expensive to buy too. Aspirational households also covet their wood burning stoves. Watch any house TV show and it is a selling point. Given this background, what plan does the government have to alter the way we heat and wash ourselves? When will they require the sale of gas boilers to cease? How long will it take to make enough electric ones instead?

Many households living in flats have to rely on an immersion heater in a large copper cylinder for their hot water with space heating provided by convector heaters or storage radiators. Perhaps this is the intention for all new build properties and heating renewals.

The advantage of electricity is it can be generated from a wide range of sources; with renewables in the ascendant and with tax increases contemplated on gas to reduce demand the relative price difference could diminish to make it a reasonable choice. Mixing hydrogen with natural gas is being considered as a way of reducing fossil fuel consumption thus enabling more efficient and economical central heating to continue. Apparently, modern boilers could cope with this without an expensive conversion but the calorific value could be different.

Apologies – I have just noticed we are in a Conversation about the future of Which? to which this is not relevant.

Gas heating can only be sensibly banned when we have sufficient electricity generation to replace it – the equivalent of around 13 new nuclear power stations. And around as many again as road vehicles go electric.
I see some proper long term thinking required. Not just for the future of Which? ☹️

Patrick Taylor says:
22 February 2021

i put forward the idea that as gas stoves have been pinged for creating an unhealthy indoor atmosphere then W? should be making this know widely in its remit to advise consumers widely.

Yes/No?

W? could/ should go further and actually not cover gas burning applainces that vent into a house citing the research.*

Yes/No ?

For extra information
slate.com/technology/2020/12/gas-stoves-hazardous-asthma.html

” The cumulative evidence was enough for the venerable New England Journal of Medicine to publish an editorial in January recommending that “new gas appliances be removed from the market.” It was co-authored by Howard Frumkin, a former director of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, which is responsible for investigating environmental drivers of illness and promulgating guidance about those risk factors.”

* I realise that comparison sites are earning money from recommendations and linking their sites to commercial ones but the consumers, and their health, has to be far more important.

We seem to have deviated from the Convo topic. Perhaps transfer to the Lobby?

COMPANY EMAIL ADDRESSES
The number of companies that provide a conventional email addresses seems to go down by the day. Many companies want us to communicate via web forms, social media, web chat and so on.

Email has stood the test of time and offers the advantages of keeping a record of correspondence and making it easy to include attachments such as photos and scanned documents.

One reason that companies give for not using email is that they receive junk mail. So do the rest of us, but we cope and technology has helped remove spam. Another reason is that some customers miss out important information in their emails, hence the introduction of web forms. What’s wrong with a simple reminder of what information should be included in an email?

I’m not prepared to go down the route of communicating via social media. I have used web chat but it can be frustratingly slow.

I wonder if others think we should push for companies to provide us with proper email addresses for customer services and complaints, and if that is something that Which? might be prepared to push for.

I agree wavechange, it is very frustrating not being able to find an email for a company. If you use their web forms, they rarely include your text in their reply, so there is no proof of ongoing correspondence. Perhaps lack of proof is what many attempt to hide behind.

Or is it an excuse to glean additional personal information from you?

If companies can email us, we should be able to reply to those emails and as you say, receiving junk mail is no excuse these days.

Web forms are fine if they email you a copy of your message. Some do this in my experience. Which? for one, do not so it is difficult to recall when you sent something, quite what you said, when they don’t reply.

Thanks Alfa. At one time completing a web form did result in an email reply but nowadays it can be one that cannot be replied to. 🙁

Malcolm – I agree that an email copy of what you submitted on a web form is useful but that will not put it in my email outbox, where I would normally look for sent email.

Another irritation is when organisations reply to an email but do not include any of the message you have sent them.

Yes, I support this

I refuse to use web forms for the reasons others have given. Luckily, for nearly all the firms and other organisations that I have needed to communicate with, I have managed to find an e-mail address, although the addressee might not be the right one.

One of the lessons I have learnt in my life is that if you want to contact somebody in a company or local authority or a government organisation, send your letter or e-mail to the wrong person [preferably at a higher level] and it will be forwarded pronto and get dealt with quicker than if it had gone direct to the right person. That is because the person who received the e-mail in error will get on the back of the proper recipient if he or she does not reply quickly and the writer sends another message to the party of the first part.

Although companies may not provide an email address for customer services or complaints it is often possible to find a CEO email address via this website: https://www.ceoemail.com/ The FAQ gives useful advice: “We recommend contacting CEOs to escalate consumer issues which have not been resolved through the usual channels.”

I have suggested that a few people who were having difficulty with Currys could try the CEO email address but do not know if this would achieve anything with a large company. Has anyone had any success using this route with a large company?

Most CEOs today employ a PA who are entrusted to differentiate between the wheat and the chaff.

I expect wheat will be on backorder at Currys.

Wavechange said Has anyone had any success using this route with a large company?

I have had success with BT (quite a long time ago now), M&S, John Lewis and Sky by emailing the CEO.

I always start off in a friendly, polite manner and try to include proof of my complaint – usually photos.

CEO’s probably never see those complaints, but emails do seem to go to an elevated customer service who usually try to solve your problem rather than fob you off.

Thanks Alfa. I can recall one of your battles with JL. I’m convinced that being polite and organised is helpful. To date I have not needed to try using a CEO email but it’s good to know this approach can work. Maybe we should use this approach to politely ask companies to provide a contact email address on their websites, especially for complaints.

A friend of mine used to boast that he received excellent service from companies large and small because he always announced himself as a shareholder.

Sounds like a smart operator. Was he called Alec by any chance?
🙂
.

Patrick Taylor says:
25 February 2021

I think I can answer for most of the shareholders in the Consumers’ Association to say our comments and suggestions are almost always ignored.

[ And if anyone is confused a Guarantor of the debts of the company to the extent of 50p is by the Companies Ac treated as a shareholder of the Consumers’ Association Ltd for all of the regulations]