/ 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

This is very welcome and much needed.

Some of us have been with Which? for a long time, and remember, fondly, the days when it was the Consumers’ Association. You might say ‘What’s in a name?’ but the answer might surprise you.

The CA (as it was in the mid-’90s) was then an incredibly forward-looking organisation, with a fearsome reputation for fighting for the consumer. What might not be that well known, however, is that the CA launched the first online forum, ISP and content provider in the UK and possibly in Europe.

Things have changed somewhat, but the essential aspects of what make Which? the epitome of Trust and Honesty remain firmly embedded in the (largely young) Which? teams that run the organisation on a day-to-day basis.

Which? isn’t perfect, of course, but historically it was always ready to listen. So this place should become a hive of interesting questions and comments.

This is a great step forward and I hope that this Conversation will be used for constructive suggestions rather than criticism.

It would be good to see current members of the Which? Council drop in here and join our discussions.

I talked to people at the Which? AGM today, and also questioned formally the (until now) lack of a suitable on-line forum where topics that should remain between Which? and its Members could be discussed. And not just discussed between Members but with Which? engaging in the discussions. The normal Convo is public, and some matters may be something Which? might not want to respond to publicly, but could – and should – to its Members, whether ordinary or associate.

The Which? Member Community (their online forum) has many deficiencies that make it hard to use, but, more importantly, can only be accessed I believe by a limited number of Members who have online subscriptions. So that is not suitable.

So I welcome this move and hope it will be used by many Members. I believe interaction between Members and Which? is invaluable, but perhaps underused as a resource. Which? is not perfect and if criticism is made that is constructive in its intent then that is all to the good, in my view. We could take up acres of space praising Which?’s good work but, to be honest, doing their job well is what I expect as a subscriber. 🙂

Hi all – great to have you here. It was particularly lovely to meet face to face with you Malcolm and Patrick Taylor at our AGM! I enjoyed our conversations about this new section of Which? Convo and other topics. I do wonder if there were some other Which? Convo members there too… if not, then I hope many will now join to not only take part in this very important space to give feedback and connect with one another, but also on the very many other topics we discuss on Which? Conversation.

Thank you Malcolm for explaining why the Member Forum isn’t suitable to allow all OMs to access the discussions. I think it is right for us to give you the space to discuss these issues together in an easy way. Which? Convo used to be very limited in only allowing discussions on consumer problems – we started to change that with the introduction of The Lobby (thanks Ian!) and now with this.

This isn’t the end of the story though – digital moves fast and I would like the community technology we use to move with it. I envisage that we will in future have technology that allows both public and more private/member-only discussions. But the most important thing is that those discussions are happening and that you’re able to connect with one another.

I am pleased this is in being. I can record how nice it was to see OM’s and talk again to the staff and learn more of what is going on.

The drawback of this format is of course without any subject headings or search facility I find it hard to envisage how this will not become rambling and important contributions beome lost. This is particularly relevant if one is trying to gain the support of a substantial number of subscribers on a particular subject.

Furthermore if I was able to post an article on rogue robot vacuum cleaners it would be lost quite quickly and become of limited value. Subject headings and a discrete thread are a way of keeping knowledge together and I really do hope that the Community Member forum is fixed to make it fit for purpose.

My experiences with two vacuum cleaners over several months reveals interesting aspects not covered in the Which? commissioned tests which of course are not long-term testing.

Highlights of the AGM were a recruitment of 700 Ordinary Members over the last four months which is more than in the past decade. Rather illustrates a previous lack of interest in having a shareholder base to hold Trustees attention.

Compared to the last AGM it was immeasurably better run and good questions asked. In fact 50 had been sent in the about 40 not able to be covered in the meeting will be the subject of written replies.

There will be an mp3. of the AGM available to Ordinary Members shortly and an edited version for subscribers. So it seems a little redundant for me to post on what occurred in the meeting.

Conversations outside the meeting were instructive. I have given the problem of the pushed payment fraud where people make payments for the buying of houses to what they believe are the solicitors accounts.

A very quick solution would be for customers to write cheques with the solicitors name and Bank. Though it may take a week to clear the banks are under a duty to read the payee’s name so if the cheque is fraudulently converted the Bank accepting the cheque to the wrong account is liable for the full amount.

Beats the current system hollow for safety.

A longer term solution is to have all solicitors Client accounts domiciled at one particular sort code. Therefore all information would be if the sort code on the payment instruction is not 10 00 09 say then it is
incorrect.

The simple use of this safe portal where all client monies are sent , and then pulled by the solicitors to wherever their client accounts are normally domiciled would make it hugely safer for the customer.

This may delay the process by a day, or possibly not depending on the software the solicitors use. Currently many solicitors can see realtime and this could be extended to their particular Clients collection account at 10.00.09.

I do realise that there is a slight cost to Banks and solicitors but immaterial given the devastation to people’s lives under the current flawed system. I would mention that the system has been flawed for some time and was fundamentally flawed from inception in terms of security though wonderfully easy and cheap to run and use.

