/ 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.