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About Which?


Which? is the UK's consumer champion.

As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for protecting consumers – a powerful force for good, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone.

We stand up for what’s right for consumers. Our research gets to the heart of the consumer issues that matter, and our expert advice is completely impartial. Same goes for our product reviews – our rigorous tests and expert recommendations help consumers to make better decisions. We investigate and make change happen – from tackling online scams to campaigning for safer products, we’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers and holds businesses to account.

We fund our work mainly through member subscriptions. Businesses whose products or services earn our endorsement can, for a fee, use our name to promote them, and we get commission from some retailer websites where consumers can buy products or services that we feature on our site. We’re not influenced by third parties – we never take advertising or accept freebies from manufacturers.

Everything we do is about championing consumers. We’ll always be on their side, fighting their corner and working to make them more powerful.

 

A year like no other


On 16 March 2020, we left our offices and relocated our jobs to our bedrooms, kitchen tables and dining rooms. We may have been apart from each other, but our purpose was clear and we were united as an organisation in our vital work as the UK’s consumer champion.

Welcome from the Chair of the Consumers’ Association


 When I had the honour of taking up my post in January, it was both daunting and exciting to be joining such a well-respected and successful organisation at a time of major change, aimed at broadening and deepening our membership and supporter base in order to enhance our effectiveness for consumers. Little did I know, though, that within three months – and having only recently chaired my first Council meeting – we would be faced with the massive disruption of the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown.

Responding to the crisis gave me an early glimpse of Which? at its very best. Above all, the crisis demonstrated the importance of our unique blend of independence and rigour in providing vital advice to consumers facing a novel and highly stressful environment. And the organisation delivered, through the speedily introduced Coronavirus Hub and in many other ways. I much admired the commitment and professionalism of all our staff as they adapted – without missing a beat – to the more-or-less overnight move from office to virtual working.

Everybody played their part – from the IT and Workplace team ensuring every employee was set up to work from home, to the Member Services team guaranteeing continuity of support to our members, to the editors and experts speaking out for consumers, and many more besides.

I would like to pay tribute to Anabel Hoult and her Leadership Team for orchestrating a successful response that was both strategic and empathetic, as well as to my fellow Council members and to Judy Gibbons and her Which? Limited Board – all of whom adapted quickly and without complaint to unfamiliar virtual governance arrangements, ensuring appropriate scrutiny while still providing clear strategic focus.

Update from the Chair of Which? Limited Board


In last year’s report, I talked about how impressed I was with the resilience and dedication of Which? as an organisation. I was proud again this year that, as the world came crashing down around us, Which? stood up, and we stood strong.

We have invested significantly during 2019/20 in improving our commercial offer and user experience. I’m happy to say that we are also seeing growth and improvements in conversion to paying subscribers. In the final quarter we returned to growth in subscriber numbers as consumers turned to our advice during the pandemic, demonstrating that Which?’s purpose as a consumer champion is now, as much as ever, relevant to UK consumers.

Income in 2019/20 for Which? Limited decreased by 3% to £89.3m, this was against an expected decline of 4.3% and shows the positive impact of a growing member base in the final months of the year. Within this number our endorsement revenues were adversely affected in the last quarter and we have seen UK traders suffer the consequences of this tumultuous year, meaning 10% of traders requested payment holidays at Trusted Traders.

Chief Executive's welcome


This has been a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned life upside down for millions of us and brought personal tragedy and financial hardship to so many people. For Which?, it presented our organisation with one of the greatest challenges it has faced in its 63-year history.

Before COVID-19 arrived in the UK, Which? had been making great progress with our commercial goals and our campaigning to make life simpler, fairer and safer for all UK consumers.

Our focus on timely advice and relevant content resulted in healthy audience growth among a broader range of people than ever before. And in the Budget, our ‘Freedom to Pay. Our Way’ campaign secured a huge win when the Chancellor confirmed the government would legislate to protect cash – a vital step that will make a real difference to millions of people who rely on it as a payment method.

Then COVID-19 hit – meaning an almost overnight switch to remote working for hundreds of colleagues based in our London, Bristol and Cardiff offices. Test labs around the world shut their doors. International travel ground to a halt. Government announcements of emergency measures with huge implications for millions of consumers came thick and fast.

