This report looks back to describe the work Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) carried out to represent consumers in 2015-16. This was a year of laying foundations, as our organisations developed our roles representing consumers in the energy and postal markets in England, Wales and Scotland, and in the energy, postal and water markets in Scotland.
When our two organisations began to represent consumers in these markets, we had 3 goals in mind. First, we wanted to use our organisational strengths to represent energy and post consumers more effectively and efficiently. These strengths include our presence on the ground in thousands of locations across the country, our unrivalled real-time data on consumer detriment, our website with 36 million visits a year, and a brand with over 90% public recognition. This meant every pound spent fighting for consumers would go further.
Second, we wanted to deliver the benefits of a cross-cutting consumer role. More and more, the challenges facing consumers cut across markets, and the solutions to these challenges, from easier switching to more comparable prices to better debt collection practices, are often found elsewhere. We wanted to help industries and regulators, and to push them, to learn lessons from other consumer markets, improving approaches over time.
Third, we wanted to protect and deepen the technical expertise that was a hallmark of Consumer Futures, now coupled with the profile, accessibility and authenticity of Citizens Advice and CAS as consumer representatives. For example, when there are negotiations over price controls in an industry, we wanted to be the person in the room with both an independent mandate to stand up for consumers and the technical understanding required.
So how are we doing? Perhaps the best test of the foundations laid in 2015-16 is the ambitious work plan we have now published for 2016-17: Citizens Advice: Consumer Champion .
Even so, as this review of the prior year shows, real progress was also made in 2015-16 itself. Our expanded league table of energy supplier performance gained new profile, backed by the people’s trust in Citizens Advice and CAS. Our enhanced digital advice content on energy and post, and face-to-face work through programs like 'Energy best deal', our 42 energy champions, and 'Big energy saving week', helped hundreds of thousands of consumers engage with these markets. In Scotland CAS worked with business groups and the water industry to increase awareness amongst consumers of competition and choice in the non-domestic water market. Meanwhile, we used our data to secure penalties totalling over £45 million for energy suppliers with poor billing and complaints handling systems.
We also showed that a single, consolidated consumer champion can do work that spans the practical and the technical. At one end of the spectrum, we secured material modifications to 60% of the Post Office branch relocations we worked on, particularly to protect vulnerable groups. At the other end, in our cross-cutting work, we explored how to engage with time-poor consumers, compared debt collection practices in different markets, and conducted an economic analysis of the rates of return secured in different price control settlements, from energy to water to transport.
We hope you will agree this year laid strong foundations, and started to realise the benefits that are now being seen in our 2016-17 work plan.