Chair's welcome


As I come to the end of my second and final term as Chair of Which?, this is a welcome opportunity for me to look forward with confidence to the future of the organisation, as well as reflecting on the significant changes over the past four years.

We are living through a period of rapid change as we learn to live in a digitally driven society. UK consumers are increasingly choosing digital avenues to access the products and services that are important to them - online shopping, booking travel, managing utilities, streaming entertainment. Online service providers and retailers are changing the face of our high streets and are redefining when, where and how consumers interact with businesses. In the last year alone nearly three quarters of banking interactions took place online and more than 2,400 bricks and mortar retail stores closed. For all the advantages these changes can bring, they raise urgent new questions about consumer rights and protection.

I am pleased that Which? has now wholeheartedly embraced the implications of this technological revolution. Today, there is no doubt that the digital world is at the heart of our championing of the consumer interest.

This rapid external change has also required significant transformation in the way Which? operates as an organisation; we have to ensure that we have the necessary capabilities not only to respond but to predict the needs and problems of consumers that lie ahead, so that we can continue to be the preeminent force for consumer good.

Update from the Chair of Which? Limited Board


This year Which? has performed well and delivered strong results, leaving me impressed once again by the resilience and dedication of the organisation, especially in the face of significant external and internal changes.

The income from our commercial subsidiaries in 2019/20 was £99.1 million, down 1% on 2018/19. This reflects an in-year fall in mortgage advice income and subscription revenue, balanced by an increase in our endorsement scheme revenue.

One of the outcomes of the strategic review undertaken inyear was the refocusing and prioritising of our efforts along with improvements in how we work. As a result, we have been able to make cost savings in a number of areas and Which? Limited achieved an underlying profit (excluding impairment of investment) of £15.3m versus £14.2m in 2017/18.

This funded the charity’s operations and contributed to the uplift in group reserves, which reached an all-time-high of £56.4m.

As Tim has made clear, it is our responsibility to ensure that Which? is securely placed to deliver for consumers now and into the future. This brings me onto one of the most difficult of the many decisions made this year: the consultation on and subsequent closure of Which? Mortgage Advisers and Insurance Advisers.

Chief Executive's welcome


When I joined our organisation just over a year ago, I felt I had some understanding of the value of Which? for consumers.  I was aware of our magazine’s proud history. I had seen what an indispensable resource it was through a member of my own family who kept bound volumes in the front room and swore by Which?’s recommendations when making any significant purchase.

Now - after seeing what we have achieved already and our exciting plans for the future – I see why the need for a strong and independent Which? is greater than ever. In a world where the digital revolution has put billions of products and services at our fingertips, but where unscrupulous sellers and fraudsters respect no rules or borders, consumers need our trusted testing, research and advice more than ever.

From my meetings with the bosses of Britain’s biggest firms and US tech giants, I know businesses need us to hold them to account and tell them how to better serve their customers. Regulators need our insight into consumer behaviour to inform their oversight of consumer markets. Politicians need us to provide consumer expectations when they consider making legislative or policy changes.

Our Purpose

Tackling consumer harm and helping consumers be as powerful as organisations they deal with in daily life

 

Our Mission

In 3 years, Which? to be seen as the pre-eminent force driving positive impact for and with UK consumers

 

Our Values

 

Impact Areas

Digital life

Consumer rights and protection

Scams

Money

 

Our Objectives

Make a meaningful impact for and with consumers

We will prioritse and increase our meaningful impact for and with consumers by focusing our energy and resources on our four new key impact areas.

 

Create propositions that consumers cant live without out and business and policy makers find compelling

To deliver the greatest impact we will build on our understanding of our three key audiences – consumers, businesses and policy makers – and tailor our offering and interactions with each.

 

Our actions must reflect our values

In order to deliver our mission, we will live our values in all the work we do.

 

Have a sustainable business model

It is vital that we create a sustainable business, building on our strengths while pursuing new avenues of profit generation to ensure our continued growth and future.

 

Be innovative and efficient

We will pursue one coherent strategy that binds and guides the business towards a sustainable and successful future.

Council of Trustees’ report

 Incorporating Strategic report for the year ended 30 June 2019

Public benefit statement

The Council of Trustees has a responsibility to follow the Charity Commission’s public benefit guidance when exercising relevant powers and duties. The Council has fulfilled its duty and reports on it throughout this review by providing commentary on the significant activities undertaken by the charity to carry out its charitable purposes for the public benefit, the associated objectives, and our achievement against them.