Council of Trustees report

(incorporating strategic report 19/20)

Overview of the year

In a year defined by extraordinary events, we’ve found the role of Which? for UK consumers has been more important than ever. We are proud to be able to share with you the positive difference we have made for and on behalf of our members and all UK consumers in the twelve months from July 2019 to the end of June 2020. The aim of this report is to demonstrate the significant achievements made against our strategic objectives, and also to share some of the inspirational ways in which we have gone that bit further to help consumers when they have most needed a champion.

The foundations for success

The restructure and strategy review we began last year was completed in the first quarter of this 2019/2020 reporting period, meaning that we faced into the challenges of COVID-19 as an agile, strategically aligned organisation, with the structure and leadership in place to deliver growth and future success. Our Governance Review, which concluded in 2019, and the related resolutions approved at last year’s AGM are also beginning to deliver the change we need to function effectively as a modern charity. You can read in more detail about the changes and the additional positive improvements we are expecting in the Governance section of the report.

Sustainability


Which? has always helped consumers to buy better, and ‘better’ keeps evolving. We’re committed to giving consumers information so they can buy with confidence and make sustainable choices that can reduce harm to the environment – including when not to make a purchase.

Diversity and Inclusion


Our anti-racism commitments

We shared a series of anti-racism commitments in June 2020, contributing towards the ongoing process of making our organisation more diverse, inclusive and reflective of UK society and the consumers whose interests we represent. Anti-racism is more than not being involved in racist behaviour, it’s about actively seeking to oppose racism, racial inequality and unconscious bias. It's about acknowledging systemic racism and unconscious bias and taking action to address it. This includes being committed to an ongoing learning journey for all.

Public benefit and section 172(1) statements


The Council of Trustees has a responsibility to follow the Charity Commission’s public benefit guidance. The Trustees are also bound by duties as charity trustees and under s172(1) of the Companies Act 2006 as company directors, in particular by their duty to promote the success of the Consumers’ Association to achieve its charitable purposes.

Financial performance 2019/20


Overview of the year

The Consumers’ Association has spent almost £22m delivering public benefit for consumers this year. You can see how we have delivered positive outcomes for consumers in the 'assessing our impact' section of this report. This has been wholly funded by our commercial business, which includes member subscriptions, the endorsement scheme (such as Best Buys, which enable businesses to purchase a licence to use the logo with their Best Buy products, if awarded) and other products and services that help in our aim to make consumers’ lives simpler, fairer and safer.

In addition, our commercial business generated a further £8.2m of income for the charity, which has been offset against unrealised losses on pensions, resulting in a £4m decrease in the Group’s reserves during the year but still leaving a healthy reserves position of £52.4m.

Commercial income

In 2019/20, underlying income from our principal commercial subsidiary decreased by 3% (to £89.3m). Encouragingly, we saw an increase in new subscriptions in the final quarter as our consumer advice became even more relevant to consumers during the pandemic. However, our endorsement revenues (see endorsement scheme details on p33) were adversely affected by COVID-19 in the last quarter.

In addition, revenues from our mortgage and insurance advice services decreased by £5.5m to £1.4m as we closed this business to new applications during the previous financial year. This meant overall commercial income decreased by 8.5% to £90.7m, and Group income – which last year included a one-off profit of £2.6m from the sale of the charity’s Hertford site – decreased by 11% to £91.2m.

Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR)

Large organisations are now obliged to report publicly on their energy use and carbon emissions. Below you can see the Consumers' Association and Which? Limited’s assessment for 2019/20. This analyses how much energy we have used in our offices and when our employees have been travelling on business.

The energy is then converted into greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions. From this assessment we have calculated a ratio of 0.7 tonnes of CO2e emissions per average employee in the Group. In the next reporting period we will be able to compare year-on-year progress

Assessing Our Impact


How have we delivered positive outsomes for consumers?

Everything we do helps to make a positive difference for consumers

1 - EASIER CHOICES

 

We have supported consumers to make informed decisions about the products and services they buy. Developing our product reviews app, adding to our numbers of Trusted Traders, and driving more traffic to our website have all helped us increase the number of decisions we have helped people make.

“I have used Trusted Traders whenever I have needed any job doing. I have never been disappointed. Without it would be like closing your eyes and sticking in a pin.”

 

c. 6 million

purchasing desision supported

 

80%

consumers surveyed about our Trusted Trader scheme said it had made it easier for them to choose a trader they could trust

2 - EASIER PROCESSES

 

We have helped those who might otherwise have found it difficult or overly time-consuming to take a consumer action that would benefit them; e.g. easier broadband or energy switches, easier complaints processes or willwriting. Take-up of our practical support significantly increased during lockdown.

