In a dysfunctional relationship with your bank, insurer or utility company? Walk away!

8 February 2019
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You have a friend who constantly complains about her man. She is in tears because of his latest misdemeanour. She goes on. You listen. She sobs. You’re compassionate. She asks for advice. You tell her to leave. She ignores it. 

These situations can be so annoying. I’ve stopped offering advice. I just listen. But can any of us point the finger at her when we are penalised daily for our own loyalty in our dysfunctional relationships with banks, insurance companies, utilities and communication companies? After all, they don’t even send us flowers afterwards.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says that we’re being overcharged around £4 billion for ‘sticking to the wreck’ of our bad relationships with these companies. Not only that, but their findings are hardly earth-shattering. Anyone who has ever tried, for example, to leave their broadband provider will know it’s like telling your incredulous partner that you’ve finally had enough. It goes a bit like this: 

[Telephone rings]

Salesman: Hello, telephone sales. This is Brett. How may I help you?

You: I don’t want sales. I want to cancel my line.

Salesman: You want to leave? But you can’t!

You: What do you mean “can’t”. I can leave when I want.

Salesman: But I really want you to stay.

You: Ha! Do you realise how many times I’ve tried to get help on the phone? How long I’ve been kept on hold? How many times have I waited in vain for your engineers to come round?

Salesman: I’m sorry but I’ve just been really up against it recently.

You: At least you should have shown some interest. I’ve given you so many chances, but now that’s it. I’m leaving.

“I’ve given you so many chances. But that’s it… I’m leaving”

Salesman: Don’t go. Look, if you stay I’ll make things better. It’ll be different, you’ll see.

You: It’s too late.

Salesman: Don’t say that. It can’t be too late. Look, if you stay you’ll be able to get our new 40-channel TV offer.

You: Really?

Salesman: … and I’ll call. I promise faithfully I will. And, believe me, I’m not spending extra time with any other customer.

You: What? No one else?

Salesman: There’s no one else who’s getting better service than you.

You: Well, I’ll give you a month’s trial… but if you screw up that’s it, do you hear me? Now when does the trial start?

Salesman: Right, great…the, er, what? Trial? Er, Monday… No, the Thursday after. No, hold on… soon-ish… certainly this month, this year at any rate, at some point – I’ll call ya. [click]

Like a cracked record, I find myself telling readers, viewers and listeners to spend ‘just a couple of hours’ switching their savings accounts, insurances, utilities and so on, in order to save themselves at least £1,000 a year (it is do-able). But still half of us don’t.

Actually, this month is a pretty good time to go through your various bills and see if you’ve been victim of ‘stealth price rises’ just because you’ve been loyal to the various ungrateful companies who have been taking your money all these years. Switching really doesn’t take much time (it takes about 15 minutes for gas and electricity). Even mortgages can be moved quickly now that lenders are feeling the Brexit slump.

And while you’re at it, see if you’ve inadvertently agreed to automatically renewing some services.

The CMA is to publish a “comprehensive consumer white paper” soon which should address issues such as expensive exit fees, automatic renewal of contracts (a particular bugbear of mine) and keeping people on unnecessarily expensive contracts (a speciality of the delightful telecoms industry).

It will help, but in the meantime vote with your feet. If a company is treating you like yesterday’s chip paper, then leave ’em, because they’re just not worth it!

Jasmine Birtles is a financial journalist and founder of MoneyMagpie.com. Email her at columnists@moneywise.co.uk.