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.
In the past year our new CEO, Anabel Hoult, has re-energised the organisation and reasserted our ethos. As a charity, we must demonstrate the openness and best practice expected of us. Because we are independent and take no public funding, we must also be commercially agile to deliver our mission. We need to use our power as a membership organisation to engage consumers across all generations.
Anabel has led a forensic strategic review examining all aspects of the organisation and demanding a rigorous focus on the areas in which we can have most impact. Her review, and the subsequent structural changes, have been far-reaching and have involved some hard decisions, but they have laid strong, new foundations and a clear vision for our future.
At the same time, our Governance Review, which I initiated following the AGM in 2017, has allowed us to assess whether our current governance arrangements are as effective as they can be, and where we must modernise if we are to be sufficiently resilient to face the competitive challenges ahead. I am grateful for the guidance and advice of our independent Chair of the review, Dame Deirdre Hutton, DBE, and its other independent member, Julia Unwin, CBE, for their perspective, and for the contributions of all the Which? members who have engaged with the process. The final recommendations have now been published and a number of changes relating to Trustee appointment and tenure which Council fully supports will be coming to the AGM in November, where members will be able to vote on them. I believe their adoption is vital to the future of the Consumers’ Association.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members of Council for their many contributions and support in the past year; we have gone a long way to resolving some difficult and longstanding issues that members have raised. I would particularly like to thank my co-Deputy Chairs Jenny Oscroft and Anna Walker, who are retiring this year, for their long service and wise advice during my tenure. I would also like to express my gratitude to Judy Gibbons for her inspirational leadership of the subsidiary commercial Board, and, above all, to the employees of Which? for their idealism and tireless dedication.
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.
Despite the excellent work of passionate and knowledgeable staff and the gratitude of their customers, these businesses were not financially sustainable. The market has changed considerably in recent years, due to a combination of continuing economic uncertainty and a stagnant housing market. Costs are rising and we expect these operating conditions are only going to get more competitive. On behalf of the Which? Limited Board, I would like to thank the staff of Which? Financial Services for their hard work and professionalism throughout this difficult process and wish them well for the future.
Our focus going forward will be to invest in our core subscription business to make it ever more valuable to consumers and to deliver its benefits to a broader audience.
We will build on and expand our key strengths in research and advice while also making our content more easily accessible through refreshed print magazines and new innovative digital formats. We will also invest in helping to deliver the charity’s objectives to a larger and more diverse audience by expanding the range of tools and information made freely available to all on our website and through social media.
We also plan to grow our revenue from other sources such as affiliates and endorsement licences - which help customers buy the best products while always maintaining our editorial independence. Our newly created commercial team will lead this work and I look forward to updating you on progress in this area in due course.
Finally, on behalf of the Board, the Council of Trustees, the Executive and personally from myself and Anabel Hoult, I would like to pay credit to Tim as he prepares to step down from his tenure as chair. His support and guidance has been invaluable, particularly during this recent period of consolidation and change.
Chair Which? Limited Board
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.
Which? is also needed to bring new problems to light and find solutions through our research and the stories we hear from consumers around the country.
That’s when Which? is at its best – when our rigorous research, our campaigning and policy expertise, and our army of members all come together to change conversations and lives.
That’s how our dogged pursuit of Whirlpool over its fire-risk tumble dryers led to an unprecedented recall of 500,000 faulty machines in June. It’s how our Freedom to Pay campaign and Cash Summit have put the issue of access to cash at the top of the agenda for banks, regulators and the Treasury. It’s why, three years on from our scams super-complaint, Which? has been a key player as the big banks finally signed up to a voluntary code offering greater protection for consumers and we are ready to hold businesses that provide a platform for fraudsters to account.
But it became clear to me that if we are to continue to have this impact and influence we would have to make big changes and tough choices about where to target our resources. The decision to close Which? Mortgage Advisers and to restructure our teams was extremely difficult and has meant saying goodbye to some highly professional and dedicated colleagues.
Last year I launched a strategic review and in choosing our priorities for the years ahead, I turned first to our most valuable asset – our members.
They made clear that in a sea of unfiltered opinions, our laser-like focus on rigour, evidence and proof is more essential than ever. This applies to everything we do, whether it’s testing products, investigating problems or holding powerful organisations to account.
But they also need us to help them navigate the maze of challenging and sometimes bewildering questions, risks and choices we now face. Should I switch to an electric car or cut back on plastic packaging to help tackle climate change? Can I trust the reviews on the world’s biggest online marketplace or will fake reviews mislead me into wasting my money?
People need answers to these questions before they even consider making a purchase - which is why you will increasingly see our refreshed and redesigned magazine tackling these issues with features and investigations that show you the big picture.
Our customer research also told us that the magazine is no longer the best way to provide an up-to-date archive of our product reviews, so we are putting that content where people need it - in their pockets on phone apps and our website. And we know how important it is that when things go wrong with a product or service, there is somewhere to go for help and advice. Many people don’t realise that we already make a huge trove of consumer rights advice available to anyone who wants it – around 50 per cent of our online visitors are looking at free content.
Our PPI tool helped half a million people make a claim for missold insurance before the August deadline – with an average payout of £3,000 for each successful claim. We want to build on this success with even more content and tools to make consumers’ lives fairer, simpler and safer.
It’s also important that if we hold powerful organisations to account, we hold ourselves to the highest standards. That’s why we considered our approach to sustainability and replaced our magazine’s plastic wrapper with an alternative made from compostable potato starch. It’s why we engaged with Which? employees, listening to their experiences before deciding on the new values that will be the foundation of everything we do in the future.
Above all, in an era when it feels harder than ever to get to the truth, we promise Which? will keep questioning. And we will remain steadfast in our mission to make consumers more powerful. It drives everything we do – and it always will.
Group Chief Executive
Tackling consumer harm and helping consumers be as powerful as organisations they deal with in daily life
In 3 years, Which? to be seen as the pre-eminent force driving positive impact for and with UK consumers
Consumer rights and protection
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.
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.
In order to deliver our mission, we will live our values in all the work we do.
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.
We will pursue one coherent strategy that binds and guides the business towards a sustainable and successful future.
Incorporating Strategic report for the year ended 30 June 2019
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.
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
•Focusing our efforts on where research shows we can have the greatest effect to deliver maximum impact. To achieve this we have identified four priority impact areas: digital life, consumer rights and protection, scams and money, where consumers face high levels of risk and where we believe we can make the greatest difference
• Returning to a sustainable commercial business model and to focusing our efforts on the most profitable and impactful initiatives
• Restructuring our organisation at all levels to support and deliver against our key objectives and manage costs. This has resulted in staff and team changes, including in the leadership team, incurring one-off costs
• Evaluating and making hard but necessary decisions about those parts of the business that were not meeting our objectives. This included the closure of our mortgage and insurance advisory business and the winding-down of the Which? University and Which? Birth Choice websites in their current stand-alone format.
We believe that all of these significant changes are essential for Which? to be able to continue in its unique role as the consumers’ champion in a complex and dynamic landscape. We are confident that we are laying the right foundation for us to deliver our objectives and deliver our new three-year mission.
Whilst making these significant changes, we have also achieved better than anticipated financial results for the year.
This year our group income increased by 1% to £102.0m. This includes the one-off profits associated from the sale of the charity’s Hertford site. Excluding the site sale, the underlying position from our commercial subsidiaries was 1% down on the 2017/18 performance, reflecting an expected decrease in subscription revenue and a year-on-year fall in mortgage advice income. This has been partly offset by growth in our endorsement sales, where we sell licenses to businesses to which we have awarded a ‘Best Buy’ for their products or services.
Our total expenditure decreased by around £4.6m year-on-year, explained by the necessary decision to pause some commercial and charitable activity until we were clearer around alignment to the strategy. This was the primary reason for the £2.8m fall in our spend on charitable activities (promoting consumer interests) from £15.2m to £12.4m, as noted in the chart opposite. During the year, we took a step back as part of the strategy review to look more closely at where we were making the most impact for consumers. Spend was reduced on areas which were not considered to be strategic priorities such as housing, higher education or birth choice. Our strategic focus is now on the four impact areas (digital life, consumer rights and protection, scams and money). Looking forward, we are committed to at least maintain and ideally increase, the amount of our resources spent on our charitable activities, mindful that increased spend should be related to opportunities for increase in consumer impact.