“Patient, knowledgeable, professional, sense of humour. It’s like somebody holding your hand and guiding you at night through the woods.”

 

78%

of consumers who used our online complaints and claims tools in 2019/20 said that our tools helped make for a smoother, less time-consuming process

 

c. £3 million

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

3 - BETTER ENGAGEMENT

 

Our Best Buys, Recommended Provider and Trusted Trader schemes have given millions confidence in their decisions and helped them avoid ‘buyer’s remorse’! This year we created even more impact than last year by helping consumers buy smart and avoid goods or services more likely to disappoint.

“Saves hours of googling and gives me confidence. Couldn’t even begin to tell you how much I’ve saved over the years.”

81%

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

 

87%

of consumers surveyed in 2019/20 who had bought a product on the back of our endorsement reported that they were afterwards either happy or very happy that they had done so

4 - BETTER REDRESS

 

Our helplines supported consumers to tackle more than 88,000 money, legal and computing problems, and our online claims tools (including a new one for second-hand cars), helped many more seek redress after problems with goods and services. We were particularly successful this year in helping last-minute PPI claims and money-back claims for those whose travel and other plans had been affected by COVID-19.

“The 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!”

 

 

c. 195,000

claims for redress made with the help of our online claim tools by consumers experiencing problems with goods and services

 

c. £73 million

estimated value of refunds paid out to consumers using our online claim tool

5 - FAIRER MARKETS

 

We have protected consumers from being short-changed by unfair business practices. Our investigations, campaigns and consumer rights actions have achieved important wins on issues of fairness, transparency and accountability, e.g. challenging rail companies and airlines for not respecting consumer rights during COVID-19.

“Fantastic service. I was about to give up after being rebuffed by the car dealership, but this letter tool saved me a small fortune.”

c. 110

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

 

c. 200

instances of price gouging during COVID-19 that were removed from websites after we brought them to the attention of online marketplaces, social media platforms and regulators

6 - SAFER MARKETS

 

We have reduced the risk to consumers from unsafe products and insecure smart products and protected consumers from risk of scams with a significant increase in our online scams content and a new scams alert service that is now reaching more than 63,000 consumers a week.

“These companies do not have a good track record of owning up to potentially dangerous faults. Thanks for all your help.”

 

c. 105,000

safer homes thanks to the removal of unsafe tumble dryers by Whirlpool at the culmination of our four-year campaign for a full recall – though we are still monitoring and acting on problems as the recall rolls out

 

c. 500

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

COVID-19


The huge impact the pandemic has had on consumers, from where and how they shop, to the struggles faced getting refunds for holidays they were unable to take, has brought Which?’s purpose to the fore. In the middle of March, overnight, our operations were moved to living rooms, spare rooms, dining tables and kitchens, meetings went virtual and our IT and Workplace Experience teams worked hard to ensure that colleagues were equipped to continue to represent our members and all UK consumers from home.

More than 9m people viewed our content on COVID-19

The most-viewed article was ‘Coronavirus: how to clean your home effectively’, which received 660,000 online views

We managed to get the pages up and running within 2 days

We have posted more than 400 separate articles on the Hub so far

Travel rights and refunds

The imposition of travel restrictions meant that millions of holidaymakers were left trying to get refunds on the trips they could no longer take. We received many complaints from customers spending hours on the phone trying to get refunds, and telling us that some companies were trying to insist customers accept travel vouchers rather than cash refunds. Through our online advice, social media and member communications on the issue, we helped many people get the refunds they so desperately needed.

More than 9m people viewed our content on COVID-19
9million+
viewers of COVID-19 content

More than 30,000 people started a section 75 or 'chargeback' claim to get their holiday refunds

We have investigated the refund and cancellation policies of more than 200 companies and have successfully influenced several dozen of them to improve their practices where necessary, using threat of publication, legal warnings or the possibility of being removed as a Recommended Provider. We also reported more than a dozen who refused to comply with their regulator

Our travel Q&A has had more than over 1m readers

Our #TravelRefund hashtag was the first Which? campaign hashtag to trend at number one on Twitter and generated over 60,000 stories from affected consumers

The ‘Coronavirus: your travel and consumer rights questions’ Which? Conversation topic received more than 44,500 views

A tuneful thank you from the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra


