Citizens Advice Consumer Work Plan 2020/21
Looking ahead to the next year in our role as consumer advocate, I asked a question at the start of our draft work plan in December. Is the regulatory regime up to the weighty challenges facing consumers in essential markets?
No-one could have predicted the challenge that confronts us today. The Coronavirus pandemic has changed all our lives at unprecedented speed.
It has been heartening to see the speed at which Citizens Advice locally and nationally have reacted to this crisis so we can continue to help people find a way forward. That is now more important than ever.
Our data gives us a unique insight into the concerns facing consumers. Our website has seen a record-breaking demand, with 2.2 million pageviews in a single week in March. Spikes have been seen in demand for flight and travel cancellation advice, followed by demand for sick pay, redundancy, topping up prepayment meters and benefits information, as the impacts play out.
The question now is how to ensure that, as well as people having the advice they need, this insight is harnessed to deliver fundamental reform of how consumers’ interests are protected.
The themes we set out in our draft work plan were:
Making markets work for consumers - speaking out on behalf of consumers where there are market failures
A fair deal for consumers in vulnerable circumstances - guaranteeing that those most likely to suffer harm can easily access good value essential products and services
Protecting consumers in rapidly evolving markets - maximising the opportunities presented by innovation to change and improve the way that markets serve consumers
Better value infrastructure - making sure investment is well managed to deliver value for money and good consumer outcomes.
These themes stand as guiding principles for our advocacy work for the coming year. We also recognise that in such a fast-changing situation, our work will need to be agile and adaptive. This is the reality of a situation where policy decisions that would have been the subject of months of debate must now be made in days.
Regulators continue to do a good job in rapidly evolving circumstances. But the next few months may well reveal key challenges and highlight where there are gaps in powers, duties and protections that the government should remedy by legislation.
Some issues have become even more important, where past action has not been firm or fast enough. For example, concerns in our post work that consumers haven’t been protected from problems in the parcel delivery market are even more vital now online shopping has suddenly become an even bigger part of how consumers buy essential products and supplies.
Ensuring a fair deal for consumers in vulnerable circumstances is at the heart of our energy work - and in the last few weeks this has become even more essential, particularly to protect prepayment meter customers at a difficult time.
The questions of future markets will also continue to be debated. Coronavirus does not detract from the need to establish a consumer-focused pathway to net-zero. Indeed, in some ways, the future market has become the present, with acknowledgements that broadband is now essential public utility in a world where work from home will be the new norm for millions.
Advice and advocacy must also adapt faster to meet the needs of consumers today. We stand ready to adapt our consumer advocacy work to this world. Over the next year, and under extraordinary circumstances, we will deliver on that promise.
Executive Director, Advice and Advocacy