Hi Patrick, sorry I forgot to respond to your comment when I intended to. I completely hear you on the drawbacks of this format versus a forum with separate threads. As you know the member forum software isn’t great, and it also precludes access for some OMs. I also feel that inviting people to Which? Conversation where we also debate consumer issues (and hopefully solve them!) is a nicer and more engaging community atmosphere.

However, if you have feedback – we are open to it and can make a number of improvements here to better serve this type of discussion. Ultimately though, I would like to improve our community technology to allow the searchable threads you are asking for, as well as the beautiful posts we get here on Which? Conversation.

However, for now, I hope this will suffice and that you feel free to talking about issues that we used to deem ‘off-topic’ on Which? Conversation 🙂

I appreciate the efforts being made. Unfortunately I think that time is a luxury that Which? really does not have as the likes of Mumsnet grows daily with both trivia and also useful member experiences.

These experiences being searchable are available quickly, and of course generate other inputs. It seems almost as though there is a tidal wave of information growth there whilst here member experience and information is dropped in a well.

I dropped in the search term robot vacuums and that drew 117 hits on Mumsnet. For Which? apart from reading the individual buyers personal reviews – and they are restricted then to the actual ten machines tested – there is no discussion.

At a critical point the need to use Which? for establishing product reliability, problems etc will become limited as people trade off the subscription expense and formality against the vaster range of presumed reliable info at Mumsnet.

This is not the fault of the current staff but of the executive and strategic vision that has spent plenty on non-core matters.

Hi Patrick, thanks for the feedback – indeed Mumsnet is a huge operation and there are things we can learn from the Mumsnet community. I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to one day see Which? Convo as big as the Mumsnet community 🙂

On robot vacuums, you’re right that we have the test results, but we do also have a Convo from last year. Unlike the Mumsnet community, this hasn’t been a particularly popular a topic area for us on Convo. It’s still worthy of a discussion and giving members space to share their views though. The convo should pop up in the search on which.co.uk, or you can also find it by searching on the Convo homepage. This is the convo: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/robot-vacuum-cleaners-on-test/

I could not find the Which? Conversation general email address anywhere as I wanted to send a screen shot.

Many times if I want to send an email, I want an email address not fill in the blanks on a screen.

Luckily I found it on my PC, but not everyone is likely to have it.

We have a form for emailing us on the Get In Touch page, this goes directly to our inbox. I’m glad you’ve sourced our email address now, we’re not trying to hide it from anyone we’re just trying to limit the spam emails 🙂

If you have any technical issues like this again please flag them on The Lobby or over on Welcome to the new Which? Conversation

Posts in this Convo don’t seem to appear in Latest comments or All recent activity. I wonder how it will be advertised to those who missed Lauren’s post about its existence.

Hi Wavechange, we are going to be emailing Ordinary Members so they are aware of this space, and we are going to be sharing the news on the member forum as well. Comments won’t appear on the homepage as this discussion is a bit different to other discussions on Convo, it’s all about our organisation rather than topical consumer issues. However, you can easily find the discussion via links from The Lobby, About Which? Conversation and Help Getting Started as well as this link: which.co.uk/haveyoursay

Thanks Alex. I had already bookmarked the Convo.

I wonder if the Convo needs a more snappy name than ‘Help us shape the future of Which?’, so that it can be mentioned in other Convos. Maybe ‘Have Your Say’.

Well, the title does seem to say what the Convo is about. General Convos are really about “have your say” perhaps; this one is more specific and targeted.

One problem with contacting Which? to discuss an issue, whether asking questions or querying something they publish, for example, is the time it takes to get an answer. Not necessarily because Which? are slow (although you generally go through an intermediary who goes to a researcher perhaps, and then reports back), but because it is a sort if binary operation. You ask a question in a Convo, on the forum, or by email; you get an answer which may well not deal with your question, so you send another missive…and so it can go on, particularly if it becomes apparent Which? may not seem to want to give you a direct answer.

I have a couple of outstanding or ongoing such enquiries with Which? However, meeting up with a couple of Which? people from the appropriate departments at the AGM substantially cleared up what I was asking – by a proper conversation. A questioner at the AGM made a similar point; they’d tried to ask a technical question but simply could not get through to someone to answer it. My estimation of Which?’s intent was reassured by these face to face encounters; I hope that somehow they can make their electronic engagement with Members, and others, quicker and more effective.

I hasten to add that this is not any criticism of Conversations which are a credit to those who organise them, very well managed, and also a credit to Which? Without sounding patronising – and I was not – when I contributed at the AGM I did congratulate the Convo team for what they do.

On a few occasions – with energy companies and a motor components supplier – I’ve used their online “chat” to resolve a question quickly. Typing a conversation and getting immediate responses worked very effectively.

Fair points Malcolm (as discussed at the AGM) – the clearer we can be with you the better.

I really appreciated your comment about Convo at the AGM – made me smile (and proud of the team!)

