'Better Deal' could save us up to £470 a year
A new initiative aimed at increasing competition in industries that most affect household spending could save us up to £470 a year, the Government have said.
The "Better Deal" reforms will help lower the amount we pay for things like water, banking, mobile phones and broadband.
Chancellor George Osborne and Business Secretary Sajid Javid says that they will make switching suppliers easier as well as opening up new markets.
"Driving competition will improve choice for people and ensure they get a better deal," Mr Osborne says.
Water, water everywhere
The Government say they want households to be able to choose their water supplier in the same way as they do their energy and broadband providers by the end of this Parliament - that is, by 2020.
From 2017, all businesses and other non-domestic customers should start getting a choice of provider.
In the meantime, water regulator Ofwat, are expected to report to the Government by summer next year on the "costs and benefits" of extending retail competition to household water customers, before the market is opened up in earnest.
The move will "create the largest retail water market in the world", and should mean savings for us, the end users.
The Government have also promised to stop making us pay extra on our energy bills for the subsidies they give to green energy companies. This will cut the average household energy bill by £30 per year, beginning in 2017.
Motor insurance costs will also be coming down, as the Government intend to end the right to cash compensation for minor whiplash injuries. Insurance companies current cover themselves for claims by adding an average £45 to the cost of each policy.
Unlocking as standard
Those of us approaching the end of a mobile phone contract and who aren't in the market for a new handset will find their providers will be required to automatically unlock the phone at the end of the contract.
If customers don't want to upgrade, that means they'll be able to shop around for a cheaper contract or service without having to worry about whether their handset will work on another network.
It's not a huge expense - getting a phone unlocked can cost up to £20 - but making it free and automatic will give users more choice, and make switching networks that little bit simpler.
That's in addition to other efforts to make switching all manner of services simpler.
By the middle of next year there should be a switching guarantee brought in for energy suppliers similar to that seen in the banking sector.
And by 2017, the Government want people to be able to access the data they need to get more personal, more accurate, information on deals from price comparison websites.
Further changes being suggested in the Better Deal plans would also make it easier for people to find the best bank accounts for them. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) say that although we could save an average of £70 a year by switching bank accounts, few of us currently do.
Indeed, it seems that switching is becoming more unpopular. The most recent figures from the current account switch service show there were 1.03 million switches between October 2014 and September 2015, compared with 1.2 million in the same period the year before.
As well as doing more to boost competition between banks, the Government say they'll be offering dedicated help to new banks entering the market. So-called challenger banks have previously complained about feeling "shut out" of the market.
The creation of the New Bank Start-Up Unit next year should make it easier for banks offering innovative alternatives to the mainstream to get started.
The way is currently being paved by banks like Atom, who hope to allow customers to do all their banking via a mobile phone app.
The broadband market is also coming under scrutiny - primarily because the Government say that pricing "often lacks transparency".
It's now much easier for people to switch between the vast majority of broadband providers, thanks to Ofcom streamlining the processes involved in moving to a new ISP.
But despite plenty of competition, and attractive introductory offers, the Government are concerned about figures from Citizens Advice that suggest total costs can be up to "£240 a year higher than the headline introductory rate".
They've tasked the Advertising Standards Authority to look into broadband teaser rates, and take action to ensure that prices are made clearer.
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