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Paul Lewis: How can we clean up charging structures?

Paul Lewis Peach Index pic

I bought a washing machine the other day. An LG. £799. I know, I know, it was expensive but it gave me a lot of choice and had very good performance reviews. I rang a local plumber to fit it, who asked me the make and model and quoted me £279.65.

“That seems a lot,” I said. “The pipework is all there and there is no old machine to disconnect.” “That doesn’t matter,” he replied. “It’s a fixed price.”

When I expressed my surprise at such a specific fixed price to fit a washing machine to existing pipework, he informed me it was in fact 35 per cent of the list price “plus VAT of course, as you didn’t buy it through me”.

“So if I had bought a £250 Hotpoint it would have cost me £87.50?” I asked.

It was the same pipes, under the same worktop, yet he was charging me more than three times as much.

“Hmm. It’s called an ad valorem price, you see. The more valuable the machine the more we have to charge. It’s to do with customer care, insurance and so on. I think that’s what ad valorem means anyway. I didn’t do Greek at school.”

He went on: “To be completely honest with you, on a Hotpoint I lose money. But I make a bit on yours so it all evens out. Without that there wouldn’t be a plumber to fit it at all. And you wouldn’t like that would you?”

I thought the washing machine market had gone a bit odd a few days earlier when I went into the local electrical shop to buy it. There was a man on the door who kindly asked whether he could help. After telling him what I was after he said: “I’m sure we can help, sir. That will be £20 please. Initial charge, sir. A clear, fair and not misleading flat fee of £20.”

Inside, an unctuous young man listened to my needs, asked about my attitude to dirt, how I defined hot water, wrote down the details of my children (3) and wife (1), where I lived, what floor the machine would be on, how much dry cleaning I did and whether I or anyone close to me had any allergies. He said he would send me a “fact find” about my needs in a few days, Meanwhile, here was the address of a launderette. I insisted he printed out the fact find now, as I needed to decide today or my wife (1) and children (3) would not be happy. Half an hour later he produced it (94 pages) and watched as I signed to confirm I had read it (I had not) and agreed it was a fair summary of our chat.

We looked at several machines he thought would suit me. He gave me lots of charts showing how each had performed in the past on energy use, cleanliness and fastness of colours. Each had a note in bold – “Past performance is no guide to the future. Your clothes may come out less clean or smaller than they went in.” – but assured me with a wink that would never happen.

I chose the LG as the charts impressed me. He said I could pay the £799 over a year at £66.58 a month. But when I looked at the bill it was for £82.62 a month. He explained: “That’s the payment for the hour I have spent selling the machine to you. It was £192 but most people prefer to add £16 to the monthly fee. Don’t notice it as much.”

We shook hands. As I left, the man on the door touched his cap as he watched me trying to open it. “That’ll be £50, sir,” he said. “£50? For what?” I asked.

“Exit fee. It pays for the costs of running the shop – heat, light, toilets – while you have been here. We used to charge a percentage of what you spent but now it’s a time charge. Fairer because you have had the benefit of them for an hour.”

My dismay at the fact I had not even used the toilet facilities did not deter him.

“It’s not a charge for use, sir,” he smiled. “It’s a charge for making the facility available.”

I nearly went back to use it. But he already had his entry charge book out again. So I paid the £50 and left through the opening door.

Fast-forward to my kitchen again and the plumber had taken about 30 minutes to fit the thing, including drinking a cup of tea. I looked at his bill. Instead of the £279.65 plus £55.93 VAT (£335.58) he had led me to expect it would be, it was in fact £363.55.

“Sorry,” I said. “I think this bill is too much. It should be…” He was smiling already. “Stop,” he said, holding up a hand. “I’ve included your annual fee in the price. To be honest most don’t even notice.”

“Annual fee? For what exactly?” “Ongoing advice. We charge £27.97 a year, 10 per cent of the installation price. If ever you need to ask a question about the machine, its use or performance that is included. And we keep your serial number on file in case we have to email you about a safety recall or a change in the partner washing powder.”

