Which? response to the Queen’s Speech

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“If done right, there are five Bills that could put consumers at the heart of the new Parliamentary agenda. Post-election reforms promise jam tomorrow but hard-pressed consumers are under increasing pressure from spiralling food and utility costs today. The Government must act now to give squeezed households a helping hand with rising prices and uncompetitive markets.”

What Which? wants:

>   ENERGY: Rising energy prices are a top financial worry for UK consumers and are likely to remain so as bills are predicted to rise for years to come.  But people can’t find the best deals because of the sheer number and complicated pricing of energy tariffs.  The Government must not only deliver on the Prime Minister’s promise to ensure everyone gets put on the best tariff for them, but also use the Energy Bill to start fixing our broken energy market by introducing a single unit price and making it easier for people to switch supplier.

>  PENSIONS & SOCIAL CARE: Six in 10 people say they’re worried about the value of their pension and a majority don’t feel they’ll be able to live comfortably in their retirement. The expected reform of the state pension in a Pensions Bill is important, but also needs to address the bigger challenge facing the millions of people preparing for retirement. So the Care and Support Bill must also ensure improvements in the quality of information and advice available to people planning care. It’s vital that people get the most out of every penny they save for retirement which is why we are disappointed the Government has decided to press ahead with the ‘pot follows member’ approach that could mean small pension pots end up in poor value schemes. The Government must also use the Pensions Bill to set clear quality standards for all workplace pension schemes and protect savers from excessive fees.

BANKING REFORM: In financial services, the carried over Banking Reform Bill will determine the future of this industry.  With Libor rate-rigging, the exposure of the true extent of the PPI mis-selling scandal and catastrophic IT failures over the past year, the reputation of this vital part of our economy is in tatters.  An overwhelming majority of people support our call for the Bill to include a fully independent code of conduct for bankers, backed by statute, with tough sanctions for bad practice.

CONSUMER BILL OF RIGHTS: This is a welcome step towards ensuring that we have consumer laws fit for the 21st century.  This Bill is about making it easier for people to understand their rights and giving consumers power to challenge bad practice. It should also mean that both consumers and regulators have the tools they need to challenge unscrupulous businesses that breach the law. There are many welcome proposals in this Bill, including extending the power of collective redress in competition cases and reforming the law on unfair terms and conditions. We urge the Government to go further and to extend civil remedy powers to allow private enforcement bodies, like Which?, to take action against rogue companies and force them to put things right for consumers.

The Which? Consumer Insight tracker:

Our research paints a pessimistic picture of consumer sentiment, with the majority expecting the cost of living and their household budget to get even tighter than last year.

Other findings from this month’s tracker data include:

>  5 million households need credit or savings to pay for food

>  Only a quarter (25%) of people say they are living comfortably on their incomes with around a third (36%) of people feeling the squeeze – see more on the Which? Squeezometer;

>  More than half (53%) of people are worried about their level of savings and two thirds (66%) worried about interest rates on their savings;

>  3 in 10 (31%) cut back spending on essentials last month, these people are more likely to be female and aged 30-49 years; and

>  More than two thirds (68%) of people still describe the state of the economy as poor, with only 9% describing it as good.

Find out more at: http://consumerinsight.which.co.uk/

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