Consumer Protection Study 2022: Understanding the impacts and resolution of consumer problems

This project was undertaken to examine the nature of problems that consumers experienced when buying items and services.
Highstreet in London, blurred image

The Consumer Protection Study is a project which was undertaken to examine the nature of problems that consumers experienced when buying items and services, the financial and other impacts of these problems, how consumers went about resolving them, and who was most affected by consumer detriment.

About the study

Alongside providing an up-to-date and robust assessment of the scale and value of consumer detriment in the UK, the Consumer Protection Study 2022

  • explores the nature of the detriment that consumers experienced and how they sought to resolve the problems they encountered;
  • looks at the emotional effects and impact on wellbeing of experiencing detriment;
  • assesses the extent to which the problems were perceived as being caused or made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  • studies which personal characteristics are most associated with experiencing detriment and suffering most harm from it.

The project looked at consumer detriment that occurred in the year spanning from April 2020 to April 2021.

The study was commissioned and funded by a consortium of organisations comprising the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), Ofcom and Which?.


Consumer detriment in the UK

  • Between April 2020 and April 2021, 69% of consumers in the UK experienced consumer detriment.
  • Extrapolated to the UK adult population, this means that 36 million consumers experienced at least one problem with a product (either a service or an item) they bought in those 12 months, or bought at any time and used in that period, that caused them stress, cost them money, or took up their time.
  • The median number of incidents per consumer was four, adding up to a total of 229.8 million problems over a period of 12 months.

Actioned and unactioned consumer detriment

  • When facing detriment, consumers were likely to take actions to address the problem. They generally did so by getting directly in contact with the seller or the service provider (this type of action was taken in 81% of the detriment incidents where consumers sought to address the problem).
  • Only a small proportion of incidents remained unactioned by consumers (18%).

Outcomes and resolutions

  • 56% of the experiences of detriment ended with a positive resolution, where consumers generally received what they asked for, or more.
  • For over half of the detriment incidents (55%), consumers were satisfied with the outcome.

Net monetised detriment

  • Consumer detriment was estimated to have had a net monetised cost of £54.2 billion to UK consumers between April 2020 and April 2021.
  • This included £21 billion of time cost, with consumers estimated to have spent 1.5 billion hours dealing with detriment in those 12 months.
  • A typical consumer lost £28 for each incident of detriment, including the value of their time.

The perceived impact of COVID-19 on consumer detriment

  • Consumers felt that 43% of their incidents of detriment had been affected in some way by the pandemic.
  • Problems perceived as being caused or made worse by the pandemic were reported as having been more severe or more time-consuming than those that were not considered to be affected by it.

Impact of detriment on wellbeing, general health and finances

  • 83% of detriment experiences triggered at least one negative emotion, with feeling upset and misled being the most common followed by feeling anxious or helpless; and 32% of detriment experiences had a negative effect on at least one aspect of life, especially on mental health or household’s finances, but occasionally also on physical health.

Consumers at risk of negative detriment outcomes

  • Younger consumers (especially those aged 18-39) and consumers who considered their financial situation difficult were consistently more likely to experience detriment, not to take actions and to suffer the most negative consequences, compared to other groups.

Consumer detriment in the four UK countries

  • Scotland and England had a higher incidence of detriment (respectively 72% and 70% of consumers in the country experienced at least one incidence of detriment) compared to Wales (60%) and Northern Ireland (56%).


Fieldwork for the study was conducted between 8th April and 9th May 2021 using the random-probability NatCen Panel as well as through a push-to-web survey.

The NatCen Panel

The NatCen Panel is a panel of people recruited from high-quality random-probability studies such as the British Social Attitudes survey. Those agreeing to join the Panel are then invited to take part in additional short surveys covering a range of different topics either online or over the phone. By using a probability-based sample and allowing those without internet access to take part this design reduces the risk of bias compared to online-only surveys which exclude those who do not have access to, or are less confident using, the internet or surveys using convenience samples which are more likely to include people who are more ‘available’ or particularly want to express their views.

For more information about the NatCen Panel click here.

Push-to-web survey

The push-to-web survey was used to cover Northern Ireland (not yet covered by the NatCen Panel in 2021), and to boost the sample in Wales to allow for more precise estimates in that region. A systematic random sample of addresses was drawn from the Postcode Address File (PAF), a list of addresses (or postal delivery points) compiled by the Post Office, which was used as the sample frame, to select 3,900 addresses in each country. Every issued address was sent an invitation letter and up to two reminder letters with instructions on how to take part online, but also on how to contact NatCen to schedule a telephone interview if preferred.

Response rate

Overall, the survey was completed by 6,582 UK adults (18+). For the NatCen Panel survey, a total of 5,101 people took part, representing a 75% survey response rate. Taking account of nonresponse at the recruitment interview and at the point of recruitment to the panel, the overall response rate for the NatCen Panel survey was 12%.  For the push-to-web survey, a total of 1,481 people took part, giving a response rate of 11%. The data were weighted to be representative of the UK adult (18+) population.