Saturday, 13 February 2016

Age UK call for a meeting

As the 'media storm' subsides we move into the second week of our campaign for compensation for misled E.ON Age UK tariff customers. The message is clear from so many of the comments left by those supporting the petition. They all express outrage at both Age UK and E.ON.

Many of you would have heard the response of Age UK in the media. It is apparently all a storm in a teacup whipped up by the media and in particular The Sun.

Age UK and E.ON have responded to the media storm by 'suspending' their commercial association, but they continue to defend their position. They would have us believe this move has nothing to do with the campaign. Meanwhile they continue to peddle misinformation.

The boss of Age UK says that they received 'typically' just £10 from each customer signing up to the Age UK tariff.

A simple calculation shows this is not true. The accounts for the year 2014/15 for UK Enterprise Ltd show they received £6.3 million from E.ON for signing up 152,000 customers. It is simple arithmetic.

The average received was £41 per customer. This means that on average each customer was giving almost £10 a month to Age UK.

The petition will now be the focus of continued press and media interest. The people speak.

I have been asked whether I worry about the damage this is doing to Age UK and the vital work they do. The answer is yes, of course. But it is not we who have done the damage. It is Age UK. We cannot turn a blind eye to a wrong simply because it is a charity. That would be a cover up, and there are far too many of those.

Age UK says they have done nothing wrong. Legally I am sure that is so. I am also sure that they had all good intentions - but the ends do not always justify the means. To simply justify misleading 'customers' by the good work of the charity is not an ethical position. Age UK had a duty of care to those who turned to them for help. They did so believing they would look out for their interests.

The Age UK tariff was not the best available deal for them. They could have been referred to other energy suppliers who would have given a better one. E.ON do acknowledge that the Age UK tariff was not the cheapest of their deals on offer at the time.

Age UK now say that price isn't always what counts and that service and quality of after care matters. Indeed it does. But there is scant evidence to show Age UK customers got better service or aftercare than they would have otherwise been given. On the contrary, E.ON repeatedly scores low in customer satisfaction ratings by  Which? the consumer group. They are not the worst of the big six, but they are not the best deal on offer when it comes to customer care.

The Age UK Enterprise boss, Ian Foy, has said he would like a meeting with me to discuss 'the complaint'. This is a good move and I will respond to it. Age UK needs to move forward positively from this, but it can only do so if it understands the problem. At the moment it seems they do not.  He says

"We do not believe we have misled anyone who bought our products, and we warmly encourage Ray Noble to get in touch with us so that we can talk this over with him."

I do welcome this move and will be in touch with him to arrange such a meeting.

This coming week I will be posting an open letter to the boss of E.ON UK asking for a meeting to discuss their response.

Meanwhile please support the petition.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Come.ON E.ON now do the right thing

A victory of sorts, or at least a skirmish won. With pressure mounting as a result of The Sun investigation and growing public outrage, E.ON UK has announced that it will withdraw its misleading Age UK energy tariff and replace it with a better deal for older people. We will see the replacement this week. This is good news. But it isn't sufficient.

E.ON's move is an acknowledgement of the misleading nature of the Age UK tariff.  They are bowing to pressure, and they know it is indefensible.  Defending the indefensible is always a bad place to be. We need to maintain pressure for them to refund those pensioners who had a bad deal.

Age UK initially denied it was a bad deal, saying that fuel prices can go up or down, and that they advise people to search around for the best deals. But this is too simple.  it is easy enough to say consumers should 'shop around', but if that was the best thing for Age UK clients to do, then why not simply give them the best advice on how to do it.  Why introduce a tariff from which Age UK would benefit financially? It compromised their integrity and misled older people they were supposed to represent.

Many older people are not in a good position to search for the best deals. Many are not online. A survey by the Oxford Internet Institute found that the numbers of older people online has remained relatively static, with between 25% and 35% using the internet. But even if they have access to the internet,  it isn't easy to find the best deals. 

Tariffs are complicated. This is why they would have welcomed Age UK looking after their interests. They trusted that Age UK would monitor the rates and be actively engaged on their behalf. The truth is their faith was misplaced.

Age UK involvement had a clear objective, and that was to raise money for Age UK. At best there were conflicting objectives - the objective of protecting the interests of older people and that of raising money for the charity were in conflict. It was an ethically compromised scheme.

Older people who signed up to the Age UK tariff trusted that there would have been a duty of care for Age UK to look after their interests. This is why many were attracted to it.  When I first signed up to the tariff I received a reassuring welcome package from Age UK with tips on how to stay warm.

They now find that our trust was misplaced, and we have effectively been overcharged. This is why E.ON should now put this right by arranging to refund those Age UK E.On customers who are out of pocket from buying into the Age UK brand.

Latest figures show there are 1.14 million older people in England living in fuel poverty there are some 31,000 ‘excess winter deaths’ in England and Wales last winter.

Fuel poverty kills.  This is why it is incumbent on energy companies to ensure older people are able to heat their homes.  This is a social responsibility.  It goes beyond profit and loss.  Each older person paying over the odds for their energy is someone baring the burden of cheaper tariffs for others. That is unfair. 

