It's the little things that really irk. Politicians often focus on 'legacy change' leaving practical solutions to life's nitty gritty missed. Often they're so simple it only takes 50 words to explain, so we asked MoneySavingExpert users for suggestions and compiled this manifesto to send to politicians.
In summer 2009, MoneySavingExpert asked site users to suggest little things, in around 50 words, that could speedily be changed to make life fairer when dealing with companies and money issues. We had a wide range of suggestions. See full 50 words 2010 discussion from which we've picked a selection of the best.
What are the criteria?
We also ignored anything that'd been done before and 'changed' (eg, married couples' allowance) as our focus is providing new ideas for politicians, not engaging in existing debate. Of course, we don't expect everyone to agree with all suggestions, but we do hope you'll think most of them are sensible ideas for fair change.
Which politicians will look at it?
We asked the party leaders for their comments on the 50 words manifesto. Here's what they said:
"Who better than the millions of users of moneysavingexpert.com to suggest innovative ideas to help customers and make Britain fairer?
"Some really excellent ideas have already been put forward. Many may seem small but will actually make a huge difference to people’s everyday lives."The Liberal Democrats will look carefully at each proposal and will be campaigning for common sense measures like these at the coming election."
"Consumers have the right to expect a no-nonsense approach from businesses, and this Government is always open to new ideas that put the consumer in the driving seat.
"We are already working hard to secure a fairer deal for the consumer on a wide range of issues, for example by increasing fines for companies making silent calls, making switching between bank accounts easier, ensuring bank charges are fair, and wide-ranging reform of the credit and store card industry.
"We will look closely at good, practical ideas suggested by MoneySavingExpert users."
"We've set out a series of detailed policy proposals to protect consumers and ensure a fairer deal on financial products, from introducing a cap on excessive store card interest rates to creating Britain's first free national financial advice service.
"However, we recognise that when it comes to protecting consumers, we don't have all the answers, so we're looking forward to reading your ideas in the weeks ahead."
Change has already started
Even before we launched the full manifesto we started work spreading the message about the ideas...
- Treasury Select Commitee Investigation launched
The Treasury Select Committee has already picked up on one of the initial suggestions: the 'Right to know the rate you'll get before applications go on credit files' (see below), specifically naming MSE as the source, and has run an investigation into it (see the MPs call for probe into 'unfair' credit applications MSE News story).
- Consumer Focus considering investigations
When we showed the list to Consumer Focus it went through it in detail and is already considering investigating a couple of the topics.
We’ve also shown the list to Ofgem and met a positive response and intent for it to go to the FCA consumer panel and relevant regulators for each area.
The 50 word suggestions
The following are MoneySavers' 'fifty-word' suggestions. We have done some minor editing and changes where appropriate. Thank you to all those who made suggestions. Each has an added comment and explanation from Martin...
"Airlines must put all their charges into the main price and stop the ridiculous extras added once you've already chosen that airline, such as card payment fees and charges to check yourself and your luggage in"
Martin says: This is by far the most repeated suggestion. The fact paying by either debit or credit card, or checking in, can be deemed an 'extra' is typical of shockingly misleading pricing policies.
Many airlines want to make their advertised prices look cheaper than the competition but if they all played by the rules, then everyone would start from the same base and there wouldn't be a problem.
Yet it is possible to scupper their price tricks, see the Beat Budget Airline Fees guide.
"Energy companies should notify customers of increases in tariffs in advance. At the moment, an energy company can notify you in March that all the gas you used in the previous Dec, Jan and Feb will now be charged at a higher price than you were told!"
Martin says: As long as gas & electricity providers inform you within roughly 90 days of a price rise, they're within the rules. If this does happen, you already have the right to switch providers and don't have to pay the difference in price. Yet surely we should be told in advance, and at least 30 days in advance (see Cheap Gas & Electricity).
(and the associated 'legal extortion')
"This has already been done in Scotland, so why can't it happen in the rest of the UK, why should they be allowed to kidnap our car without strict controls on their actions?"
Martin says: What purpose does clamping serve? It's a hideous tax on motorists yet does no-one any good (other than firms' bank balances) as it annoys motorists and means a poorly parked car cannot be moved for a while, potentially holding up traffic or blocking a space for someone else.
The rules on this are lax, there is no automatic right of appeal, it's like giving permission for legal extortion. We need to ban private clamping and completely overall the entire private parking ticket rules (see Fight Private Parking Tickets guide).
"If you terminate a contract made using a regular payment on your credit or debit card, rather than via a direct debit, you have to rely on the company you are paying to cancel it."
Martin says: If you set up what feels like a 'direct debit' from your credit or debit card, it's technically called a 'recurring payment', and you can't call your bank and cancel it – only the company you've set it up with can.
