TP296 Pensioner Spring 2024 Taster

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Spring 2024 / Issue 296 /


International Longevity Centre: finding a way forward for the older generation

After retirement: we hear from a recent retiree who’s become a museum exhibit

Later Life Ambitions: forging ahead with our manifesto

Bad customer service? There’s a lot of it about

Group and branch updates

Readers’ letters

Computer helpdesk



Joining us at the national AGM

Improving our AGM – we want your views The Executive Council has established a working party, with group representation, to review the format and representation basis of the AGM and explore ways of making our democratic structures more accessible and inclusive. We would welcome the views of individual members, as well as local groups, for consideration by the working

Individuals or groups should contact us by no later than 21 March party at its next meeting on 3 April. The issues on which we would welcome your views include the following questions: • Are you satisfied with the current format and representative structure of the national AGM? • How can the AGM best reflect the views of individual members in England and Wales who no longer have a local group in their area to attend? • How can we encourage wider interest and engagement with the AGM for policy decisions and elections? • Would you be interested in watching the AGM if it were livestreamed online? • What would you consider the


advantages or disadvantages of holding the AGM every two years, not annually? • What are your views on different AGM formats, such as virtual AGMs with online voting (annually or biannually)? • Should the existing right for individual members to attend the AGM (at their own expense or at a subsidised rate) be formalised into a set allocation of individual delegate places for members not attached to local groups? • As well as group/branch representatives, should places be reserved for regionally nominated members who are not in a local group? • If your local group does not regularly attend the AGM, would the group be likely to attend an event held online? These questions are not intended to be an exhaustive list, but your responses would help to inform the working party and EC of the views of individual members, groups and branches. Comments can be emailed directly to Deputy General Secretary David Luxton at or send in the post to: CSPA, 8th Floor, Grosvenor House, Croydon CR0 9XP. Please ensure your comments arrive at CSPA head office no later than 21 March so that they can be collated in time for consideration by the working party at their next meeting on Wednesday 3 April.

Individual CSPA members have always been able to attend our Annual General Meeting, although historically not many who are not part of group or branch delegations have done so. The CSPA’s Executive Council has recognised that many members are no longer covered by active groups and branches that can send delegates to the AGM. We will be able to provide more information about the supportive arrangements to be put in place for members who are not part of active groups or branches to attend the AGM in the Summer issue of The Pensioner. In the meantime, any member who is not part of an active group or branch but may be interested in attending the AGM – to be held on 9-10 October at the Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth, Warwickshire – should contact us at CSPA head office by telephoning 020 8688 8418 or emailing

We plan to help individual members come to the AGM


| The Pensioner

As a CSPA member you are entitled to a wide range of membership benefits, including free initial legal advice, exclusive discounts on cruises, travel insurance, shopping discounts, free help with any computer problems and much more.

Advice on wills, trusts, probate, powers of attorney We are pleased to announce a new benefit offering members help with wills, trusts and powers of attorney, provided by Harvey Howell Solicitors in conjunction with our partners at Affinity Resolutions. Harvey Howell can be contacted by calling 0330 175 9959 or emailing – quote CSPA. You can read further information about the services offered by Harvey Howell in their advert in this issue of The Pensioner (page 32). In addition, Harvey Howell Solicitors has arranged free seminars in the North West for CSPA members: • Manchester, 15 March, 2pm, Copthorne Hotel, Salford Quays, Manchester M50 3SN • Warrington, 9 April, 2pm, Village Hall, Central Park Square, Warrington WA3 1QA • Liverpool, 30 April, 2pm, Liner Hotel, Lord Nelson Street, Liverpool L3 5QB.

The full range of benefits can be viewed at

Check out our new member benefits Members not in the North West area can find more information on the Harvey Howell website: or telephone them on the number given.

Other member benefits The CSPA also offers many other benefits, which can be viewed by logging on to our website These benefits are listed below.

Free initial legal advice through the following solicitors: • Members in England and Wales call Lyons Davidson Solicitors, quoting CSPA, 01752 300 584 • In Scotland, call Thompsons Solicitors: 0300 123 6666, giving your CSPA number • In Northern Ireland, call McTartan, Turkington & Breen: 02890 329801

Discounts on cruises • Fred.Olsen Cruises offers a 5% CSPA discount in addition to Fred.Olsen’s 5%

Ocean Loyalty Club. For the latest deals visit: last-minute-cruise-deals or telephone: 0800 0355 144. • Wendy Wu Tours offers a 10% discount to CSPA members booking a Mekong River Cruise. Visit www.wendywutours. or call 0800 035 5091 quoting the code: CSPA 10.

Travel insurance Call the Civil Service Insurance Society (CSiS) on 01622 766960 quoting your CSPA number.

Free help and support on personal computer problems Contact the BC Technologies helpline on 01369 706656 quoting the CSPA. For more information on these and many other shopping discounts, log onto the CSPA website: or call CSPA head office on 0208 688 8418.

Have you visited our members-only website? As part of your CSPA membership not only do you have access to a wealth of benefits, help, advice and the quarterly magazine but you also have access to our dedicated members-only website. It has everything you need to know, from information on our exclusive members benefits and how to claim them to what’s going on in your local group. The active news section is updated numerous times a week with details of our campaign activity plus useful information, help and advice from us and our trusted partners. You can also read The Pensioner magazine, regional and group newsletters and advice factsheets, or update your personal details such as address and phone number.


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If you’ve visited before, simply go to, enter your email address and hit ‘reset password’ if you’ve forgotten it. Never visited before? Don’t worry it’s easy to set yourself up. Email us at or give us a call on 020 8688 8418 and we will get you started.


