Campaign wins, successes and milestones - how we've been fighting your corner in 2023

"Cutting your costs, fighting your corner." This - our mission - has been at the heart of everything we do for 20 years and counting.

That second part, "fighting your corner", speaks to our campaigning - representing the interests of consumers in the corridors of power, and using our clout to push for change in places where following our MoneySaving tips won't make a difference. 

It has been a landmark campaigning year so far for Martin and the team - we've secured big changes in huge markets, such as energy, pensions and mortgages. Here's what we've been up to in 2023... so far.

WIN. Keeping your energy bills lower for longer

In the autumn of last year, fresh into the role, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced that the Energy Price Guarantee (EPG) would rise in April from £2,500 a year to £3,000 a year for a typical household, as part of a rollback of Government energy support. The EPG is effectively a state subsidy to keep energy bills down.

But as we ticked over into 2023, wholesale energy prices began to significantly drop, which would have left us in a nonsensical situation where, from April, our bills would rise while wholesale rates drop.

The EPG is technically in place until next spring - but we all pay the lower of the EPG or the regulator's energy price cap. And from July 2023, the price cap was expected to drop below £2,500 a year (and eventually did). It quickly became clear that the Government would need to subsidise less of our energy bills than it expected AND it would only have needed to do it until July this year. 

All this meant that the scheme would cost the Government billions less than originally budgeted for, so it had plenty of room in its budget to keep the support at the same level - £2,500 a year for a typical household - and prevent millions more falling into fuel poverty in just a few months. 

We wrote to the Chancellor and the Energy Secretary Grant Shapps in February and our message was supported by more than 130 major charities including Citizens Advice, National Energy Action, and a range of organisations covering all manner of vulnerabilities and needs.

And finally, in the spring Budget, the campaign was won. The Chancellor wrote back to us to confirm that the planned hike in the EPG would be postponed, so it would stay at £2,500 a year. He even credited Martin and our campaign in his speech at the dispatch box. This was our first major campaign win of the year – and importantly it would have slowed any further mental, physical and financial distress for millions of struggling consumers.

... and we've tackled more issues with the broken energy market 

In July, energy regulator Ofgem asked suppliers to clearly publish details of all of their energy tariffs to make it easier for households to understand if a fixed deal is worth switching to. It comes after Martin wrote an urgent letter to Ofgem boss Jonathan Brearley, asking him to ensure suppliers publish existing customer-only fixes for all to see. Read our news story for more on why this is so important. 

We've also been working hard to fix other issues you have told us about.

  • We are campaigning to lower standing charges - the fixed daily cost you pay for energy. At the moment, a typical household will pay some £300 just for having the facility of gas and electricity, before actually having used any. We think this is a moral hazard and have asked the energy regulator to take action. 
  • MSE’s investigations team identified sweeping issues with the new Warm Home Discount criteria – which the Energy Secretary committed to reviewing.
  • We've closely monitored how consumers were receiving Government energy bills support over the winter, identifying issues with missing vouchers for prepayment customers and ensured smart prepay users could transfer support credit from electricity to gas, so they could use the top up to heat their homes.
  • We've convened a working group of major energy suppliers, supported by Citizens Advice, StepChange and National Energy Action, to find ways firms can better support those struggling.

We have also supported calls for the Government to introduce a 'social tariff' and consider measures for the most vulnerable customers this winter too - energy bills are still double what they used to be. If you are finding it difficult, visit our struggling to pay energy bills guide.

WIN. Support for those hit hardest by the mortgage crisis

Last autumn, and again in spring, Martin met the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to discuss what more could be done for borrowers who are hit hardest by the budget-crippling crunch of rising inflation, escalating mortgage rates and squeezed affordability.

We told him about barriers stopping some struggling borrowers getting help from their lenders, which included poor communication, needless affordability checks, inconsistent levels of support and fears about credit scores. We also talked to him about ways to help people feel more confident about taking support, such as allowing them to take reversible, temporary relief on mortgage arrangements, with an automatic right to put it back to how it was. 

This led to the Chancellor agreeing a Mortgage Charter with lenders covering more than 90% of residential mortgages. This includes new measures that MSE recommended - a six month reversible term extension or interest only period with no credit impact. MSE has also created a new guide for struggling mortgage borrowers.

The hope is that these efforts will encourage more people to seek help from their lenders before falling into arrears and ultimately, having their homes repossessed. 

WIN. Deadline to top up national insurance years extended to 2025

The deadline to top up missing national insurance years between 2006 and 2016 was extended from 5 April 2023 to 31 July 2023, and then again to 5 April 2025. This came after we, along with other campaigners, warned the Pensions Minister Laura Trott that many could unfairly miss out on a substantial state pension boost because essential helpline services were desperately overwhelmed. The price of topping up national insurance years was also frozen and the Government announced it would make the process easier by making part of the service digital.

The extension means tens of thousands of people with gaps in their national insurance record, who are not on track to get the full state pension, should now have time to get the information they need from Government helplines before making any voluntary contributions to HMRC. Doing this can can be incredibly lucrative. Many, for example, can spend £800 or less and get £5,500 back - read our guide to check if you could also benefit.

WIN. Mobile roaming protections to return, plus clearer info on charges

We have called on the telecoms regulator, Ofcom, to reinstate and improve important protections for customers who are mobile roaming, after Brexit brought these rights to an end. We have been monitoring unclear, hidden and confusing information from our mobile providers about roaming charges and data caps when we travel abroad.