Altogether the washing machine had cost me £1424.55. I complained to the Fair Cleaning Association – otherwise known as the FCA – but was told prices were not something it regulated as long as they were clear, fair and not misleading. My clothes are coming out cleaner. But there must be a better way to pay. Mustn’t there?

Paul Lewis is a freelance journalist and presenter of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Money Box’ programme. Follow him on twitter @paullewismoney



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There are 46 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Why belittle the factfinding necessary to demonstrate suitability and why shouldn’t the indivudual be paid for his time however insincere or slippery Mr Lewis found him? Perhaps he should have taken his chances and got something off the web without advice, asked down the pub or tuned in to Radio 4. Afterall what’s the difference between a washing machine and a dishwasher – they both wash things, look similar, so must be suitable …

  2. Anthony Fallon 4th June 2015 at 12:20 pm

    Conclusion ??

    Paul Lewis of BBC’s Money Box is trying to suggest there is a correlation between buying/installing/servicing&repair of a Washing Machine and buying/installing(?)/servicing&repair of a financial product ?

    Like most things in life – there are choices & costs.

    The main choices seem to be 1. Do nothing(!) 2. Do It Yourself 3. Get someone to do it for you.

    If you get someone to do it/anything for you – it will usually come with a cost.

    Shop around and “you pays your money and you takes your choice”

    I am sure I can buy a Washing Machine off the internet cheaper than my usual John Lewis but with no service and no 5 year automatic warranty.

  3. Ok, where to start?… Are you suggesting that distribution, support and advisory costs should be incorporated within the price of the product? If so, I agree, the public ‘get’ that and the product provider is the one that needs to wrestle with their competitiveness to cover all aspects of their distribution, including paying the adviser/sales person/distributor and it puts financial services product sales on the same footing in terms of consumerism as other retail areas.

    I know that often the manufacturer may not pay the distributor as such, but the distributor can set their own sale price and doesn’t need to break down its structure for the consumer. If it’s too expensive, the consumer elsewhere or goes without..Sounds pretty routine!

    Unlike most retail areas Paul, as you know, our profession does not have the sale of goods act to hide behind, thereby absolving itself of liability after a short period of time. If it did, there would be less need for the paperwork. Unlimited liability is the overriding cost consideration now.

    However, I do agree that it is rather a nonsense. Advisers have become rather like personal shoppers, advising only those who can afford to pay for someone else to spend the time on their financial matters. Not what we want and not really what the wider market needs, but there you are!

  4. Here you have, the cost of everything and the value of nothing !

    Be grateful of one small mercy Paul; you do have a choice, in how you spend your money, what you are charged, and if you decide to pay it or not ! be thankful the plumber will not charge you 6 mths down the line some interim levy because he got a speeding fine, which of course nothing to do with you or your washing machine !

    So before you go off and bitch about the cost of things and how said bill is arrived at spare a thought for those who have to pay for the quango’s and its faceless members of staff who drift about in white shirts with their name tag on it !
    After all its passed on to you !!!

  5. Christopher Petrie 4th June 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Perhaps Mr Lewis can contact estate agents, stockbrokers, probate lawyers, rental agents, fund managers, some architects and…er…the FCA to see if they agree with this article?

  6. I simply do not see the relationship between this article and how decent IFAs work. Bizarre comparison which is quite frightening coming from someone who is in the public eye. Waste of my time even reading it….. and commenting upon it for that matter.

  7. James Hurdman 4th June 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I agree with Sam Caunt. I find the article fascinating in that it demonstrates how little Mr Lewis understands about how IFAs work.