Should we assume that before gaining access to this topic MySql checks to see if we’re registered as Which? members and/or Ordinary members? In simpler terms, is this place unavailable to those who don’t subscribe?

Hi Ian, for the time being we’re allowing this to be an open page and accessible to anyone, however, should that become an issue we’ll review this.

Thanks, Lauren.

I do hope that this Convo will remain openly available. I’m keen that Which? should be as open as possible.

I believe the purpose is to have this part of the Convo only available to Which? members, so that appropriate issues can be discussed. As Which? is funded almost totally by subscriptions from its Members I think it right they should be able to have, hopefully, full and frank discussions about the way their organisation works.

The alternative is the Member Community that simply is inadequate, and not open to the whole membership, or personal emailing.

Hello everyone

This is to let you know that the poll results of 2017 Annual General Meeting held on Wednesday 15 November are available on our website and attached in the link below.

Voting results AGM 2017

Tried the link bit got the Convo Monster that ate the page, Emma 🙂 Nice, though

How odd, Malcolm. In case that happens again, the results are also here: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/company-info/which-council

Ah, now it’s appeared. However Resolution 13 “To request Council consider creating a standing body of Council and Ordinary Members” is wrong, copy of 12; it should be “To reverse the changes agreed by Ordinary Members in 2012 by increasing the size of Council”, shouldn’t it? Not carried.
Resolution 12 was carried (“To request Council etc”) and it will be interesting to see how this is implemented, and how successful it is. A positive move forward I hope in getting members closer to Which? as a team.

Hi Malcolm, that error has been corrected now. Thanks for flagging

This place has some potential. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops. Thanks to all concerned for making it happen.

One step further towards what we once had and, in some ways, one step beyond.

Many of you will know that our first premises were a garage in Bethnal Green, and from those humble beginnings we have grown to be the largest consumer organisation in the UK and indeed in Europe.

Sixty years on, our mission and purpose remains the same – to make consumers as powerful as the organisations they deal with in their daily lives, by tackling consumer detriment wherever we find it.

We have 1.7 million members and supporters across all generations and from all walks of life. This great coalition of commitment gives us the heft to argue on behalf of all consumers.

As Brexit brings a host of challenges, and as questions about the quality of transport, energy supply, broadband and other services become more insistent, we’re here to argue, as a non-political organisation, on behalf of all consumers. Just as we’ve done for 60 years.

As we look ahead to the next 60 years, there are three things that I believe are critical to Which?’s continued success.

The first is our members. We have listened to what members have said to us and we have responded. Members told me they wanted the organisation to be more transparent. That was also my view; we introduced our interim review. Transparent nomination processes were needed in our appointment of co-opted Council members; I agreed. Members thought our remuneration policy needed to be revisited; that has been a major undertaking this year.

I do not expect we can satisfy everyone but I do believe that what we are putting in place will, when we are done, demonstrate we have the governance structures to make us a best practice example of what a charity should be.

The second is the power we can wield if we interweave our charitable and our commercial activities. Which? derives its authority through earning all its revenue for itself, no public funding, no donations. Rosemary McRobert, one of our early Council members noted that Which? is a cause, but a cause that needs to be run like a business to ensure it has the funds to tackle the issues of the day. I firmly believe that our new approach, better aligning our charitable and commercial activity will help to ensure we can bring to bear the full weight of Which? on crucial consumer issues.

And third, is how Which? might need to change and adapt as an organisation if we are to keep our influence and relevance. We live in a data driven world and it’s changing the relationship between companies and consumers in a digital society. So what does that mean for us – what does it mean for our public purposes, what does it mean for the services we offer, and indeed for the way we run ourselves, our governance?

At a significant moment in our history, as we change the way we are organised, we must also consider how we are governed. I have met to discuss these matters with the Charity Commission. I want our Council to continue to feel bound together so they can carry out effectively their fiduciary duties as trustees. It is Council that embodies this organisation and I would like to record my thanks to all of them for their support, hard work and good judgement.

I also want to say thank you those who have shared their views on our governance this year. We have listened to your feedback carefully. Council will support any changes it judges will benefit our organisation and our governance and that will make us an exemplar of how a charity should be governed. That is why we have supported three of the six member-requisitioned resolutions and proposed an alternative to a fourth.

I spoke at the meeting last year to some Ordinary Members who felt we had lost touch with them. That is why this year we have sought to speak directly to as many of you as possible, to understand your views on Which?.

We noted that many OMs said they valued the opportunity to be involved in the organisation. Council wants to harness that enthusiasm. To help members discuss among themselves and gauge support for proposals we will enhance this area of Which? Conversation. However, this is not the end of our work – there is more to do. You can expect to hear more from us on this throughout the year.

Thanks very much for dropping in, Tim. I would very much welcome greater transparency, wherever this is possible. The magazine, press releases and Which? Conversation give us a good indication of active issues, but users of Conversation often have no idea of whether some of the topics we debate are currently under investigation or have been shelved.

While I appreciate the value of product testing, I am particularly grateful that Which? has broadened its remit over the years.

