Are loyal customers being ripped-off when they purchase mobile phone, broadband, home insurance, and mortgage products?
This is the claim of the charity Citizens Advice which says that customers who remain loyal to their current supplier are losing a total of £4.1 billion a year - amounting to an average of £877 per person. Even more concerning, according to Citizens Advice, it is elderly and vulnerable people who are disproportionately affected.
As a result of this research, Citizens Advice has made a ‘super-complaint’ to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) who have 90 days to come up with ideas for dealing with the issue. Possible outcomes could involve new laws, enforcement by regulators, or a full market investigation.
The CMA said it would now "carefully consider the concerns" that Citizens Advice had raised. At the same time the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has announced that it will investigate whether loyal customers are paying too much for home and car insurance.
Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: "It's completely unacceptable that consumers are still being ripped off for being loyal to companies they rely on every single day. As a result of this super-complaint, the CMA should come up with concrete measures to end this systematic scam."
Citizens Advice claim that while the new price cap in the energy market would cut bills for loyal customers by £75 on average, its analysis found "excessive prices for loyal customers can be just as high - if not more so - in other markets." The organisation has found problems in five particular areas: savings accounts, mortgages, household insurance, mobile phone contracts, and broadband contracts.
It said it knew of a couple in their nineties who were paying £1,000 a year too much for their home insurance. And disturbingly, they had been with the same company for six years.
The telecoms regulator Ofcom has recently announced action to stop loyal customers paying too much for their mobile phone contracts. The insurance industry has also promised to make changes, after admitting that loyal existing customers sometimes pay more than new ones.
Banking industry group UK Finance said it would consider the issues raised by Citizens Advice. Eric Leenders, managing director of personal finance for the body said: "We would always encourage customers to shop around and find a deal that best suits their needs and we will continue working with the regulators to make this as easy as possible, including through standard terms and price comparison tools."
It wants all insurance firms to look at customers who have been with them for more than five years. According to Huw Evans, director general of the Association of British Insurers: "In a competitive free market, where three out of four people shop around, there is no easy fix available, and these measures will take time to bed in."
Announcing its own study into the insurance market, the FCA said it had already been concerned about the issue for some time. "We expect firms to look after the interests of all customers and treat them fairly, whether they are new or long-standing," said Andrew Bailey, the FCA's chief executive. "It is important to get the balance right, so that existing customers do not miss out on the benefits of competition and innovation, including when they purchase or renew their general insurance products."