Monique – a force for good

Let me introduce you to Moniqmoniqueue, who is Europe’s leading consumer campaigner. Monique runs the European alliance, BEUC, and is a lawyer by training.

Her greatest concern at present? The ham-fisted EU Consumer Rights Directive which concerns every single consumer in their everyday life.

Has she ever been ripped off? Monique purchased a new house in her village, 40 kms from Brussels, but almost a year on, there are problems throughout the house including the central heating. In the UK, there are others in the same state. If you buy a house you have less rights to get something put right than if you bought a toaster.

What to read? The new EU Consumer Markets Scoreboard which ranks different sectors for good and bad service. Energy companies, banks and telecoms firms come out worst… so it is not just the UK

Krypton factor for consumers

imagesSean, who is joing us in Cardiff as IT lead, is on Krypton Factor tonight. He joins a fairly formidable set of media spotlight brains at Consumer Focus Wales – with Pete, Kim and others having won, won, won on TV quiz shows late in 2008.

Consumer Kids makes an impact

consumer_kids_jacket

I am chuffed to say that WH Smiths have withdrawn the Playboy range of stationery that I criticise in my new book Consumer Kids.

I blogged on this in December, after giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament with Agnes, my co-author. Edd commented on the entry that there were more urgent concerns in the world, but Kate said that she felt passionately that this was taking away children’s childhoods – which is pretty much the headline of the article in the Daily Mail this morning and the Telegraph online.

No doubt WH Smith can make as money from another range as they won’t have to pay the Playboy license, but as I said to to the WH Smith CEO in dialogue before the book launch, the Playboy range normalises pornography and whether they withdraw it for commercial or for ethical reasons, it is going to be welcome.

Well done, WH Smith.

Mobile truths

I met Stelios and Rebecca from BillMonitormix-004 this morning. Their website allows consumers to use online bills for their mobile phone to see if they would be better off on a different tariff. There are so many tariffs, which change so fast, it is extraordinarily hard for anyone without the PhD that Stelios and his co-founders have, to know which is best value.

On average, Stelios told me, we pay 32% more on our mobile phones bills than we would need to if on the best deal.

Turning to charity

I chaired a conference this afternoon for the Charity Commission on how the people that benefit from charities feel about their work. Caroline Cooke introduced their new report, which showed three facts that are worrying when taken together:

  1. 71% of charities say that work out who to support by who walks through the door (i.e. those who identify themselves as in need)
  2. Only 58% of the public though feel comfortable approaching a charity for help, and
  3. 28% of people feel embarassed to receive help from a charity.

There was a good discussion about the challenge of stigma. Richard Smith, a member of Scope who stole the show with his presentation argued that beneficiaries benefited charities, not simply the other way round. Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, talked about how the charity was now suggesting limiting the number of service users to 50% on local boards, just so that they would be alive to the need to give ‘potential’ users a look in and not just existing users.

Some years ago, the Charity Commission showed that there is work to do to bring the best bits of consumerism to the charity sector. Only 30% of charities, for example, had some kind of complaint system. But what has changed is that there is starting to be far more information now out there, in academic and public life, about how charities perform. We don’t want charities to become companies or goodness a market, but a little information, basic rights of redress and a little less stigma has to be a recipe for improvement.

Launch roundup

The release of the Good Childhood enquiry tomorrow is helping to bring the debate on young people to the fore – not least the big question to which we need an answer, which is what is troubling children in terms of trends on mental health. It has been brilliant to launch Consumer Kids as part of this debate – and indeed Agnes and I gave evidence to the Good Childhood enquiry originally.

The roundup of media interest in the book runs from a news article and leader in the Times, their two page extract from the book, the front page news story in the Telegraph, one, two, three columnists in both newspapers, coverage in the Guardian Media section and a wide range of broadcast mentions, including Radio 4, BBC Breakfast, Sky and CNN. 

In a quieter setting, I and Agnes met with Robin and Ian from one of the agencies we cover in the book yesterday to talk through their work, marketing to children. Their Insider scheme, where children promote products to their friends, has attracted controversy… but as they see it, was designed for them by the young people they work with. I still suspect that a scheme that engages children as young as seven is questionable, but they have a passion for young people’s voice and a concern to do the right thing, so we will certainly see what we can do together to build common ground.