General secretary's

Report Sally Tsoukaris


s I write, I look forward to longer days and shorter nights, the first daffodils and bluebells and other signs of spring. I am not a fan of the cold and look forward to walking freely across expanses of grass without wellies! At CSPA headquarters we are as busy as ever. We continue to work with the Cabinet Office, MyCSP, Later Life Ambitions and other partners on behalf of members. These working relationships are crucial to ensure we make the most of our collective strengths, working towards shared objectives, to make later life better for older people in general, and for CSPA members in particular. Earth Day ( on 22 April offers us a chance to reflect on the state of our planet and what we can do, even in small ways, to make a difference to the legacy we leave. There are misconceptions among some younger people

that we have lived well – at the planet’s expense – without caring about their future and quality of life, not to mention impending environmental catastrophe. I say ‘misconceptions’ as, in my experience, many of us care very much indeed. Perhaps in communicating our shared concerns for the planet’s future, we can build bridges across the generational divide? I hope you find Kath Grant’s article on page 16 thought-provoking in this respect.

CSPA Annual General Meeting 2024 Our next Annual General Meeting will be held on 9-10 October at the Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth, Warwickshire. Groups and branches will be invited to submit motions for discussion and nominations to the Executive Council and Standing Orders Committee in due course. The deadline for receipt of motions and nominations is 5 July.

Earth Day on 22 April is a chance to reflect on our planet

Don Makepeace steps down Our longstanding colleague and former CSPA Chair Don Makepeace has confirmed his decision to withdraw from the Executive Council and his Vice Chair role because of continued ill health. We extend our thanks and appreciation to Don for all his work over the years, and wish him all the best as he convalesces. Election procedures are under way to fill the Vice Chair vacancy and we hope we will have an update by the end of April.


Update on CSPA finances Mike Sparham, National Treasurer, has advised that the CSPA achieved a gross surplus of about £90,000 in 2023, according to early estimates. This is a vast improvement on the deficit in 2022, and better than anticipated in the budget for the year January to December 2023. The final statement of accounts will be set out in the Annual Report in the summer issue of The Pensioner.


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General secretary

Putting our AGM priorities into action We are now as certain as we can that 2024 will see a general election, and we are working to maintain pressure on the main political parties to preserve the triple-lock, a mechanism increasingly coming under fire, to ensure state pensions continue to increase in line with inflation. We are highlighting this, and CSPA members’ concerns about the Over 80s Age Addition and Christmas Bonus in our Later Life Ambitions (LLA) manifesto Standing by Pensioners (see overleaf). In supporting the triple-lock, we remain aware of assertions that this may precipitate an earlier increase in the state pension age. Chris Haswell, our Pensions and Personal Case Manager, wrote about this in the Winter issue in ‘68 is too late’.

CALL FOR COMMISSIONERS Fellow campaigners at Independent Age are calling for Commissioners for Older People and Ageing in Scotland and in England. We have seen how successful this form of cross-governmental working can be in Wales and Northern Ireland. I recently met Independent Age Chief Executive Joanna Elson, who gave evidence on the rights of older people to the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) in January, including the benefits of having commissioners. Others giving evidence were Caroline Abrahams, Charity

What are we doing? • Making representations on behalf of CSPA members, writing to ministers, MPs, Lords and others, meeting them at every opportunity • Getting questions asked in the House of Commons on our behalf • Lobbying the main political parties, under the banner of Later Life Ambitions, to consider our demands in their election pledges • Engaging with Age UK, Independent Age, the Charity for Civil Servants, Carers UK, the National Pensioners Convention and others to add our voice to


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Director for Age UK, Carole Easton, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, and Helena Herklots, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales. For more on the WEC inquiry see https://committees. Independent Age has a petition calling for commissioner posts in England and

Independent Age has a petition calling for a commissioner. Do sign it Scotland. Find out more about the petition and sign it here – www.independentage. org/campaigning/commissioner – or you can request a paper copy by calling 020 7605 4200.

DIGITAL EXCLUSION A significant proportion of older people continue to be negatively affected by not having access to a smartphone or the internet at home – whether due to a lack of confidence or IT skills, the high cost of devices and broadband services, or because they choose not to be online. CSPA members, and many others, continue to raise concerns about the extended use of parking payment apps in replacement of card or

their campaigns for older people • Raising the CSPA’s profile online by using our website and social media platforms to highlight issues and communicate about our campaigns.

What can members do? • If you are part of a CSPA group or branch, attend their meetings and get involved in our campaigns locally. • You can book an appointment to see your MP or write to them on issues you feel strongly about, to let them know how you feel. Use the LLA election toolkit ( ) to help you do this

cash payment facilities, to mention just one example. Even contacting one’s local authority or county council is becoming increasingly difficult without access to their online portals. The number of high-street bank branches dwindles ever faster, and the promised rollout of ‘banking hubs’ to replace them is not keeping pace. Barrie Clement’s article in the last issue of The Pensioner tackled this problem, which is affecting communities all over the UK. We continue to speak out about how society’s growing reliance on the internet impacts the elderly, and to emphasise the need for health, financial and other service providers to offer alternative ways of communicating and conducting business.

HEALTH AND SOCIAL CARE We are frustrated by the government’s reluctance to face up to the dire need to rethink, redesign and roll out a properly funded national health and social care framework to alleviate pressure on the NHS and ensure a more effective transition between hospitals and community-based care. The CSPA and LLA will be co-signing a letter on this to the health minister – more about this in the next issue.

• Check you are eligible and registered to vote at your current address ( register-to-vote). • Check the ID requirements for voting as these have changed and photo ID is required ( how-to-vote/photo-id-youll-need). • Register for postal voting (www. or vote in person. If you are not online and cannot get the information you need, call your local electoral registration officer (your council should have contact details) or the Electoral Commission on 0333 103 1928.