I do hope that you and your colleagues will be able to drop in here when you can.

Just quickly checking in to thank more publicly the staff who worked so hard behind the scenes in the run-up to, and indeed at the AGM. It was good to meet a few of the posters in here – and I suspect (and hope) even more of the “lurkers”.

It would be truly wonderful if this germinating branch were to pupate into a garden of disparate flowers (all in their own right different voyages of discovery).

[Putting on a c19 Constable George Crabtree accent]. One day they will invent such a discussion board. Oh look, Sir. There goes an Armadillo. That would be a good name for such an invention…..

One problem that is seen with Which? as a Members’ organisation is that it requires a substantial annual subscription and I guess that makes the type of Member somewhat limited in scope. Although I don’t see a real competitor to Which? in the scope of its activities (who else would we go to for product testing and advice that we could have faith in for example) there are many specialist places on the internet that can be used – moneysavingexpert, trustpilot, other review websites, specialist organisations like age concern….. and are used certainly by younger people. My children rarely do anything without researching on the net to find the best deals and people’s opinions. Just occasionally they will ask me to check what Which? says.

So there was some talk the other day about how to attract a much wider group to use Which?. One thought was to have a low cost pay-as-you-go service where you might access it a certain number of times for a fee – either for individual reviews or particular magazines. I am in favour of Which? being financially independent so I see a charging system as necessary. Maybe they could publish a Which? Annual near Christmas, with brief ratings of a whole range of products tested over the year, and summaries of articles that gave good advice and insight into matters of concern. Either sell it to Members for Christmas to give as presents (instead of the recipe book), or maybe even sell on bookstalls and shops.

Thanks for this really interesting feedback, @malcolm-r. We’re actually in the process of scoping some research to gather views on what user generated content people would like to see on our reviews.

We understand that a number of consumers take reviews from multiple places before making a purchasing decision, so we need to have a clear picture of this behaviour. We’ve also looked at various pricing options over the years. We have just this week relaunched our Reviews App on iPhone and Android offering free access for 30 days. We’re interested in seeing if this free access could reach a new audience. After this initial free period for the app, we’re offering a lower price point at £3.99 per month. This is just a pilot at the moment, but an exciting opportunity to test new products and price points and hopefully broaden our appeal.

The terminology for the different categories of participation in Which? still seems unnecessarily complicated. Within this Conversation so far there are references to Members, Ordinary Members, Voting Members, Subscribers, Shareholders and Trustees. I have never been quite sure what I was, possibly just a Subscriber. Having today received a voting pack for elections to the Council I have deduced that I must be a Member. Perhaps I have had one previously and taken no notice of it.

I found the candidates’ election statements very hard to read because they are printed in pale grey using a thin and tiny font. I think it is time for Which? to practice what it preaches by using clear and unambiguous language and making its formal documents easy to read.

Strangely, the documents are emblazoned with “Consumers’ Association Council Elections 2017” although the voting does not close until 5 January 2018.

It seems to be a good idea to have this somewhat exclusive Conversation for governance matters. It would be helpful if there was a way of indicating that contributions had been read by a relevant person within Which?

I agree that it’s confusing, John. I think all subscribers receive what we have received but only those who have completed the application for membership receive the annual report and accounts.

All subscribers start as associate members. If you wish to take part in the governance of Which? then ask to become an Ordinary Member. https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/get-involved/become-a-voting-member

Hello John, I can see that it can be confusing – it’s something that came up as a question at the AGM. There are just two types of members of Which? – Associate Member and Ordinary Member. You are an Associate Member as you subscribe to our magazine. There are instructions on how to become an Ordinary Member (also known as a Voting Member) in the convo. We don’t have shareholders.

This page on ‘How we are run’ is quite useful: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/company-info

Your mention of ‘subscriber’ versus ‘member’ is interesting, as a project we’re looking at is what it means to be a Which? member and what it should mean. What do you think being a Which? member should mean?

Like John, I’m confused. As in previous years I have received an invitation to vote in the Council elections but I have not asked to become an Ordinary Member.

Hi Wavechange, to help clear up the confusion – all Which? members are able to vote in the Which? Council elections.

Thanks, but I’m still confused, Lauren. Patrick S wrote: “There are instructions on how to become an Ordinary Member (also known as a Voting Member) in the convo.” I seem to be an Associate Member and can vote, so what is the significance of becoming an Ordinary Member – also known as a Voting Member.

Regrettably I am afraid that there still appears to be confusion even with what is posted here.

Firstly there is the Consumers’ Association [Ltd] a charity/company limited by guarantee. Us Ordinary Members are on the hook for 50p if the charity goes belly-up. Associate Members of the Consumers’ Association are simply people with a subscription.

Which? Ltd exists to collect the money for, and to send out the magazines. This gets a considerable tax benefit. Under the current CEO and the previous Council directed by Mr Barwise Which? has become very much more commercial and has extended the brief which means the charity now recieves money from companies. It also has had a failed venture in India losing just under £15m, and has spent £22.5m on Which? Financial Services Ltd. over the last seven years. It has yet to record an annual profit despite also having well over £10m from commercial partners.