    If I was to go along with the theme of the article for one moment, I would pose a few questions:

    1)Was the plumber liable for your financial loss if the washing machine completely broke?
    2)If the plumber fixed the machine when it had intermittent problems, fitted better parts to improve its performance when washing machine technology improved, or completely replaced the machine when it was not fit for purpose, all as part of an ongoing service fee that you were fully aware of from outset, would that represent good value?
    3)If whilst maintaining your washing machine the plumber spotted that the pipes supplying your property with water were about to break, and he was able to rectify it for you before it created thousands of pounds of damage to your property, would that ongoing relationship be a worthwhile one?

    I could go on, but I need to get back to enhancing and protecting the wealth of my clients and their families.

  8. Douglas Brodie 4th June 2015 at 5:42 pm

    Paul, you’ve missed the biggy. You pay 40% of your income to George Osborne, irrespective of how much of the provided services you actually use. (Or is it 45%, not sure how much Aunty & Centaur pay these days).

    Life’s not fair. Get over it.

  9. I am sure he means well, but the poor chap is rather confused. Probably spent too much time at the BBC.

  10. yes a frightening lack of knowledge & appreciation of quality advisers.
    Be careful Paul, if you leave a fiver in your jeans and chuck them in your wonderful machine you could get done for money laundering!

  11. This mirrors a piece written some years ago about the process of buying shoes if I remember correctly. It’s humorous, and has some valid points, but it’s the age old problem. If you buy a £400 TV in britain nobody bats an eyelid that it might have started life at (say) £50 in Japan but got here via import into Europe, then the UK, and finally into the shop. It is the very transparency of charges in Financial Services that makes us so open to criticism. When you put money in a cash ISA and get paid 1% it’s really a net return. No-one is forcing the banks and building societies to say that actually they make many times that but branch costs and big salaries and bonuses decimate the return to such a derisory amount.
    We’ll always be there to be shot at. And by the way, does a plumber pay many thousands of pounds for his PI insurance and membership of his regulatory body? No, thought not.

  12. Very poor article, attempting draw some comedic value from an industry ‘joke’ that was doing the rounds some 20 years ago about the futility of the fact finding process. The fact is that we do not have a shiny new washing machine, or for the matter, a loaf of bread, the latest mobile phone, new reg car or any other ‘product’ that we sell to clients. The ‘product’ that we provide is ‘advice’, the clue is in the name Mr Lewis … Financial Adviser. Articles like this do nothing to help the industry. Its a cheap ‘point scoring’ exercise to get his fizzog on the gogglebox or on the front page of tomorrows fish and chip wrappers.

  13. How much did Paul Lewis earn for writing this article?

  14. Gosh Paul! Don’t mention commission, fees or charges again….you know how indignant advisers get!

  15. the article is entitled “how do we clean up charging structures?” as his article proves, they are as clean as mr lewis’ newly washed underpants. and fair and not misleading. at no time has mr lewis been forced to pay for or buy any of these additional items or services. indeed, the Fair Cleaning Association has stated as much. i wonder if mr lewis would have generated as much interest with the editor for an article that read “charging structures are clean.”? i wonder if anyone has ever thought of doing an article on how to clean up the world of journalism, for instance. wait a minute. maybe they did. was the author called Leveson? or was that about something else? sorry, not sure. apologies if i am mistaken.

  16. There are a number of incorrect comparisons in this article, most of which the above commentators have highlighted. As mentioned, Paul Lewis clearly misunderstands what IFA’s are doing for clients and the costs/risks associated with providing regulated advice in this country.

    Can I ask that Money Marketing only allow non-qualified laypeople (that’s what he is) to write articles when they promise to engage in proper debate about their misinformed views?

  17. Kenneth Hunter 5th June 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Who does this guy think he is Mr Lewis so out of touch time to put ones self out to seed

  18. The issue is that there is a fundamental difference between a washing machine and a financial product. You buy your machine for a single purpose (albeit with certain nuances depending on your family make up at the time) and then continue to use it, generally without any maintenance until it breaks (in my case it always seems to be around 7 years). At this point generally in this day and age you go out purchase a new machine they take the old one away and then go again on the same merry way. The single purpose remains and the timescale it is held for is short enough that family changes can generally be accommodated.

