A month in the life of MSE Campaigns – January

While my colleagues in the editorial team are busy finding you the best savings, sales and switching tips, part of my new role as the site’s Campaign Officer is the less public side of MoneySavingExpert.com’s work. This blog is a way to let you know some of the ways we are fighting your corner in the background.

Along with my five years’ experience from working at MSE, and previously working for Citizens Advice and Trading Standards, to do my job I discuss our stance with Martin, get feedback from the rest of the team and monitor views and problems from the 10,000s of emails and forum posts we get each day to tell the Government, regulators and watchdogs what consumers need.

January’s a big month for policy workers, where campaigns and initiatives are planned and many political and consumer groups are asking for input. So here’s some of the things I’ve been involved in that I can tell you about (a few issues are yet to be announced so can’t be mentioned just yet)…

The Financial Ombudsman wants feedback on its new fees structure:

The Ombudsman charges firms to handle their complaints. From next year it’s proposing to break them into small, medium and large users, charging a separate fee for each. Plus it may add an additional £350 to PPI Reclaims to help it deal with the increasing numbers expected during 2012. It will still be free for consumers.

We were asked to comment on the proposal and I wrote to say we were broadly in favour, but also concerned that the new proposals still don’t incentivise financial institutions to settle complaints in house. Firms pay the same if 8% or 80% of cases are awarded against them, so they’ve no interest to sort complaints early.

Sharing ideas on collective purchasing with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC):

MSE is a member of DECC’s Collective Purchase and Switching Working Group along with other consumer groups and representatives from the energy market.

This month I attended a round-table meeting to discuss how collective purchasing (where a third party looks for best deals and switches a group of consumers) could work in the energy market. It’s an area the Government is looking at in several markets. The Department for Business is also hosting a microsite and looking for consumers’ views via our forum.

Financial Services Authority (FSA) review of its complaints data:

The FSA has published complaints data about individual firms for 18 months. It’s now reviewing the effectiveness to see if the process can be improved. I fed into the review by saying, while not being the main way to choose products and services, awareness of the data seems to be growing with consumers. We believe factual, easy-to-understand and trusted data will help consumers choose where they want to shop.

Working alongside Which? on Payment Protection Insurance reclaiming:

I’ve been working on a couple of Payment Protection Insurance projects with Which? over the last few months. It’s a little early for us to give more details, but with both organisations working together we’re hoping to shake up the reclaim process this year. Watch this space for more info!

Reviewing the work of the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information:

With UCAS applications for 2012 starters down in England the taskforce, headed by Martin and helped by university and student groups, has been reviewing its work to set the focus for the year ahead. We’ve now released pdf guides, a calculator, videos, lesson plans, mobile app (see resources) and organised a Student Finance Day which saw over 60 universities hold events in England and Wales.

Feeding through to Trading Standards Institute (TSI) about Consumer Week:

TSI have held a consumer week for the past few years. With this year’s focus on switching, or more specifically "Helping you Haggle", we are planning to be a partner in the event along with Consumer Focus.

Catching up with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) news and consumer teams:

MSE Guy, our news editor, and I met the OFT to find out what’s in store for the watchdog during 2012. It’s losing quite a few of its areas of work but there are some interesting reports due soon.

These include an investigation into airline surcharges, a payday lending compliance review, private motor insurance study results and a review of the current account market to see how things have been going since the bank charges test case. I used this opportunity to remind their head of news how she ran away from me outside the Supreme Court during the bank charges test case!

Campaign of the Week

A new addition to the weekly email in October last year, the aim of Campaign of the Week is to champion a consumer campaign undertaken by someone else. I’ve had some great replies from this month’s campaigns which show what a difference collective consumer power can make.

  • Save the Children ‘No child left in the cold’ petition: 1000s of MoneySavers signed the petition to persuade energy companies to help poorer families with their energy bills. Several providers have now agreed to meet the charity to discuss the issues. See more on the campaign.

  • Consumer Credit Counselling Service ‘Payday loans and debt management spamming’ campaign: The debt advice charity received 100s of replies from spammed MoneySavers and MSE coverage was the tipping point for the Information Commissioner’s Office to announce it’s tackling the problem as a “high priority”.

  • Citizens Advice ‘Big Energy Week’: A nationwide campaign of events and tips on how to cut energy costs. Each day the Citizens Advice team also collected themed stories such as this one on ‘how much of your income do your gas and electric bills eat up?’ which included MoneySavers’ tweets.

  • Pre-loved ‘Clear out the Clutter’ donations: Throughout January the classified advertising site paid £1 to Action for Children for each new ad placed on its site and MoneySavers helped raise around £2,000 for the charity.

  • Money for Life challenge: This new scheme offers grants to teachers and community groups to help 16-to-24-year-olds develop money management skills and pass on tips to their friends, families and communities. See more info.

If you’re a charity, community group or organisation with a top campaign coming up, please send us a campaign of the week suggestion.

And finally…

While not a campaign as such, as a big fan I wanted to add an honorary mention for the long-awaited legal changes introduced for credit unions. These local savings and loan co-operatives now have more power to provide extra services to their communities and more flexibility on who can use the union. Yay! See our Credit Union guide to see if there’s a union near you.

Comment and discuss: A month in the life of MSE Campaigns – January