General secretary

Standing by Pensioners – a manifesto Sally Tsoukaris on a charter for change


n late 2022, the Later Life Ambitions partners started work on a manifesto to support campaigns by clearly setting out the six main pillars of our joint ‘asks’ of decision-makers: • The need for Commissioners for Older People and Ageing posts to be established in England and Scotland (Northern Ireland and Wales already have them) • Demands for a national social care service, integrated with the NHS, that remains free at the point of delivery • For the UK government and devolved administrations to implement strategies to combat digital technology’s role in excluding access to services and increasing social isolation • All political parties to make election manifesto commitments to guarantee the state pension triple-lock for the duration of the next parliament at least • For all new homes to be required to match (or better) the Lifetime Homes Standard, with a national strategy for delivering more adaptable, accessible homes across all tenures • Investment in local bus and rail services to deliver uprated concessions, improved accessibility, adequate assistance and facilities for older people across public transport networks. The manifesto was sent to all sitting

We are engaging with MPs and others to hold follow-up meetings


Left to right: Eamonn Donaghy (NFOP), Sally Tsoukaris (CSPA), Richard Critchley (NARPO), David Luxton (CSPA) and Alan Lees (NARPO)

MPs, Lords, mayors, council leaders and others in positions of influence just prior to its launch in November 2023, and has been endorsed by our colleagues at Age UK, Independent Age, the NPC, National Association of Retired Firefighters, Unison and other organisations. The parliamentary launch was well attended by representatives from across the party political spectrum, and speakers included our host, Sir Stephen Timms (Labour, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee), Gill Furniss (Labour, shadow pensions minister), David Linden (SNP, social justice spokesperson), Sammy Wilson (DUP), Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru, work and pensions spokesperson) and Claire Hanna (SDLP). Sixties pop star Sandie Shaw added a dash of celebrity sparkle and helped to draw media attention to our event and manifesto. Ms Shaw spoke enthusiastically

in support of Later Life Ambitions and our work in campaigning on behalf of older people. We are currently engaging with MPs including Sir Stephen Timms, David Linden and others to hold follow-up meetings, providing LLA representatives opportunities to brief them on our campaigns and manifesto demands. We have already received many encouraging indications of support. CSPA members can view or download the LLA manifesto from our website ( or visit the Later Life Ambitions website ( for more information. Members who would prefer to have a printed copy posted to them are welcome to call us at CSPA headquarters (tel: 020 8688 8418).


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First person

t n e m e r i t e r Life after lcome an unexpected but we es rib sc de n ie Br O’ d Richar rking life epping down from wo st r te af ts en ev of rn tu


am a museum exhibit. Fortunately I’m not in a glass case or hanging on a wall, I’m a living exhibit in a museum of social history. It happened soon after I retired. My wife got me into it. No-one who knows me well is surprised by that – I’ve had a number of jobs I had no idea I’d applied for until the work fairy briefed me on the eve of the interview. She worried, you see, that the lure of idleness would overwhelm me if I was allowed to stay still for too long. She was onto something of course. I enjoyed my career as a trade union spin doctor, and a brief stint teaching secondary school kids with special needs, but the dream of unstructured days, napping as the fancy took, was strong. So, when at the youthful age of 58 I got to hang up my boots, I was deliriously happy but my wife had strongly mixed feelings. I settled into leisure seamlessly. The only thing that troubled me was the frequency with which adverts would pop up on Facebook entreating me not to go gently into that good night. Had I considered volunteering? What about part-time work or mentoring young people? I thought at first this was just the algorithm, the same reason I got stairlift ads and tips about dealing with joint pain or ear hair. It wasn’t though; the work fairy was at it again. I resolutely ignored every temptation she forwarded, preferring to make lists of DIY jobs I might do one day. Until something shiny caught my eye during a Sunday morning lie-in. The Chiltern Open Air Museum (COAM) was looking for amateur actors to portray ordinary people from history for the enjoyment and education of the public. I was powerless to resist. It was dressing up and talking

about history, two of my favourite things. My resolve shattered, I filled in the form immediately, ignoring the triumphant cackling wafting up the stairs.

Museum attractions The museum has 37 reconstructed buildings rescued from the Chiltern hills. They range from an Iron Age house to the post-war prefab where I work. There are Tudor barns, 18th century cottages and churches, Victorian farm buildings, a toll road office and even a municipal toilet in Art Nouveau style. Costumes for all of the buildings are made by volunteers who sew and knit in a hut on site. Since most of the exhibits are pre-20th century workplaces or homes for working people, all the costumes fit skinny retches who have suffered from hunger and disease throughout their short and brutish lives. Being a big-boned chap meant I was typecast for the 1950s, when it could be legitimately said I had never had it so good! My character, Bob, lived in the prefab pictured below with his wife Ethel and three children. Far

from being overcrowded, Ethel said the asbestos bungalow was a palace compared with what was available to most other young couples in 1948. These modular buildings were intended as a temporary stop gap to provide shelter after wartime bombing and then a desperate shortage of skills and materials for construction after hostilities ceased. They proved very popular, with all mod cons – indoor toilet and bathroom, electric cooker, fridge, even a rudimentary type of central heating run off a coal-fired boiler. And there was a plot of land where fruit and vegetables were grown to supplement the meagre rations available at the time. I explain to visitors that the success of Bob’s market garden is the reason I fill out my pullover so well. COAM’s annual programme is packed with special events to complement the permanent exhibits – re-enactments, craft demonstrations, jousting and a classic car show. My own favourite is the Halloween Special, which saw 2,000 people volunteer to be terrified by me and my colleagues. I’m loving being part of it. Don’t tell the work fairy though eh!

Richard as Bob and ‘wife’ Ethel in their prefab at the Chiltern Open Air Museum


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News Customer service

Can somebody help us...?