Given the nature of some of the difficult decisions including the closure of the Which? Mortgage and Insurance Advice businesses and organisational design changes following the strategic review, we have incurred significant one-off costs in the year.
Despite all of this, our reserves position has been managed effectively, with the decrease in expenditure more than offsetting the one-off costs of change. In addition, we saw £2.2m of in-year investment gains and a £1.9m reduction in our FRS 102 pension liability. As a result, our reserves increased by £4.4m year-on-year to £56.4m (as seen in the chart opposite). It is worth noting that the volatility of both investment performance and the FRS 102 pension valuation may cause significant shifts in reserve numbers over the upcoming years.
• 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.
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.
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.
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
of visitors surveyed after visiting our life choice websites would recommend the site to others in similar situations
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)
consumers helped to take action that will benefit them
estimated total saving made by consumers we helped make an energy switch
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)
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
of consumers say they feel safer when they buy a product that is endorsed by us
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)
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
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)
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
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)
product checks made via our online safety checker tools, helping people identify if they own an unsafe product
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.
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.
Challenging businesses. We kept up pressure on Whirlpool to act responsibly in regards to its unsafe tumble dryers, exposing further problems with modified dryers and sharing the experiences of affected customers. We lobbied retailers to stop selling a range of unsafe items we found on sale this year and continued to challenge them to stop producing and selling fire-risk fridges and freezers after our research last year had clearly shown the fire risk of plastic backing
Empowering consumers. We continued to test the safety of numerous products, and used our website, magazines and media coverage to alert the public to any we found to be unsafe, from dangerous toys and children’s car seats to defective smoke alarms. We set up a new online Product Safety Hub with checker tools for tumble dryers and fridges, enabling more than 120,000 product checks. We worked with our supporters to share safety information across social media, setting up a new product safety alert system. For one unsafe toy alone this approach helped us reach 3.8m consumers via a Facebook alert shared more than 50,000 times.
Influencing policy-makers. We mobilised 114,000 consumers in support of our “End Dangerous Products” campaign and through the year we alerted the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) to consumer concerns and to the unsafe products we uncovered. Our pressure for decisive action against Whirlpool helped drive an OPSS inquiry, and a second parliamentary inquiry where we spoke alongside an affected consumer. Here we saw the powerful effect of sharing our research evidence alongside real-life supporter stories. When the OPSS report was delayed, 7,000 of our supporters sent emails demanding they release their findings. Also this year we represented consumers on a number of key standards committees to influence new safety standards after our testing found problems with fridge freezers and smoke alarms.
We helped reduce the numbers of unsafe products available for sale. More than 30 major retailers and manufacturers stopped making or selling unsafe products from fridges to dangerous smoke alarms, helping reduce the risk of harm for consumers.
We were instrumental in getting unsafe products taken out of people’s homes. Following our continued pressure, in May 2019 the government ordered Whirlpool to recall 500,000 potentially unsafe, unmodified tumble dryers still in people’s homes.
We contributed to improved product safety standards. We contributed to the introduction of a new product safety standard which will reduce fire risk for all new refrigerated products by banning plastic backings.
“We are grateful to Which? for alerting us to this issue and looking out for the needs of the consumer. We are working to remove these products from the platform and are following up with the merchants in question to ensure they are adhering to local laws and regulations.” (Online retailer)
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.
Challenging businesses. We continued to investigate and expose scams and bring them to the attention of banks and other businesses. We tackled scammers who were using social media, Whatsapp and Twitter to defraud consumers, reporting scams to the relevant companies so they could notify followers and take fraudulent accounts down.
Empowering consumers. We increased our offer of scam prevention advice, with magazine articles and new website content rich with practical tips to help people avoid being scammed by coldcallers, TV licence scammers, rogue traders and doorstep scammers. Our helpline staff gave personalised advice to more than 2,000 consumers on staying safe online and avoiding or dealing with scams. To help us drive change we mobilised 416,000 supporters. In addition, callers to our Money Helpline shared their stories in a set of case studies that put a human face to the reality and true cost of scams.
Influencing policy-makers. We shared our evidence and case studies widely to help us influence change. We met with the Financial Conduct Authority and responded to key consultations on authorised push payment (APP) fraud, and the role of the Financial Ombudsman Service in relation to complaints. We kept up our pressure ‘behind the scenes’ for banks to take more responsibility for scams perpetrated by bank transfer. Having won a commitment in principle to a new banking code of practice that would lead to better reimbursement for scam victims, we actively contributed this year to a working group set up to design the new reimbursement scheme.
Supporting consumers to be more aware of scam risks, prevention and how to report scams. We significantly increased the amount of free online advice we made available this year. Our consumer rights guides to different types of scams and our scam news updates were viewed more than 1.1 million times.
Getting fairer treatment for scams victims. We contributed to the introduction and design of a new reimbursement scheme for consumers who have lost money through bank transfer scams. Eight major banking groups have now signed up to the voluntary code, which went live at the end of May 2019. This will significantly reduce the harm being experienced by consumers by enabling them to get their money back where they could not reasonably have known they were being scammed.
“The Which? (scams) super-complaint has been instrumental in driving change and we are pleased that things are now moving forward and that there is a real appetite to tackle fraud and protect fraud victims.” (Chartered Trading Standards Institute)
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.
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.
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.
This year we have reviewed 3,704 products and 968 services in more sectors than ever. We awarded 908 Best Buys and 120 Recommended Providers, in comparison to the previous year where we awarded 894 and 101 respectively, empowering all consumers and not just members to make good choices in a wider range of services than ever before. New categories include supermarkets, boiler servicing cover and student bank accounts. The winners of this year’s Which? Awards were celebrated in June at the annual event in London, with 140 business leaders in attendance. We also introduced a new award for 2019, Your Consumer Champion Award, which was the first time businesses could nominate a colleague for a Which? Award. The award was won by Natalie Ledard from Monzo for creating a gambling block that protects more than 110,000 of the bank’s vulnerable customers.
We continue to optimise our efficiency to ensure consumers get the most up-to-date and cutting-edge information, and have successfully improved our coverage as well as the speed to turn around reviews. In most of our core product categories we’ve driven down ‘time to market’, from the launch of a product to the publication of our review, by 72% in the past three years. For instance, delivering washing machine reviews in 68 days compared to 273 days in 2016, while still maintaining the rigorous testing that sets us apart from other review providers.
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.
To get at the issues that matter most to consumers we’ve used a broad range of investigative techniques including hidden camera filming to uncover the car hire lies told in airports, going undercover in fake review farms on social media, testing low-fat sausages to see if they really are low in fat and analysing giant data sets to discover where banks are closing or which airlines have the worst delays.
Our persistent approach of chipping away at poor practice within the car hire industry through investigation after investigation has really started to deliver results this year. Using our evidence, the Competition and Markets Authority has been reviewing whether car hire firms have been complying with commitments previously made on clear prices. In many cases the companies were not compliant but after pressure, the big five car hire companies have all updated their practices so that any charges are more prominent, accurate and clear.
Our investigations also made the headlines in national newspapers, on television news and online, showing the power of our research and ensuring that our findings reached millions across the UK.
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.
Our most successful articles reflect the diverse interests of our members as well as some of our highest impact areas of organisational activity. The truth about supermarket chicken (Which?, May 2019), Why contactless cards are safer than you think (Which? Money, June 2019) On test: password managers (Which? Computing, Dec 2018), Airline seating: pay more or be split up? (Which? Travel, March 2019) and Gardening jobs for October (Which? Gardening, October 2018) all topped our regular reader polls for all round excellence, utility and high readership.
We’ve successfully redesigned and relaunched both Which? Travel and Which? Money this year by refreshing the look as well as focusing and tailoring the content. This has been complemented by enhanced digital journeys and services - from topic-focused newsletters, to applying our research rigour to new areas of financial and travel products and services. In April we launched a new Which? Gardening Facebook group which has quickly grown to 1,500 members. It is proving to be a highly engaged community where members and non-members swap gardening tips, queries and pictures.