To be an Ordinary Member you must be a subscriber to one of the offerings. To be an Associate Member is the same but without applying to be an Ordinary member. As the Companies Act does not recognise a difference between paid-up shares and shares by guarantee we Ordinary Members are all deemed to be shareholders. This means that all the law and methods relating to Company Law are available to us.

There are references here to Which? Ltd. Please note all the shares of Which? Ltd are owned by the Consumers Association. PS should know that only the Consumers’ Association has individual members. There are currently around 7000? down from 40,000 in 1990. In this year apparently 700 new Ordinary Members have joined which beats the last 10 years combined total.

You will appreciate the nonsense of the Which? AGM touted on these pages. It was the Consumers’ Association AGM.

I do believe that all staff should read the M&A of the Consumers’ Association so that they understand why it was formed, its aims, and how it is governed. If the staff do not understand the basic structure it seems unlikely members will. Perhaps all associate and OM’s should receive a copy or be directed to them on joining.

I can understand why our CEO prefers to talk of Which? as compared to the Consumers’ Association it sounds less of something where we might be involved and speak our minds.

Incidentally the legal basis for Associate Members to vote has no legal foundation at all. You might appreciate that given the Associate Members never saw the Accounts or had the AGM Minutes it was rather like giving turkeys the chance to vote on Christmas as a time to recieve gifts.

I do really wonder if they had bothered to survey Associate Members in and asked if they thought a bonus of potentially £2.24m for four executives already exceedingly well-paid was a good idea.

Hello John, thanks for your comments about membership and for your feedback about the Council Election pack. I thought I’d try and clear things up a little – if you’re a subscriber to Which? then you are an Associate Member (‘member’), and all members have the opportunity to vote in our Council Elections.

Our Council is the overseeing governing body of Which?, and any Which? Member can stand for Council. Ordinary Members are similar to a shareholder of a company, except it’s slightly different because there’s no tangible economic interest. OMs help to protect the long-term existence of the Consumers’ Association, and ensure that our Council (the group responsible for managing the charity) works on behalf of all consumers, fulfilling its charitable objects.

You can find out more about becoming an OM here: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/get-involved/become-a-voting-member

The election process starts in 2017, so we have referred to it as the ‘2017 Council Election’. Generally, we try to use a font size and colour that is supposed to be easy to read, however, your feedback about the size and colour of the font used in the pack is really helpful to us and will be taken into account when the next ballot book is designed.

The statements submitted by the candidates are all their own words and we are not permitted to amend that wording. The explanatory wording was carefully considered, but it was slightly complicated by the booklet needing to be sent before the AGM had been held and therefore we had to take into account that a resolution to increase the size of Council had been requisitioned by Ordinary members. As that resolution was voted on at the AGM, we weren’t able to say for certain whether there was a vacancy on the Council for 3 or 6 members.

I hope this helps clear things up 🙂

Hi Patrick , thanks for your points. I just wanted to clarify our organisation’s structure. Collectively we are the Which? Group – we are a not-for-profit charitable organisation where all the money we make from our commercial operations is used to support the activities of the Which? Group. The Consumers’ Association is the registered charity and sits at the top of the Which? Group and is responsible for all Which? campaigns and the development of Which? policy, as well as the majority of the research included in the various Which? publications. All the commercial operations are carried out by Which? Limited and its subsidiary companies. Which? Financial Services Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Which? Limited.

Answering Wavechange’s question about the difference between Associate Members and Ordinary Members; A ‘Which? Member’ is anybody who has subscribed to Which? for more than one year, you may also hear them be referred to as Associate Member, these are the same. Ordinary Members have rights to stand for election to the Council of Trustees, attend the AGM and receive copies of the Which? Annual Report and Accounts. Any Associate Member who wants to become more involved in our governance can become an OM.
An Associate member is a person who has subscribed to any Which? publication, product or service provided by the Consumers’ Association, but is only entitled to vote in Council elections (after being a member for a minimum of 12 months). An Associate member can apply to be an Ordinary member at any time, by completing an application form which is submitted to the Council of the Consumer’s Association for approval.

An Ordinary member can stand for election to Council, nominate other Ordinary members who want to stand for Council, vote in Council elections, receive the Annual Report and Accounts and attend and vote at the Annual General Meeting.

I want to pick up on a point you made, Lauren:

if you’re a subscriber to Which? then you are an Associate Member (‘member’), and all members have the opportunity to vote in our Council Elections.

This was introduced in the early noughties and it had two consequences:

1. It effectively diluted the voting power of the Ordinary members who – until that point – were the only ones who could vote for prospective Council members.

2. Because it removed the very small but nonetheless real effort required to demonstrate a committent to the organisation by having to register as an ordinary member, it enhanced the power of the executive to determine the Council membership.