Barrie Clement throws up his hands at the slow, unstoppable demise of customer service


eing a customer of the big companies these days is bad for your mental health. Trying to speak to a human being, or deal with one of their loathsome ‘bots’, can lead to anything from frustration to wild rage. The number of complaints is rocketing. A customer satisfaction index published by the UK Institute of Customer Service, reported an overall index of 76.6 out of

100, the lowest since 2015, when it was 76. Which? magazine is undertaking major new research into the issue. An email introducing the idea of a survey to Which? subscribers comments: “Whether you’re contesting sky-high energy bills or sluggish broadband speeds, all too often you’re left on hold, stuck in a loop with a chatbot, or simply ignored on social media. Contacting companies has

become something of an endurance test … Something needs to be done about it.” Hear! Hear!

Flights of fancy Clearly some sectors are better than others. Short-haul airlines, quite rightly, come in for a kicking. Ryanair once famously floated the idea of charging passengers to use the on-board

Trying to deal with one of those loathsome bots can lead to wild rage



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Customer service toilet. Customers were incandescent and the idea was dropped. There is now speculation that the airline’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, who often shows a jocular contempt for his customers, may yet introduce the charge. I was forced to use the airline recently to go from Stansted to La Rochelle and back. They always try some money-making artifice to make you pay more than you envisaged. This time Ryanair declared they didn’t recognise the company through which I’d booked the flights and I’d have to ‘verify’ my identity. I’d accessed the tickets, by the way, through the muchused Skyscanner website. Inevitably, Ryanair makes identity verification online something of a trial. After trying and failing, I enlisted the aid of my computer-savvy 39-year-old son. You have to supply a photo of your passport or some other means of ID and, using your computer, you also have to take pictures of your face looking forward, to the left and to the right. One of the pictures was rejected by the bot because I had a smirk on my face. After an expletive-ridden hour, my son managed it. If he had failed, Ryanair would have charged me £50 at the airport. In its article on the best and worst airlines last year, Which? said: “Ryanair regularly sits at the bottom of our table, and only escapes last place this year through the horrendous experience offered by Wizz Air.” Ryanair’s three stars for customer service was “notably better than Wizz, and the same as better regarded rivals like British Airways and EasyJet; although less than half of passengers said they could find a member of Ryanair staff when they faced delays”. It added: “Ryanair boasts about rockbottom fares, which may be true, but its three-star rating for value for money gives a more accurate picture of the total price. Add in bags, or seats, or anything, and the cost quickly shoots up. Do your maths first before booking to see if better rivals like Jet2, which includes a much larger free luggage allowance, are cheaper.”

Road block On the subject of transport 54-year-old financial director Clive from Shropshire brings us his tale of exasperation. At 4pm one day, his


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campervan broke down in Wales, just over the border from Oswestry. He called the RAC, who said that because Clive had a small child with him, someone would be there within the hour. An hour later, Clive rang them – and they said they were ‘escalating’ it, whatever that means. Not a great deal as it turns out. Two hours later, they were still escalating. After three hours, escalating for all their worth, they said there were no patrols in the area. After another hour, Clive rang again and was delighted to hear that escalation was still in progress and someone would be with them by 8.30pm. At 8pm the RAC said one of their ‘trusted partners’ would come to the rescue. Finally, at 10pm – six hours after he first rang the RAC – the cavalry arrived from Aberystwyth – 76 miles away. Said Clive: “When I asked the RAC why they didn’t phone their ‘trusted partner’ in the first place, they didn’t even bother answering! We have joined the AA.” That was probably a good choice, according to Which? magazine. In its best car breakdown providers 2023, the AA received a score of 75 per cent, second to Asda (77 per cent). The RAC was 14th on the list with an unimpressive 52 per cent.

Hidden helplines Many companies like to hide their ‘customer helpline’ phone numbers from the prying eyes of customers. Recently the editor of The Pensioner magazine, Christine Buckley, booked tickets for her and her daughter Anastasia to see the England women’s football team at Wembley. The tickets failed to arrive.

Many companies like to hide their ‘customer helpline’ numbers

Christine said: “I sent a message on a ‘help portal’ and an auto reply said to get in touch two days before the game, but there was no phone number. I searched for a contact number on the website, to no avail. I could only find one to book a tour of the stadium and one for help with disabilities. So I called the disabilities out of desperation. “After quite a wait, someone answered and I asked to be put through to enquiries about missing tickets. She said there wasn’t one! But she did help. “I know companies don’t like advertising customer service numbers but it seems extreme for somewhere like Wembley not to have one or to keep it secret!”

Don’t bank on it Banks aren’t quite so secretive about their customer helplines, but they have other ways of driving us potty. As I wrote in the Winter edition of The Pensioner, an estimated 5,000 or so bank branches have closed in the UK since January 2015. That’s been made worse by a massive reduction in the number of cash machines. It’s a huge problem for those of us who don’t bank online and for people who prefer to use cash rather than a card. To be fair, there is ample evidence that the use of cash has plummeted over the years and Covid accelerated that. But more recently, the cost-of-living crisis has prompted a move back to notes and coins on the basis that it helps people to budget. According to the British Retail Consortium, around 19 per cent of purchases were made with cash in 2022, up from 15 per cent in 2021 – the first time the use of cash has grown in a decade. The creation of ‘banking hubs’ – where banks share premises in an attempt to compensate for mass branch closures – has only scratched the surface. As we went to press, only two dozen had been opened. Not that cash is necessarily useful if you want to park your car. Increasingly you can only park if you have a particular app on your smartphone. But not every older person has a smartphone or is a dab hand with ‘apps’. It has meant many older people have been effectively banned from parking in Brighton, for instance. The problem doesn’t end with installing the app. Those who have managed to do that have vented their fury on the Trustpilot website, giving the Smart Parking company’s technology a one-star rating out of a possible five.


