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The History of the CA / Which?

Which? has its own wiki entry - understandable and even expected for an organisation that prides itself on making a significant difference to the lives of consumers throughout the UK and further afield. But that entry is more remarkable for what it doesn’t say, than for what it does. Not only that, but the Wikipedia senior staff are unhappy about the way in which the article is written and have asked for changes.

On this page we present the unexpurgated history of the Consumers’ Association and how it has changed, since the original aspirations of its founder, Michael Young, led to a simple booklet being produced to help consumers make informed choices about their buying. Red entires are negative events, where Which? has been forced to close or lose an asset.

The Timeline

1959 Which? magazine changes from a quarterly to a monthly magazine and membership reaches 150,000.

1960 Which? helps found the International Organisation of Consumer Unions, now Consumers International.

1961 Which moves its London Headquarters to 14 Buckingham Street.

1962 Which? expands its publishing with the launch of the first Which? satellite, the Car Supplement. The British Edition of the American Medical Letter, the forerunner to Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, is also launched.

1964 Which? begins to adopt a more campaigning stance and successfully campaigns to promote use of lead-free paint on toys and for safer electric blankets. Which? is sued for libel for the first time, but the action proves unsuccessful.

1965 The quarterly Car Supplement is transformed into Motoring Which?

1968 Which? launches its second satellite, Money Which?

1970 Which? opens its own testing laboratory in Harpenden and market research survey unit.

1971 Which? launches its third satellite, Handyman Which? Successful campaigning leads to The Unsolicited Goods and Services Act.

1972 After extensive pressure from Which?, Britain appoints its first Minister for Consumer Affairs, Geoffrey Howe, now President of Which?. Which? plays an instrumental part in the establishment of the Office of Consumer Unions, now BEUC, which lobbies the European Union on behalf of consumers.

1974 Holiday Which? launched.

1977 Major expansion in book publishing starts with the 'Which? Way' series.Lobbying from Which? helps push through the Unfair Contract Terms Act.

1978 Which?'s persistent campaigning enables The Consumer Safety Act to become law.

1979 Which?'s campaigning is further rewarded with the introduction of The Sale of Goods Act.

1980 Which?'s campaigning on competition policy leads to the introduction of the Competition Act.

1982 Gardening Which? launched, coinciding with the organisation's Silver Jubilee.

1983 Handyman Which?, Money Which? and Motoring Which? are merged into a new-look, full-colour Which?.

1984 Gardening Which? exhibits for the first time at the Royal Show and wins two medals at RHS summer and autumn shows.

1986 Which? acquires Self Health which later becomes Health Which?

1987 Which? receives charity status for the research part of its work, achieving a long sought-after goal. Which? headquarters move to 2 Marylebone Road, London.

1991 Consumer Policy Review launched. Health Which? closed down

1992 Which? continues to successfully campaign on product safety and price rip-offs, as well as developing relations with our European counterparts to work for consumers throughout Europe.

1994 After 10 years of campaigning for seat belts in vehicles by Which?, the Government announces safety belts are compulsory for any vehicles carrying children.

1995 Which? moves to its new testing and research laboratory in Milton Keynes.  Sheila M appointed as CA Director

1996 Which? starts its own ISP and Online Forum

1997 The Government agrees to Which?'s demand for an independent Food Standards Agency. Which? credit card launched. Which Web TRader Scheme launched.

1998 Which? leads the way in exposing the over-priced UK car market.

1999 Which? wins the right to challenge companies which put unfair terms in their contracts.

2000 After many years of campaigning for cheaper car prices, Which? launches 'Rip-Off Britain' campaign Treatment Notes, patient leaflets based on original Drug and Therapeutics bulletin articles, launched. Computing Which? launched.   Carbusters launched to allow people to import cheap cars from the continent.  ABA (Anglia Business Associates) bought for £73,000. Which Web Trader Scheme closed.

2001 Which? sets up an office in in order to influence the work of the Scottish Executive and Parliament. Carbusters sold and put in receivership having lost Which? £217,000.

2002 Which? launches its first Switch with Which? campaign, informing consumers that changing utility suppliers could save them money and possibly provide better service. Which? lodges its first-ever unofficial 'super-complaint ' to the Office of Fair Trading on charges for private dentistry and poor access to NHS dentists.Which? Extra, an online archive of Which? magazine reports, launched.Endowment action campaign launches to help the millions of consumers who may have been mis-sold endowment mortgages.

From 2002 all product testing was outsourced and the in-house facility was given away (with a £156,000 sweetener). Which? moved away from product testing towards being a more commercial model which not only caused the run down of the laboratory but the loss of some hundreds of thousands of pounds through ill-planned ventures such as Carbusters

2003 Two more switching websites launched encouraging consumers to search for the best mobile deal and switch from the 'big four' tour operators when choosing their holidays to ensure better service.  The laboratory is 'given away'. Which? credit card closed down.

2004 Which? is granted official super-complaint powers by the Department of Trade and Industry.

2004:Organisation re-branded to remove Consumers’ Association from the title.

2005: voting rights for council members extended to every magazine subscriber

2005 Which? launches its free energy comparison service, Switch with Which?   ABA (Anglia Business Associates) sold for £8000.

2006 New look for the magazines and a new website,,

2007 Which? Money launched
2008: constitution amended so no council member could serve for more then 9 years without having to leave for a period.

2010 Which? announces closure of its online forum.
2012: Number of directly elected Council members reduced by 25%

In effect, each change has eroded power incrementally from the Charity’s ruling body, the Council, which is supposed to oversee the organisation’s policies and transferred it to co-opted members, most of whom served in Which? Ltd. In fact, it might be possible to argue that Which? Ltd had not only been running the organisation for many years but was now also determining policy.






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