This leads to many nightmares with people having cash repeatedly taken from their accounts and no way to stop it (see the full Recurring Payments guide).
"There are countless stories of people who have been switched to a different utility company, without their permission, following a cold call from a salesman. The Government needs to be doing more to protect us from what is basically a form of fraud. "
Martin says: It's not just salespeople signing you up to a deal you didn't agree to but also the high-pressure selling tactics, a particular problem for the frail and elderly, which has to stop.
many people are ahead of you
"If you're held waiting in a call centre queue, on a paid phone call, firms should be mandated to tell you what place you are in the queue or how long the wait is expected to be. "
Martin says: Not only will knowing how long you could be on hold for stop you wasting valuable time in a massive queue when you could call later, but it also could stop you spending too much on a long premium rate number.
"Companies that charge for credit card payments should not be allowed to profit from them. They often pay fees to take your plastic payment but you should be charged exactly what they are charged. Yet firms often use this to profiteer."
Martin says: I agree with this solution, though I would give a small amount of room for admin costs on top. Many companies add hugely disproportionate costs for paying by credit or even debit cards – eg, Ryanair charges £5 each way per person, yet its cost is a tiny fraction of that.
If companies need to boost their revenue, they should raise the price of their upfront costs to make their true prices more transparent.
contract should be cancelled
"If the cashback company breaches a contract by not coughing up cash, then the whole contract should be void. The networks might then take a more responsible view whether they wish to deal with these suppliers."
Martin says: Mobile phone cashback deals are based on the fact claiming cashback means jumping more hurdles than Colin Jackson on Red Bull. Yet people have got wise, and started claiming more than expected, leaving some retailers bust.
This leaves customers on expensive monthly tariffs, which the networks, even though they often encourage cashback retailers, won't usually allow customers to cancel. This system must be fairer to consumers (see Mobile Cashback guide).
to your tips
"It must be clear how exactly service charges are distributed to staff, such as whether they go directly to waiters in addition to their wage, or whether they go to the restaurant."
Martin says: Since October 2009, restaurants have been barred from using tips to make up wages to the minimum wage. Let's go one step further and make sure customers know when they tip by card or cash exactly whose pocket the money goes into.
before offering them to you first
"If you owe a firm (eg, a loan company) money, they sometimes sell it to a third party but charge them less than what you owed.
Instead, you should first be given the option of the same settlement figure. This would diminish the unscrupulous tactics of third party debt firms which often harass borrowers for money."
Martin says: This idea is genius. Lenders often sell your debt for a loss so why not just ask you to pay back whatever it will accept?
This at least gives you the chance to avoid the grief often caused by debt administrators and means you pay less of your debt off than planned without the lender losing out.
phone numbers to govt offices
"This is an outrageous practice that often hurts/targets those who need their help the most, and who are most likely to be using the number because they are desperate for benefit payments, for example."
Martin says: These numbers either make profit for the department called or at least offset their telephone costs.
As well as costing more, they're not part of most free calls allocation – this is a disgrace for government departments try to make cash when you make enquiries about crucial aspects of law or benefit/tax rules, or when getting advice. See the Saynoto0870 guide.
"Why can some bank transfers take a matter of seconds, yet moving money from one cash Isa to another can take months?"
Martin says: This has been an issue for many years due to the archaic paper-based transfer system. The snail-paced process has been sped up marginally over recent months but it still too slow and can leave money in limbo for months.
Isa transfers are not as simple as basic transfers as the recipient has to confirm your tax status. Yet it could at least hold the money (with you earning interest from day 1 and having the opportunity to withdraw it) until all checks have been done (see the Top Cash ISA Transfer guide).
payments over 12 months, not 10
"This would help people budget much better rather than the current system where, for a strange reason, you often default to pay over ten months, and then pay nothing for two."
Martin says: There seems to be little logic behind the current system, which often brings confusion for taxpayers. Why not make it simple like most bill payments and spread them over the full year?
"People should be allowed to pay afterwards for parking they've used, and not fined for failure to correctly predict the future. Say you pay for 30 minutes but get held up in a shop, and it takes 40 minutes, you should be given the option to pay on return for the extra."
Martin says: The title of this suggestion's pure practical poetry. With text and phone-based parking meters being introduced why should we need to predict? We can text/call when we arrive, and again when we leave, only paying for the length of our stay. It's time parking authorities injected some realism into the system.
happen if you miss payments
"Unsecured lenders, such as credit card or loan firms, sometimes seek what's called a 'charging order' on your home if you fall into arrears, which could force you to sell your house to pay back the debt. Yet, unlike secured lenders, where your property is the lender's security, they do not clearly state that your home could be at risk."
Martin says: If you miss a mortgage or secured loan payment it is clear on your contract that your home is at risk.