When the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra was refused a refund for £34,000 spent on flights for a cancelled American tour, Which? Travel stepped in. The orchestra should have been entitled to a full refund, but instead it was left with a struggle to survive after also losing out on other expenses associated with the tour. However, following pressure from Which?, the orchestra received a full refund. Bob Diament, the orchestra’s chairman, said in a thank-you letter to Which?: “The rapidity of positive response after your intervention on our behalf is in stark contrast to the delays and refusals we were met with during multiple direct communications over a four-month period. The substantial amount of money recouped will help us survive at a time when we are unable to generate any income from live performances. We are extremely grateful for your help and I can see a tune or two being written and performed in your honour – you may need a kilt to fully enjoy it.”

A bottle of Dettol handwash was being sold for £14.99 rather than £1.50 via Amazon and a packet of paracetamol was displayed at more than seven times the usual price in a local store.

By 28 June we had received 1,500 reports to the tool

We found the average difference in price for hygiene items was an incredible 414% and for medical goods this was 345%

133 reports to our price-gouging tool were for items of PPE, including face masks being sold for nearly 20 times the usual reported price

Which?’s facemask buying guide generated 650,000 views in a matter of weeks (13 times more views than the next best-performing advice content on the Which? website)

Health news stories generated over 1.5m unique visits to the Which? website

Win!


The Prime Minister’s spokesperson made a statement that referenced the Which? research into the unfair pricing of hand sanitiser and the Competition and Markets Authority launched an investigation into the issue.

9 out of 10 consumers we surveyed who had received advice from us on a COVID-related problem said that our advice had helped them feel reassured and better informed about their options

We directly helped consumers claim back as much as £12m of redress they were owed during lockdown

Digital Life


Digitalisation is rapidly revolutionising every aspect of consumer lives, even more so since the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst this can bring huge benefits for business and consumers, the rate of change can present challenges, especially around keeping consumers safe online. This year, we’ve been calling on key stakeholders for more competitive digital markets, the responsible use of technology, safe smart appliances and access to good connectivity for all.

Stop Fake Reviews campaign


Fake online reviews are influencing people across the UK into purchasing billions of pounds’ worth of products and services every year. Some of these products are poor quality and occasionally unsafe. Since 2018, we have been campaigning to Stop Fake Reviews as Which? research shows that three in 10 people have bought a product because it had excellent online customer reviews and have then been disappointed with it.

In 2019/20 we also undertook new research into this widespread problem. We conducted a first-of-its-kind Which? behavioural experiment that found people are more than twice as likely to choose poorer-quality products that have been boosted by artificially positive reviews when making buying decisions.

Win!

Following Which? investigations repeatedly exposing fake or incentivised reviews being used to mislead people on online marketplaces, the CMA launched a programme of work aimed at tackling fake and misleading online reviews.

Mobile and broadband infrastructure

In response to Which?’s calls for improvements to mobile coverage in the UK, the Government and mobile network operators agreed plans for a Shared Rural Network (SRN) to improve 4G mobile coverage across the UK, particularly in rural areas.

The Government also pulled forward the Telecoms Infrastructure Bill, including measures to deliver full-fibre broadband in all new-build properties, a specific Which? ask.

Keeping your data safe

We challenged financial institutions and digital providers to do better at keeping consumers’ data safe and joined with other charities to create pressure for better protection of consumer data. We also worked hard behind the scenes to ensure that consumer data concerns are taken into account in a new draft bill to guarantee smart products are more secure by law.

5 major banks made improvements to their online security after we pointed out potential weaknesses

Consumer Rights and Protections


The last year has seen a number of events that have given Which? the chance to show our strength in fighting for consumer rights. We quickly prioritised key issue areas in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, reviewing our current campaigns and priorities in order to respond to consumer needs and the dramatically shifting environment. We saw our advice and services become more popular than ever and demonstrated that we can generate a lot of evidence very quickly through providing the means for consumers to easily report issues. This helps us to identify priorities, inform our policy development and support regulatory enforcement action.