Now, I have a theory about why this was done, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the assertion that it makes Which? more democratic. In fact, it makes Which less democratic, since it requires almost no effort to vote for prospective council members, which means those up for election can exceed a ‘reasonable number’ and the executive can make its own choice as to who is allowed to stand. Didn’t know that happens? Well, it does.

Democracy is something that, historically, has always had to be fought for. It’s always required effort. By diluting the miniscule effort required it allows power to be concentrated in the hands of the unelected.

More later.

The years between 2000 and 2017 have witnessed an inexorable rise in the power and influence of Which? Ltd., the company that determines the commercial direction of Which?. Now, I don’t believe Which? can survive without being commercially viable; it was certainly struggling by the end of the 20th Century and I would also accept that Which? Ltd. has largely fulfilled its remit in safeguarding the future of the organisation.

But when an institution is a charity it has to walk the very fine line between being motivated entirely by commercial considerations and being aware of its charitable obligations. The major question of the time is whether Which? has chosen the correct line.

If I may, I’ll return to the issue of the executive determining who might stand as a candidate. To me, anyway, this smacks of dodgy practise. The facts are simple enough: if two many candidates are standing, then the executive determines which are allowed to go forward for democratic election.

To me this is simply wrong. And if we extend the idea to a general election, one can only imagine the outcry.

But let’s look at the whole concept of Charity management. The Council exists to oversee the institution and whether it operates within its charitable precepts. Many thousands of charities have a similar structure, so how do they work?

It doesn’t really matter if a charity is big or small, but there are certain common factors which afflict every charity. The first is involvement.

Many people enjoy being part of a charity, some are prepared to help out with the more onerous tasks and most are happy to be helped by the charity. But with all charities there are some inescapable facts: they each need a governing body with members who are prepared to attend regular meetings and be prepared to join sub-committees, and they all need some folk to assume the onerous tasks of chair, secretary and treasurer. In the case of the really large charities, such as the Consumers’ Association, the RSPCA and some others, the treasurers are full-time employees, as are the secretaries.

The Consumers’ Association is slightly unusual, in that it operates as a self-funding, commercial charity, which is one reason why Which? Ltd has the power and influence it does. But at its heart it professes to be a charity, so it does need to have both a constitution and a mechanism that allows the non-employee supporter of Which? to participate at the Council level.

Now, prior to the advent of social media, Council elections were, at best, a ticking box exercise for voters, each of whom had made the small but necessary effort to register as an Ordinary member, based in almost every case on reading the candidate statements.

Now that last is important. Because almost none of the many Which? Ordinary members actually knew another ordinary member at that time. They knew of them, of course, but they didn’t actually know them. But being elected to Council requires five nominations, so how did that work?

At the level of Council, the effect of informal lines of influence becomes tangible. A chap who’s on Council might use the same club, meet at the same restaurant, frequent the same Church as other ‘sound chaps’ and thus someone is identified as being ‘suitable’ and ‘sound’ and the five nominators become easy to find, if the person doing the finding is already on Council.

Thus the electoral process becomes largely self-determined, possibly nepotistic and certainly socially incestuous; ‘sound’ chaps nominate ‘sound’ chaps and the Council continues as a group composed of mutually acceptable ‘sound’ chaps.

There’s nothing illegal about the process and, in fact, it can produce some very good people – people with impeccable academic or charity credentials. But it’s not inherently democratic. With the advent of the original Which? Online forum, that all changed, and it allowed enthusiastic Which? members to get to know others and to want to become more involved, by becoming Ordinary Members.

It’s always been a striking feature of Which?’s history that not long after the first Council member was elected from the forum itself the executive suddenly discovered a need to become ‘more democratic’, by extending the franchise to every paid-up members of Which?. The fact that this would empower thousands to vote in an election for someone they didn’t know or had never heard of had no bearing, I’m sure.

In defence of the executive it can be argued that they may well have been worrying about the possibility of the Council being ‘taken over’. This was a common tactic employed by Militant members of the Labour Party in the 1970s, when thousands of members started registering for Labour Party Membership in Liverpool, flooded committees and ensured election of their own, preferred candidates, which ultimately led to wholesale abuse of the electorate by a tiny majority of hard left activists pursuing their own, narrow extreme agenda. And there’s ample evidence that there is a real fear among the upper W? Echelons of this place and social media in general, although quite a few frequent Linkedin and some are a little unwise on Facebook…

However, the way the CAs council is set up, that cannot really happen. But between the years 2004 – 2017 there has been a steady erosion of the power and influence of Council and a power shift towards the powerful and influential Which? Ltd Board.

In the long run it depends on what people want of the CA. But if they want it to be doing its own testing, that bird has flown. It is highly active as a campaigning organisation, for sure, but how are the priorities for campaigning determined? Of most concern, perhaps, is the overall remuneration structure of the executive. I’ve always had difficulty comprehending any organisation, let alone a charity concerned with consumers, that believes its most highly paid people need to be paid bonuses as incentives for doing the jobs for which they’re already highly paid. In a commercial company, that’s fine, but when hundreds of thousands are paid to a very small numbers simply for doing their jobs, and when that money comes from subscribers’ contributions, then perhaps things not only need to change, but should never have reached that point in the first place.

