On Tuesday, we released Resolver’s annual complaint statistics and given the huge amount in there you’d be forgiven for feeling a bit lost! So, aside from PPI, I thought it’d be interesting to highlight at the five big things I noticed when I looked at the numbers (there’s an awful lot more though…).
1) The lockdown has had a big impact
Our data runs from April 2019 to the end of March 2020. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown came in the final month, its impact is still clearly seen in the overall numbers.
Complaints about restaurants and takeaway services had been dropping over the last year as people around the UK tightened their belts and cut back on treating themselves. But in the last few months, we saw huge drops in these sectors, resulting in both finishing the year down by a fifth.
At the other end of the scale, online shopping and travel disputes received a massive boost due to problems with deliveries, cancellations and refunds at the end of the year. Both sectors would have seen large increases in complaints regardless, but the final month drove complaints through the roof.
2) You have to watch out for false positives
There’s been a really big drop in the number of complaints about mobile phone contracts – down 46% on the previous year. Does this mean mobile phone service providers are getting better? Well, while we have seen commitments made to improve by some service providers, the reality is it’s a little more complicated than that.
Last financial year (2018/19) we received a record number of complaints about mobile phone contracts – 42,275 in total. That was largely due to a wider awareness of consumer rights about switching, being overcharged for staying loyal to your mobile phone provider and people being billed for handsets that they’d long since paid off. The regulator OFCOM introduced a range of new rules and guidelines for the industry that are now coming in to force that should further reduce complaints.
So realistically, it looks like complaints have simply dropped back to the normal level – 22,667 cases last year – which is still pretty big. It’s also almost exactly the same as the number of cases we received about broadband – another sector where complaints in recent weeks are creeping up.
3) The warning signs are clear
In the last 18 months, Resolver has received more than 9,000 complaints about ‘buy now, pay later’ credit. Doesn’t sound too many when you see the size of the other complaint areas but it’s the pace at which they’re accelerating that bothers me.
In the past, these deals were used by catalogue companies or by retailers selling interest-free credit deals, where you don’t pay interest if you pay the full loan within a certain timeframe (most people don’t). Our complaints are now being driven by both ‘own brand’ credit offered by retailers like Very and new forms of widely available lending from companies like Klarna.
As use of this payment method has grown, so has the level of concern. Payments are being sold as ‘lifestyle choices’, often to younger people and increasingly on fast fashion, rather than debts that have a financial penalty if you default. And let’s face it, it’s easy to borrow but just as easy to get into trouble. Many retailers are routinely failing to provide enough information about how the credit deals work, interest payable and what happens if you get into debt. Action needs to be taken now to stop this growing even further.
4) The travel industry has a long way to go
Resolver looks at five different types of holiday businesses: airlines, hotels, apartment lettings, tour operators and travel agents. Though many cases came about in the rush to claim refunds during lockdown, the numbers of travel related complaints were significantly higher throughout the year.
What’s driving this is the rise of the online travel agent – it has seen the biggest number of complaints in the last year, up a whopping 65%. These large companies operate as ‘marketplaces’ allowing you to buy flights, hotels and much more. But the vague rules, and often unfair policies and practices rife in this sector, have driven you all to distraction and made this the seventh most complained sector about in the UK.
People have been left baffled by the unfair terms and conditions, lack of cancellation rights, disputes over misleading descriptions of accommodation and allegations of fake price reductions and ‘last room’ warnings (under investigation at the moment). Many people don’t know where to turn and realise far too late that they don’t have the protection that comes with buying a packaged holiday.
5) Sometimes you have to look for what is not there
Complaints about general insurance are much lower than we would expect given that more than 20 million people in the UK will have motor insurance, and a similar number of home insurance. Is it because we’re all delighted with the service we’re getting? Doubtful, especially when you consider the recent supercomplaint made by Citizens Advice citing insurance as one of the main offenders for charging a loyalty penalty. It’s more likely that many people with complaints about insurance simply give up, after going through a protracted claims process the idea of making a complaint can be off-putting.
People are still generally reluctant or unaware that they can complain about public services. Some things – rubbish collection being the big one – drove more than 2,000 people to make a complaint. But other areas like landlord and housing problems, local council services and tax are much lower than anticipated. Council services vary considerably around the country and the complaints services work in different ways. But we are starting to see signs of people pushing back, with an increase in complaints about council tax in the last month and we’re expecting to see this continue into the year ahead.
It’s vital that people register their dissatisfaction even if they can’t face making a complaint or feel they won’t get a better outcome. Businesses change when people say ‘enough’ – and you can make a complaint through Resolver with just a few clicks, and in less than five minutes.
The big data
With more than two million complaints, Resolver’s complaint data is a treasure trove of insight in to the things that just aren’t working for you all. As the lockdown starts to ease and we start to look ahead, it’s now more important than ever that we highlight the things that need to change and improve to make all of our lives easier. Things will go wrong but it’s how we all choose to deal with it that matters. Help us to improve the way we do business in the UK by sharing your stories and using Resolver to get things sorted.
Alex Neill is the CEO of Resolver. Alex will be regularly sharing her opinions on consumer issues, explaining your rights, sharing Resolver’s mission and much more. Follow Alex on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tweeneill