Publication - Minutes

Consumer Network for Scotland minutes: December 2020

Published: 24 May 2021
Date of meeting: 8 Dec 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the network on 8 December 2020.

Published:
24 May 2021
Consumer Network for Scotland minutes: December 2020

Attendees and apologies

Attendees:

  • Neil Ritchie, Scottish Government (chair)
  • Saskia Kearns, Scottish Government
  • Jeremy Vincent, Scottish Government (Social Researcher)
  • Andrew McConnell, Scottish Government (Secretariat)
  • Julie Thompson (support to Secretariat)
  • Andrew Bartlett, Advice Direct Scotland
  • Kate Morrison, CAS
  • Sheila Scobie, CMA
  • Frazer Scott, Energy Action Scotland
  • Harry Mayers, Energy Saving Trust
  • Mark Smith, FCA
  • Jonny Ruff, Ofcom
  • Dennis Berg, Ofgem
  • Jennifer Hampton, Ofgem
  • Sarah Chisnall, Ombudsman Services
  • Graeme Paton, Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland
  • Fiona Richardson, Trading Standards Scotland
  • Thomas Docherty, Which?
  • Carol Rice, BEIS

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed the attendees and thanked them for attending the second meeting.

Round up – any major news items attendees which to share

Updates from the Chair 

We had a successful and unanimous vote on Thursday for Stage 1 of the Heat Networks (Scotland) Bill which is currently going through Parliament. Discussions are ongoing with BEIS with regard to consumer protection.

The closing date for the Consumer Scotland Board appointments is 11 November 2020.

The Chair provided a staff update on the Scottish Government Consumer, Competition and Energy Company Services Unit.  Erin McCreadie is  leaving the team on promotion on 11 December.

The Secretariat went round the group who provided major updates within their organisations.

Harry Mayers - Energy Saving Trust

Uplift in advisor budget for Home Energy Scotland to allow for increase in advisors to meet winter pressures. New intake currently in training. EST have also recently completed training modules which are now accredited as part of EST SQA training to cover electric heating and restricted meters. The aim is to offer this more widely in the future for other advice providers.

EST were involved in the TSS campaign to remove misleading energy advertising and to help people be protected from scams. The results seemed really good with a lot of web pages removed andadvertising accounts ceased activity, with over 70 live adverts removed. The majority of these accounts were being operated by lead generation companies looking to harvest personal data.

Sarah Chisnall - Ombudsman Services

CAM (Consumer Action Monitor report) has been delayed and will be published around mid-January 2021.  This study has conducted 11,000 consumer interviews, across the UK, to get consumer views and insights on key issues affecting the complaints landscape.  Interviews were undertaken pre COVID and during lockdowns.

Andrew Bartlett - Advice Direct Scotland

National Consumer Week (16-22 Nov) was a successful campaign with really good engagement and a lot of support from STV and Good Morning Britain. Scamwatch.scot reporting tool has launched and it proving popular. Vistalworks is also a great tool which allows you to check a product or sellers URL before purchasing online. Digital Christmas campaign launched on 1 December and will run throughout festive period, focusing on scams, delivery and product safety particularly in rural areas.

Frazer Scott - Energy Action Scotland

Due to send out survey to members in next month to ask how they have been coping over this period.  This has previously flagged a lot of demand for advisor services and issues around delays in installing support measures for households due to COVID restrictions and also business uncertainty. Quarterly Energy Review due next week. This focuses on the positive work which has been delivered by EAS members across Scotland. Fuel Poverty awareness day took place in November. Scottish Housing Condition survey has come out which provides a flat lining of fuel poverty figures pre COVID and during 2020.

Mark Smith - FCA

Last month confirmed further support for mortgage borrowers impacted by COVID-19. Issued further guidance for consumer credit borrowers and extended the payment deferral for up to 6 months. FCA will take on responsibility of the regulation of pre-paid funeral plans in summer 2021.