I’ve been a bit ambivalent about the distinction between Associate and Ordinary Members on voting. However, as only Ordinary Members can stand for Council, and as anyone who “wants to become involved” can become an Ordinary Member, then on balance I feel only OMs should vote. Which? should publicise the benefits of Ordinary membership, such as they are, and anyone sufficiently interested in Which?, as opposed to simply a magazine reader, would then take part.

The Council is very restricted in scope of experience- in my view too little representation from industry and R&D, from where products emanate. The invitation to vote says “Council is particularly looking for individuals with skills and experience of policy development,achieving political or regulatory change or in finance at a senior level. Thought we had plenty of those already. I’d like to see people with a more practical background recruited. I won’t vote as none of the candidates fill this need.

I would like to see the Ordinary Membership regularly surveyed on Which? activities – campaigns, strategy for example – to canvass advice and views. I believe the membership should be allowed to play a more active part in Which? Indeed, an Ordinary Members’ committee running alongside Council, charged with representing OM’s views and collating and transmitting their concerns, would be useful in my view; the current response to individual communications with Which? is not very inspiring in my experience.

I agree with what you’ve said, Malcolm. The decision to allow everyone to vote in elections when only those who have taken the trouble to register can actually stand makes no sense, unless you view it from the perspective of an increasingly profit-focussed executive that seeks validation of its actions without too many awkward questions being asked.

I have a very long experience of being involved in charities; some tiny and local and a couple on an international scale and it’s interesting to see the common factors that determine the structure and function of each.

In every case the executive invariably feels constrained by the membership’s ability to question power. Speaking truth to power isn’t easy, since power itself is seductive, but for charities purporting to represent the disadvantaged it’s crucial. Which? Ltd. did a good job when the chips were down in the late ’90s/early noughties, and PV-S was instrumental in making W? profitable and financially secure. I don’t question that, but what I do question is the methodology now used to achieve that security.

There is another point, which is quite interesting. Council members have a limited tenure, beyond which they cannot stand again for re-election. Now, the rationale behind the limited tenure concept is to bring in new blood, and avoid the old blood going stale, as it were. Now that limit- ISTR – is eight years. So the question has to be that if eight years is considered a time beyond which the council member’s contributions will decline in qualitative terms, why is the same constraint not placed on others in the Executive?

A fair bit of Which? focuses on passive entertainment products and devices – tvs, labour saving products, holidays, computers. All good. I wonder whether they might also begin to look at more active products to get us off our sofas? For example, costs and venues for learning to sail / glide / parachute; people offering materials and training in woodwork / blacksmithing / jewellery making / pottery. Council-sponsored evening classes. Sport activities suitable for the older generation. Things that spur us on into new and constructive leisure activities and hobbies. Maybe I should get out more…..along with many other people. 🙂

First item on the next Governance agenda should be the huge remunerations paid to a few senior staff, especially the CEO. How can these be justified and indeed paid for by a consumer rights charity?

I don’t think they can. However Council still bats on how special they are despite out CEO still being the best paid in the general charity business.

The argument goes we are now a commercial business nad must pay for exceptional staff. Two things , when he joined he was exceptional to the tune of £120K a year but over 12/13 years has been paid over £4m.

The National Trust as most people realise is a commercial business in the sense it has loads of property, staff, hotels, catering etc and detail the thirteen areas where they derive income but the boss there gets by AFAIR £220k. If we are to match him against other property companies , say like Hammerson, where the CEO is paid slightly over £2m – but then that is not a charity is it.

Hi Leafylandlad, thanks for joining our new discussion. I hope you stick around! This is something that was raised at the AGM, and Mike Tye (chair of our Remuneration Committee) shared what we’ve done to address this point which some members had raised with us. You’ll be able to hear his full answer in the audio recording of the AGM when it’s available, but I just wanted to share a summary with you.

Mike explained that our Remuneration Committee carried out a significant project to review how we remunerate all our staff and agreed a new remuneration policy for Which?. Under this new policy we will aim to attract and retain the necessary talent to deliver our challenging goals, while not paying more than is necessary. And this new policy will apply to everyone in the business, not just senior staff. Council signed off this new policy and it has been adopted since the start of the year. As a result, the existing LTIP schemes (basically, the old remuneration scheme that you reference), was closed as they no longer struck the right balance between our commercial and charitable objectives.

” the old remuneration scheme that you reference), was closed as they no longer struck the right balance between our commercial and charitable objectives.”

Just in case there is a misunderstanding – they NEVER struck the right balance – and I cannot understand how Council was so swayed by the Remuneration cttee to have voted for the first one let alone the subsequent LTIP schemes.

But then the remuneration cttee at the time was overbalanced with Mr Barwise chairman of Council, Mike Clasper Chair of Which? Ltd, and a couple of other appointed Trustees.
Having millionaires on a remuneration cttee always seemed to me to be a silly idea as their views on pay are not generally the same as the rest of the population … unless it is a company they personally run.