We continue to optimise and diversify our testing to ensure we are as rigorous, relevant and as thorough as we can be. We’re maximising our overlap with international consumer group partners and participating in more joint tests than ever before. This significantly reduces our costs and allows us to benefit from the collective insights, expertise and voice of a global network of consumer organisations. This year coffee machines, laptops, nappies, stair gates and batteries have all joined our roster of joint tests.
We are always listening closely to members to understand what is important to them and what they expect of us when it comes to research. On Which? Conversation, a dedicated sustainability discussion has been established, helping us to understand how important the issues of sustainability and the environment are to consumers.
Taking on board their ideas, we have started to delve into the sustainability of products, piloting repairability tests in our key dishwasher and washing machine categories. We have updated our reliability survey to better unpick data about product longevity, added packaging assessments to numerous product areas and worked with our international partners to develop our joint tests. Our research into the production of mobile phones and conflict minerals in the April issue of Which? was our first deep dive into the ethics of the manufacturing process itself. We also made the decision to change our magazine wrap from plastic to a biodegradable material, and we have been pleased with the positive feedback so far.
In the same vein, and to ensure continuity with our campaigning work, we have built and rolled out at scale a connected product data security test that assesses the data security vulnerabilities of products. The test, already built into six product categories, has been piloted in a further dozen categories including baby monitors and coffee machines. Each time we find an issue, we disclose the details to the manufacturer, requesting an urgent fix. To date we have had a 100% successful fix rate.
We continually need to innovate our research methodologies and content in order to bring to life the consumer experience in ways that hit home. We have challenged ourselves this year, using data in fresh ways. We’ve hacked connected products, we’ve tested for toxicity of dolls and put real insurance policies in front of consumers to test their understanding and prove they are confusing.
We know members expect information to be readily available and accessible via online platforms and so we have focused on improving customer experience and ensuring new platform capabilities are smoothly integrated. We are constantly making changes to our online services to improve both user experience and performance. By using insight from user testing we make sure members are always at the heart of any technology development, ensuring their problems are solved and they can get what they need as quickly and easily as possible.
As part of this we have renewed our focus on a mobile-first approach. Mobile users now account for 50% of our nonmember and new audience and, as such, both app development and our core product reviews have received significant focus to improve the mobile user experience. Results have been positive, with a 14% increase year-on-year in total sessions across web and app products, and a huge 75% increase in app sessions year-on-year. We heard from our customers that we offer a ‘huge’ range of reviews content but many members lack the time to evaluate it all. This provided us with a challenge. With this in mind, in November we introduced our Smart Recommendations feature which, through a few simple questions, helps narrow the results based on their needs.
We have made significant progress to improve our content quality and depth, as well as the ways in which people can access it, including via improved digital avenues. This year we have concluded that we need to integrate and focus our offering, and this includes the numerous sites we operate in isolation.
As a result, in June we decided not to continue with Which? University and Birth Choice as stand-alone sites. Instead, we will be exploring how we can integrate the most relevant content into the main Which? website, where we will continue to provide free help to people and build on the audiences that each site has developed. We anticipate that both these sites will close by the end of January 2020. While continuing to operate the websites is no longer suitable for us as an organisation, their impact has been significant.
The Birth Choice site has reached millions of users – including more than a million in the last year – with its unique, personalised and Royal College of Midwives-endorsed advice and guidance around maternity choices and pregnancy. More than 100,000 people have used our free ‘Where to give birth’ tool in the past 12 months alone. We’re proud to have been able to support people in understanding their birth options and will continue to do so through our wider offer for parents.
Which? University has helped millions of prospective students and their families make informed decisions about their higher education options. Over 4.7 million users have accessed the site over the past year alone and the free tools have been used almost 1.5 million times. Which? University has been instrumental in ensuring that more insightful information is easily available to students and we’re proud of the changes we have driven.
‘‘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.’’
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.
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.
Consumers using unarranged overdrafts face significantly higher interest rates than those using other forms of borrowing, including arranged overdrafts. Our campaigning has highlighted how banks are exploiting consumer inaction, with charges much higher than could be justified by any increased risk of lending. This year the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) reviewed unarranged overdraft charges and confirmed what we have been saying in our campaigns.
We contributed to the FCA’s overdraft review and their consultation on remedies to address the problem, and the result was a set of proposals and a commitment to fundamentally reform how banks charge for overdrafts in line with our campaign asks. In June the FCA ruled that from April 2020, banks will no longer be allowed to charge daily or monthly overdraft fees and people will no longer pay more for an unarranged overdraft than an arranged facility.
Our “Freedom to Pay” campaign, launched last year, aims to stop the UK drifting towards an entirely digitalised payment structure and becoming cashless before we are ready. This year we drew on our research into bank branch and ATM closures and collected and shared consumer stories about the impact of reduced access to cash to urge the Treasury and the banking sector to consider the implications of this rapid change for those who still need and want access to cash.
Our pressure for a government review of access to cash was successful and once the independent Ceeney Review was underway, we contributed our evidence and information about consumer concerns to influence the review’s report and recommendations.
In May we held our own successful Access to Cash Summit “Securing our Freedom to Pay” which stimulated debate between more than 100 industry leaders, representatives of government, regulators, charities and academics on how to ensure consumers retain the freedom to pay for goods and services in the way that they need or want to. We kept up the pressure for a regulator for cash and in May the Treasury publicly announced that the government will protect access to cash for those who need it and will bring relevant regulators together to form a new group to tackle the issue.
Money will be one of our four organisational impact priorities, allowing us to build on the progress and important change we have made this year.
“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
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.
This year we actively engaged with Ofcom, government and industry on the issue of mobile coverage, including writing directly to the CEO of Ofcom to raise our concerns about the impact of poor coverage on consumers. We called on government to publish a plan for how it will meet its ambition to deliver 95% geographic 4G coverage across the UK by 2022. We also engaged with Ofcom on its plans for coverage obligations and with mobile network operators and the government about the potential of a shared rural network to address coverage issues and bring about improvements.
Which? has spent many years campaigning for effective change in the broadband market. At the start of this year two initiatives we campaigned for came into force. In March, a new code of practice designed to give new customers a more accurate picture of what speeds they will get was introduced, and in April broadband customers started benefiting from an automatic compensation scheme. Ofcom also agreed to introduce end of contract notifications from 2020, advocated for by Which?, meaning customers will know when their contract is coming to an end and how to negotiate the best deal.
In June Which? hosted Ofcom’s “Fairness for Customers” conference, looking at the fairness agenda in the telecoms market. We had 121 attendees including Chief Executives of the big communication providers. We used the event to engage these important stakeholders with the emerging findings of new research that we have done with Britain Thinks to explore in greater depth the barriers to consumer engagement in the broadband market.
At the end of last year we published the findings of our first in-depth study into consumers and their data in our Control Alt Delete report. Our research found that many consumers feel disempowered, unsure of either the impact that data use has on them or whether it is even worth trying to take any action about practices that concern them. This year, since publishing the report, we have actively promoted our findings, sharing our recommendations with those who can help us bring about change that will benefit consumers.
We presented our evidence at several party conferences, contributed to parliamentary debate on data, the digital world and internet regulation in parliament via the House of Lords Communication Committee, participated in a BEIS Roundtable discussion on Smart Data Review and engaged with the European Consumer Association (BEUC) about work on consumer data policy.
We also used our evidence to engage with the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) on the use of people’s data for online targeting and contributed to the Furman Review on Digital Competition, which when published in March, included several of the calls for action on advertising and competition in digital industries that we had highlighted in our Control Alt Delete report.
We will continue to work on connectivity, digitalisation and data as part of a wider programme of work on digital engagement as one of our four organisational impact priorities.
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.
This year has seen significant levels of activity across Which? to ensure consumer rights are respected and protected in areas from food safety and transport to scams, and to ensure future protection of consumer rights as the UK leaves the EU. We have also invested in building better relationships with the UK nations and regions and devolved decision-making bodies to support future advocacy work.