Overview of the year

As the world is changing so are the needs of consumers. We need to ensure that Which? is equipped to deliver the advice, support and action for our members, supporters and the public at large now and into the future. This has led to a year of change and difficult decisions but through it we have continued to deliver charitable activity and benefit. We have undertaken the following measures:

• Revisiting and resetting our mission, purpose and values to reflect the current challenges and pressures consumers face

The current objects of the Consumers’ Association are set out within the Articles of Association:

• To undertake research into the standards of goods and services available to consumers and the ways that those goods and services can be improved for the public benefit, and to publish that information

• To advance and disseminate knowledge of the laws of the United Kingdom and other countries and in particular the law relating to consumer protection in the United Kingdom and other countries

• To carry out research into the law around consumer protection in the UK and other countries, and to publish and communicate that more widely

• To encourage better understanding of public health including the principles of physical and mental health among the public

• To consider more efficient ways in which aspects of horticulture and housekeeping can be undertaken.

Assessing our impact


This year for the first time we have included an overview of the positive impact we have delivered for consumers. This includes two case studies to illustrate how we use all our resources from across the organisation to make change happen. This can be found on p11. When thinking about our impact this year we were able to identify six themes that reflect how consumers benefit from our work to make their lives simpler, fairer and safer. We plan to assess and report each year on the difference we make to consumers. We will use our annual report to share our evidence about how many benefit from our work and in what ways, and to track how well we are performing each year.

Our Impact


We create impact when we make consumers’ lives simpler, fairer or safer. This year, across all our direct services and through our advocacy and campaigning on behalf of consumers, we have made a significant difference. We have created impact in six main ways.

1 - EASIER CHOICES

 

We have supported consumers to make informed decisions about the products and services they buy, including making important life choices from which university to attend to choosing the most suitable care home for a loved one.

“We were able to make some really important choices for mum with your help. The practical guidance in the [later life care] website was very clear and helpful.” (Consumer)

 

c. 4 million

purchasing decisions supported

 

86%

of visitors surveyed after visiting our life choice websites would recommend the site to others in similar situations

2 - EASIER PROCESSES

 

We have helped those who might otherwise have found it difficult or overly time-consuming to take a consumer action that would benefit them; e.g. making it easier for consumers to switch energy provider or write a will.

“Calling the team made all the difference to me as they were so patient and helpful. I had a few questions and they answered them all and set me on the right path with my will.” (Consumer)

 

c. 30,000 

consumers helped to take action that will benefit them

 

£3.5 million

estimated total saving made by consumers we helped make an energy switch

3 - BETTERING ENGAGEMENT

 

Our Which? Best Buy, Recommended Provider and Trusted Trader endorsements have given millions confidence in their decisions and, alongside new online product safety checker tools, have helped them avoid substandard or unsafe products/services.

“There are so So SO many variants of every single buyable thing these days and it can be daunting trying to narrow down the options. Seeing that Which? have given something the thumbs-up (or down) can help massively.” (Consumer)

 

83%

of consumers who see our endorsement logo while shopping say that it makes them less worried about choosing the wrong thing or wasting their money

 

63%

of consumers say they feel safer when they buy a product that is endorsed by us

4 - BETTER REDRESS

 

Our helplines have supported consumers to tackle more than 80,000 money, legal and computing problems, with our online Consumer Rights claims tools helping many more seek redress after being mis-sold, or receiving a substandard, item or service.

“Tool was amazing, so easy to use, very well worded and I really believe it speeded up the compensation with [airline]. … they were blaming other circumstances for the flight cancellation, so I thought they would not pay. Once they received this letter they paid straight away!” (Consumer)

 

c.195,000

claims for redress made with the help of our online claim tools

 

c. £62 million

estimated value of PPI compensation payouts successfully claimed by consumers using our online claim tool

5 - FAIRER MARKETS

 

We have protected consumers from being short-changed by unfair business practices. Our investigations, campaigns and consumer rights actions have achieved important wins on issues of fairness, transparency and accountability e.g. challenging rail companies and airlines for not respecting compensation rights, and helping bring an end to unfair overdraft charges.

“I think they’ve got a well-polished fleet of tools that they use to highlight and challenge on whatever issue it is. Their challenge is definitely valued.” (Policy maker)

 

90

occasions when we directly influenced companies, mostly high street brands or global marketplaces, to play by the rules and do better for consumers

 

c. £101 million

estimated total saving expected for vulnerable consumers thanks to changes in overdraft charging that we helped bring about

6 - SAFER MARKETS

 

We have reduced the risk to consumers from unsafe products; tackled suppliers of unsafe electrical goods, children’s toys and smart products; engaged with regulators on the safety of personal data online; and successfully challenged banks to do more to keep consumers safe from scams.

“I want to say thank you and well done to Which? for its valuable campaign about these appallingly dangerous products … lives have been endangered and the government … (was) failing to take appropriate action for so long.” (Consumer)

 

c.122,000

product checks made via our online safety checker tools, helping people identify if they own an unsafe product

 

c.400

listings of unsafe products removed from major online marketplaces after our research identified risks to consumers

We have made our most significant impact this year by working together across the organisation and with our supporters to tackle the problems consumers face. Here we share just a couple of examples of how we have made a difference.