Customer service

How to complain Your first step is to contact the company – and whatever you do, control your temper. Most people’s instinct is to call. If you can find the appropriate number and get someone to answer it, make sure you take a note of the person’s name. It’s best to put your complaint in writing, either in a letter or email. They might require any relevant photos, videos, receipts or screenshots. If there’s an official complaints procedure, follow its instructions.

You should keep a record of any phone calls or correspondence with the company. Posting on the company’s social media feeds may speed up its reply time. If you’re unhappy with the outcome of a complaint, you could refer your problem to the relevant ombudsman. Both private and public sectors have such institutions, dealing with everything from furniture to health. There are also ‘alternative dispute resolution’ schemes. Most sectors have them and it’s usually a cheaper and quicker route than legal action.

Local trading standards officers may investigate on your behalf: • England and Wales – Citizens Advice, tel: 0808 223 1133 • Scotland – Advice Direct Scotland, contact • Northern Ireland – Consumerline, • tel: 0300 123 6262 or www.nidirect. Finally, be persistent. And good luck!

One review said: “Truly appalling company and business model. I must have been a few minutes late returning for a parking session I paid for, it would have cost me another £1 for another hour but I didn’t realise I needed it. I got a £100 fine seven weeks later. Utterly egregious. I was told an appeal will take 35 days, which is absurd.” Yet Trustpilot itself isn’t perfect. One BBC Watchdog viewer said he’d lost £20,000 after investing with a company with positive reviews on the site. The company was on a Financial Conduct Authority list warning consumers against investing with them. But when the viewer posted a negative review, the company reported it to Trustpilot and it was removed. Watchdog’s research found many more financial companies on Trustpilot that were on the warning list – some with ratings of three stars or more.

In a WhatsApp group I belong to, I asked people how they were treated as customers. The least popular service provider, and the one most mentioned, was Virgin Media. Having talked to one of her older neighbours in London, a colleague said: “If you’ve just turned 80 and awaiting a hip replacement and suffering from arthritis, don’t even phone Virgin Media to complain your broadband isn’t working. You’ll be on the phone for ages, talking to a nineyear-old who wants you to get down on your hands and knees underneath the TV cabinet to plug and unplug infinitesimal cables and electric plugs. “It was all so easy when that nice

gets a fantastic deal from the company – Virgin Media O2 co-owner Liberty Global chief executive Mike Fries was paid a total of $62 million in 2021. Moving to another big name, British Gas might be the largest supplier of household energy in the UK, but it’s not the most customer-friendly, according to Which? The supplier received a score of 60 per cent (10th place) compared with the highest rated, Octopus, on 78 per cent. On customer platform one woman declared: “British Gas seriously need to get their act together if they want to keep their customers and train the appalling staff they employ!!! Disgusting.” Trustpilot reviews were considerably more positive however, giving it a four-star rating out of five. We could go on of course: the pubs and restaurants that insist you order online; the kerbside delivery firms that refuse to take anything in the house; the self-assembly kits with incomprehensible instructions. And then there’s that nemesis of customer relations, artificial intelligence (AI). The Customer Service Institute confirms that some businesses are already misusing AI, of which the chatbot is an example. At some companies it may soon literally be impossible to speak to a human being. Would that Kafka were still alive, he would relish the absurdities. Perhaps the best way to make sure you’ll get a decent service is through the recommendation of a friend, relative or neighbour. But even that’s not perfect…

Virgin credentials To be fair, one of the country’s least favourite organisations, Virgin Media, gets a sound thrashing from Trustpilot. When I last looked, it had received 86,387 reviews, yielding a one and a half star rating. This review on Trustpilot in December did not mince its words: “Absolutely disgusting. They owe me about £100 for issues with bills, overcharging, false promises, lies, I’m seeking support from Ofcom and will be taking legal actions. Left on hold for hours. Put phone down on me. Rude employees shouted at me. Disgraceful company.”


“It was all so easy when that nice 20-year-old man came and did it all” 20-year-old man came and fitted it all. But now she was expected to be a contortionist – if only she could hear what the nine-year-old was saying. Oh well, next call is to the audiologist.” If you can get past Virgin Media’s bot, the person you’ll speak to will probably not have English as their first language. It’s also clear they are reading from a script from which they cannot deviate. It will come as a great comfort to Virgin Media customers that at least one person


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Will writing


ith the current cost of living crisis, we are all trying to make savings where possible. In the past few months, a number of members have told me they have taken my advice and made a will, but because their affairs are “not complicated” and they are leaving everything to their spouse/children, they have written the will themselves. I can understand this, but there are several reasons why I would not advise it: 1. Even if a will may appear simple, if a small mistake is made, this could make the will invalid or have consequences you would not have wanted. 2. If a will is considered to be invalid, the rules of intestacy will apply and this may mean that those you do not wish to inherit will do so. 3. A DIY will is unlikely to cover a change of circumstances, such as the breakdown of a relationship, new grandchildren or the death of someone named in the will, and may therefore be out of date at the time of your death. 4. A legally drafted will can help with inheritance tax planning and in some cases reduce the cost of care.