We collected and shared around 15,000 reports on holiday cancellations and price-gouging to the CMA COVID Taskforce and CAA

500+ listings for dangerous smoke and carbon monoxide alarms have been removed from sale by online marketplaces in the last 12 months following Which? testing

66% of products that we tested for safety concerns from online marketplaces AliExpress, Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Wish failed safety tests – vital evidence to support our campaign for safer products

More than 70,000 people who visited our Consumer Rights content online opted in to hear more about Which? campaigns and consumer advice

Our Which? Conversation topic ‘Do you know your consumer rights?’ was our second most-commentedon topic of the year, drawing 1,250 comments

 

Thomas Cook collapse

The collapse of Thomas Cook in September 2019 brought with it the largest peacetime repatriation effort in UK history (at the time, this was then superseded by the COVID-19 repatriation efforts). Without warning, thousands of holidaymakers were left stranded abroad and many more were left out of pocket for planned holidays. Which? jumped into action, sharing countless pieces of advice across all our channels – including the most successful Facebook live we’ve ever done, with 12,000 people tuning in and 111 questions answered.

Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Editor gave several interviews, including an appearance on BBC’s The One Show, to highlight the issues faced by Thomas Cook customers, such as the rise in scammers taking advantage of those left out of pocket by the travel company’s collapse.

 

Win!

Which? investigations resulted in the Competition and Markets Authority taking enforcement action against six hotel booking sites, addressing practices such as pressure selling, misleading discount claims and transparency in search rankings.

Payment Protection Insurance (PPI)

In the run up to the deadline for PPI claims in August 2019, our advice and free online PPI claim tool saw almost 200,000 submissions and more than 500,000 unique views of our PPI advice content.

Almost 200,000 Which? PPI tool submissions in July and August 2019

More than 500,000 unique views of our PPI advice content

More than 70,000 opted in to hear more about Which? campaigns and consumer advice

More than 60,000 opted in to hear more about Which?'s products and services

Our media coverage had a reach of more than 22 million people

 

Whirlpool and product safety

In July 2019, Whirlpool was forced to finally announce the recall of up to 800,000 of its tumble dryers due to them posing a fire risk – an action that Which? had been campaigning for since the fault was announced in November 2015. The company also published the full list of its 627 affected tumble dryer models, another call that Which? had also repeatedly made. This progress was the result of sustained political, consumer and media pressure generated by Which?’s campaigning activity, undertaken alongside its members and supporters.

We’ve continued demanding that banks and businesses do more to safeguard us from scams, as well as issuing advice to consumers through our new scam-alert service, empowering them to protect themselves from fraudsters.

COVID-19 brought a wave of new scams that threaten UK consumers. From bogus text messages saying you’ve been fined for breaking lockdown rules, to dodgy tech retailers tricking customers into buying cheap goods, fraudsters took advantage of the turbulence and confusion and employed ruthless tactics to target often the most vulnerable people.

 

Stamp Out Scams campaign

Which? estimates that £1.1bn could have been lost to bank transfer fraud over the past three years, our largest live campaign, ‘Stamp out scams’, now has over 400,000 signatures. We are demanding that banks and businesses do more to protect consumers from fraudsters.

Wins!

Confirmation of Payee

We campaigned for banks to introduce a ‘Confirmation of Payee’ checking process, and in August 2019, the Payment Systems Regulator (PSR) announced new measures to protect 90% of bank transfers. Under the direction of the PSR, the six largest banking groups must now all offer Confirmation of Payee (or ‘CoP’) to protect customers when they pay someone new or edit an existing payee.

We estimated that this long-overdue system could have saved fraud victims £320m since 2017 if it had been in place sooner.

Crucially, not all banks have introduced these measures and if a bank doesn’t offer CoP and a customer falls victim to an Authorised Push Payment (APP) scam that CoP would have prevented, Which? believes they should be fully reimbursed.

Money


With the UK facing an uncertain economic period as a result of COVID-19, Which? has been a valuable resource, providing consumers with the impartial advice they needed to sift through the speculation, help with finding the best financial advice and services as well as stepping up on our campaign to protect access to cash.

‘Freedom to Pay. Our Way.’ campaign

Cash is a necessity millions couldn’t live without, and a backup for everyone when online systems fail. But with banks and free-to-use cashpoints disappearing at an alarming rate, we’re concerned some people may be left behind. Our ‘Freedom to Pay. Our Way.’ campaign, which launched in 2017, saw some significant successes during 2019/20, including an important commitment from the government to protect access to cash.

Protecting Access to Cash

Which? identified that unless there was urgent Government intervention, cash would disappear in two years. With cash being a vital method of payment for millions of people, we couldn’t let this happen. So, between 24 and 28 February, we mobilised our incredible supporter base and launched a #ProtectCash week of action, ahead of the new Chancellor’s Budget.

What’s next for the campaign?