Reducing harm from unsafe products


Having identified last year the need for systemic reform of our product safety regime, this year we worked together across all our Which? teams to tackle three priorities: failings in safety standards; an inefficient product safety recall system; and poor consumer advice about product safety when problems arise.

Reducing harm caused by scams


Our 2016/17 scams super-complaint kickstarted a programme of work across the organisation to tackle scams. Last year we helped secure a regulatory commitment that banks would introduce a ‘confirmation of payee’ process – checking payee details before authorising a bank transfer payment. However, as implementation was delayed, we knew we needed to keep up the pressure on several fronts to secure a better deal for consumers.

 

Helping consumers make informed decisions


As consumers, we all know how difficult it is to make the right decisions. As our choices have widened and our sources of information have multiplied, it has become harder, rather than easier, to know who to trust. Buying the right product or signing up to the right service ought to be simple. There are no shortage of comparison tools, best buy websites and customer reviews. However, consumers are right to be wary - fake reviews are rife online, and the speed with which deals and discounts come and go adds extra pressure. In addition, many more vulnerable members of our society are being left behind without the tools or resources they need to navigate our increasingly digital world.

Consumer rights advice


Consumers continue to benefit from our helpful independent advice and practical tips to help people tackle common problems and issues that can leave consumers feeling disempowered. Seven million people have used our consumer rights website this year, with more than 278,500 unique uses of our tools. The tools we provide have successfully helped consumers make 139,000 PPI claims against major banks and providers, nearly 31,000 faulty goods complaints with retailers and around 13,000 flight delay and cancellations compensation claims from major airlines. Digital improvements to our consumer rights website have helped to improve the user journey into related additional content that may be helpful.

The tools we provide have successfully helped consumers make 139,000 PPI claims against major banks
139000
Successful PPI claims

Picking between products and services


We continue to help consumers make informed choices thanks to our Best Buy and Recommended Provider endorsement logos, which are only awarded to the very best products and services in our rigorous consumer-centric testing and analysis. We are constantly looking to understand what matters most to consumers so that the criteria against which we test products and assess services reflect real-life usage and priorities. For services we conduct large customer surveys and combine this insight with our expert analysis to ensure winners are consistently excellent in all areas that matter to consumers, for instance fair policies and transparent prices.

 

The power of our investigations to get to the truth


There is a real need for truth in today’s complex and opaque world, and so we investigate a broad spectrum of consumer issues in order to inform and, in turn, make things better for people in all walks of life. We use our findings to directly influence companies and industry bodies, as well as policy makers and regulators.

This year we have reviewed 3,704 products and 968 services in more sectors than ever awarding 908 Best Buys and 120 Recommended Providers
4672
products and services reviewed

Relevant and engaging content that is easily accessible


Our members continue to benefit from a variety of journalism across all five of our magazines and online. Our customer satisfaction research has shown a third consecutive year of improvement in the ‘issue rating’ for Which? magazine, with 94% of members telling us that they learnt something new as a result of reading the magazine. Over the course of the year we had 126 million visits to our which.co.uk websites, compared to 120 million last year. Which? Computing continued to be the UK’s bestselling technology magazine.

‘‘When I picked up my latest copy of the Which? magazine that has just been posted through my letterbox, I received the best news in years and it had nothing to do with the content. I noticed that my favourite magazine, which I am a subscriber of for over 20 years, arrived in a new wrapping. MADE FROM POTATO STARCH and 100% compostable. This is how we improve the world.’’

Henniebotha, Convo

 

Championing consumers, challenging government and business to deliver our purpose


As the only not-for-profit organisation in the UK working at the intersection between consumers, business and policymakers, and operating entirely independently of business, grant-maker or government funding, we are able to act as a truly independent champion and advocate for UK consumers to create large-scale and lasting positive change.

We use research, analysis, policy-influencing and public campaigning to hold businesses to account and influence them to do better for consumers, and to help us act as both critical friend and partner to policy makers - providing the evidence, support and direction needed to build better policy solutions.

Consumer Finances


Whether just managing everyday finances, choosing the right bank account or credit card, or making lifetime financial decisions about savings, investments or pensions - engaging with financial services is an important part of our day-to-day lives. However, we know that some financial institutions and businesses don’t make it easy for consumers to understand products and services; not all providers offer a fair deal and independent financial advice is not readily accessible nor widely trusted. These factors combine to create substantial consumer harm in the financial sector, making it a continued priority for our work as we tackle the issues that can leave consumers worse off than they should be and potentially facing financial hardship.