As uncertainty around the UK exit from the EU continued, this year we continued our work to ensure the government keep consumers’ interests at the forefront of decision-making about trade and markets, and to ensure that access to good quality, safe and affordable products is maintained and existing consumer rights are protected.
We produced analyses of a number of Brexit-related topics, including food standards, travel, future trade policy and consumer rights, as well as the potential consumer impacts of a no deal. We also developed a strong set of policy recommendations for how our current enforcement system could be improved. We have used our proposals as the basis for our influencing work since, for instance, hosting our own well-attended “Food Beyond Brexit” event for government officials and other relevant agencies.
We continued to build on our long-standing ‘End Unsafe Products’ campaign with the aim of ensuring fewer consumers experience harm as a result of unsafe products.
We helped ensure that consumers faced less risk of harm from unsafe tumble dryers, fridge freezers, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, and children’s safety items and toys.
We kept up our pressure on Whirlpool, helped by 7,000 of our supporters contacting the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) demanding the release of its investigation into Whirlpool’s handling of its fire-risk tumble dryers. Our persistence paid off in June, when the government announced Whirlpool must now recall the 500,000 unmodified driers still in people’s homes.
Through an industry standards committee we influenced the introduction of a new fridge freezer safety standard, effectively banning manufacturers from making fire-risk plastic-backed products, also successfully influencing some companies to stop selling or making such products even before the ban comes into force.
Thanks to our product testing and investigations, we identified and had removed from sale more than 250 unsafe CO and smoke alarm listings being sold via online marketplaces; unsafe child seats which are illegal to use in the UK; unsafe stairgates and cot bed mattresses; and slime products that contained dangerous levels of the toxic chemical boron.
The government’s announcement of one-click compensation in October was one in a succession of wins for consumers we have seen since our original Rail super-complaint forced more decisive action on rail compensation. Our work on passenger rights under the Consumer Rights Act also bore fruit this year. When one of our investigations showed how some rail companies were misleading people about their rights to claim, particularly for consequential losses (e.g. taxi fares or hotel bills incurred when trains are delayed or cancelled), our pressure led the Office for Rail and Road to write to Train Operating Companies insisting that they take our findings seriously and comply immediately with guidance on how to inform consumers about their compensation rights.
We kept up our pressure for a statutory ombudsman for rail and when the Rail Delivery Group made a commitment to introduce a new ombudsman scheme we were part of the delivery taskforce set up to make it happen. Passengers can now escalate complaints that they believe have not been handled properly to a free, independent ombudsman service with power to investigate complaints, award passengers compensation and make decisions which are binding on rail firms.
This year, to feed into the Department for Transport’s major rail review the Williams Review, we conducted extensive primary and secondary research and met and talked to the review team and other key stakeholders. Most importantly we consulted and listened to passengers. This work culminated in a successful Rail “Listening Event” in February which gave the Review Team and other key stakeholders the chance to hear the realities of rail travel direct from consumers.
Scams cost consumers millions of pounds each year and the emotional harm and financial loss can destroy lives. Scams are increasing in both frequency and sophistication, as technology lowers the cost of reaching millions of people instantly. Anyone can be targeted and even those who consider themselves tech savvy are not immune.
Much of the work of our “Stamp Out Scams” campaign this year took place behind the scenes. We were a key member of a cross-industry working group set up by the payments regulator to tackle Authorised Push Payment fraud following our 2016 super-complaint.
This group developed a voluntary code for banks to adopt that requires them to do more to protect their customers. Critically, it also means that victims of bank transfer scams will also now be reimbursed if they have done nothing wrong. Less than a fifth of the £228m lost by consumers last year was ever returned, so this is a significant step forward in the fight against fraud. Eight banking groups have already signed up to this code. We also kept up pressure for the introduction of Confirmation of Payee after delays were announced in implementing this earlier campaign win.
We base our policy positions on the best possible evidence we can find, and key to this is the evidence we gather about consumer needs, experiences and concerns. This year for the first time we published 12 consumer insight reports covering Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the nine regions of England, highlighting the spending habits, optimism, trust and worry of consumers in these areas. These generated a lot of interest from ministers, policy-makers and parliamentary researchers, helping us build new links to create change in the future, and reinforcing our position as an authoritative source of consumer insight across the whole of the UK.
Consumer rights will remain, as it always has been, a priority for our work and it is one of our four new organisational impact priorities.
Looking to next year, we must focus our efforts on where Which? can have the greatest impact. As explained, as part of our organisational strategy review, we have identified four organisational priorities: money, digital life, consumer rights and protection and scams. These are the four areas where consumers face high levels of harm and where we have already begun to create positive impact for consumers but know that by working together across the organisation we can do more. We will continue to be reactive on major issues that arise and demand Which? to be the voice of consumers, but we will focus our resources on a reduced number of different policy issues to deliver maximum impact for consumers.
Ongoing, two-way communication with members is vital to what we do. It means we have a better understanding of what matters to consumers day-to-day, what members want from Which? and how members can help us make the UK simpler, fairer and safer for all consumers. Our members’ stories and experience provide foundation and legitimacy for our campaigns and their insight helps to inform our testing and research. We encourage all of our members to continue to get involved and tell us what they think through the various channels that are available, including the Which? Connect panel, via Which? Conversation and through ‘voice of the customer’ surveys. We know two-way engagement, an opportunity to influence and a chance to have a say is important to a number of our members and so we will be working hard to improve and increase these channels over the course of next year.
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.
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.
Like any business we need to adapt to changing market conditions and continually review how we generate revenue in order to ensure a long term sustainable business. This means thinking innovatively about how we can improve our subscription offer as well as looking at other opportunities for generating income that reflect our values and extend our reach with different audiences.
It is within the context of a challenging market that it became increasingly apparent that the Which? Mortgage and Which? Insurance Advisers businesses were no longer sustainable for Which? in their current form. We announced proposals to close the business in May, which resulted in impairing in full Which? Limited’s investment in Which? Financial Services (see page 46).
Which? was founded as a membership body, designed to ensure that the people who sought our consumer advice would financially support the rigorous and impartial research required for its success. By funding and engaging in its activities, members add legitimacy to our advocacy and research work and enable Which? to remain entirely self-funded and independent.
This year, despite increasingly competitive market conditions, our subscription revenue expectations were met, although overall performance was down year-on-year. This was anticipated following our decision to reduce our marketing expenditure on TV advertising and sponsorship following lower returns.
During the course of the year we’ve invested a significant amount of time to better understand how we can help our members and make the relevant content, products and services they want from Which? more accessible to them. We have conducted more than 5,000 survey interviews and held multiple focus groups to thoroughly understand what current and potential members value about Which?.
In October we trialled different subscription options with members to test whether offering more variety around pricing and content access would be of interest. Our future plans go far beyond this. They involve redefining our core membership subscription, taking a fresh look at what we currently offer, how we offer it and assessing which new features and developments should be prioritised. Our ambition is to deliver more effectively our unbiased and unmissable advice on how, what and where to buy products and services, and what to do if anything goes wrong.
We see exciting opportunities for making reviews and advice more easily available digitally at consumers’ times of need and for distinguishing this better from the richer insight which forms the bedrock of our magazines. By expanding our reach, tailoring our content and delivering it through the channels and formats that meet individuals’ needs, we have the ability to make our proposition more compelling than ever to existing and future members. The first outputs of this work will be launched over the coming year and will inform how we invest in providing improved services for our members.
Our Black Friday campaign aimed not only to raise awareness of the existence of fake reviews, but also to reach new audiences and drive subscriptions. This campaign was particularly successful, with 2,169 people taking out a trial with us in one day. During this winter shopping season we saw an increase in demand for our reviews, resulting in a surge in sign-up through our digital channels. In a challenging market for product reviews, we matched our forecasts and maintained a strong performance, reaching a customer base of 632,000 at the year end.
