In journalism, we’re taught there are six key questions: "who, what, why, how, where and when?"
My mailbag, whether via Twitter, Facebook or email, is swamped with all these questions, far more than I could ever hope to begin to answer. Among those, by far the most difficult to answer are the "why?" or "how can they justify?" questions.
Let me give you a few examples of tweets I’ve received:
- Why do banks get away with paying 0% interest on savings?
- Rail fares to London during holiday weekends start at £240 return. The weekend before, they’re £35 return. How can this be justified?
- How do they justify charging a £50 ‘admin’ fee for cancelling car insurance?
- Why do I still have to pay a fortune for travel insurance after a heart attack six years ago and no problems since?
- If CPI is the official measure of inflation, why are pensions linked to it while rail fares and student fees are RPI?
- Why can a mortgage company quote you a rate and calculate repayments on the phone, then take 10-14 days to send via post?
- We are a small family business using a PO box for mail delivery. The Post Office has just invoiced us at £200 for the next year. Last year it was about £127. How can it justify a nearly 60% increase?
I think people expect some hidden reason for a company, or even a government, doing something to make it more money that it costs them. Yet more often than not, the answer is quite simple…
"Because they can!"
This isn’t an attack on companies. I’ve always written that I believe we live in an adversarial consumer society – a company’s job is to make money, a consumer’s job to keep theirs.
The main problem is there’s an imbalance of power. One of the reasons I set this website up and now campaign to get financial education on the curriculum is to address that misbalance.
Some of these are own fault as consumers. After all, with the question "how do banks get away with paying 0% interest on savings?", it’s because we let them, due to apathy, inertia and ignorance. We don’t shift our money, leaving them to reap the rewards.
Others are more difficult to fix – and it’s there we need regulations or laws to protect us.
Do post your ‘because they can’ questions below.