“Well done Which? and thanks for raising this on our (the public) behalf. I feel happier now knowing that the Chancellor has listened and will hopefully do something to stop this shocking practice of closing down ATMs and charging people to get their own money. The banks earn enough from big business – it’s just greed to take it from us.” Shelly, Convo

Connected Consumers


Digitalisation is transforming every aspect of our lives. As the internet of things (e.g. ‘smart’ devices), voice activation and artificial intelligence continue to develop, consumers are increasingly using digital products and services not just to buy products and access services but to control their homes. Social media is also increasingly being used for commercial purposes. While many benefit from these changes, some are being left behind – for instance because they lack reliable access to mobile or broadband services, and pace of change is posing challenges to traditional frameworks for consumer protection. To engage in our increasingly digital world, people need good connectivity and they need to be assured that they and their data are safe and protected from harm when they engage as digital consumers.

Influencing the consumer rights landscape


For Which? the consumer rights framework is the backbone of everything we do. For us to succeed in making consumers more powerful we need a consumer rights system that works; one that makes sure consumers are protected from harm, and that holds companies to account if things go wrong.

Which? Conversation

 

Which? Conversation is a space for members and non-members to interact with Which? as well as one another on issues that matter to them. This year we launched a new Which? Membership space which allows our members to get more involved and speak to our experts, as well as invite more discussion on the overall membership experience. Over the course of the year we had 259 conversations and more than 42,000 comments published to an audience of 136,000 community members, increasing from 119,000 in the previous year. We also saw 11,000 new community members join the conversation this year.

How we fund what we do


As a charity, we receive no funding from the government. In order to fund our charitable work, we generate income from our commercial activities including our endorsement scheme and subscriptions. This allows us to be independent and impartial in how we help consumers make informed decisions, raise awareness of consumer needs and drive positive change.

“Right from the first call we knew we had the right adviser. Which is crucial when getting phone advice. James was highly knowledgeable in the subject we were seeking help with and explained everything simply, clearly and realistically. We didn’t have to keep explaining or repeating anything to him – he just grasped the case from the start. We felt totally reassured and supported by him and would highly recommend.” Which? Tech Supporter

Serving our members


We are committed to providing the best possible customer service for our members and in January we officially opened our new Member Services Centre in Cardiff, having relocated from Hertford. Over the course of the year we received more than 277,500 calls and more than 156,000 emails.

We have worked hard to minimise the impact on members during the transition. Customer service remains at the heart of our proposition and we are committed to improving our performance and ensuring that our members and prospective members are supported to the highest level however they chose to communicate with us.

Reserves, Risk and Compliance


Group balance sheet and reserves

Total group reserves increased by £4.4m to £56.4m at June 2019, largely reflecting £2.2m of in-year investment gains and a £1.9m reduction in the FRS 102 pension liability. The profit on sale of the Hertford freehold combined with cost savings more than offset the one-off costs of change and closure that resulted from the new strategic direction and focus.

Principal areas of risk and key mitigation activities


Technology and innovation


Principal risks: Our ability to make a meaningful impact for and with future consumers, and to create an offer that our audiences can’t live without, is contingent on the delivery of benefits from  new technology platforms and on our approach to innovation. This will ensure that we remain relevant in a fast-changing environment.

Key mitigation activities: We are continuing to implement new technologies and platform enhancements across the business, and have established a Product function to champion new ways of cross-organisational working in line with our innovation framework. We continue to test and learn in order to enhance our consumer offer and are also working to ensure we understand and track our relevance more effectively for our different audiences.

Governance


Overview

The ultimate parent undertaking of the Which? group is Consumers’ Association (CA): a registered charity (No. 296072) and a private company limited by guarantee. It is registered in the United Kingdom (No. 00580128) and its registered office is at 2 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 4DF. 

Our people


To deliver the new business strategy as defined in the strategic review, we needed to consider how best to structure our organisation to ensure we have the right people in the right teams to deliver our new mission. This has meant some difficult decisions and a significant number of our people have been affected. 

‘‘I'm looking forward to the next 12 months – I will get to see my new team grow and develop, and together we will continue to make a real difference to the consumers we speak to.’’ Maureen Leonard, Manager, Cardiff

Our Values


As part of our strategic review, and recommended by the Governance Review, we decided it was time to review and refresh our organisational values to support our new mission and purpose, and ensure we really are a values-led organisation.   By engaging with the whole organisation and listening to our people’s experiences and stories, we were able to understand which values resonated and inspired our people the most. We will be embedding our new values with teams during the next financial year to ensure they are the foundation of everything we do. 

Remuneration


Remuneration principles and approach

Reward at Which? remains important as a means to attract, retain and motivate our people to perform to their best.  Our principles are based on a total remuneration approach where all roles are externally benchmarked using a hybrid benchmark approach which reflects our charitable, not-forprofit and commercial nature. We aim to be a market median payer. We benchmark roles annually and review based on the skills, scope and responsibility of the role.

 

Other information