Exactly a year since the NCC lifted the lid on a hidden Britain where millions struggle to afford essential household utilities, the independent consumer policy expert is launching an initiative to tackle the injustice that leaves the worst off getting the worst deal.
The NCC's dossier of the double disadvantage inflicted by poverty will be presented later today to an audience of MPs, voluntary groups, regulators and providers by a government minister, and Deirdre Hutton, NCC chairwoman.
The dossier points out that many of the essential goods and services we all need to play a full part in today's society are increasingly provided by the private sector – companies and professionals serving consumers directly, or in mixed models of public service provision.
But, says the NCC, the market and competition fail to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged in our society.
Hutton says: “Lack of money isn't the only problem with being poor. They face a double disadvantage. The poor pay more because life on a cash budget is more expensive. You pay more if you can't bulk buy or afford a weekly shop. And if you can't get around because of a disability or limited transport, you can't shop around for the best deal.
“Our dossier is a call to action against market exclusion – a call we hope will have a positive impact on the lives of at least half a million disadvantaged consumers over three years.
“Commercial imperatives encourage companies to cherry pick the more profitable and better-off customers. Those more costly or troublesome to supply are charged more or excluded by the market. And while new technology can be a cost-saver for business and some consumers it can raise further barriers for customers who lack confidence or basic skills.
“Call centres for utilities, welfare benefits and pensions are especially daunting. Increasing market complexity - mobile phone packages and more choice of energy suppliers for instance is another trend that excludes disadvantaged groups.
The NCC's new report exposes the staggering extent and nature of market exclusion, explores why it happens and – most importantly – looks at where the responsibility should lie for ensuring all consumers are included in the market for essential goods and services.
It is a call to action for government, public services and regulators, to the private sector, non-profit and advocacy groups through to social enterprises – the wide range of key players the NCC is keen to engage in a collaborative quest for solutions.
The NCC itself suggests some practical solutions and outlines where the responsibilities could lie for ensuring a fairer deal for the worst off. But it recognises that the issues are so huge, that tackling double disadvantage will need co-operation between government and business at the very least. The NCC also recognises that by co-operating with those who already work with disadvantaged groups in their communities, learning from and building on successful ideas, making a positive impact on the lives of the poorest could finally become reality.
The NCC's analysis suggests a new role for government in setting a framework for funding essential items and how private companies deal with the poorest.
The dossier published today looks in depth at the problems with household utility services, healthcare, financial services like bank accounts, insurance and saving schemes. Separate sections also discuss broader questions that are central to the issue – defining essential goods and services, ways to fund affordable services and who should pay.