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The Citizens Advice consumer work plan 2018/19

28 June 2018

A strong consumer voice: Now more than ever

Are consumer markets working as well as they used to? And what does this mean for the relationship between the market and the state?

In the last year, these questions loomed into the centre of political debate.

There’s growing evidence that new technologies are changing the way markets work, creating new risks - and opportunities - for consumers. Meanwhile, there are still longstanding problems to solve, from scams to disengagement.

This work plan [ 0.51 mb] describes how Citizens Advice will discharge our role as the statutory advocate for consumers of energy and postal services in 2018/19. The plan has been developed with this context in mind. It includes work to tackle specific forms of detriment and broader work to make sure consumers are heard in the big debates of the day - not least the negotiation of Brexit. It takes on board feedback from the 62 responses we received to our consultation. 

In the last year, our work has shown the value consumer advocacy can add. In energy, a market that hits the headlines, the results of our work can often be captured in a single big number. Our landmark report found that regulated monopolies in the energy sector are making £7.5 billion in excess profit in the current price settlement. Meanwhile, our work on standard variable tariffs helped lead to an immediate cap on bills for 1 million vulnerable customers and plans to limit these excessive tariffs for a further 13 million households.

In post, consumer advocacy shows its impact in hundreds of small changes that are secured, often in private, by protecting vital community services. In our work on the Post Office’s £2 billion transformation programme, for example, we now make a difference in 88% of the cases we work on - up from 57% four years ago.

A bus stop moved, a ramp installed, or a vital service kept open: lifelines for the millions of vulnerable and elderly people who rely on postal services every day.

Next year, our goal is simple: to continue generating returns for consumers far in excess of the amount our work costs. Our work on excessive profits alone has put £210 million - and counting - back into consumers’ pockets, 50 times the total annual cost of our energy work. To do this, we will continue to use our cross-cutting insights to learn lessons across sectors, and we keep speaking up for vulnerable people, scrutinising deals, and challenging incumbents.

To this end, we have categorised the work in this plan under four themes:

  • Protecting consumers in turbulent times by ​strengthening mechanisms of consumer power​ : redress, choice, and consumer voice.

  • Throwing light on the way billions of pounds are spent on ​Infrastructure and major projects​, making sure consumers get value for money.

  • Tackling ​practices that exploit consumer behaviour​, such as misleading pricing or bills that sky-rocket when a fixed-contract ends.

  • Fighting for ​protections and market access for vulnerable people​, from economically excluded groups to people at risk of scams.

We’re hugely grateful for the number of responses we received to our draft work plan. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and supported the four themes above. The responses also helped us improve the plan and we have adjusted our plans accordingly. For example, we removed work on marketing mail opt-outs and integrated new areas of focus in other areas. For transparency, this year we are also publishing, alongside this plan, a summary of the 62 stakeholder responses [ 380 kb] we received and the changes we have made in response.

We look forward to working with all our stakeholders as we fight for consumer interests in the coming year.

James Plunkett

Executive Director of Policy & Advocacy

Citizens Advice