    Compare this to a financial product such as a pension. It may be purchased at a young age by someone who is single, possibly debt fee and with great plans and hopes for their future. It then has to be held through many changes both in expectations of what it needs to deliver, value and applicable rules. Along the way the individual will have many changes which will impact on how much can be paid (divorce, redundancy etc.), how the underlying investments will perform, what it needs to fund and the due date for when it will be needed. Unlike the washing machine it is not possible to junk it once it doesn’t work as expected.

    A better analogy to use is growing vegetables. Everyone starts with the same patch of earth and seeds. Some will decide they will personally take charge and the green fingered amongst them will win prizes. Some will do the same but forget to maintain them and end up with stunted or withered plants. Some will take great care over using the best seeds and some will buy from remaindered stock. Some will learn from accredited sources what is he Some will start growing potatoes and then realise that they need tomatoes half way through. Some will throw the seeds out hope for the best. Some of course will employ a gardener recommended to them at some cost but will obviously expect a better result than they could produce themselves.

    If the washing machine analogy is used then it would need to be a washing machine which could convert to a dishwasher, toaster or stair-lift as required over time whilst the electricity company is changing the voltage every few weeks or even moving to gas.

  19. Trevor Harrington 5th June 2015 at 12:37 pm

    As ye sow …. so shall ye reap

  20. Take The High Road 5th June 2015 at 12:42 pm

    sounds to me like Mr Lewis would prefer to go back to the old days of 3 plus a half!! 🙂

    ….we’re told the regulators, clients and popular financial commentators all wished for the RDR….we’ll is it such a great surprise that they got what they wished for. That said, I think he may be describing the charging structure of a vertically integrated sales model, who simply replaced commission by commission(albeit, now called adviser charges!!).

  21. Neil Liversidge 5th June 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Boring – heard it all before Paul. Remember the little spat we had on email a while back, and then later on your programme? I’ve had some very well-heeled and sophisticated clients come to me specifically because of those exchanges. Whether you want to believe it or not, an increasing number of those who you probably assume are your fans have sussed that you earn your living by spreading cynicism and rubbishing the work of others. And contrary to what you might think, they don’t admire you for it.

  22. A car was involved in an accident in a street. As expected, a large crowd gathered. A journalist, anxious to get his story, could not get near the car. Being the clever sort, he started shouting loudly, “Let me through! Let me through! I am the son of the victim.”

    The crowd made way for him. Lying in front of the car was a large bull…

  23. Maybe his preference is to pay £1,400 for the Machine and be oblivious to all the other indirect costs of buying?

    Not suggesting we return to commission, but from what I can see above, if the machine costs £799 then the implication is there’s no margin in it for the retailer (otherwise there would be no need to charge the additional costs).

    Furthermore, you’re not obliged to pay for ongoing service so that’s muddying the water somewhat.

    As echoed above, I feel it’s a poor analogy and reinforces a lot of misinformation about the separation between the advice process and the cost of the advice (typically!) being independent of that.

  24. Pandora’s Box, to open or not to open?

    Fixed fees are clear, precise and charge everyone the true cost plus a required profit to stay in business. On this I am sure we all agree, its fair and every party pays correctly for the value they gain.

    We currently have a challenge within our society, how do those less well off in society gain access to the help they need. The current system, rightly or wrongly charges the rich more just like the UK tax system and the poor less, as most charges are based on percentages. Read any paper, watch any TV news and you will regularly see many banging on that the rich need to do more, to pay more taxes to help the less well off in our society.