Unravelling mistakes When I was in legal practice, I saw many cases where homemade wills had to be unravelled. Issues I came across included: 1. A will not being signed correctly. There are very strict rules about signing a will and if these are not followed to the letter, this could make the will invalid. There was one case where the pen ran out of ink during the signing process and the colour was switched from blue pen

If even a small mistake is made, this could make the will invalid

Contact Affinity Resolutions

Affinity Resolutions offers a helpline/signposting service on legal matters, which is free to members. The helpline is operational during normal business. In order to access the service the member first needs to register online


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The pitfalls of DIY Bernard Seymour advises against writing your own will to black pen, and the court queried the validity of the will. 2. The number of executors appointed in the will was wrong. It is a common misconception in a simple will that only one executor is required. There are situations when two executors are needed. In one matter I dealt with, a professional executor had to step in, which meant that the whole process was more costly. 3. Ambiguity is the biggest risk. A will is drafted with tight legal language and the court will interpret wishes very strictly. If there is ambiguity, this can lead to either a possible challenge by a family member or that part of the will failing. In my experience, wills that resulted in a legal challenge occurred more because of ambiguity than due to someone who believed they should inherit not doing so. 4. Assets changing but there being no provision in the will to compensate for

at We are aware that a number of members do not have internet access, and in those situations we will always help without registration. The link takes members to the joining page and to our FAQs. If a member needs further advice, we work with a number of organisations who can provide this.

this. In one very sad case, the will set out specifically what each grandchild would inherit. After death, it became clear that some savings had been used to provide for care and this particular savings account no longer existed. This part of the will failed and the grandchildren received nothing. In conclusion, my advice is always to take professional advice. You may find that the cost of making a will is not as expensive as you thought. I can say with certainty that the cost of unravelling a poorly drafted will is likely to be greater.

• Harvey Howell Solicitors offers free seminars to give you professional advice and answer your questions. The first of these is in the North West. For details see p32.

Contact our helpline by calling 03300 55 25 30 or email:


Climate change

Taking climate action together Kath Grant on why campaigning to save the planet should unite, not divide, the generations


n May 2019, Greta Thunberg and other climate action schoolchildren strikers called on older generations around the world to join them in their fight to save the planet. Thunberg said at the time: “Climate activism is not a single generation’s job. It is humanity’s job.” Five months later, the Rev Mark Coleman, vicar of Rochdale, was arrested for his own climate change activism as he made the transition from carrying placards at demonstrations to civil resistance. Last year, the 64-year-old, now retired, was given a five-week prison sentence for sitting down in Bishopsgate in the City of London with 30 others in support of Insulate Britain. His co-defendants were young and old and while he was in HMP Thameside, his son Harvey took over his Twitter account and passed on messages of support.


The view from his cell window was high walls and razor wire but Coleman enjoyed talks with fellow prisoners in the exercise yard when they asked him why he thought his actions were so important. His biggest concern was that he and other defendants had not been able to tell the jury why they had chosen to break the law – because of the judge’s ruling that they could not refer to climate change. They were all able to speak freely at their sentencing a few weeks later. And Coleman says it was moving to hear defendants’ speeches – “a microcosm of the larger intergenerational community”.

Protest groups Coleman, who helped set up an Extinction Rebellion group in Rochdale and is joined by his wife Wendy at protests, is a member of Insulate Britain and Just

Stop Oil. He was partly inspired by the words of Professor Sir David King, a former government chief scientific adviser, who said in 2021 that what was done in the following three to four years would determine the future of humanity. “In full knowledge of the science and against advice, the government is enabling new oil and gas projects,” he said. “Faced with this, we can sink into despair or denial. It’s healthier to choose to resist.” Coleman has been joined on protests by other members of the clergy and people of other faiths. He treasures the opportunity the demonstrations have given him and others to work alongside younger people. One mother told him she and her husband had decided to protest on the streets after their son encouraged them to read up on climate science. A friend from Christian Climate Action told Coleman she


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Climate change

Inspired by Greta Greta Thunberg’s call for all generations to join the climate fightback is supported by her parents, Svante Thunberg and Malena Ernman. Their daughter’s ideas have motivated Thunberg to become vegan and Ernman to stop flying. Greta and her father famously sailed across the Atlantic for the UN Climate Action Summit to avoid the greenhouse gas emissions of commercial jet planes. Thunberg and his wife initially supported their daughter’s campaigning because she had been bullied at school and had periods of severe depression, and they felt her activism helped. They soon realised linking up with like-minded young people was a great support. Extinction Rebellion encourages a bridging of the generation gap with its Grandparents and Elders Group, but many older people have campaigned with protesters from other climate change action groups to influence local, regional and national policies. There is now a co-operative network, European Grandparents for Climate Organisations, which says man-made global warming is “an ethical challenge, a question of intergenerational justice and global solidarity”. Its participants aim to exchange information, knowledge


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and strategies and to support climate change actions across Europe. They say they are self-organised and politically independent and connected to a range of pro-climate organisations in their own countries – stressing the urgency of acting now and initiating new projects to suit local situations and needs. Last year’s National Pensioners Convention conference in Blackpool included a session on climate change and featured three family members talking about their concerns for the environment. CSPA General Secretary Sally Tsoukaris, inspired by their message, sees climate action as a cause that should unite rather than divide the generations. Many young adults feel the older

“It’s good to stand up with younger people in non-violent resistance” generations have reaped benefits they will never enjoy themselves, she says, leaving them with a climate catastrophe, housing crisis and healthcare and pension systems on the point of collapse. But she adds: “It seems to me that older generations may not be being fairly represented. Many if not most of us share the gravest of concerns about the state of our planet and its future in the face of climate change, especially given the fact that global leaders appear to be shrinking back from their commitments to reduce carbon emissions. “It is not right to think we do not care about the future of our children, grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. I know many parents and grandparents are making big sacrifices to invest in their children’s/ grandchildren’s education and housing arrangements. I would love us to employ our shared Greta Thunberg speaking to campaigners in Rome in 2019

commitment to saving the planet for future generations, to build bridges across the perceived divides.”