Age UK warn that there has been little progress on tackling fuel poverty.  That is the reality. This is more reason why Age UK should not compromise its own position by selling a given tariff and receiving commission from it.  It must work with the energy companies to produce economic justice for older people.  

The energy companies should also have a social obligation to ensure older people are on the best deals.  Keeping sufficiently and safely warm is not a luxury. It is a necessity.  It shouldn't be decided by a tariff lottery. We can do better than that. We must stop this retail energy casino. It is gambling with the lives of vulnerable people. 

E.ON should now do the decent thing and make a refund. Please sign the petition and share it with others. 




Friday, 5 February 2016

The truth about Age UK?

The truth about Age UK is that it has become a social enterprise company rather than a charity. You might say it is a charity with a commercial arm.  But there is a point when the aggressive nature of the commercial arrangements can compromise the charity's role and independence.

Age UK is proud of its commercial approach.  It has won awards for it.  It boasts about it.  It has been a trailblazer in the new approach for charity fundraising through engagement with the financial market in insurance, equity release plans,  energy tariffs,  and funeral plans.  But does this activity compromise its ability to challenge the financial market and campaign for better service for older people?  If you depend on your income from part of that financial sector, can you really be free from biased judgement? It compromises your position.

Perhaps that is the truth about Age UK and its commercial arm,  Age UK Enterprises Ltd.  Age UK Enterprise has an annual turnover of some £47.6 million.  In 21014/15, they provided 482,000 home, travel and insurance policies tied to Ageas Insurance Ltd.  Were these really the best deals for older people? And how can they be giving independent advice about this when they are earning from each Ageas policy? Age UK relies of the trust of those it represents.

Age UK Enterprises Ltd provided  'energy services' to 250,000 'customers' in 'collaboration' with E.ON from which they received some £6.3 million.  These were not the best deals for many of those who bought into the Age UK tariff.

Age UK Enterprises Ltd provided 18,000 funeral plans in 2014/15 through one company Dignity PLC, generating income of £9.3 million. Were these the best available?

The list goes on.

There is a point when the independence of financial advice becomes compromised by the financial arrangement - when that advice becomes commercially beneficial to those giving the advice, and when the choices provided are limited by the way that advice is given.

It might be argued that the overall benefits by increased income to the charity outweighs the pitfalls of such enterprise.  That is the utilitarian argument provided.  But the argument from the duty of a charity to consider all those it represents should outweigh such utilitarian considerations.  The threshold is set high by such duty of care.

Duty of care matters.  Age UK failed in their duty of care when brokering the E,ON Age UK tariff. They become commercial beneficiaries.

Regarding their clients as 'customers' changed Age UK into sales representatives for an energy company.  When I receive advice from a charity I want to believe they are acting in my best interest and not just their 'collective interest' as a social enterprise. Age UK cannot do that freely if they are tied in with commercial providers. That is the problem.

Working with commercial companies, giving advice to them on how best to make provision for older people is a different matter. That is what Age UK should do it if is representing all older people. It should campaign for change to provide better provision for older people. It cannot do that if it is tied commercially to one such private sector company.

Age UK need to stand back and reconsider its position and how it operates.

Please sign the petition calling on E.ON to refund customers misled over the Age UK tariff.




Little transparency from E.ON on deal with Age UK

Thank you to all who have supported the petition to get the energy company E.ON to compensate customers for any losses resulting from their Age-UK tariff. We are making progress but we need to maintain pressure.

Citing the "sensitive" nature of its payment to Age UK, E.ON confirmed the "commercial relationship" with Age UK. The involvement of a charity representing millions of older people should have transparent relationships with the commercial sector. Yesterday the scandal of Age UK commercial involvement with E.ON was front page news. The Energy Minister has asked Ofgem to investigate.

But Ofgem is a toothless 'regulator' with little power of enforcement. This is why it is important to keep the pressure on E.ON.

Age UK is the biggest charitable body representing and supporting older people. Its supporters do sterling work. But in promoting E.ON energy tariffs the board of Age UK has stepped over the line and compromised the charity's integrity.

Age UK rightly say that fuel prices go up and down. I believe their intentions were good, but the execution bad. They should not have compromised themselves in a commercial relationship but continued to campaign for lower energy prices and better deals for older people. Now they have locked themselves into the ludicrous position of having to defend a tariff that was not the best for many of those they intended to help.

It is ludicrous that energy prices appear to be a lottery for so many customers on fixed incomes. Energy costs are a large part of households expenditure. Heating is a necessity not a luxury. It shouldn't be necessary for older people to 'shop around' for the best deals. The need to stay warm and safe is not like a mobile phone. Vulnerable older people die through not being able to afford to heat their homes.

Age UK's poor judgement in its commercial deal with E.ON at least highlights once again the pitfalls of energy pricing and poor regulation. Ofgem is a toothless body. But we need fundamental reform of the energy market with provision to protect the most vulnerable. With political will it could be done.

