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Consumers need to ditch the loyalty

The email that arrived the other day brought both good news and bad news.

The good news was that a household insurance policy would auto-renew in a few weeks. I was assured that I wouldn’t need to interrupt my busy life to deal with it.

The bad news was that the premium had risen by over £100 a year. When I called them, I was told that (1) insurance tax had been added and (2) a prior repair call-out had been “factored in”.

Such is the potential lose-lose outcome for consumers these days.

Deciding that it was a good idea to interrupt my busy life after all, I did a quick online check with a price comparison site. I found I could get the same cover for a third of what was being asked. Magically, my insurer then offered to drop the premium to a figure that was less than what I’d paid the year before.

Despite my misgivings about the possible bias of price-comparison sites, I’m finding them increasingly necessary as things like pet insurance become unaffordable overnight.

Let’s be clear, I’m under no illusions that the introductory deals I’m exploiting today will also morph into something outlandish in a couple of years – and I’ll be back again looking for a better offer.

Citizens Advice reckon that loyal customers who stick with suppliers are getting shafted. They’re pressing competition regulators to look at rip-off charges for mobile phone, broadband, savings, home insurance and mortgage deals.

In what is described as a “super-complaint” - a collective action taken over a range of issues – the consumer charity says customers who stick with one supplier are losing a total of £4.1 billion a year. That’s an average of £877 per person.

They make the point that elderly and vulnerable people are disproportionately affected. The evidence cites one couple in their nineties who were paying £1,000 a year too much for their home insurance.

Organisations representing the supplier sector all admit that the system of charges could be fairer. However, it’s clear that action needs to come from the top.

It needs regulators like the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to investigate as promised and then introduce effective controls.

Consequently, I think I’m going to be using the price-comparison websites for a while longer yet.


New guy faces historical challenges

The Plaid Cymru leadership contest wasn’t the most enthralling in terms of media coverage. That’s probably because the contenders chose to focus on policy whilst the membership exchanges were largely respectful.

To outsiders, it’s a bit puzzling why the Party of Wales has fallen out of love with Leanne Wood. After all, she represented what Plaid had previously been lacking in a leader; a female perspective from a Welsh learner with a non-professional working class background. Sadly though, none of that seemed to translate into electoral success.

Adam Price has been a perpetual mixture of prince-over-the-water and heir apparent. As others observe, anyone else would be have been consigned to political oblivion long ago. The fact that the MP/academic/AM has finally made the cut says much about his resilience.

He’s going to need that quality when it comes to re-booting the Plaid Cymru brand. The same goes for getting the estranged Dafydd Elis Thomas and Neil McAvoy back onside.

Ironically however, he may not be granted the same amount of time as his predecessor in meeting those challenges. Just as in football, leadership changes in politics can quickly become a habit rather than a necessity.

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