Last night I was on Watchdog, while the majority of people were supportive of my piece, here’s two Tweets that weren’tâ€¦
Shove your ‘Mini-Armchair Revolution’ up your arse. People should pay attention to what they are doing. Idiots!"
"I’m sorry but if someone is stupid enough to sign up for something they don’t need then it’s their own fault!"
In fact it wasn’t about ‘signing up’ that was the point, it was on online travel companies who pre-select expensive travel insurance as added extras leaving many paying by default. This specifically contravenes EU auto-add on laws and leaves many paying twice, as they already have annual travel insurance.
More surprising though, were the comments that came through. On air I’d noted these schemes were cleverly designed to make you sign up and were especially dangerous to those unfamiliar with the web, dyslexics or dyscalculia sufferers.
The ‘mini armchair revolution’ bit is a phrase I used to encourage people to take any add on travel insurance issues to the Ombudsman to try and get a precedent ruling against the practice â€“ see the MSE news story, Had travel insurance auto-added? Make a compensation claim.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had similar comments, it has plagued some of the biggest campaigns I’ve been involved in â€“ for example when hearing about PPI reclaiming, I’ve had, ‘why do these people who were stupid enough to sign up get the payout? What do I get for not signing up?’
On bank charges, lots of people said, ‘anyone running up thousands of these penalties must be stupid’, even though the system is designed to entrap people in serious debt.
The list of ‘stupid’ people
So it’s worth thinking about just who these people being accused of stupidity really are. Below is my non-exhaustive list of those who struggle with all these various issues â€“ and therefore according to those who message me are thus stupid and don’t deserve protecting.
- Mental health suffers - 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer at least one mental health problem each year, and may therefore be temporarily incapable of making decisions.
- The blind / partially sighted (when using sites not optimised for their needs).
- Those who are Dyslexic
- Those who are Dyscalculic
- Non-English speakers - People who don’t have English as a first language.
- The learning disabled
- The functionally illiterate
- First time web users
- Alzheimer’s or senility sufferers
- Sleep deprived parents of very young children
- Those with short attention spans – Some people with medical conditions suffer from limited concentration.
- Mental capacity issues
- Financial phobics
- First time consumers – Young people who are only just transacting for the first time.
- People worried about other things - Minds can be distracted, perhaps due to stress, or maybe in the rush to book a flight to see a relative who’s only got a few days to live.
- Those who don’t read every term and condition - Sometimes there are over 5,000 words of legalese, anyone who doesn’t check themâ€¦well â€“ just stupid I suppose?
- Those who trust banks – For example those who were told PPI was compulsory and therefore took it out as they thought they had to.
Of course the people in this list are far from stupid – and its offensive to call them that. Many are very bright, high achieving people – some aren’t. Yet all of whom may be caught out at one time or another. And that’s what I find so infuriating about the comments I receive. Its a bit like the quiz shows that say ‘its easy when you know the answer’. We all need to walk in other (wo)mens shoes before we throw such accusations of stupidity around.
I simply don’t get the venom of some who aren’t caught out towards those who have been. Thankfully I’ve never had a bank charge, didn’t get PPI, never has debt problems, and never been trapped by added insurance, but I don’t feel we should leave those who have to suffer.
Of course people must take responsibility for themselves
This isn’t about regulating for the lowest common denominator. My philosophy is still the ‘adversarial consumer society’ which says a company’s job is to make money from us, our job is to try to keep that cash.
So we can’t expect credit card lenders to police responsible borrowing, their job is to flog debt. Instead we must try and be responsible borrowers to protect ourselves. We can’t expect energy companies to keep us warm, their job is to make money for their shareholders, we need to ensure we’re on the best deals.
Yet who protects those who can’t take responsibility for themselves?
Perhaps where I’ve changed since I first started out with the purist view above, is having a growing realisation of the large number of people who permanently or temporarily aren’t capable of taking responsibility for themselves. At that point surely we must expect our politicians and regulators to ensure fair play and options for redress when people are taken advantage of?
Products must be transparent and fair. If I sign up for a holiday online and travel insurance isn’t automatically added, but it does ask me if I want it, then that’s fine. But that doesn’t mean every product needs to super simple. In our complex world sometimes products, especially financial ones, need to mirror that â€“ yet then fair warnings and fair dealings must be mandated.
Of course drawing the line on this isn’t easy. I attended the energy summit earlier this week. The Government’s big call is to switch, as so many people are on the wrong tariff and overpaying their provider. So you could say ‘the energy companies must auto-switch everyone to the cheapest deal’, but for me that’s a tough call â€“ is it too much interfering in competition?
Or the next step along, should we ban 0% credit cards due to the high ‘go to rate’ it jumps to afterwards? Here I’d say that’s a step too far and would damage those getting vastly reduced interest rates in the mean time (and not necessarily help others as they’d be on high rates anyway). Here what’s crucial is how it’s communicated and reminders should be sent before the 0% ends.
So, if I were to try and draw the line I’d perhaps say we must stop activities that entrap people into getting things they don’t want or aren’t aware of, by deliberate manipulation or confusion.
I’d love know your thoughts below.