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Citizens Advice: Consumer champion - The Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland final work plan for 2016/17

30 June 2016

Well-functioning consumer markets are a keystone of a modern economy. When they work well, they deliver extraordinary levels of innovation and efficiency, keeping prices low and creating products and services that meet people’s needs. Sometimes, though, markets misfire. Scams emerge that exploit consumers and undercut companies that play by the rules. Prices become opaque and hard to compare. And, in regulated markets like energy and post, such problems can be systemic: consumers can become locked into bad deals, vulnerable groups can be overlooked, and a range of market failures can leave prices unjustifiably high.

As a consumer champion, we’re here to correct these problems, working with government, regulators and competition authorities, to spot problems early and hold bad behaviour to account. We do this with a mix of public pressure and behind the scenes partnerships, representing consumers in everything from public debate about energy bills to complex negotiations over regulatory rules. The Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland work plan for 2016/17 [ 0.92 mb] describes the work we will do in 2016/17. It is the first fully integrated plan from the combined consumer organisation created by the government’s consumer landscape changes. As such, the plan starts to realise the benefits of an integrated consumer voice that is both more effective and more efficient.

We are grateful for the feedback we received to our draft work plan. This feedback was broadly supportive, and endorsed the central question that guides our work for the year: how to improve consumer outcomes in a world of such rapid technological change. There was particular support for the emphasis our plan puts on data. The Citizens Advice service helps 2.5 million people directly a year, face to face or over the phone, and 23 million unique users visit our website annually. The unrivalled real-time data this work generates has huge value, particularly when joined with other data sources, allowing new ways to spot detriment early, guide enforcement, and scrutinise consumer outcomes.

The feedback we received was particularly helpful in linking our plan with work being done by other organisations. ‘Additionality’ is a watchword for everything we do, and our consultation helped us hone our plans to add maximum value. In places, we have been able to drop plans that duplicated other work, refocusing our resources. We will continue these conversations throughout the year, with progress meetings with Ofgem and Ofcom, research bilaterals with government and others to link up our work and, of course, our ongoing accountability relationship with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

This year, funding for our work has been frozen, meaning this work plan will be delivered within the same £6.9 million budget as our 2015/16 work. This covers the combined work of Citizens Advice and CAS. We believe this is the right settlement, creating a healthy pressure for ongoing efficiencies to maintain our impact. Within this envelope, we plan to proceed with the same proportional split between our work on energy and post. We will work closely with BIS and the Scottish Government as appropriate to track our expenditure on projects throughout the year.

Of course, the ultimate test of our work lies in the return we deliver for consumers. We want to maximise our impact for every pound spent. Last year, our campaign on prepayment meters alone put more money back into consumers’ pockets than the entire budget for our energy work. This year again, our plan is designed to secure an impact far in excess of our budget; at the end of the year we will publish our annual report to assess how we have done.