Looking back, looking forward - a year in review from our Chief Executive

As the dust settles on the first month of 2024, the plans and projects for the new year are well underway in the Consumer Council. 

Chief Executive, Noyona Chundur pauses to reflect on 2023, what the organisation has achieved, the impact of our work, the challenges of the cost of living crisis and what lies ahead for the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland.

This year marks nearly 39 years of the Consumer Council and my fourth year as Chief Executive, a position I am privileged to hold. Despite our long history, it is the last three years that have been the most challenging for consumers. The work we do has never been more important, or in demand.

We cover consumer affairs, energy, transport, water, post, food affordability and accessibility, financial inclusion, and EU Exit matters. Our focus is simple: to understand what consumers need, to safeguard their welfare and represent their interests, and to give them an independent voice.

Protecting consumers, empowering them and building their trust and confidence, is at the heart of everything we do. It is why I am so proud of my colleagues, who support and campaign for consumers every day and I want to thank them for their dedicated work.

Looking back

The last three years have been an extraordinary test of consumers’ resilience. They have grappled with the far-reaching impacts of one crisis after another, with incomes and household budgets struggling to keep up with rising borrowing, energy, food and fuel costs, and the disruption and availability of supply chains. 

This has inevitably affected consumer confidence and changed spending habits. Particularly for those in vulnerable circumstances, it accelerated inequality, increased detriment and amplified mental health issues. 

Our work and impact

As many consumers faced stark choices, we were on hand to help. In 2023:

  • We helped over 10,000 people through our complaint investigations and advice service, negotiating over £258,000 back to consumers.
  • We met excellent service standards, achieving a customer satisfaction score of 99% and moving from the British Standard to the ISO 22458 for Consumer Vulnerability with the BSI Kitemark.
  • We reached over 14,000 citizens through our outreach across Northern Ireland on a range of matters relating to consumer rights and how to mitigate the cost-of-living crisis. We supported this with our financial education programme for young people, working with schools and community partners.
  • We advocated on behalf of consumers, responding to 54 policy and regulatory consultations and representing their interests at 448 government, industry and community led programme boards, taskforces, working groups and forums.
  • We delivered trusted advice through award-winning campaigns shaped by our research providing evidence and behavioural insights of consumer experiences and expectations. Our money saving online tools and information and advice have been accessed over 604,000 times.
  • We supported consumers and businesses with 46 citizen-centric interventions. These included working in partnership with the Utility Regulator on the Consumer Energy Charter and providing evidence that led to enhanced Government energy bill support in Northern Ireland. We raised service standards by undertaking accessibility, complaints and policy audits for energy, transport and water companies. We provided water bill checks that helped local businesses and councils reduce their water bills and improved consumer outcomes through advocacy, performance assessment and tariff setting processes.
  • We represented consumer interests to stakeholders and parliamentarians here, in Great Britain and in Europe, and improved appreciation and understanding of Northern Ireland’s unique considerations. 

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, consumers face a complex picture.

Markets have become interconnected and offer ever-changing products and services. It is vital that markets work in the interests of consumers, with economic growth and successful innovation judged on how well they meet clearly defined consumer outcomes; consumer protections to prevent harm and the creation of justified confidence and trust in all markets.

Consumer policy, economic policy and social justice in markets must be interwoven and work together to benefit consumers and businesses in equal measure. Confident consumers drive competitive markets and competitive markets deliver economic growth. Strengthening consumer protection, given risks of long-term scarring from heightened detriment, is something we must prioritise.

With around 64% of our economic output driven by consumer spending, economic security and success are inextricably linked to protections that can increase consumer confidence. This creates a level playing field not only for consumers but also micro businesses who make up 89% of our business base in Northern Ireland and often face similar challenges to individual consumers.

The Consumer Council will always support the citizens of Northern Ireland, but we cannot address the chronic and systemic challenges facing our socio-economic infrastructure. 

Therefore, as government plans for policy and regulatory reform including more sustainable funding models, my ask is to place consumers at the centre of this reform.

Reform is also complex and takes time, and the fiscal and financial challenges are significant. We are in unchartered territory and we must coalesce and collaborate to ensure diverse consumer interests are duly represented and considered. 

Our plans for 2024-2025

Throughout 2024 and beyond the Consumer Council is committed to playing its part and working with partners to develop solutions that better protect consumers, support their evolving needs and take account of their behaviours.

We will publish our draft 2024–2025 Forward Work Programme for consultation next week. This sets out the activity and performance framework the Consumer Council proposes to deliver underpinned by consumer priorities and strategic objectives.

We are all consumers and I encourage you to get involved, to help us shape the work we do. Together, we can bring about positive change for our citizens and our communities.

Noyona Chundur
Chief Executive
Consumer Council for Northern Ireland

About us

Get involved in our draft Forward Work Programme consultation

  • Energy
  • Personal Finances
  • Water
  • Transport
  • Post
  • Business
  • Cost of Living
  • EU Exit
  • Food