Fiona Richardson - Trading Standards Scotland

Running consultation exercise regarding supporting local Trading Standards services. Concluded Operation Maxwell which looked at pop up adverts on the internet in relation to energy efficiency measures. Good result on this and hope to revisit this work in spring 2021. Running pre-Christmas illegal money lending campaign.

Kate Morrison – CAS

Published client financial gain figures. For 19/20, there has been £170m in financial gain for those who have come to CAS service. This is a significant increase from previous year. Really pleased with this result. Additionally, published figures on the amount of advice provided to consumers who have utilised CAS service (643,000 pieces of advice from April 2020 to Nov 2020). Money Map Tool has also been launched which has proven popular (various resources to help reduce costs or maximise income). Recent Christmas polling has identified that almost half of Scottish population are planning on spending less for Christmas 2020. CAS have provided briefing ahead of Westminster Hall debate for MPs regarding parcel operators.

Thomas Docherty – Which?

Black Friday was very busy period. Seeing less gift voucher issues. Ongoing work re financial scams. In respect of COVID-19, concerns re customer support, telecoms and energy suppliers with consumers experiencing long hold times to get through to customer service teams. Ongoing issues with travel refunds. There is more support available for online shopping for vulnerable consumers and a lot of positive engagement with Scottish Government. Also published best buys for champagne and mince pies.

Carol Rice - BEIS

Did not secure a second session bill for Consumer and Competition but hoping for a 3rd Session bill around April 2022. National Consumer Week campaign across E&W went really well with good engagement from media. There is a Westminster Hall debate on 9 December regarding parcel deliveries. Consumer Detriment Survey has gone out to tender and hoping research will begin Q3 with an interim report by end of summer 2021. BEIS consumer team currently working on free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand. Negotiations with the US have paused due to the recent election and the need for the new administration to bed in.

Sheila Scobie – CMA

Cancellations in travel sector relating to COVID-19 continues.  Enforcement action has been taken against a number of travel companies, such as Virgin and last minute.com. New project announced last month about misleading eco claims - survey underway. Significant focus on addressing sustainability and climate change. Recently announced new market study regarding electronic vehicle charging. Issued Draft Annual Plan for consultation. Annual Plan event is running in January 2021. If any of the group would like to attend this, please get in touch with Sheila direct.

Graeme Paton - Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland

Work continues to be dominated by COVID-19 response and the tiered restrictions. Some engagement with Scottish Government re Brexit approaching and risks associated for businesses. Working with colleagues in product safety and standards to reinforce border checks for consumer goods coming into Scotland. The majority of goods for Scotland come through Grangemouth port. Very busy period for team.

Dennis Berg – Ofgem

Currently consulting on extending protections for consumers with pre-paid meters. New protections will be introduced by Ofgem on 15 December 2020 for electricity and gas suppliers to identify and support customers who are facing financial difficulties. This includes support for pre-payment meter customers at risk of self-disconnecting and enhanced rules around setting debt repayment rates based on the customer’s ability to pay. Consulting on price cap, proposing to allow suppliers to recover additional money for bad debt. Also finalised and published price control for 2021- 26 (RIIO-2).

It was clarified the timescale for extension of additional protections for restricted meters customers will be the middle of 2025.

Jonny Ruff – Ofcom

As of next year, mobile phone handsets will no longer be locked to a specific provider, allowing consumers the flexibility to switch provider for better deals. Re COVID-19, Ofcom have written to comms providers asking they revisit the support they had offered consumers at start of pandemic, such as debt relief, payment deferrals etc. Performance on this will be monitored. Published league table of all complaints received about home phone, mobile and broadband and PAYG providers. There is also an open investigation into BT for the way they are calculating and charging customers for the implementation of broadband. Some consumers are getting quotes for thousands of pounds.

Ofcom are in the process of publishing annual monitoring report on post. Full presentation can be given on the analysis at a future meeting. In relation to parcel delivery charges, Jonny informed the group that Royal Mail and Hermes do not set geographical prices.

