During his two decades on the National Consumers Council, John Ward, who died at the age of 83 of heart failure, made improvements in practice and law that many now enjoy. John has broadened the notion of consumer protection beyond its focus on buyer rights, taking into account previously neglected areas such as utilities.
These ranged from simple ideas such as paying utility bills at local post offices (thus helping their survival) and plain language explanations for tax returns and insurance forms, to the creation of consumer organizations for previously under-represented groups.
At the head office A community development program put in place by the Labor government of Harold Wilson in the 1960s, John developed the model of a community counseling and advocacy system that became AdviceUK. In the early 1970s he worked at the National Council of Social Services (now NCVO, the National Council of Voluntary Organizations), where he persuaded the WEA, the Association for the Education of Workers to set up course on social rights, a radical concept for the time, later to be widely adopted.
John joined the NCC as head of its social policy unit soon after Shirley Williams, then Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection, created it in 1975 to give consumers an independent voice, in especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
For example, local authority housing departments were hampered by improving their unilateral rental contracts, spelling out tenants’ rights and responsibilities in plain language, removing archaic terms such as: “The bathtub should be used for the purpose. for which it is intended. “Further work on private sector leases has led to changes in the law to avoid the unfair loss of rental deposits paid by tenants, and stricter safety legislation has been applied to private homes containing multiple beds. .
In a time of great hostility towards users of social and public services, the NCC investigated the underutilization of public services, such as why those who needed a doctor the most were often the least likely to want ” bother ”one, and why some of them the people most in need of state benefits did not apply for them.
The council published the first guide to NHS patient rights, including the right to seek a second opinion. Other surveys have shown how the most vulnerable people, such as dementia patients and children in the care of local authorities, should be listened to.
The themes of representation, information and advice run through this work. John has spurred and supported a range of representative and advisory bodies such as the Tenant Participation Advisory Service, to help council tenants get involved in estate management, bringing together the Money Advice Association and consumer advisory groups. involved in county court proceedings. He chaired the Greater London Citizens Advice Bureaux (1985-91) and the London Advice Services Alliance (1990-96).
Spectacular success came from her work with the Plain English Campaign, founded in 1979 and led by the formidable Chrissie Maher, with the support of the NCC, which organized, supported and made public annual prizes in plain English, handing out prizes. madmen, the “Golden Bull”, to the worst offenders gibberish and special awards for the best writers of simple English. The eminent judge Lord Denning presented the awards in 1982 and he himself nominated the Home Office for a Golden Bubble for obscure drafting of the legislation. (They declined the invitation.)
Media coverage of the awards quickly changed official practice despite some intransigent reactions such as that of an official who told John, in all sincerity, “But surely people will feel condescending if we use such simple wording!” In 1981, the government asked Sir Derek Rayner to review the official forms, which ultimately resulted in the rewriting and simplification of 58,000. Trade bodies followed suit.
Three former prime ministers – Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair – all praised the campaign. Such hard work ultimately rubbed off on the Major government, in the form of the Citizen’s Charter, which sets performance standards for individual services, with recourse systems for consumers if something goes wrong.
John was born in the village of Hudswell, North Yorkshire, near Richmond, the son of Elsie (née Johnson) and William Ward, a local postmaster. He started his studies at the one-class village school. After high school and national service as a psychiatric nurse he graduated from the University of Birmingham in the 60s with a social science degree and won a Fulbright scholarship to study for a Masters in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College. , Pennsylvania.
After retiring from NCC in 1996, John returned to his Yorkshire roots, acquiring a house in Richmond, where he was able to indulge his passion for gardening and for the regeneration activities of the local community, always participatory in his later years. John’s first marriage, to Helen Ogilvy-Webb, ended in divorce. In 2005, he married Caroline Woodroffe.
Caroline had led the Brook Advisory Centers, the first in the country to provide contraceptive advice to young singles. The couple divided their time between Richmond and their home in Highgate, north London, entertaining their many friends at once, until John’s failing health forced them to stay in London.
He is survived by Caroline, his son Matthew, from his first marriage, two grandchildren and the children of Caroline, Jessica and Nick.