Which? Money online grew significantly again this year, with 20 million sessions to our money information and help over the course of the year, compared to 14.1 million in 2017/18. The social media reach increased by 181%, while almost 100,000 people subscribed to the newsletter. Our strategy to utilise our Money website to drive visits to our other commercial businesses has proved successful, generating more than 16,000 leads and more than 7,500 trialists. Investment in a podcast platform allowed us to launch Money podcasts with six episodes aired, opening up the ability to provide similar content where relevant to our audiences. We have had a total of 13,000 listens across all channels, with the average listener consuming around 80% of the podcast.
Our social media has proved an effective channel for sharing content, as well as a route to engage with and attract new members. This year across our social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc, we connected to 400,000 social followers, with a reach of 70.2 million, an increase of 46% on last year. This year we launched our first Instagram account which has focused on targeting the next generation of Which? subscribers through brand stories and engaging content. The page reached the 5,000 follower mark, allowing us to receive verified status and helping us to better utilise the channel for traffic to the Which? website.
Our endorsement progamme is going from strength to strength. When companies are awarded a Which? Best Buy or Which? Recommended Provider status as a result of our independent testing, analysis and surveys, we offer them the opportunity to purchase a licence to use our logo in their marketing. This year, we expanded our testing into new categories and awarded 108 more Best Buys and 19 new Recommended Providers compared with the previous year. Additionally, Which? Travel has added five new review categories, covering 150 new travel providers. This expansion, plus the inherent value to brands and consumers of our awards, means we have increased our sales of licences and delivered a profit above target.
Which? Trusted Traders delivered a profit for the second year in a row, with both application and endorsed trader numbers finishing ahead of forecast, with 369 traders joining the scheme and retention rate remaining high at 88%. This year we have focused on improving trader compliance by setting up compliance triggers, complaints monitoring, review moderation and more regular phone calls to customers by our account managers. To support this, we have created a new in-house moderation team whose role is to moderate 100% of reviews received so customers are not misled.
Which? Switch provides consumers with a transparent and impartial way to compare energy tariffs and find the best gaselectricity provider for their needs. This year almost 1 million people used our Which? Switch energy site, and of the 13,000 who went on to switch, they saved on average £262 per person. In September 2018 we added a broadband switching site which has helped to increase customer visits. The energy service continued to drive consistent revenue despite tough trading conditions because of the rapidly changing nature of the sector. We continue to monitor these changes to ensure the business adapts where necessary.
The Which? Money Helpline gives independent one-to-one guidance over the phone on all sorts of money matters, from tax to travel insurance. This year marks a milestone for the Money Helpline. Reaching its 10-year anniversary, the service has surpassed the £4m mark recovered by individuals following guidance from the Helpline. We received 16,687 calls over the course of the year, and helped to claim back a total of £691,525, achieving an impressive 91% satisfaction score in the process.
One of the main focuses for Which? Legal this year has been the successful relocation from our office in Hertford to Bristol, while minimising the impact on members. A combination of dedicated recruitment, bespoke induction and onsite support from existing people meant the Which? Wills and Which? Legal operations successfully relocated ahead of schedule. It’s been a busy year for the team who have answered 85,000 calls and sold more than 8,000 wills and power of attorney products to customers.
As part of our commitment to improve the choice we offer members, we have been testing new legal propositions with members, including for example a single sale option. In addition, we continue to promote Which? Legal services and products to members who are visiting Which? through other parts of the website, or alternative channels.
This year the Tech Support team have helped more than 20,000 members, taking more than 11,400 calls, in comparison to more than 7,200 in the previous year. The team also sent more than 8,675 emails and conducted 5,955 remote access sessions. The remote access tool has proved very popular with members because they can not only get their problem resolved quickly by our experts but the member is also able to see their tech issues being resolved in real time on their computer. Many members have commented on how this aids their learning and confidence with tech in general.
Customer satisfaction levels are high at 95% and our net promoter score (the percentage of people likely to recommend us) has achieved a monthly average of 81%. The team have been focusing their efforts on making a difference to members in areas that Which? as a whole is looking to make an impact in. One of the areas which has been identified that we can help tackle on a day-to-day basis is scams, as more people experience scam calls and phishing emails. After a concerned member contacted our Tech Support helpdesk team about a worrying series of phone calls (apparently from Microsoft), he was reassured by a Which? Tech support expert that this is a commonplace scam and that callers can be persistent. We advise members to hang up the phone as soon as it’s determined to be a scam, and to add a ‘call guardian’ feature to their home phone. The following is feedback from our W?TS subscriber, ‘A very prompt response confirmed my thoughts that I was being scammed. It’s good to know Which? have the experts to sort out issues like this.’
“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
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.
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.
Key points to note from the balance sheet include:
• The £0.9m increase in intangible assets reflects an uplift in software costs as we seek to improve our digital platforms.
• Tangible assets decreased by £1.8m, with the sale of the Hertford freehold property during the year more than offsetting the fit-out costs of our new Cardiff member services centre and final costs of the Marylebone Road building project.
• The investment fund remained at a similar level year-on-year with both realised and unrealised gains (£2.2m) combined with in-year income (£0.4m) offsetting a £2.7m cash withdrawal that provided additional working capital for the organisation.
• Creditors due within one year fell by £3.6m to £20.7m largely because the June 2018 balance was unusually high because of the Marylebone Road building project.
• Creditors due after more than one year fell by £1.4m due to continued repayment of the outstanding mortgage balance.
• The defined benefit pension liability is now recognised at zero (June 2018: £1.9m liability). The external valuation indicated a £0.6m asset, this was not recognised. Of this £1.9m liability reduction, a £0.2m charge was reflected through the pension reserve with a £2.1m in-year benefit offsetting in-year expenditure.
The decision to close the Which? Mortgage and Insurance Advice services resulted in a £25.1m impairment within Which? Limited’s financial statements. However this had no impact on the group financial statements because all costs within the business were written off as incurred.
Council’s policy is to review annually its reserve levels to ensure they are sufficient in:
1. Providing some protection against potential risks that could impact the organisation; and
2. Offering some flexibility should investment need to be made within the business.
3. Ensuring there is sufficient working capital across the group;
Note, this year’s reserves review was deferred to just after the financial year to allow for the completion of the strategy review. All our reserves were unrestricted, with no material amounts designated for specific purposes in future years. The Council of Trustees concluded that reserves were sufficient to fund both the expansion of our charitable activity that provides positive impact for consumers and appropriate commercial activity to generate long-term growth.
In the year, Which? Limited made £10.0m of gift aid contributions to Consumers’ Association (CA). Following the full impairment of Which? Limited’s investment in its wholly owned subsidiary (Which? Financial Services Limited), Which? Limited had negative distributable reserves of £(5.1)m. Further gift aid contributions cannot be made by Which? Limited to CA until it has sufficient distributable reserves. Until this point, we do not anticipate any funding issues for CA because it has sufficient reserves to cover ongoing trading. As CA is a registered charity, no corporation tax was payable on its net outgoing resources.
During 2018/19 the group operated both a defined contribution and a hybrid pension scheme. The hybrid scheme combined the features of defined benefit (final salary) and defined contribution schemes. It was closed to future accrual in March 2019. At 30 June 2019, the hybrid scheme, valued under the FRS 102 accounting basis had a £0.6m asset (£1.9m liability at 30 June 2018). However, we recognised a zero asset position in the balance sheet.
Also during the year, the company agreed to the 31 March 2018 triennial valuation on a technical provisions basis and subsequent recovery plan with the pension Trustees. The valuation was a £10.7m deficit (31 March 2015 – £14.7m deficit).
During the year a new strategy was developed and approved by the Council of Trustees. Further detail on this new strategy can be found on page seven. As we look ahead to the priorities for the next financial year, we are able to identify some key deliverables and priorities. These include increased digital development, the exploration and development of new revenue streams and the implementation of the Governance Review recommendations.
Successful management of risk is fundamental to the reputation of Which? and the successful delivery of our strategy and objectives.
Our formal approach to risk management is delivered through the application of our risk framework, which sets out the mechanisms through which the organisation identifies, evaluates and monitors its principal risks and the effectiveness of the controls put in place to mitigate them. This includes the Council of Trustees and the subsidiary commercial Boards’ review of a detailed group risk register which identifies and evaluates significant business, financial, operational, compliance and reputational risks. The Council of Trustees has overall responsibility for the effective management of risk within the group.