    If the system was to adopt totally the fixed fee this would in true terms put most products and advice out of the reach of many in our society. Why would any company/adviser offer to arrange an investment product for say £5,000 if they charge that product on an individual true set cost basis. The true cost to administer is far higher then the typical 1% (£50) to 1.5% (£75) currently charged. The result would be minimum entry levels beyond the scope of many UK consumers, something we are already witnessing as a consequence of RDR. It would also result in the richest in society gaining the most as they would now have a set charge, well below their current charging rate. £1,000,000 fund on the same percentage fees pays £10,000 or £15,000.

    How do you factor in for additional risk and consequences with fixed fees, which comes with large investments and their liability. You can for the advice but not if then implemented and you take responsibility for providing on going advice and service. The cost of a complaint on a £5,000 investment is one think, the cost on a £1,000,000 case is quite a different situation.

    I am sure we would all like to live in a world where the cost was the same for all. However, I believe if such arrangements were to be introduced, the only true beneficiaries will be the well off. You only need to look at the current system of taxation within the UK to see that without the rich paying more the less well off suffer.

    You may not like the current system and there are some that take advantage, but if you shop around you can get value for money. The alternative to my mind carry’s far great risk, social consequences and the cost to implement would be horrendous.

    Paul, I agree with the sentiment but opening Pandora’s box can have undesirable and unforeseen consequences.

  25. A mildly amusing though inappropriate metaphor in true Anti-Moneybox Laundering style.
    Most people seem to prefer the DIY approach of taking their laundry down to the river and using two stones, rather than paying a proper price for the job anyway.

  26. After reading a lot of the above comments, it does seem to me the only people who have a real hang up about “our” charges and costs are jornos and the regulators.

    I don’t know about the rest of you IFA’s but my clients couldn’t give a toss ? (but they do expect quality and service) the last person who tried to be a client of mine ( I don’t accept new clients unless they are personally recommended by and existing client) opened with “the man at the FSA said I could expect to be charged….” I politely stopped him mid flow and directed him to the door !

  27. Relax everyone. Paul is a knowledgeable journalist. I enjoyed the humorous article, but with a valid undertone. In an increasingly competitive world, we are going to have to justify our charges even more; the pressure on our fees will grow and for some flat fees will appeal. Clearly they do for Paul; that’s his prerogative.

  28. I must be missing something here because there seem to be some very good points. For instance, we all profess to like transparency but sometimes it can hinder decision making processes. We also like to understand costs before we incur them. We also appreciate that people have to make a living but at the same time might resent the fact that our more profitable work/washing machine/investment might be used to subsidise work for another person.
    If you look at the costs breakdown for assets on a platform there are lots of different fees and costs. As a previous poster makes clear-“not sure if it all helps understanding.” Perhaps Paul would have been better off just being charged the full cost for purchase in the first place without knowing all the constituent parts. Its just not transparent. Just a few thoughts.

  29. Bet you don’t get any sort of response here form Paul Lewis.

  30. Stephanie Pickering 5th June 2015 at 5:54 pm

    ……I find it amazing he’s been paid to write this drivel!

  31. Paul, i still don’t think you understand our industry,
    Unlike when you purchased your washing machine , if you purchase product with an IFA you can go back to them whenever you want and say the product sold was mis-sold.
    Imagine what Currys would say to you in 7 years when you take the washing machine and tell them “this washing machine is not suitable and never has been suitable, a mate in the pub has told me so !!!! ” and therefore I want my money back or I will go to the “have you been Mis-sold washing machine website” and get the ambulance chasers to sue you

  32. Dominic Thomas 6th June 2015 at 7:46 am

    Oh dear, perhaps everyone should lighten up. He’s only pointing out how poorly our industry has explained itself. When all is said and done, financial planning is about improving results, ensuring that your money doesn’t run out – adding far more value than it cost.

  33. As a ‘consumer’ of financial advice, but not an IFA or journalist, I have to say I appreciated this article.

    He highlights good points between value and cost, which personally I think the financial industry could do with taking a good long hard look at.