I ought to post the exchange of emails I had with HO when the Accounts first arrived in Nov 2013 and I saw to my horror how much the newly introduced LTIP could amount to. I assumed at first it was some horrible misprint, and then it was a collective lunacy of a very much out of touch Council when the figures were confirmed as true.

Arguably it has galvanised what remains of the Ordinary Membership, though of course the vast majority of subscribers had not a clue that eventually 2% of the gross annual income of the charity was being given away to four members of the executive who were already extremely well paid. Our CEO being twice as well paid as the PM.

JW “Strangely, the documents are emblazoned with “Consumers’ Association Council Elections 2017” although the voting does not close until 5 January 2018.”

You will be pleased to know that this anomaly will end this year. In future the Trustees will be elected effective from the AGM.

The other anomaly of sending AGM Voting Forms out months ahead of the Accounts being sent is also to be addressed so that they are sent out together to shareholders. [OM’s : )]

JW ” I found the candidates’ election statements very hard to read because they are printed in pale grey using a thin and tiny font. I think it is time for Which? to practice what it preaches by using clear and unambiguous language and making its formal documents easy to read.”

As to printing the candidate details in pale script …….style over substance …. if you wanted proof of lack of forethought by the person who thought of it, the people who signed it off, then this is one. If the staff thought about it they would realise the average age of OM’s is certainly in the high sixties then they may have thought twice. Maybe.

Delighted to see a substantial contribution by Tim Gardam. Tim, as some will know, is a major asset to the CA and Which? but he is not, as far as I know, a moderator in here. For those wondering why on earth I’m bringing up such an apparently arcane point, it’s really rather simple: some contributors have red halos and their contributions red sidelined, which reveals to us that they’re moderators or persons of auspiciousness. However, although Tim has the blood-red trappings of power, Roger Pittock (a pal of many years’ standing, so as to declare an interest…) has nothing to show he’s a member of Council.

It seems appropriate that all elected Council members, as well as the tirelessly slaving, coal-face fraternity, should be identified in a specific way to us ordinary mortals.

I was also delighted to hear that Tim agreed with three of the six resolutions and noted “It is Council that embodies this organisation”. This is really good news and I am sure that the two and a half years Tim has spent as Chair of the organisation will have allowed him to seek the views of many ordinary members directly, and not simply through official channels, as it were. After all, we all know how eloquent officials and their channels can be.

Hi Ian, you make a fair point. The red circle around and line is to help community members identify which comments are from Which?, rather than denoting who is a moderator. Tim’s comment here relates to the AGM and is posted in his capacity as Chairman, therefore the red circle is a visual aid there to help identify that.

How come user reviews often differ from Which reviews?

Hi Chris,
I do not spend much time at all reading reviews to products but I do know there are some howlers out there. It might be a useful exercise to see
– what the percentage is.
– reasons for disagreement
– Also how and when do W? respond when there are significant responses disagreeing with W?.

One might think that W? has systems in place but this certainly has not been the case and is an area which desparately needs tidying up. It is important that the reviews can be seen by subscribers with confidence. I would write more as I have used three other consumer sites for writing reviews and quite honestly we could learn from all of them to improve W?’s.

Also the amount of information published on-line for each product is less than W? recives from its testers and I think many people feel short-changed by geting only a limited amouny. I suggest both types of people can see the information level they desire.

I fear working solely to the smartphone screen size and easy viewing has resulted in insufficient thought for the big screen users.

Hi Chris, thanks for your question. When it comes to our reviews we are confident that the tests we conduct are thorough and appropriate. Our tests try to replicate how a consumer would use the product at home, however, sometimes a product may preform differently in the home, compared to how it reacts in our labs. This is why we offer the opportunity for our members to review the products as well, this can be found underneath our reviews. These member reviews are monitored to help us improve our test results and, if needs be, reassess any products.

” that the tests we conduct are thorough and appropriate.”
The organisation does not conduct any tests [excepting Xmas sandwiches] but employs various testing facilities, or buys in existing research. Mattresses are tested in Northern Germany. I just wish that Which? was more honest in describing what happens. The very idea that a consumer championing body is evasive about how it operates I find very worrying.

So the more correct sentence might be ” the tests we arrange, or the results we buy are based on thorough and appropriate testing”.

This is not just semantics as if one has staff capable of carrying out tests then there is likely to be a cross-fertilisation of knowledge between the writers and the in-house testers/experts.

However apparently in the EU there are many test laboratories competing for business and therefore running your own test facility is more expensive. The benefits of the organisations knowledge pool being deeper and broader I suspect is not being factored into the overall costing.

I totally agree. Having operated test laboratories in the past, the knowledge you gain from conducting the tests, rather than simply looking at the results of others, is of great value. If Which? outsource all their testing they are missing out on a great deal of expertise that could enhance their critical abilities, inform their consumer base, and be in a better position to improve future testing and recommend product improvements.