Older and Greener The UK’s Centre for Ageing Better works with local authorities to promote age-friendly communities. Its Older and Greener campaign encourages older people to become more involved with activities around climate change and sees intergenerational work as an important part of the project. The campaign points out that, when it comes to climate change, older people are among those most at risk from the effects – extreme temperatures in recent years have demonstrated this vividly. And older people are more likely to live in homes that are poorly insulated. Older and Greener’s recent report says that, despite this, older people’s views are rarely sought when it comes to attempts to solve the climate crisis. However, people of all ages need to contribute towards the development of well-rounded policies. “Age-friendly communities involve older people in local decision-making and can promote green transport, cycling and walking, and improve energy efficiency of homes – all of which help us to age better,” says the report. The campaign points to examples around the country of what can be done by communities on a smaller scale. Not everyone is ready for civil resistance, but taking part in local projects can make a difference. And Older and Greener’s resources include an online toolkit for climate campaigning that can be used by many different environmental action groups. As Sally Tsoukaris points out: “Our members are reliant on decisions being made now, and in decades to come, for the maintenance of their pension schemes, state pensions, health and social care systems. So it makes absolute sense to support and work with present – and future – decisionmakers in every possible way.”



became an activist after her children had left home. And for Coleman, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s nudged him from “moving what I was comfortable with to doing what was needed”. A YouTube video shows him reading The Magnificat outside Kingsbury Oil Terminal surrounded by younger protestors. “It is good to stand up with younger people in non-violent resistance. Older people like me are waking up, hearing the call to act, inspired by the young. It feels good to be stepping into.” Coleman has written about his experiences as an activist and his distress that the UK and other governments are still not doing enough to rescue the planet. He has also been interviewed by journalists, and his arrests and imprisonment have been covered by mainstream media. A story in The Sun caused much amusement among fellow prisoners when a photo of Coleman being given a drink of water by a police officer appeared alongside a piece featuring Suella Braverman criticising the police for being too “woke” with protestors.

Deputy general secretary

Spring is in the air as pensions rise... and tax is taken David Luxton considers the impact of recent taxation changes, government proposals to inspect personal bank accounts – and an early Easter


s March finally arrives after the long, grey, cold winter, we start to see the first signs of spring, with lighter evenings, green shoots and a feeling of renewed optimism after the last bite of winter. So, apart from the lighter evenings and better weather what is there to be optimistic about? Well for a start, civil service pensions will rise by 6.7% from 8 April in line with the Consumer Prices Index at September last year (for pensions that have been in payment for at least 12 months). State pensions will rise by 8.5%, also from 8 April, in line with average earnings growth between May and July 2023, under the triple-lock arrangement (up by the higher of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5%). The basic state pension (pre-April 2016) will rise from £156.20 to £169.50 per week (£8,814 pa); the new state pension (from April 2016) will rise from £203.85 to £221.20 per week (£11,502pa) at the full rate. Any earnings-related or additional pension in payment will rise by 6.7% in line with the September inflation figure.

While these increases are welcome, many pensioners will now find this will take more of their pension further above the basic 20% personal tax threshold of £12,570. That has remained frozen since April 2021, and is likely to stay frozen for the next five years, meaning that more pension income will be subject to tax. So, as an example, a retired civil servant on a £10,000 a year pension, plus the basic (pre-2016) state pension of £8,122 a year, will from 8 April receive a £670 annual increase in their civil service pension plus £690 a year in their state pension. However, the total amount of pension to be taxed in the new tax year will rise from £5,552 to £6,912, so a fifth of the £1,361 pension rise will be taken in tax. Had the personal tax allowance risen in line with inflation since 2021 it would

There is much talk of tax cuts to come – but not of changes to tax levels

have been £14,300 by April – meaning the pensioner in this example would have kept £346 more of their pension increase. This tax-take will increase further each year if the tax thresholds remain frozen until 2028… unless there is a surprise announcement in the Budget on 6 March.

Spring Budget surprises? We will be hearing a lot more about tax over the next few weeks after the Spring Budget on 6 March. There is much talk about tax cuts, while conveniently side-stepping the impact of frozen tax thresholds taking more tax by stealth. Just as important for pensioners will be announcements about the spending plans and commitments for the NHS and social care. The main political parties are reluctant to detail spending plans before the general election… So let’s try and enjoy the spring and summer months first!

Access to bank accounts Members will have read in the press about proposed new legislation that would give

Whenever the general election is called, the CSPA is prepared for it with the preparation of a pensioner manifesto – Standing by Pensioners – launched in the House of Commons last November alongside our partners in Later Life Ambitions (LLA). We received a lot of cross-party support at the Parliamentary launch, which was hosted by the Chair of the House of Commons Works and Pensions committee, Sir Stephen Timms MP, and attended by 1960s pop singer Sandie Shaw, who now actively campaigns for older people. Sandie Shaw with David Luxton at the LLA manifesto launch in November



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Standing by Pensioners

Deputy general secretary

Improving our AGM: we want your views

the government powers to access the personal bank details of anyone in receipt of the state pension. The CSPA and our partner organisations in Later Life Ambitions have echoed concerns raised by Sir Stephen Timms MP about government plans to allow the inspection of pensioners’ bank accounts, as set out in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill currently going through Parliament. Sir Stephen spoke in a Commons debate in November to criticise wide-ranging powers that government amendments to the Bill would give ministers to inspect the bank accounts of people on social security and those in receipt of the state pension. A key concern is that the powers could be used to means-test the state pension and other universal pensioner benefits.