 

A Which? survey found that since the COVID-19 outbreak:

7% said they had found it more difficult to take out cash

51% of those looking after the finances or grocery shopping of someone else had been paid in cash in return for doing shopping

1 in 3 people reported still using cash to make some or all of their payments, yet many retailers started encouraging non-cash payments and banks started reducing branch opening hours

 

 

Cash Week in numbers

17m social media accounts reached through our hashtag, #ProtectCash that trended nationally. We called upon our supporters to tweet HM Treasury, sharing why they want cash protected in the next budget

6,000 people joined our ‘Team Cash’ Facebook group and started sharing their stories on why protecting cash was vital for them

10,000 people shared their #ProtectCash stories with us on Twitter, our ‘Team Cash’ Facebook group and our bespoke reporter tool

10 Downing Street: we put the stories into a dossier and our Chief Executive, Anabel Hoult, delivered it directly to Number 10 Downing Street

 

Our strategy


How we fund our work for consumers


We create propositions that consumers can’t live without

We generate income to fund our research and campaigning from commercial activities, including our endorsement scheme and subscriptions. All our charitable and commercial work seeks to make consumers’ lives simpler, fairer and safer. This allows us to be independent and impartial in how we help consumers make informed decisions, raise awareness of consumer issues and drive positive change.

We will continue to assess and review how we generate revenue, to ensure a long-term sustainable business. This goes further than just thinking about how we improve our current commercial offer and how we market it to attract new members and businesses, but also looks at how we can create additional and innovative ways of generating income.

Our magazines and expert content


Our expert reviews and advice are what attracts and retains our members, helping to fund the charitable work we do on behalf of all UK consumers. This year, our Buy Smart proposition helped to make our valuable content more accessible, attractive and streamlined for our members.

 

Buy Smart


We launched the Facebook members’ group at the end of 2019 and it now has almost

10,000 members asking for and providing advice on products and services, so far attracting

1,900 posts and

39,000 comments

 

Which? Awards


Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we were unable to host the Which? Awards in June 2020 as planned. Instead, we announced the winners in October on our social media channels. The Which? Awards exist to champion the businesses that put consumers at the heart of everything they do. In October 2020 we recognised the brands that took extra steps to protect their customers during the pandemic, as well as the products and services that were essential to UK consumers as we went through lockdown.

Helping consumers to buy smart at Christmas


With Black Friday now the busiest shopping period of the year, our investigations into the true nature of the discounts offered and our warnings into the ‘Don’t Buy’ products on sale created a huge stir across the Which? Website, Which? Magazine and in the media and helped consumers to navigate the sales to find the best deals on the best products. Tech items are often the most popular during the Black Friday sales and our tech experts exposed a number of dodgy technology products. The story prompted Google to pull questionable retailers – and their risky products – from its shopping network.

Our Christmas food and drink reviews are eagerly anticipated by members and the media, with the food producers and retailers eager to score a coveted Best Buy to boost the sales of their seasonal ranges. In 2019, our Food team produced our biggest ever set of festive taste tests, comprising an epic 15-page special in Which? Magazine, and a full programme of digital and PR content, spanning mince pies, Christmas puddings, Champagne, red wine and turkey and trimmings, as well as 191 separate canapés.

We produced more than 70 Black Friday and Christmas shopping stories, collectively increasing traffic to these pages on our website by 26% year-on-year

Our Black Friday press work was our most successful media story of the year, seeing us reach more than 75m people with over 800 pieces of coverage in November

 

Magazine redesign


The redesign of the magazine for the September 2019 issue came about after months of work in collaboration with groups of Which? members.

Membership, advice and other services


 

Member numbers

Subscriptions continue to be a key driver of revenue for Which?, with over 600,000 members paying an annual or monthly fee to access a range of expert content and advice. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, performance had been meeting expectations, albeit on a continued downward trajectory.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen a significant increase in consumer demand for product-buying advice content. Across May and June 2020, monthly visits to our reviews and advice content from non members averaged 4.1m, up 61% year-on-year. Likewise, the number of visitors to take up a Which? subscription increased 17% year-on-year across the same period. As a result of this exceptionally strong demand, we’ve seen the Which? paying membership base grow.