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.
Principal risks: Successful implementation of our strategy requires a significant amount of organisational change, and in particular people with sufficient skills, capabilities and motivation. Continuity and reliance on key persons are also important considerations, particularly in the context of significant changes at a management level.
Key mitigation activities: We have recently changed our organisational structure to better support our new strategic direction and provide the skills and capabilities we need for the future. We are refreshing our approach to reward, recognition and employee engagement and continue to develop both our people and our employer brand.
Principal risks: Changes in the external environment (including regulatory) put volunteer Trustees in positions of considerable responsibility and public accountability that were rarely known even 10 years ago. Our governance structures need to be updated to ensure Trustees can focus on the strategic issues that matter most to the organisation and allow for agile decision making in the future. It must ensure we have Trustees with the right skills to provide expert stewardship as well as reflect best practice.
Key mitigation activities: An in-depth review of our governance has been completed. We expect to implement changes over the course of 2019/20 with some of the most significant proposals due to be voted on by members at the 2019 AGM.
Principal risks: We recognise that we need to put our resources to best effect while we evolve and strengthen our commercial offering, in order to defy a challenging publishing market and protect the Group against an expected reduction in income.
Key mitigation activities: Building a sustainable business model is an important strategic focus for the organisation. Separately, we are strengthening our approach to cost management which includes improving our procurement and benefit realisation frameworks and is also supported by our new programme management office.
Principal risks: Maintaining our independence and being true to our values in all that we do are really important to us, particularly as we seek to adapt our Group activities, including expanding our commercial relationships with businesses, in line with our new strategic direction. We continually need to ensure that our own customer offerings are consistent with our values.
Key mitigation activities: Our key mitigation activities include a re-launch of our internal organisational values supported by a dedicated communication and engagement strategy, and the continued operation of key value-based policies and processes such as our guiding principles relevant for all commercial third party relationships. We have recently reviewed our custome
Principal risks: In common with similar organisations, we make extensive use of technology solutions for data management and communications and recognise the need to ensure that our data and systems are adequately protected against misuse.
Key mitigation activities: This year we have strengthened our information security function and have begun work to better educate and train our people on key information security and cyber risks as well as continuing to improve our system defences against cyber threats.
Principal risks: The UK’s planned departure from the European Union presents us with a risk to revenue as well as challenges to the continuity of product testing. The lack of clarity around Brexit also means we may not be able to ensure that consumers are adequately prepared, and could impact delivery against our charitable objectives.
Key mitigation activities: We have set up a cross-organisational Brexit group which coordinates internal efforts, including our work to develop relevant content and influence key policy makers. We carried out risk-based contingency planning in advance of the original Brexit deadline and are repeating this as we near the revised leave date.
Risks are kept under regular review by the management team, with the Group Risk function providing support. The Group Risk function summarises and communicates risk information for senior management, the Council of Trustees, commercial subsidiary Boards and the Group Audit & Risk Committee. It also works with the management team to review mitigation designed to reduce risk to appropriate levels and embed and strengthen our risk management arrangements. A principal risk is one considered material to the development, performance, position or future prospects of Which?.
Trustees adopted six guiding principles to cover relationships with third-party organisations where we receive a commission, referral fees or other benefits for delivering a commercial service to consumers. These principles can be viewed on our website: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/company-info/third-partyrelationships---principles. We remain satisfied that relevant relationships adhered to these principles during the year.
Which? takes a zero tolerance approach to slavery and human trafficking and is committed to ensuring they do not take place in our organisation and supply chains.
Although we consider the sectors in which we and our supply chains operate to be at lower risk of slavery, we continue to review our internal policies and supplier arrangements to ensure ongoing compliance to the UK Modern Slavery Act. Our Modern Slavery Act statement can be viewed on our website: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/company-info/whichanti-slavery-statement
Which? has been running an extensive privacy programme across the organisation to ensure that all the data privacy principles set out in the Data Protection 2018 and General Data Protection Regulation are, and continue to be, complied with.
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.
The governing body of CA is the Council of Trustees (Council) which is the most senior governance body within the Which? group. Council Trustees are also company directors for the purposes of charity law and company law. The governing document of the charity is its Articles of Association. Trustees are required to promote the success of the Charity for the purpose of furthering the Charity’s objects (set out on page nine) for public benefit. This includes satisfying itself that the group’s commercial operations will be able to provide it with a sustainable income to apply to the charity’s charitable objectives over the long-term, and approving the direction and overall strategy of the charity and the group.
The Chief Executive, who is not a Trustee, oversees the day-today operations of the charity and its commercial subsidiaries with support from the Leadership Team.
The commercial subsidiary Boards provide an additional level of oversight, with the directors of those boards having the specialist skills and experience to both support and constructively challenge proposals on the group’s commercial direction and directly oversee the delivery of the organisation’s achievement of commercial strategies and business plans. A structure chart of the boards as at 30 June 2019 can be found at: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/company-info/ governance-overview.
At 30 June 2019, Council had 15 Trustees, of whom eight were elected by members of the CA and six were co-opted Trustees appointed by the rest of Council. The 15th Trustee, Charles Wander, was appointed as an interim elected council member following elected Trustee, Sharon Darcy, standing down from her role in year. Charles came fourth in the 2018 election and had the right skills to be able to support Council with its work programme up to the 2019 AGM (the interim period for which Council appointed him in accordance with the Articles). Sharon has supported the CA over a number of years and we thank her for her contribution as a Trustee, as a former chair of the Group Audit & Risk Committee and a member of the Council Policy and Campaigns Sub-Group.
The names of all Trustees during the period are on page 58 alongside their attendance at meetings during the year.
Over the year, Council’s composition also changed when we welcomed back Mel Fuller as a co-opted Trustee. Mel had previously been an elected Trustee, but did not stand for reelection in 2018. However, as a vacancy remained for a Trustee with commercial experience, Council agreed to appoint Mel as a co-optee until the November 2019 AGM while it undertook a search using an external search agency. Mel has the benefit of knowing the CA and Which?, as well as commercial skills that have been valuable to Council as it considered proposals related to the strategy review.
The Board of CA’s principal commercial trading subsidiary, Which? Limited, is made up of independent non-executive directors, senior employees and a Trustee. The Council Chair also attends all Which? Limited board meetings. The board of the other trading company within the group, Which? Financial Services Limited, included a mix of senior employees and independent non-executive directors.
Trustees have given significant time commitment to the organisation this year. This has included overseeing and approving orderly transition and succession arrangements as Anabel Hoult stepped into the role of Group Chief Executive. Trustees have supported Anabel Hoult in reviewing and approving the new strategic direction and starting a programme of work to reshape the organisation to deliver this against new direction. This includes approving the decision not to continue funding ongoing operations within Which? Mortgage Advisers and Insurance Advisers and supporting a closure programme for those business.
Trustees have also spent considerable time in the year engaging with the Governance Review Committee and on succession planning, with Tim stepping down and the two Deputy Chairs reaching their maximum terms.
Council is assisted in its work by a number of formal committees, ad hoc committees and working groups as well as the work of the commercial subsidiary Board. The aim is to ensure that Trustees have sufficient oversight on key issues for the Charity. Details of the committees and working groups, and a summary of their work in year are provided below.
The organisation remains hugely grateful to its committed Trustees who are increasingly called upon to become involved in many different aspects of the organisation’s work. Trustees provide their time on a voluntary basis because of their belief in the values and purpose of the organisation. Without their commitment, the organisation’s future would not be on as stable a footing as it is now.
Detailed oversight of the group’s financial reporting and risk management arrangements is delegated to the Group Audit & Risk Committee (GARC), with the Risk, Audit & Conduct Committee of Which? Financial Services Limited overseeing specific compliance, customer and risk matters in relation to its regulated financial advice services. Both committees have at least one member with recent and relevant financial experience.
