Which? calls for a government for all consumers

With the final party conference season before the General Election over and as Parliament returns, Which? sets out what it wants to see from the next government to improve the lives of consumers.

Which? has today published ‘A government for all consumers’ which sets out the policies we want the next government to introduce to hand more power to consumers, including a Consumer Minister in the Cabinet and a Consumer Empowerment Bill in the first Queen’s Speech after the Election.

Whoever holds the keys to Number 10 next May needs to deal with the concerns of ordinary voters who are most worried about the issues they face in their everyday lives, such as food, fuel and energy costs.

The next government must also recognise that consumer trust has plummeted in essential services that people rely on. Only a third of people (34%) say they trust banks – for energy it is just 22%. Similar low levels can be found in the food sector, with half of consumers (49%) changing their shopping habits after the horsemeat scandal, and in public services, where just a quarter of people(25%) trust social care providers to act in their best interests.

This is why we want those forming the next government to give priority to promoting more competition in financial services, energy, food and communications; to empowering consumers in public services; and to ensuring publicly funded institutions and the government itself work in the interests of all consumers.

Which? wants the next government to deliver:

•   Better banking: Promote competition to drive up standards, make fees and charges fair and transparent, introduce a national savings strategy, and ensure that all retirement income products are value for money.

•   Affordable energyRing-fence domestic supply from generation businesses, make pricing easily comparable, and switch to a local approach to delivering energy saving measures.

•   Honest foodDevelop a national strategy for the future of food production, make it easier for shoppers to compare prices, and maintain strong, independent food standards agencies.

•   Transparent telecomsReform the retail market in mobile and broadband, making it easier for consumers to switch.

•   Power for people in public services: Reform complaints handling, release more public sector data sets to enable better informed choices, and strengthen consumer protection in higher education.

•   A government for all consumersEnsure the interests of consumers are given the priority they deserve by placing a consumer minister at the heart of government; establish a new independent body to ensure that regulators are improving the lives of consumers and keeping infrastructure costs under control.

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said:

“We want to see consumer power and competition unleashed in private and public markets to help keep prices in check and to rebuild consumer trust in essential services. Putting the interests of consumers at the heart of policy making will enable the best businesses to grow and support the economic recovery.

“Today we are setting out the big issues that affect people’s everyday lives. These are the issues that politicians of all parties should ignore at their peril.”

Notes to Editors

1.    Link to PDF copy of ‘A government for all consumers’

2.    According to Which?’s consumer insight tracker research, energy prices (72%), fuel prices (68%) and food prices (63%) are the top three consumer concerns. This is higher than concerns about public spending cuts (56%) and future tax levels (57%).

3.    The Consumer Empowerment Bill would bring together measures which could be implemented by amending existing legislation (such as the Energy Act 2013 or the Prices Act 1974) in one new Act of Parliament. We want this Bill to boost people power and give consumers a bigger voice in essential markets where they are currently being let down – like energy and banking – sectors where consumer trust is low and customers are stopped from getting a fair deal.

4.    We want to a senior minister at Cabinet level, responsible for consumer issues cutting across all departments. The minister would also drive through the Consumer Empowerment Bill which would address problems consumers face in energy, banking, public services, telecoms and the food industry.

5.    Consumer Insight Tracker: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a representative sample of 2251 UK adults online between 17th and 18th September 2014.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

6.    Public Services Survey: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a representative sample of 4162 UK adults online between 10th and14th September 2014.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

7.    Food safety survey: Populus, on behalf of Which?, interviewed a representative sample of 2079 UK adults online between 20th and 21st November 2013.  Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all UK adults. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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