Consumers are facing difficulty accessing the water, energy, telecoms and financial services that they are paying for. The regulators in these sectors have a statutory responsibility to protect the interests of consumers, and the problems faced are often the same across all sectors—for example, difficulties with paying bills, mounting debts, switching to better deals, and deciphering overly complex bills and other information. These issues are particularly prevalent and serious for consumers in vulnerable circumstances. Despite common issues, the individual regulators take different and often inconsistent approaches to tackling them, have not made enough progress in working together, and with government, to improve services for consumers and develop common solutions where there is scope to do so. They also need to be more specific on what exactly they are trying to achieve for consumers, and how they will measure and report on how well they are doing it. A huge part of the problem is that regulators have traditionally worked on the basis that competition will lead to the best outcomes for people. However, the regulators need to work better together to ensure that competition leads to better services and more choice for consumers, rather than presenting opportunities for them to be exploited by suppliers. Despite our concerns, we welcome the regulators’ acknowledgement that they can and should do more to address these issues. We will follow up with them in due course to examine what progress they are making.
Published: 12 July 2019