Taxpayers Cash Used in Website That Hinders, Not Helps Consumers Says Burgess

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As taxpayers money continues to disappear into Government 'black holes', Payment Protection Insurance lobbyist Sara-Ann Burgess is calling for greater diligence and accountability from those squandering the public's hard-earned cash.

Sara-Ann Burgess, MD Burgesses

You can eventually find information about PPI but it's buried away further into the site, so consumers will end up spending time searching for something that should be easier to access - and still there's nothing about income protection.

As taxpayers money continues to disappear into Government 'black holes', Payment Protection Insurance lobbyist Sara-Ann Burgess is calling for greater diligence and accountability from those squandering the public's hard-earned cash.

Her calls come amidst increasing concerns that the Financial Services Authority's consumer website 'Money Made Clear' - funded by the taxpayer and subscribing companies - is failing to achieve what it set out to do.

Sara-Ann comments: "The site says it 'gives facts about financial products and services, helping consumers make an informed decision', but I'm not convinced end-users will be able to do this as not all the information is provided up front and it expects a certain level of knowledge. For example, in the PPI choices questionnaire, only three types of PPI is offered - mortgage, loan and credit card. What about income protection? This is an option, later on, for people who say they want to purchase mortgage cover - but only then are they asked if they'd like PPI for mortgage-related bills such as utilities.

"What about people in rented or shared accommodation, do they not have utility or others bills to pay? It's narrow-minded to assume only those with a mortgage will want income protection and discrimination against people requiring credit card or loan cover who are never made aware income protection is an option. Also, consumers may not know which level of cover they require, which is why I believe all four policy options should be listed together, accessible to all and explained up-front on the same page or a click away from the questionnaire."

Sara-Ann concedes: "You can eventually find information about PPI but it's buried away further into the site, so consumers will end up spending time searching for something that should be easier to access - and still there's nothing about income protection."

One of the key aims of the Competition Commission is to encourage lower prices and greater choice in the PPI sector, but in Sara-Ann's opinion, the FSA is inadvertently pushing consumers back into the arms of the lenders, the very people the Commission wants consumers to distance themselves from.

She explains: "One of the questions asks respondents if they want to see products where they have to have a mortgage/credit card or loan with the company to take out the insurance. Consumers are then asked to select up to three providers. How will respondents know who to choose? The whole purpose of the table is to allow consumers to pick the brains of the FSA and PPI providers, not the other way round. Why have a seven day ban on credit providers selling PPI to their customers if you're going to offer them up anyway?"

Once the questionnaire is completed and a list of providers appears, in Sara-Ann's opinion, the level of detail and accompanying help sections have not been compiled with the care and diligence expected of such an organisation. She continues: "I voiced concerns earlier this week about inaccurate data and am keen to see this rectified. I'm equally concerned that consumers requiring help in deciphering the tables can click on 'how to use this table' and a blurred image of investment bonds appears. I know this is only meant to be an example of how headings work, but the least the FSA could do is reproduce a table that bears some resemblance to what the consumer has been looking at in the first place."

Sara-Ann concludes: "Taxpayers and FSA subscribers should know if their money is being used to produce work of questionable quality. The FSA's remit is to regulate the market and protect consumers, but at the moment I worry their PPI questionnaires and tables are working to the detriment of consumers. I shudder to think how much money has been spent on a project that should have got things right first time."

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