  34. […] For a light hearted (but very serious) sideways glance at commission, read Paul Lewis’ excellent blog on the subject here […]

  35. Methinks some people here protest too much

  36. When will Financial Advisers stop referring to themselves as part of an ‘Industry’? We need to remove this word from our vocabulary.
    Until we wake up and champion a proper profession, free of product provider ‘sponsorship’, acting on behalf of our clients, selecting products (only if necessary/if required) from product manufacturers (I.e. product providers are the ‘Industry’) until we realise that, (as advocated by @InspiredAdviser) then we have no chance. We will always be hammered by the likes of Paul Lewis.

  37. […] Lewis has written an article that has annoyed many IFAs. You can read it here. Ig you haven’t read it, you might as well now, as most of this article will only make sense […]

  38. Seems like a perfectly good analogy to me, the key thing is that due to the cost of meeting regulatory requirements to deliver a 94 page fact find, the adviser incurs costs and time and stationery bills to deliver something which he could usefully tell the client face to face. As a result the customer pays a lot more for the fact find and has to receive a pathetically long-winded document justifying the advice given by the washing machine salesperson, just in case Paul takes him to the cleaners so to speak. Whilst what we do is sometimes more complicated than plumbing, Paul is right to highlight how wrong it is to build in additional extras/services that the client may not want or agree to. What would also be good is if he turned his wit and mental acuity to addressing the many wrongs of the financial services equivalent of the Fair Cleaning Authority. Our regulator is neither fair nor authoritative, and must be questioned as to how clean it is when they issue a fine of only £284 million to Barclays for criminal activity. Paul’s article highlights that good service costs money to provide and that resources are used and need paying for when giving our customers reviews and services. It also highlights how important it therefore is to make sure that the client needs and wants to pay for the services we are offering. If not we should not provide that service and should not charge for it. But for me, that 94 page fact find is something that needs addressing, and the Fair Cleaning Authority needs a damned good spin cycle and rinse to get rid of the crud in their machine.

  39. Horses for courses. The analogy is dated from the days of product-led sales, rather than needs-based service. Savvy advisers know that the more their service is about relationship than product, the more successful their firm becomes. Based on consecutive surveys in the land of Oz, the most successful advisers lead on qualities such as “listening, rapport, caring, understanding and empathy”. Things associated more with nurses than with IFAs. The performance has to be good, the fees reasonable, but it’s the relationship that counts.

    So perhaps the analogy is no longer about dishwashers and more about a fitness coach/life coach/nutritionist. Yes it costs money to have that specialist giving you 1-1 time. And those workouts create a lot more washing. But with an ongoing help and encouragement to make an investment today in tomorrow’s future wellbeing, it’s worth every penny and the customer is rarely happier! So time for advisers to discover their inner coach, or indeed nurse??

  40. It is such a shame that washing makers are not allowed to advertise directly to the public so that consumers can can compare load capacity, power consumption and the range of cycles available. That way the consumer could buy direct and fit it himself and save so much money.

  41. Despite all the negative comments here, Paul Lewis has highlighted a very important fact. There is no regulation in the sales of Washing Machines. How does the consumer know that he is buying the most suitable washing machine for his needs when there is no full fact-finding conducted by the salesman and when we have no knowledge of what we are being sold (a washing machine’s just a washing machine). For example why different models cost vastly differing prices.

    This is a very valid point that Paul highlights, should we not be concerned about the number of unsuitable washing machine purchases that have been made historically.

    Personally, I think we should start to campaign for greater regulation of the washing machine sales industry, as it is clearly not fit for purpose. At the moment, it is a mis-selling scandal waiting to happen….

  42. Good debate. Much has improved since Allied Crowbar and Shabby Life, but always room for improvement. The ethical, honest, decent, successful IFA who has integrity in spades, and who always puts his clients’ interests first, has nothing to fear from such amusing articles which are designed to create a stir. And it worked.

  43. Images of these washing machine graveyards around the world tell their own sorry tale of poor customer outcomes.

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