ICA produced a regular magazine for members for over 30 years. In 2011, the cost of producing and mailing a quarterly magazine became prohibitive so Help and Advice went electronic. By the end of 2012, it was felt that our newsgroup, icanews, was a much more immediate way of distributing information so there was no longer a need for a quarterly magazine and it was discontinued. Below are few of the final issues. All the original back copies, and other records are stored and available to view on request.
Extract from ICA’s Annual Report 2014
"This year ICA is 40 years old. When we began there were more than 150 specialist Consumer Advice Centres (CACs) nationwide, membership flourished and we went regional. With no Internet, consumer advice and information had to be researched and our members led the way, also providing training for colleagues needing help with all the new consumer legislation.
As government priorities changed, CACs closed and membership fell. Our only income is from subscriptions so as they diminished; we embraced technology – offering members instant communication through the icanews newsgroup, launching a website, producing our magazine, Help & Advice, electronically and meeting via conference calls.
Above all ICA, has survived because the Executive are all volunteers.
With the world economy in recession, services and jobs were cut, and we began haemorrhaging members.
To help our remaining members we reduced subscription and training fees - providing training free when possible.
As long as there are advisers needing our support we will continue to provide it as cheaply as we can. Members can help by paying their subscriptions promptly and by spreading the word to colleagues who could benefit from ICA membership”.
Founded on the morning of Sunday 7 April, 1974 at Lambeth Town Hall by a handful of consumer advisers, the ICA was originally called ‘The Institute of Consumer Advisers’. At that time there were momentous developments in consumer advice with a wealth of new consumer legislation being introduced, including the Consumer Credit Act – the first real attempt at pulling together the previous mess we all had to contend with. Can you imagine what it was like without it? And can you also imagine what a huge learning curve it was for advisers and Trading Standards Officers?
At the same time, the Office of Fair Trading was created and, supported by government funding, Consumer Advice Centres were opening all over the country.
Consumers’ Association (CA) was instrumental in the development of consumer advice. Many long term members will recall the tireless efforts of John Hosker in promoting consumer advice – he once told me that his dream was to have a single number consumer helpline and it’s taken 40 years for his dream finally to be realised!
CA launched the first pilot Consumer Advice Centre as an experiment in meeting the demands of consumers faced with a cornucopia of new technology (in those days, automatic washing machines and hi-fi systems!). There’s still a minor dispute about whether it was Croydon or Kentish Town that can lay claim to having the first CAC. My recollection is that Croydon had the pilot and Kentish Town the first ‘official’ centre. Those in the know will doubtless put the record straight.
In any event, consumer advisers needed training so CA set up the Advice Centre Servicing Unit, providing training and a range of support, including the magnificent ‘Green Directory’. I wonder if there are still a few dog-eared copies around. This adviser’s ‘Bible’ contained everything we needed to know about consumer organisations – that was how we managed before the Internet!
Throughout the 70’s ICA grew from strength to strength. With nearly 150 CACs nationwide, membership flourished and we went regional – organising a variety of events for members. There were numerous social events, at which members could share experiences and to which consumer organisations and trade associations would be invited to provide a training element.
The 1980’s saw a change in our fortunes when funding was withdrawn and more than 100 CACs closed down. Our survival was threatened as more and more of our members lost their jobs and left the Institute. The regions went and ICA became a much smaller organisation.
Citizens’ Advice Bureaux were expected to take over but in many areas, where CABx had been referring consumer cases to the specialists, they were in urgent need of training. ICA stepped into the breach and introduced specialist training courses for CAB advisers. Without the income generated from that training, ICA could not have survived.
Many advisers re-trained and some of the few remaining CACs began offering a comprehensive service, which included debt advice. ICA also worked closely with money advisers and, with support from what was the National Consumer Council, helped form the Money Advice Association.
Throughout the 1990’s there was a sense of déjà vu as technology (this time, PCs, mobile phones and computer games) reaffirmed the need for consumer advice and education.
In the late 80’s consumer debt became a real issue and once again ICA was up to the challenge, developing training courses for debt counsellors.
The Consumer White Paper ‘modern markets; confident consumers’, published in July 1999, marked a turning point in consumer advice and by the end of the Millennium consumer advice was centre stage once more.
The then Department of Trade and Industry supported the bringing together of local advice agencies to form 191 Consumer Support Networks, operating nationwide. They also backed provision of a national consumer helpline - Consumer Direct.
Sadly, this wasn't to last when, seven years on, the global financial crisis plunged the world economy into recession. The impact was felt at every level as services and jobs were cut. Consumer debt and detriment was at an all-time high and the need for consumer support greater than ever so government and local authorities sought cost-effective ways of meeting the need by consolidating and simplifying services.
Once again Citizens Advice stepped up, through additional funding for consumer and debt advice. But in the meantime, consumers’ rights have been substantially altered by the biggest major new legislation for decades.
The Consumer Rights Act brought together and updated the majority of existing consumer legislation, creating even more demand for accurate help and advice. Trading Standards services are having to find innovative ways to fill gaps left by funding cuts, including working closely with partners on issues like rogue traders, scams and counterfeit goods; supporting trusted trader schemes and using technology.
Our members continue to face challenges - the next will be how to advise consumers as we leave the EU - but ICA remains firm in its support and hopefully, will continue to do so for the next 40 years.