The petition isn't aimed at the thousands of Age UK supporters who work tirelessly to help older people. It is aimed at E.ON and the Age UK board.

Let's push on to get justice for E.ON customers. We now have over 600 signatures, please help put pressure on E.ON.

Let's now reach the next milestone of 1000.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Age UK compromised by deal with E.ON


Three years ago I posted on twitter my concern about the Age UK energy tariff offered by E.ON to their customers.  I was then concerned that a charity representing the interests of older people was being used in a commercial deal by the energy provider.  I had myself signed up to the tariff. What exactly was the relationship? Was it misleading?  Little did I know then that this issue would become headline news today on the front page of The Sun.

Age UK have themselves berated the energy companies for overcharging customers. It seemed odd then that they would entangle themselves with a commercial deal from which they received commission from E.On for each customer signed up to the tariff with the Age UK branding. 

According to The Sun investigation the charity has received £6 million from E.On as a result of this commercial deal.  At best this financial deal compromises the charity's objective to represent the best interests of older people. Worse is that  The Sun investigation discovered that the Age UK tariff was not the best deal for many customers signed up to it, and they lost out as a result.  It is a sorry state of affairs for a charity. 

Many like me would have signed up to the tariff trusting it was the best for them because it carried the approval of Age UK.   This is the breach of trust.  

Finding the best deal is a tricky task at the best of times. It is full of pitfalls. The consumer needs to take account of their energy usage and 'shop around'.  Many pensioners do not do this. We tend to stick with the same provider. Understanding the plethora of tariffs isn't easy. I have never understood how there could be so many different prices for the same electricity delivered through the same cables. The truth is, as with telephone tariffs, it doesn't pay to stay with the same provider. Loyalty carries no weight in pricing. 

Age UK have issued a robust response to The Sun investigation. “We strongly reject the allegations and interpretation of figures in this article. Energy prices change all the time and we have always advised older people to look out for new good deals and we will continue to do so.”

It is an odd response.  They are right to point out that 'energy prices change all the time'.  They are right to advise us to 'look out for new good deals'.  But this is all the more reason why they should not themselves tie their charity brand to one of those deals. It implies it is better than others for most older people. It suggests they have approved it when they haven't. It is deceptive.  It compromises their charitable status.  They should stick to representing the interests of older people and not burn their fingers in dodgy commercial  deals with energy companies. 

Please sign the petition on change.com calling of E.On to reimburse customers out of pocket. 


Friday, 29 January 2016

The truth about NHS emergency care at weekends?

Much has been made by the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, about a seven day NHS and doctors working at weekends.  They cite in their case against the action of the Junior doctors in their opposition to the new contracts that more patients die at weekends.  This they say is a scandal and imply it is because there is less care over the weekend in the NHS. 

But is this claim really true.  A new study published today in the Emergency Medicine Journal reveals that it is at best an oversimplification. 

Looking at what happens in one hospital in Belfast, the study shows that patients admitted as medical emergencies at the weekend are significantly older and more dependent than those admitted to hospital on other days of the week.

The authors suggest that while staffing levels may have a part to play, the profile of the intake may help explain the seemingly higher death toll of patients admitted as medical emergencies at weekends.

They base their findings on an analysis of 536 patients admitted to the acute medical unit of a large teaching hospital in Belfast during November 2012.

They compared the profile of patients admitted as medical emergencies between 1700 hours on Friday and 0900 hours on Monday with those admitted on other days of the week.

Because there are proportionally more night shifts worked during weekends than on week days, the researchers also compared the profile of patients arriving in the unit during both the day and night at weekends and on week days.

Their analysis showed that there were no major differences in the severity of illness between patients admitted on weekdays and weekends, as evidenced by key clinical indicators and test results.

But patients admitted at the weekend as medical emergencies were significantly older—on average, more than 3.5 years—than those admitted at other times of the week.

They were also more physically incapacitated than patients admitted during the week, as measured by a validated disability scale (Rankin scale), attracting an average score of 3 compared with 2 for weekday admissions.

Patients admitted during the day at weekends were also more functionally dependent than those admitted during the day on other days of the week.

The researchers stress that this study reflects the experience of only one acute hospital, so may not be indicative of patterns elsewhere.

But the researchers point out: “These findings illustrate major differences in the age and functional dependence of patients admitted to hospital at weekends. This difference in profile may fully or partially explain the increased mortality that has been publicised.”

They also question the belief that greater numbers of senior doctors at the weekend would make any difference to the survival of patients.

“Additionally, the lack of difference in physiological and laboratory markers of illness acuity presented here questions the plausibility of the inference that increased senior medical presence at the weekend would improve outcomes,” they write.

They conclude that if arguments are to be made about the number and seniority of staff required at the weekend, these need to be based on solid evidence and take account of other factors that may potentially influence death rates.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

It Wasn't Always Late Summer

I have taken a short break from the blog, but will be posting again this week. Meanwhile why not take the opportunity to preview my novel.