A blog in support of stupid people’s rights (probably the most important blog I’ve ever written)

I’m receiving a growing creep of messages like, ‘if people are stupid enough to (insert issue) it’s their own fault’. But is it? If people are genuinely stupid, is it really their fault – should they not be protected too? And what about dyslexics, those with mental health issues, those suffering with senility, the blind and more – do they all get what they deserve too…?

Last night I was on Watchdog, while the majority of people were supportive of my piece, here’s two Tweets that weren’t…

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 – 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 – 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 – 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 them…well – 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 – 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 – 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.

I challenge you to pass the driving theory test

If, like me, you’ve been driving an age – 22 years for me – it’s easy to feel like you know most things about driving. So here’s a challenge – try taking an official practice theory test (links below), and see if you pass.

Back in the day, when I took my driving test to get a car licence, the theory test didn’t exist. Yet as I’m starting the process of getting a motorbike licence (see our Cheap Motorbike Insurance guide), the first step was to take the official theory test last Friday. I already ride a scooter but I want to get rid of the L-plates and get something with a little, though not too much, more power.

As is usual for me, I’d no spare time, so detailed revision wasn’t really on the cards and as my plan was theory test first then lessons after, the only rehearsal I did was a few practice motorbike theory tests the night before.

Try these tests

In my first practice I did manage to pass, but only just, scraping the 43 needed out of 50, with no safety margin. While many of the questions were obvious, I didn’t have a clue about different types of pedestrian crossings (eg, toucan and puffin), the official stopping times, tooting your horn times, and definitely not motorcycle maintenance things.

So some cramming was needed, but at least after the mocks I knew where to focus. That was enough and thankfully on Friday I passed the test with 48 points.

While to say I found the whole thing an eye-opener would be too strong, I do actually feel like it was a worthwhile exercise. I would encourage other long-standing drivers to give it a go, to see where your knowledge is and what you’re missing.

Do let me know if you try and what your score is below.

PS. The theory test isn’t just the Highway Code stuff – there’s also a hazard identification video section, which you play by clicking when you spot a hazard. The concept’s easy but the instructions are confusing.

For example, a child about to walk across the road is an obvious click, but is heading for an empty mini-roundabout when the camera you’re viewing can’t see the exits? I passed, but they could do with clarifying that.

I predict the first ‘car insurance marketplaces’ will start in September

The Competition and Markets Authority has been investigating the insurance market, and within its 12 June proposals – likely to be enacted in September – is a seemingly innocuous clause that could signal a huge change to how people find cheap car and home insurance. It could also signal the death knell for some car insurance cashback.

So let me bash out a quick analysis on what I expect to happen. The key recommendation I am focusing on is this one…

A ban on price parity agreements between price comparison websites and insurers which stop insurers from making their products available to consumers elsewhere more cheaply.”

The mischief this aims to solve is where some big comparison sites have agreed with insurers that their rivals won’t get cheaper prices.

It seems Compare The Market has been the main mover behind this. It’s become the market leader, not on the back of winning the “cheapest prices” game, but because of its marketing, and especially its remarkably successful meerkat toys.

It can keep full margins without price competition between comparison sites. As full margins benefit it, its interest is in keeping all prices homogenous.

What this means for price comparison sites

If this new rule is enacted, as seems almost certain, it’s likely to mean we will see comparison sites negotiating bespoke pricing with individual insurers. So different comparison sites will have different prices – and there will no longer be the relative homogeneity on pricing.

If this happens at the scale I anticipate, it means the big sites will no longer be comparisons in the strictest sense. Instead, they’ll be insurance marketplaces, with their own pricing plans.

In our Cheap Car Insurance and Cheap Home Insurance guides, we already suggest using more than one comparison site. That’s done mainly to broaden coverage (as different comparison sites cover some different insurers at the margins), but from September this is likely to be even stronger, as the insurance marketplaces will need checking in their own right as they’ll have different tariff plans for each insurer.

Of course there’s also the potential that some insurers will decide to offer cheaper pricing “direct” – though the might of the comparison sites will likely stop all but the biggest brands, which are willing to push their marketing hard, from doing this.

The impact on cashback sites

Currently the last element of our car and home insurance solution is, once you’ve found the cheapest provider, to check cashback sites to see if you can get money back.

This is based on the fact that the prices are the same through cashback sites as through comparison sites and going direct. We’ve heard some saying they’ve seen different prices, but when we’ve investigated, we’ve struggled to back this up.

Under the new system, it’s likely the comparison sites will be undercutting cashback sites because of their bigger negotiating power and the fact that cashback site users tend to churn more.

Therefore while you may still get the cashback, the gap between getting the cashback and just getting the cheaper price is likely to narrow.

I’d love your thoughts on this.