GARC’s is a joint committee of the Consumers’ Association and Which? Limited. It’s specific responsibilities include monitoring and reviewing the integrity of the group’s financial statements, assuring itself that internal audit arrangements are effective and that internal controls around information security, financial records and the external auditor are reliable. GARC also oversees the effective operation of the risk management framework, receiving assurance and information about the mitigation of key risks from both management and independent sources during the year. GARC provides subsequent assurances and information in its report on its work to the Which? Limited board and Council. There is more information on how we manage risk on page 24.
In 2018, our AGM notice included a statement that a replacement PwC audit partner would be considered to ensure partners are rotated in line with best practice. GARC has agreed to take this matter forward and remains satisfied with the current partner.
At 30 June 2019, GARC was made up of five members (30 June 2018: five), which included representation from Council, the Which? Limited board and the Which? Financial Services Limited board.
The Committee is chaired by Ian Hudson, a non-executive director of Which? Limited. Ian replaced Tony Ward, a nonexecutive director, as chair at the beginning of 2019. Tony also resigned as a committee member and was replaced by David Woodward, a Trustee, in February 2019. The Committee met four times during the year (2017/18: four) and was satisfied that the information presented to it identified no significant concerns regarding internal controls across the group.
Council delegates responsibility for managing investment policy to the Investment Committee, within a framework agreed by Council. The Committee was made up of three members, two of whom were Trustees, with a third independent external member providing investment advice. The Committee is chaired by Brian Yates.
The CA’s investment portfolio continued to be managed inhouse, with Barclays Corporate Investment Solutions providing execution-only stockbroker services, following direction from the Investment Committee. The remainder of CA’s surplus funds was held on deposit with leading financial institutions.
The Nominations Committee has responsibility for advising Council on Trustee appointments, Which? Limited non- executive director appointments and senior executive succession planning. At 30 June 2019, the Committee had seven members (30 June 2018: seven), five of whom were Council members and two of whom were Which? Limited nonexecutive directors. The Committee met five times in the year.
During the year, the Nominations Committee has spent its time overseeing the election process and succession planning for Council for the impending change in Council Chair and two Deputy Chairs, and the subsequent co-opted Trustee recruitment this has involved. In order to fill these roles, we engaged with the executive search firm Green Park, who have a strong focus on diversity. In addition we tried new ways to build our profile externally including a short engaging video with Trustees and a ‘day in the life’ of a Trustee.
It has been particularly important to the Nominations Committee and Trustees to increase the diversity of its Trustees, so that Council composition is more reflective of UK consumers. This reflects Principle Six (Diversity) of the Charity Governance Code, highlighted on page 30.
The Trustee recruitment work has been led by Jenny Oscroft, Deputy Chair, who completes her final term at the November 2019 AGM. Trustees wish to thank Jenny for her commitment to the organisation and for once again giving her time extensively.
The Remuneration Committee is responsible for advising the Council of Trustees on group remuneration principles and policy, as well as having particular responsibilities for elements of senior executive remuneration (see page 34). At 30 June 2019, the Remuneration Committee had four members (30 June 2018: four), all but one of whom are Trustees. The Committee was chaired by Caroline Baker.
Over the past year, under Caroline’s leadership, the Committee has considered options for aligning executive and all staff pay, the objectives and the metrics for the executive variable pay plan for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years and considered performance of participating employees against the 2018/19 objectives.
The Council of Trustees has a number of other committees, sub-groups and working groups which assist it with its work. Three of the most significant groups which have undertaken work throughout the year are the Council Policy and Campaigns Sub-Group, the Member Governance Committee and the Joint Pensions Working Group.
The Council Policy & Campaigns Sub-Group, chaired by Anna Walker, has continued to provide challenge and support to the Advocacy teams.
The Member Governance Committee (‘MGC’) was introduced following the AGM in 2017 and its purpose is to consider governance issues raised by ordinary members. The MGC, chaired by Donald Grant, has four members, three of whom are Council members and the other being independent. As previously reported earlier in the year, in December 2018, the MGC considered suggestions raised by an ordinary member about how the committee operates and was pleased to make recommendations for changes, which Council approved. These included publishing information about proposals on our website, reducing the level of support required by ordinary members to raise proposals, increasing the limit on the number of proposals that can be put forward, and introducing an opportunity for a proposer to respond to committee decisions. Further detail can be found on the website: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/companyinfo/2385/member-governance-committee
The Joint Pensions Working Group (‘JPWG’) has continued to meet on matters relating to the Which? Group pension scheme. The JPWG consists of representatives of Council, the Which? Limited Board, the pension Trustees and the Executive. It is chaired by Jenny Oscroft. During the year the JPWG concluded their recommendations on the March 2018 triennial valuation and recovery plan of the hybrid scheme following their extensive work to ensure that the scheme is both sufficiently and responsibly funded to meet its future liabilities.
As a registered charity, we aim to apply the high standards set out within the Charity Governance Code (‘the Code’). This means we adopt an ‘apply or explain’ approach to the Code. We also have regard to the UK Corporate Governance Code and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Report of the inquiry into charity senior executive pay and guidance for Trustees on setting remuneration. Last year the organisation carried out an internal evaluation against the principles of the Code and the conclusions of the assessment were taken into account by the Governance Review Committee (see below).
In accordance with Principle Five of the Charity Governance Code, Council is committed to undertaking regular effectiveness reviews. Given the ongoing Governance Review, Council agreed that there would not be value in undertaking a separate review of effectiveness for the 2018/19 financial year. During the year feedback was sought after Council meetings, on their effectiveness and, where appropriate, changes to the format of the meetings were made. Council received expert training to build their understanding of the financial information provided to Council and a training session to develop a more in depth understanding of the CA’s legal powers.
Council agreed that the Governance Review, led independently by Dame Deirdre Hutton DBE and assisted by Julia Unwin CBE as a second independent member, had identified many opportunities that would improve Council’s effectiveness. A fuller explanation of these points are given below.
The Review recommendations draw on the seven key principles of the Charity Governance Code as follows:
Organisational purpose and leadership: The Review identified that the organisation’s charitable objects require review and could better reflect what the organisation does now and plans to do in the future. It recommends that once reviewed and re-articulated, the objects and refreshed values be used to guide the cultural development of the organisation.
Openness, and accountability and Diversity: The review recommends improvements to the Trustee recruitment, election and appointment processes to ensure the process is more open and transparent in recruiting the best candidates while maintaining accountability to members. This will ensure that stewardship by the Council of Trustees is built on the provision of expert and effective oversight and is representative of the diversity of all UK consumers. These changes also include the continued development of training and development schemes to support Trustees’ personal and professional development.
Decision making, risk and control: The Review examined the group’s decision making processes and recommends refining and re-articulating the roles and responsibilities of the Council of Trustees, the subsidiary commercial Board and the Executive. This will help to achieve greater clarity, responsiveness, trust and empowerment so that everyone understands the distinct roles they play in overseeing, delivering and implementing the group strategy.
Board effectiveness: The Review also recognises that as useful as a clear governance framework is, it can only take the organisation so far. To help facilitate dialogue and greater trust, the Review recommends that the Trustees, the subsidiary commercial Board and Executive all invest more time in building an open and flexible culture that welcomes input from the outside. It is also recommended that Trustees undertake annual board and governance effectiveness reviews, with a more wide-ranging externally facilitated review to be undertaken once every three to five years.
Trustees do not receive any payment for their services. They are reimbursed for travel and accommodation expenses incurred when attending Council meetings and other official events. During 2018/19, claims were made by 9 out of 16 Trustees (2017/18: 7 out of 16) totalling £12,343 (2017/18: £9,997). Insurance costs for the year to protect Trustees against liabilities arising from their office totalled £7,608 (2017/18: £4,631). Non-executive directors on both the Which? Limited and Which? Financial Services Limited boards are remunerated for their services. The total remuneration in the year for Which? Limited non-executive directors was £92,500 (2017/18: £83,958). In Which? Financial Services, which operates within a regulated environment, the total remuneration was £104,167 (2017/18: £112,084).
