What is Consumer Futures?
Consumer Futures is the operating name for the New National Consumer Council.
The New National Consumer Council is a statutory organisation (a Non-Departmental Public Body) created through the merger of energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council (including the Scottish and Welsh Consumer Councils) by the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress (CEAR) Act 2007. It is sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and from October 2008 to May 2013 operated as Consumer Focus.
In April 2012, the UK Government announced that it intended to abolish the New National Consumer Council and transfer its funding, powers and responsibilities to Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland and the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
In April 2013, the funding for Consumer Focus’ work on behalf of consumers in the general economy was redirected to Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. Subsequently, Consumer Focus was rebranded as Consumer Futures.
Until April 2014, Consumer Futures remains a Non-Departmental Public Body. Within the legal framework of the New National Consumer Council, it fulfils the responsibilities of the statutory consumer body in energy and postal services in Great Britain, water services in Scotland and postal services in Northern Ireland; it also has a wider role in applying learning and insight across other regulated markets.
On 1 April 2014, Consumer Futures will become part of the Citizens Advice service, with the Extra Help Unit (EHU), which provides a service to energy consumers across Great Britain, transferring to Citizens Advice Scotland and responsibility for consumer representation in postal services in Northern Ireland moving to the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland.
When we launched (May 2013) we produced a short video to help explain our role and priorities.
It also features the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, and the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, Margaret Lynch, explaining how they are working with Consumer Futures to prepare for the transfer.
The wider context
The creation of Consumer Futures is part of the UK Government’s wider consumer and competition landscape reforms to help markets work better for consumers, improve consumer protection and give greater clarity about where consumers need to turn to for help and advice.
What do we do?
Our work plan for 2013/14 sets out a programme of projects, together with outcomes and allocated funding, to address our three strategic priorities:
- To sharpen the understanding and response of policy makers and markets to the causes and solutions regarding consumer vulnerability.
- To place affordability and fairness at the heart of decision making about huge infrastructure investments.
- To make consumers the beneficiaries, not the victims of retail market in a digital age.
To deliver the projects in our work plan, we are working in five ways:
- We will be an expert voice that can speak for consumers in complex regulated industries, to UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, regulators, companies and European institutions. Our credibility will be built on an exceptional evidence-based understanding of the consumer interest and a deep awareness of policy, regulatory and competitive market contexts.
- We will strengthen consumers’ ability to improve markets by developing expertise on how the demand side of markets actually works and how it is changing. We will carry out in depth research and analyses to understand the sorts of interventions that can strengthen the demand side in markets and deliver better outcomes for consumers.
- We will embed a devolved perspective across our activities and work with Governments in Scotland and Wales to reflect the consumer perspective in relevant areas of policy development and programme delivery.
- We will add value by working collaboratively with regulators, companies, consumer and other representative organisations across all our projects, where appropriate acting as a hub for joint activities.
- Although we will not have an immediate connection to the complaints or advice needs of consumers, apart from the work of the EHU, we will draw upon the rich evidence base of Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland and maintain a close connection with organisations that work directly with particular groups of consumers, so that we can translate consumer experience into effective and focused representations and our market expertise and policy insight into consumer advice and information delivered by other partners.
Who pays for Consumer Futures?
Consumer Futures and its work plan are funded by a levy on companies operating in energy and postal services and, in Scotland, water, with a small additional amount of grant-in-aid from BIS to support transition and cross sector advocacy. Our total budget for 2013/14 is £9.4 million. The full budget can be found in our work plan. The same level of funding will be made available to the Citizens Advice service and the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland in 2014/15.
The transfer process
Legislation was required to effect the abolition of the New National Consumer Council and transfer its powers and responsibilities.
Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland, GCCNI and Consumer Futures worked closely together to ensure that there is a smooth transfer of people and functions and that there is no gap in service for consumers or in relationships with stakeholders.
All of the policy staff at Consumer Futures and the EHU team had the opportunity to transfer to Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland and GCCNI. This will enable the knowledge and expertise of Consumer Futures in policy and research to be brought together with the insight and experience of the Citizens Advice service (and in Northern Ireland GCCNI), creating a stronger advocate able to champion the interests of consumers.
The transferring posts were listed in a draft statutory transfer scheme. Should any of the staff in those posts decide not to transfer, Citizens Advice, Citizens Advice Scotland and Consumer Futures will work together to ensure that appropriate resources are in place to deliver Consumer Futures’ agreed programme of work.
The full range of powers and responsibilities enjoyed by Consumer Futures will be available to the Citizens Advice service, maintaining the high level of representation that consumers need in these essential markets.
The UK Government has made it clear that there will be no diminution in the level of service provided for energy and post consumers in Wales and Scotland and post consumers in Northern Ireland.
The work of Consumer Futures from 1 April in the Citizens Advice service will be funded by BIS, principally from industry levies, via grant agreements. Consumer representation in water in Scotland will be funded in the same way by the Scottish Government. The expectation is that funding in 2014/15 will remain at its current level.
Consumer Futures will become a distinct part of Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland. The Consumer Futures name will continue to be used, not as a separate brand but as a part of the Citizens Advice service. The focused policy, research and advocacy activities will continue within the two charities, with a published and costed programme of work and an annual report.
The value of the transfer
Bringing information, advice, education and advocacy together in a single organisation will strengthen consumer representation and empower consumers.
It will be simpler for consumers who want to find out how to get better deals or to sort out problems. It will be simpler for companies and policy makers who want to know how to meet the needs of consumers.
The front line experience and insight of the Citizens Advice service, together with the in depth market and policy expertise of Consumer Futures, will create a stronger champion for consumers in some of the most essential services.
The 2014/15 Consumer Futures work plan
We have a statutory duty to consult on and publish a work plan for 2014/15 by 31 March 2014. The draft work plan for consultation was issued on 17 January 2014. The consultation closed on 21 February.
Since, from 1 April 2014, Consumer Futures will be part of Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, the draft has been developed and agreed with those two organisations.
The final Consumer Futures Work Plan 2014-15 (PDF 200KB) sets out what the Consumer Futures unit will deliver within the Citizens Advice service for energy, post and, in Scotland, water consumers in 2014/15.