If you miss a credit card or personal loan payment it is not clear, yet some lenders still try to force you to sell your family home to recover their debt which is a completely disproportionate and plainly unfair. If they want this option they should face publishing the same caveats as secured lenders.
contracts if you get no signal at home
"If you can't use your phone due to poor reception, that is your network's fault and you should not be punished by having to pay for a service you cannot receive."
Martin says: We hear many tales of consumers unable to get out of contracts when they get no signal. Yet sign up in a shop and you've no right to cancel.
(unless you've no ID)
"Having an account to pay in money, to withdraw cash and to set up a direct debit from should be a basic requirement for all. While you may be turned down for an overdraft or a more complex account, everyone should be entitled to a basic current account. "
Martin says: My issue with this is slightly different. Banks are commercial organisations and it's up to them who they give accounts to. Yet as a political sop they almost all now boast of offering 'basic bank accounts' which should be available to everyone as it doesn't have an overdraft.
Yet go in and apply for an account, and even if you say you've got credit issues, you often won't be given an application form for one – it'll be for a normal account and you'll get rejected. So my mandate would be banks must tell you when turned down for a normal account that you can open a basic account. See the Best Bank Accounts guide.
"Pubs and bars should be required to display their prices clearly and prominently. Generally, you don't find out the price until after the drink has been poured and it can be more than you expect."
Martin says: While there are price lists, often they're nowhere near the bar itself. Why not ensure every bottle of beer or wine price should be on an easily accessible menu before ordering?
advance should be held in trust by the
supplier in case they go bust
"Anyone involved in the management of a business should be classed as a trustee and may be held liable if the monies in the trust are not protected.. "
Martin says: While a good idea, it's likely this will be impossible to implement across the board. However, it may be possible to set up a form of protection that could be put into place for items costing over £100, similar to Section 75 rules, that protect large credit card purchases. Yet we must remember the impact this will have on many businesses' cash flow.
dates & tariff details on statements
"You often have little idea when you're able to switch or exactly what charges are, due to the non-transparent nature of communications from providers."
Martin says: It is not a difficult thing to state when your contract is up or what exactly your costs are. No doubt these details are deliberately hidden to encourage you to spend more with that firm.
When we showed this idea to Ofgem, it told us from July 2010 new rules will mean companies will have to put tariff details on all statements and a new annual statement will tell consumers, amoungst other info, their contract end date and estimated cost for the year ahead; although the later won't say what happens if a promotional rate ends in the next year, so watch out for this if it applies to you.
"When you buy a fridge, washing machine or TV the price itself is not enough to determine what it'll cost you. You should also be told how energy efficient it is so you're aware of how much power you will have to use to keep it going. "
Martin says: When you buy a car, you're told how many miles it does to the gallon/litre so you know the running costs. The principles here are exactly the same and will encourage people to buy cheaper, and greener, items in future.
proportional cooling off periods
"Contracts are moving towards longer minimum terms (two years with many mobiles), therefore the consumer should be allowed to change their mind within a few days, even if the contract was sold in a store. It is too easy to tie oneself into a two-year commitment"
Martin says: When contracts are sold by mail order, by phone or by internet you have a cooling off period, but not necessarily at a store, though some companies offer one for the sake of customer service.
This needs to change, to be enshrined in law, in case companies change their policies.
automatically take money from a
savings account to pay off debts
"This process, known as setting off, should be outlawed as it means people are unexpectedly left without the balance they expected in their savings account. Sometimes this means vital purchases are not then possible."
Martin says: Setting off allows banks to take money from a savings account, without warning or permission, to pay off the same person's (or a joint or sometimes even a related child's) account. It effectively penalises those who bank and save with the same institution.
The danger here is the misprioritisation of finances. Money put aside to pay a priority debt, eg, a mortgage, can be usurped by the bank to clear a credit card. There are no rules here, it needs tightening up. See the Setting Off guide.
"Anyone ticketed, clamped or towed away by a private firm when on private land should have the right to an independent appeal - as happens when you're ticketed by a council."
Martin says: It beggars belief that private firms can slap a ticket on your windscreen for whatever size penalty they wish and your only right to an appeal (other than via the courts) is with the firm that is making money from issuing the ticket in the first place.
"It is unjust that homebuyers pay the highest possible stamp duty rate on the whole property value, so if you're in the 3% bracket (as opposed to the 1% bracket) you pay 3% on the entire value.
I'd like the system revised to match the income tax approach so that the next tax band only applies to the amount of money above the threshold."
Martin says: I completely agree, it's not the rate of stamp duty that worries me, but the fact the way it's implemented breaks all rules of tax fairness. If you buy a property worth £250,001, you pay 3% on the whole lot (£7,500). Yet if it's worth £250,000 you pay 1% (£2,500) so a pound increase means a £5,000 tax increase.