Our report revealed that consumers could be caught out by unexpected roaming costs that were lost, meaning that mobile networks no longer need to warn users of roaming charges, provide a monthly cap on data roaming fees, or offer protections against inadvertent roaming. Plus, we found that for EU roaming charges, which have returned for most, different providers use different definitions of a 'day' of roaming, leaving consumers at risk of overpaying.

Our recent investigation also revealed how some networks limit the amount of data you can use for free when travelling – even if you have roaming as part of your bundle – and not all providers make it clear that they do this. 

Now, following our campaign, the regulator has announced it will take action to force mobile providers to make roaming information "clear, comprehensible and accurate" - though the rules will likely not come in until next summer.

We continued our campaign to free 200,000 mortgage prisoners

We have been campaigning to release mortgage prisoners since 2015. To cut a very complicated issue down to its bare bones, this is about borrowers who were sold mortgages prior to the 2008 financial crash. When their lenders - like Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley - folded, the Government sold many of their loans to asset management firms that are NOT regulated mortgage lenders, effectively prioritising profit over people.

But the real pain for these borrowers came in 2014 when there was change of rules requiring that mortgages across the board come with strict affordability checks. These rules are a good thing on the whole, but it meant that these mortgage prisoners have been unable to switch to another mortgage on the open market, and are trapped on extortionately high rates they can't change, with firms that can't or won't give them a new deal, for over a decade. 

For years we have been banging at the Treasury’s door on this issue. In March we launched the third report in a series we commissioned from the London School of Economics, presenting the Government with costed solutions that could free some mortgage prisoners.

As well as the terrible financial and mental health impact, the report shockingly found that the Government has made a £2.4bn surplus from the sale of these loans, and knew that it could cause harm - meaning it has both a financial and moral responsibility to help these people.

The report launch was hosted in Parliament by Martin Lewis and the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on mortgage prisoners, and it was well attended by MPs, representatives from the financial regulator and the Treasury, and mortgage prisoners themselves. We had a response from Andrew Griffith, the Treasury minister responsible for this issue, promising to take advice on the recommendations of the report. We continue to chase for an outcome on this.

A new campaign to overhaul the outdated LISA rules COSTING first-time buyers

We want to see reform of the outdated rules and thresholds linked to Lifetime ISAs – the Government savings vehicle which gives you a 25% bonus on up to £4,000 a year of savings, for the purchase of a first home under £450,000 or for retirement. It sounds like an unbeatable savings account for a first-time buyer. But there's a catch. 

If you want to withdraw your cash for any reason other than to buy a qualifying first home or for retirement, you’ll face a 25% penalty. The way the maths works means that you'd lose not only the bonus and any interest earned, but also around 6.25% of your OWN hard-earned savings – which is inherently unfair and against the Government’s own aim of supporting savers at all stages of life and from all walks of life. 

In fact, our report, which we presented to the Treasury in January, found that the Government has taken £9.5m in savers own cash so far.

Since the LISA launched in 2017, average house prices have shot up, meaning that more people may need to withdraw their savings to purchase a home over the £450,000 limit. Savers in areas with high property prices potentially face a difficult choice – withdraw their money from the LISA and lose some of their own savings, or leave the money in the LISA until retirement and start saving all over again through other means.

The limit sounds very high, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that only Londoners would be affected by this penalty. And that’s partly true – average house prices in London were already over the limit when the scheme launched. However, prices are rising over three times faster in other areas of the UK. This means this could become a problem in other areas too, and London should serve as a warning of what could happen if the LISA rules stay as they are.

Our campaign calls for the Government to reduce the withdrawal penalty for savers who are still using the cash to buy a home - just one over the limit - so they’d lose the bonus but none of their own hard-earned savings. In fact, during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government DID reduce the withdrawal penalty, so we know it's possible to do it again. Ideally, we'd also like to see the LISA limit raised to catch up with average house prices, and raised or lowered every year after in line. 

After our report was released, many MPs have raised this issue with the Treasury, and we hope that this will soon lead to this unfair penalty being canned for good. 

Plus, a few important milestones for our long-running campaigns

Some of our campaigns are close to being won, but the rules haven't quite been set just yet. 
  • The Online Safety Bill is just months away from finally becoming law - hopefully not long after Parliament returns after the summer. We, along with other consumer campaigners, called for scam advertising to be included in the Bill, so that social media companies and search engines who are paid to publish adverts from fraudsters would have a legal duty to prevent and take down these ads.

    Fraud is now the crime you are most likely to fall victim to and it can destroy your life, mental health and finances. When the Bill passes, there will still be work to do from the new regulator, Ofcom, to set the standards, but we hope this will eventually lead to instances of people coming across scams on these platforms dramatically reducing. 

    We have always been concerned though that the Bill does not apply to other forms of online advertising, like the ads that you see floating around on other websites. We have been calling for the Government to plug this gap, and it has finally announced that it intends to create new laws to put the responsibility on these firms to stop illegal scam adverts. It's long overdue, but it finally seems we are headed in the right direction.
  • Earlier this year, the Government finally published draft legislation which would bring buy now, pay later services into financial regulation - read our campaigns blog for more on why this is so important. We were pleased that all of our calls were listed to, though progress had been much too slow. 

    However, there have recently been worrying reports that the Government may shelve this legislation. We are extremely concerned about this - so along with Citizens Advice, Christians Against Poverty, Money Advice Trust, StepChange and Which?, we wrote to the Chancellor in July, urging him to press ahead with the new rules as soon as possible.