Council is responsible for preparing the Council of Trustees’ report (incorporating Strategic report) and the financial statements in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. Company law requires Council to prepare financial statements for each accounting period. Under that law, Council has prepared the financial statements in accordance with the United Kingdom Financial Reporting Standard, comprising FRS 102 ‘The Financial Reporting Standard applicable in the UK and Republic of Ireland, and applicable law (United Kingdom Generally Accepted Accounting Practice)’. Under company law, Council must not approve the financial statements unless it is satisfied that they give a true and fair view of both CA and the group, and of the incoming resources and application of resources including the income and expenditure of the group for that year. In preparing these financial statements, Council has:
• selected suitable accounting policies and ensured they have been applied consistently;
• observed the methods and principles in the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP): Accounting and Reporting by Charities (2015);
• made judgements and accounting estimates that are reasonable and prudent;
• stated whether applicable UK Accounting Standards, comprising FRS 102, have been followed, subject to any material departures disclosed and explained in the financial statements; and
• prepared the financial statements on the going-concern basis.
Council is responsible for ensuring adequate accounting records are kept that are sufficient to show and explain the organisation’s transactions disclose, with reasonable accuracy at any time the financial position of CA and the group and enable it to ensure that the financial statements comply with the Companies Act 2006. It is also responsible for safeguarding the assets of CA and the group, and hence for taking reasonable steps for the prevention and detection of fraud and other irregularities. Council is responsible for the maintenance and integrity of the corporate and financial information included on its website. Legislation in the United Kingdom governing the preparation and dissemination of financial statements may differ from legislation in other jurisdictions.
After making enquiries, Council has a reasonable expectation that the group has sufficient resources to continue in operational existence for at least 12 months from the date the financial statements were approved. Given that there are no material uncertainties inherent across the group, Council continues to adopt the going-concern basis in preparing these financial statements. Further information about the adoption of the going-concern basis can be found in the principal accounting policies within the financial statements (page 44).
Our financial statements are made up of:
• A consolidated statement of financial activities (SOFA); designed specifically for charities, showing the income generated across the group and how those monies have been spent (page 39);
• Balance sheet for both CA and the group, showing the total assets and liabilities as well as total reserves (page 40); and
• A consolidated cash flow statement showing how the group cash balance has changed over the year (page 41).
These financial statements, including the Strategic report, comply with the current statutory requirements, the Memorandum and Articles of Association, the Financial Reporting Standard (FRS 102), the Charities Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) 2015 and the Charities Act 2011. These principal statements are supplemented by extensive notes, providing further insight into the financial performance of the group, and together form the financial statements of the group.
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.
As we aligned the organisation structure and capabilities to set us up for future success it has meant we have seen a number of changes in the Leadership Team, which reduced from 14 at the start of the calendar year to 10. We then aligned teams to remove duplication, concentrate efforts on the strategic areas of focus, and bring together those of similar skillsets while ensuring our business model was sustainable for the future. This unfortunately resulted in redundancies. An example that had a significant impact on our people included moving away from having content experts in separate market areas led by multiple managing directors to bring them all together under one leader. In addition, our new strategic areas of focus led to the closure of Which? Insurance Advisers and Which? Mortgage Advisers. Those employees who have left our business during the year because of organisational changes have been supported through career transition programs and we thank them for their contributions to the business.
Our people have experienced a significant period of change which makes ensuring we build a culture where they feel supported through and connected to the organisation is even more important. During the year we continued to develop our wellbeing programme which included introducing ‘feel good champions’, employees who are available as confidential support for anyone needing to talk about mental health issues. We have continued to develop our managers through the Pathway to Leadership Excellence programme, which provides opportunities to enhance their leadership skills to develop themselves and their teams.
This year we completed the sale of our office in Hertford to Aldi and relocated our Which? Legal team to Bristol and our Member Service Centre to Cardiff, and many of the support functions across sites. The transition resulted in a number of employees relocating successfully to the new sites.
Our Gender Pay Gap outlines the difference in pay between men and women at the snapshot date of 5th April 2018. Our mean hourly pay gap for the group, which included Consumers’ Association, Which? Limited and Which? Financial Services employees was 8.55%. This means that in April 2018 on average men were paid 8.55% more than women. This was an increase of 1.34% on the pay gap reported gap for April 2017 which was 7.21%. Our bonus gap also increased to 51.55% versus 34.40% in April 2017.
There are a number of reasons for this increase. The snapshot date includes data relating to any payments made in the year preceding April 2018 and therefore included payments relating to the closure of the LTIP. At that time we had a higher number of women who were filling roles traditionally seen as more flexible such as customer service and administration, and conversely had a higher proportion of men in roles with commission schemes in place. This was particularly evident in Which? Financial Services which follows industry trends. We expect our gender pay gap figures to improve next year, partly because of changes that have taken place to our leadership this year.
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.
We know sustainability and environmental issues are of great importance to our members, and in response these issues have become more prominent in both our advocacy and testing work. We are committed as an organisation to operate as environmentally ethically as possible and have taken a number of steps this year to improve our practices internally. Aside from changing our magazine wrapping to a new compostable packaging, we have taken a number of steps to improve our recycling across all three of our offices, moving to a centralised recycling bin system as opposed to desk bins. We have removed all plastic cutlery and cups, replacing them with metal and glass alternatives and have started using FSC certified sustainably sourced paper for our printers. In our London office we have installed solar panels to generate power and have invested in water and air-con systems to reduce carbon emissions and their environmental impact. Furthermore, we have ensured there has been no reduction in the ecological value of the land, and have utilised green guide responsibly sourced building elements wherever possible.
At Which?, we know that a diverse and inclusive employee population is really important to any organisation, but particularly for us as we want to represent all UK consumers. As we embark on delivering our new mission with our new values underpinning everything we do, we have decided to review what diversity and inclusion means to us. With employees from across the business, we are working collaboratively to design a new diversity and inclusion approach to support our mission now and in the future. We plan to share our progress in next year’s interim review.
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.
During the year we looked again at benchmarks for our leadership team, reducing total compensation of the Leadership Team as a whole and aligning performance measures to the achievements of the organisation. Executive variable pay plans have been realigned to ensure a fairer and more balanced distribution across the breadth of the organisation. This is part of our total remuneration policy, which removed Long Term Incentive Plans and means all of our executives are incentivised against both charitable and commercial achievements.
As noted on page 49, the total cost of key employees across the group fell by 3% year-on-year to £3.6m. We define key employees as members of the Leadership Team.
During the year, there were 15 employees in the Leadership Team (2017/18:13) although this increase was due to there being several changes made to the team during the year. On average across the year, there were 12 employees within the Leadership Team.
The increase in costs associated with compensation for loss of office for key employees reflects a significant number of changes across the Leadership Team in line with the strategic changes. We expect this cost to fall considerably in 2019/20.
Anabel joined as the Group Chief Executive in October 2018, and her total remuneration is lower than our previous Group Chief Executive. The maximum bonus that is achievable for Anabel is 50% as opposed to previous years where it was 100% for the Chief Executive. This approach to her remuneration lays the foundation for the future. For 2019/20 no changes have been made to Anabel’s remuneration.
Banker and professional adviser
The principal banker is:
Barclays Bank plc , The Lea Valley Group , 78 Turners Hill , Cheshunt , Herts , EN8 9BW
The independent auditor and tax adviser is:
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 1 Embankment Place, London, WC2N 6RH
The following information is contained elsewhere in the financial statements:
• Net movement in funds (page 39);
• Significant relationships, including political and charitable donations (page 52); and
• Council, Board, Committee & Executive members (pages 58–59).
Each of the persons who is a Council Trustee at the date of approval of this report confirms that:
• So far as they are aware, there is no relevant audit information of which the Company’s auditor is unaware; and
• They have taken all steps that they ought to have taken as a director in order to make themselves aware of any relevant audit information and to establish that the Company’s auditor is aware of that information.
This confirmation is given and should be interpreted in accordance with the provisions of s418 of the Companies Act 2006.
A resolution to reappoint PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, will be proposed at the forthcoming Annual General Meeting.
The Council of Trustees’ report, including the Strategic report was approved by the Council of Trustees and signed on its behalf by:
Tim Gardam, Council Chair, 2 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 4DF 3 October 2019