With income tax, you only pay the increased rate on earnings above the threshold and changing stamp duty to this system would make it much fairer (see my blog The worst tax... stamp duty).
tax at any time
"The rules state you can only challenge your band within six months of moving in. How can this be fair when many people have only learned over the past three or four years they may be in the wrong band, yet they could have moved in decades ago?"
Martin says: This rule is a nonsense for the exact reason above. Successive governments have been raking in millions by overcharging householders by placing them in the wrong tax band. But this scandal has only come to light over recent years.
Some people have successfully challenged their banding after six months (see the Council Tax Rebanding guide for how) but the Valuation Office is under no obligation to hear your appeal outside this time.
by the Consumer Credit Act
"These companies sometimes register a default against your credit file but not all mobile contracts are regulated by the Consumer Credit Act."
Martin says: If a company can add notes to your credit file and impact your credit score it needs to be regulated to ensure it does it fairly. Simple as that.
interest/charges where borrower has
arranged a plan through a debt charity
"If someone is in such dire straits that they've had to seek a debt charity payment plan, then lenders need to be mandated not profit further from those already in distress. It just propels the consumer into even deeper trouble."
Martin says: The continued levying of expensive interest means the borrower becomes even more distressed and the lender has less chance of getting their money back as many cannot afford to pay.
However, I think we need be careful of the blanket 'anyone who goes to a debt charity' must have their interest frozen. The aim is to protect those who are in trouble, so there needs to be a codifying of what that means – and should be agreed between debt charities and the industry.
make properties energy efficient
"Many rental properties, particularly student digs, are run down with little regard given to how energy efficient they are. If they were more efficient it would mean tenants pay less on their gas and electricity."
Martin says: Such a move would not only mean tenants spend less but it would help the environment so it would make sense to give grants or tax breaks to landlords to insulate their homes or make other energy saving changes.
of goods by the till
"Retailers sometimes tell you their returns policy but many don't make it clear what your statutory legal rights are and how to deal with faulty goods."
Martin says: These are what I call the 'Sad Fart' rules and need to be clear to consumers as this is often an area of misunderstanding. 'Sad fart' means good must be of:
Satisfactory quality, As Described, Fit for the purpose, And last a Reasonable Time.
They should be printed in every shop (until that happens get a free Wallet-sized Consumer Rights crib sheet to put in your wallet).
balance - not 'available to spend'
"It is too easy to overlook the fact that what is shown on one's account isn't all your money, as much of it could be an overdraft, so it encourages spending. For example, it could say £510 is available but you may only have a £10 balance plus a £500 overdraft limit."
Martin says: This is an example of the irresponsible lending that has blighted the economy and partly contributed to the credit crunch. While this is not the most heinous crime committed by banks, it is still something that needs to change to help consumers budget.
'surface water drainage charges', where
the home has a soakaway
"According to Ofwat's rules, water companies only have to refund the current year's charges instead of all of the historical charges. Legislation should be introduced to require water firms to identify all properties with a soakaway and automatically refund those homes."
Martin says: You should never be charged for a service you do not receive, so if people are already dealing with surface water themselves, they should not have to pay extra.
Once water firms know how long the soakaway has been there for they should refund all charges during that time (see the Water Bill Cost Cutting guide).
Martin's five suggestions
Here are Martin's five suggestions, made before the others were gathered up:
While paying by direct debit is cheaper, you've no legal right to demand the amount you pay is fair; meaning companies can up it willy-nilly. This should be stopped.
See the Fight Energy Direct Debits guide.
Every online & printed statement should state your current interest rate, or how can you monitor it. Often, the only way to find your rate is going to a confusing online page with scores of similarly named accounts.
This is the idea that sparked the 50 words manifesto, and has had both a Savers' Rights No.10 Petition and Savers Rights' Parliamentary motion.
applications go on credit files
Apply for a product and it puts a mark on your credit file, which hits your credit score. Yet many products are 'rate for risk', which means that without applying you won't know the rate you'll be offered. This is a vicious circle that should be stopped as many are unaware that applying can harm them.
The Treasury Select committee of MPs saw this suggestion and has already conducted an investigation into it. See the MPs call for probe into 'unfair' credit applications MSE News story, and for full info on how credit applications work, see the Credit Rating guide.
Unlike council tax where if your property is overvalued you can be rebanded (see Council Tax Rebanding), water rates are set and now over twenty years old, and haven't moved with the times. People need a right to challenge unfair water rates.
know price per min at start
When you make a phone call, you should have the option to automatically be told the price per minute cost at the start. Many override providers do this but not mainstream companies. It would make things more transparent.