The new powers could be used to means-test the state pension in future The stated purpose of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill is to create a new regime for digital rights and data protection in the UK. Ahead of its third reading in Parliament, the government suddenly proposed amendments including a schedule and clause that would grant the secretary of state the power to require banks, or other financial institutions, to provide personal data for anyone in receipt of benefits, including state pensions. The government argues that the powers to inspect social security claimants’ bank accounts are to reduce fraud and error. However, when questioned in the Commons, pensions minister Mel Stride said: “I agree, to the extent that levels of fraud in state pensions are currently nearly zero, the power is not needed in that


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You will have seen in the news section of this magazine that the Executive Council has established a working party, with group representation, to review the format and representation basis of the AGM and explore ways of making our democratic structures more accessible and inclusive. We welcome the views of individual members, as well as local groups, for consideration by the working party at its next meeting on 3 April. Please send your views to me by email at david. or by post to CSPA, 8th Floor, Grosvenor House,

case. However, the government [wishes] to retain the option should the position change in the future.” Lord Sikka commented in a House of Lords debate on the Bill on 19 December: “Why [does] the government want to snoop on the bank accounts of pensioners when there is hardly any fraud? Do they have some plan to treat the state pension as a means-tested benefit?” He also asked why the government classified the state pension as a “benefit” when the amount paid to a pensioner is determined by the number of years of National Insurance contributions? The CSPA is working with LLA partners and parliamentary advisers at Connect, and talking directly to MPs and peers, to seek amendments to the Bill to safeguard the privacy of pensioners’ bank accounts. We will update members on this important issue through the website and e-newsletters, as well as The Pensioner.

Local group AGMs in March I am looking forward to speaking at several local group AGMs in March, including those in Crawley, Bristol and Bedford. These meetings are good opportunities to meet members and discuss current issues and concerns and have an informal chat over lunch.

125 High Street, Croydon CR0 9XP – by no later than 21 March – so your views can be considered.

Many local groups in England and Wales have had to close in recent years, and while some have been able to amalgamate with a nearby group – such as the closed Gosport North with East Solent, and Harpenden with Bedford & District – there are still many members no longer allocated to a local group, which means there are fewer groups represented at the national AGM.

Spring cheer, early Easter There will be plenty going on in the next few months, in the CSPA and in Parliament. But there will also be lighter spring evenings, warmer days and an early Easter for us all to spend time with family and friends. Those moments are precious and cheer us all up, whatever the Spring Budget or Ides of March hold.


Last word

Something else that annoys me…

Chris Proctor tries to find the point of all those pointless signs around us


igns vex me. I don’t like tin messages draped all over the street, but I’d overlook them if they served a purpose. But most of them contain no useful information. Outside an arts centre down the road from me, a yellow triangular metal sign blocks the pavement. On it is an arrow, pointing into the venue. Underneath is the single word ‘Art’. Well, me-oh-my. No one would have expected art in an art gallery. I was expecting fish. There’s a fair-sized blackboard to trip over outside the Bull inscribed with the words ‘Real ale here’. There’s a surprise. I’d not anticipated a pub selling beer. I’m minded to carry around a spray-paint can to eliminate unnecessary messages. They’re digging up our road. They’ve been doing it for ages. There are lads started straight from school and are due for retirement who’ve never worked anywhere else. No one can remember our street without roadworks. Anyway, as you walk along the path, your progress is halted by an eight-foot security fence with a sign dangling from it announcing ‘Pavement Closed’. Do I need this? Could I not guess it was shut from the presence of the fence? The sides of motorways are littered with signs urging me to reconsider my skincare, go to Lidl, buy a washing machine, be alert when I’m driving... How can I be alert when my vision is cluttered with distractions? Take the signs away and I’ll have a look at the road. Then if you get to a road junction, sign bedlam erupts. You’re faced with a battery of metal plates, arranged in no particular order, each bearing the name

of some random hamlet or metropolis. The only certainty is the place you seek is not there: or if it is, it is cunningly placed so it can only be seen from a vehicle in the wrong lane. It is a mass gathering of signs with the effect of conveying nothing but your own helplessness. The only positive I can say about signs is that I know a good story about one. It’s a joke. Brace yourself. Here goes: a sign on a deli counter reads ‘Please do not sit your child on the bacon slicer, we are getting a little behind in our orders.’ It cracks me up. I must have heard it when I was about 10 and I tell it to myself regularly to this day. I’ve actually got another corker about a bus, but I won’t tell it now. I’ll save it in case we meet in person one day and there is a conversational lull. To proceed: there are signs on your shirts with ludicrous diagrams. And even in text messages. I got a text from a mate the other day saying he was in France. Simple message, easily understood. But then he spoiled it by adding a sign – an emoji, I believe. After ‘France’ are three cartoons: the Eiffel Tower, a tricolour flag and a baguette. Why? I can see that if you are communicating

We’re turning ourselves into mobile signboards... trumpeting the name of some desperate retailer or retired pop group or trite comment 16

with a person with reading difficulties, visual aids are beneficial. But I don’t have a reading problem. He knows this or he wouldn’t have written to me in the first place. I can interpret the word ‘France’ without the aid of berets and onions. And this is only the start of it. We not only accept a phone and a countryside littered with pointless signs; we are all turning ourselves into mobile signboards. There’s not a person down the street whose clothing doesn’t trumpet the name or logo of some desperate retailer or retired pop group or a trite comment invented by an unimaginative acquaintance. ‘Daddy’s little sweetheart’ on a toddler’s top makes my canspray finger twitch. On the other hand I did see a bloke recently whose T-shirt said: ‘Village Idiot’. You have to have the right appearance and stance to wear this. If I had it on, people would believe me, possibly patting my head. I wouldn’t like that. We can do away with signs. Especially the one on Hampstead Heath advising ‘Toilets are used at your own risk’ (Of what?); the signs saying ‘Danger of Death’ on a metal box clearly labelled ‘ten zillion volts’; and stickers on a petrol pump advising against smoking. Worse of all is the single word ‘Private’ on a door. It just encourages me to try turning the knob.


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