 

Advice services

Our specialist advice services took an unprecedented number of queries, demonstrating the effect that COVID-19 had on people’s demand for specialist legal, financial and computing advice. We received a significant number of calls from members wanting to know about their travel refunds rights, as well as many queries from landlords and tenants. Our Tech Support team responded to a lot of queries from members trying to get online for the first time – during the UK lockdown, people who had no previous experience in the online world needed advice on how to get set up so they could keep in touch with family and friends virtually. More than 130 member support colleagues seamlessly moved to home working and due to the fantastic effort of everyone involved, our advice services remained available throughout.

 

45% increase in total contact to our tech advice services and

25% increase in total contact to our legal services as a result of the impact of COVID-19

 

How we helped thousands of consumers with our expect advice:

Calls

Legal 41,750

Tech 16,000

Money 11,000

 

Email volumes

Legal 9,310

Tech 8,500

Reserves, risk and compliance


Group balance sheet and reserves

Total Group reserves decreased by £4m to £52.4m at June 2020, largely reflecting £8.2m of net incoming resources from trading activities (after accounting for £21.9m of expenditure on our charitable activities) offset by a £9.9m increase in the FRS 102 pension liability. Key points to note from the balance sheet include:

• The £1.8m increase in intangible assets reflects an uplift in software costs as we continue to improve our digital platforms.

• Tangible assets decreased by £1.8m during the year due to depreciation of our Marylebone Road long-leasehold premises and fixtures, fittings and equipment across our sites.

 

• The investment fund increased by £1m during the year with both realised and unrealised gains (£0.6m) combined with in-year income (£0.4m). Creditors due within one year fell by £5m to £15.7m, largely because of the payment of Marylebone Road final invoice and the closure costs of Which? Financial Services Limited previously accrued.

• Creditors due after more than one year fell by £1.3m due to continued repayment of the outstanding mortgage balance on Marylebone Road.

• The defined benefit pension liability is recognised at £9.9m (June 2019: zero). The external valuation showed an actuarial loss of £12.3m but this was offset by cash contributions by the Group of £2.4m.

Governance


In 2017 we decided we needed to modernise our governance to make Which? sufficiently resilient to face competitive challenges.

We undertook a review led independently by Dame Deirdre Hutton DBE and supported by Dame Julia Unwin DBE. It was completed in three stages and we gathered input from members and other stakeholders at each stage. The final phases – recommendations and votes on constitutional review – took place in the first half of the 2019–20 financial year.

The review made 33 recommendations around the themes of:

• building a greater culture of participation and transparency for members

• creating a simplified governance framework

• delivering excellent stewardship,which we have been working on in-year.

The review’s recommendations and a full status update can be found on our website. We summarise our work below.

Governance Review aims

We set out with the ultimate aim of having a modern governance framework built on trust and transparency. The Trustees agreed with the Review Committee that this is best achieved by:

• creating a simple governance structure that makes the organisation easy to lead and easy to understand

• being easy to engage with so we benefit increasingly from a diverse membership, reflective of contemporary Britain

• having Trustees who are diverse in their thinking, expertise and experience, who can oversee collectively and effectively all aspects of what Which? does

How Which? is governed

The Consumers’ Association is the parent of the Which? Group. It is established as a company limited by guarantee (no. 00580128) and a registered charity (no. 296072) and wholly owns the trading company Which? Limited (no. 00677665), which generates the income for the Group to enable it to provide its many products and services to, and deliver impact for and with, UK consumers. Which? Limited owns a small financial services company, Which? Financial Services Limited (no. 07239342), regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, and Which? Legal Service Limited (no. 08109992), which remains dormant.

 

The Council of Trustees of the Consumers’ Association is the most senior governing body in the Group and our 15 Trustees are both trustees of the charity and company law directors. Our main commercial Board is chaired by Judy Gibbons.

The Board consists of four other independent non-executive directors and Anabel, our CEO. Neither Anabel nor any member of her Leadership Team are Trustees.

Our people


COVID-19

It has been an extraordinary year for everyone the world over and many workplaces have had to scramble to move entire workforces to home working, while still supporting the often-changing needs of the business and the people who work for them.

Remuneration


Reward Policy and Principles

We want everyone at Which? to feel fairly rewarded for the work that they do. Reward isn’t only about salary, but also our employee benefits and recognising the great work our colleagues carry out every day. Our Reward Policy plays an important role to support this in helping us to attract, retain and motivate our people, enabling us to become the preeminent force driving positive impact for and with consumers.

Council of Trustees responsibilities statement

The 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 the Council to prepare financial statements for each accounting period.

 

Under that law, the 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)’.