Conclusion

The Chair commented these updates were extremely useful. The key theme emerging from these updates is debt. For the next meeting, these updates will be captured in advance. The Chair also informed the group that Scottish Government will be publishing the updated Climate Change Plan which will have information on consumer issues.

Some interesting links provided by group members via MS Team group chat can be found here:
http://www.tsscot.co.uk/trading-standards-consultation/
https://www.fca.org.uk/publications/research/understanding-financial-lives-uk-adults
https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/decision-extending-protections-non-e7-restricted-meter-customers-slc-22g-requirements-restricted-meters
https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/consumers-experiences-energy-during-covid-19-pandemic-october-update
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/tv-radio-and-on-demand/news-media/coronavirus-news-consumption-attitudes-behaviour

Action 1:

  • Secretariat will co-ordinate major organisation updates with group members in advance of next meeting

National Consumer Research - Jeremy Vincent, Social Researcher, Scottish Government – follow up from discussion at last meeting

Following on from the meeting action in September, Jeremy provided an overview on the input he has received from some of the group members in relation to consumer research. The three areas that arose from this were;  consumer issues and concerns, consumer behaviours and attitude of consumers.  

Common issues/themes that emerged:

Consumer issues/concerns: 

  • COVID-19, particularly travel and event cancellations
  • fraud/scams including COVID-19 related (PPE, hand sanitiser)
  • online quality and safety
  • low awareness of consumer protection available and complaints processes
  • sector based issues, e.g. energy affordability, postal services availability and cost, banking access
  • issues for different demographic groups - often referred to as ‘vulnerable’, e.g. young people, fuel poor, older, rural
  • general consumer issues remain, e.g. faulty products, mis-selling, doorstep scams are back

Consumer behaviours: 

  • shift to online, some concerns about digital exclusion and choice architecture
  • issues with capability, particularly financial

Consumer attitudes:

  • very little

In terms of taking this forward and next steps, the following suggestions were presented to the group for open discussion:

  • start to build repository of Scottish Consumer Evidence sources that can be updated
  • use these meetings to share evidence, perhaps rotating across organisations
  • consider a Scottish version of the CPP’s Consumer Detriment Matrix which draws upon evidence

The Chair advised he is keen to potentially have discussions with the Scottish  Funding Council and seeing what we can do in terms of expertise and academia at Scottish Universities.

A concern was raised on bringing all the data sources together to be able to fed into in a meaningful way. The Chair advised we are re-starting discussions with the Scottish Government Data Working Group, which could really help us with data sharing and analysing.

It was suggested that a “link up” with the Consumer Council Northern Ireland could prove valuable as they produce helpful presentations setting out the experiences of consumers in Northern Ireland.

Action 2:

  • CMA to help link SG with appropriate CCNI contact 

Consumer advice services – Saskia Kearns, Scottish Government

Saskia touched on the consumer journey for advice in Scotland in light of the upcoming change in the landscape through establishment of Consumer Scotland, and how we can all continue to support improvements in the offer for individuals – focus is on improving outcomes for people living in Scotland / the consumer, and understanding what this means in practice on the ground. 

To provide context for the discussion, the example was given of the energy sector – partners were asked how they would describe the current consumer journey for accessing general energy advice? 

Discussions centred around the importance of energy advisors being well resourced and skilled as the market is extremely complex.  It was suggested by some partners that the real challenge is in making the advice landscape as simple as possible, such as through having one point of access for consumers and ensuring partnership working. A map or pathway that recognises all responsibilities of partners would be helpful.

The Chair also highlighted the need to support consumers on how to use their energy effectively as opposed to just providing debt advice.

Ombudsmen Services indicated their interest in becoming more engaged with partners around consumer advice issues, and indicted that they may look to follow up with relevant organisations in due course.

Conclusions

The Chair thanked everyone for their time. The Secretariat will be in touch to collate updates the group wish to share in advance of the next meeting and also organise a further meeting after the New Year.