Cuts watch # 288:Consumer champ axed
Despite the Coalition’s promise to “protect consumers, particularly the most vulnerable,” they will abolish Consumer Focus, our fuel poverty champion, saving £5m. Today’s fuel poverty figures from DECC show that 4m households in England can’t keep their homes warm. It’s worth remembering that Consumer Focus has achieved big wins for consumers –such as a £70 million energy bill refund, and cash ISA reforms saving over £15 million a year. CF has saved consumers around £500 million over the last two years – 100 times its government funding!
As to the cuts. The CF budget for 2010/11 was £14m, which consists of some £6 million from energy companies, £3 million from Royal Mail and only £5 million from taxpayers for its core work.
With its statutory powers and duties and focus on the activities of companies and the responsibilities of government, it is difficult to see how many of these activities can be undertaken by Citizens Advice, the proposed alternative.
Plus, Consumer Focus has statutory responsibilities to vulnerable consumers and those at a disadvantage. It was the prime driver, for example, on policies to tackle fuel poverty. It’s influence was a major reason why Warm Front is still with us (for the time being), and why energy companies were forced to take action over the scandal of pre pay meter charges.
Campaigning by Consumer Focus led to those eligible for Cold Weather Payments to be a super priority group under the suppliers Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT) – and for CERT itself to include more substantial measures. Encouraging government to take powers to mandate energy company social tariffs – powers that have yet to be taken up by the coalition government – was again down to pressure from Consumer Focus.
These activities don’t grab headlines but are an essential reason why we need a consumer body that understands that sustainability relates to the environment and the economy but most also include social justice and the development of policies that do not have a detrimental impact on those on low incomes.
And the Coalition’s promise?
“The Government believes that action is needed to protect consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, and to promote greater competition across the economy. We need to promote more responsible corporate and consumer behaviour through greater transparency and by harnessing the insights from behavioural economics and social psychology.”