Chris Choi's consumer review of 2012

For households, 2012 will be remembered for the big squeeze on finances as inflation pushed prices ever higher while earnings remained, at best, stagnant.

Nowhere was this as daunting as in the escalation of energy costs.

Bills bills bills

All big six energy firms increased their prices above inflation this year. Credit: PA

All the big energy companies hiked their prices in 2012.

In August Scottish and Southern Energy was the first of the big six to announce a price rise this year.

By mid-December all six had announced price rises of at least 6 percent on gas and electricity.

And don't expect things to get much better in 2013.

Officials at the Office For Budget Responsibility said: "We now expect real disposable income growth to be weaker than in 2012 and only slightly positive in 2013 and 2014, before picking up from 2015 as productivity and nominal wage growth pick up and price inflation falls back towards 2 percent."


Meal costs have grown 12% in five years. Credit: PA

Food prices have caused mayhem with family budgets throughout 2012. Meal costs have grown 12 percent in real terms in the last five years, driven by poor harvests around the world caused by bad weather.

It has drastically altered how we live - and how we shop. Where once ethical considerations were a key factor in choosing food, now surveys show customers are focused on price.

The results of all this show in the wave of new food banks. This year I filmed as families received parcels to keep them going.

There is some hope that prices may slip back in 2013, so long as the weather is better.

More agricultural land has been planted as farmers responded to these higher prices.

The problem is that wages are not matching the rises in inflation, so the squeeze on family budgets will continue.

That will further feed the booming market for Payday Loans and similar products, which are likely to hit the headlines in 2013.

PIP implant scandal

A PIP implant victim holding one of her ruptured implants.

From PPI to PIP: This year consumers have been the victims of a series of appalling errors.

Twelve months ago the first details of the breast implant scandal, PIP, were surfacing.

Now we know the full grim facts - how international regulation was so slack it allowed unscrupulous manufacturers to use unauthorised breast filler that should never have been sewn into the human body.

I saw the filthy, abandoned factory in France where the PIP breasts were made.

I also met dozens of the angry women who were left not knowing what the consequences could be. There was some negative press comment about the women: "If they are vain enough to want cosmetic surgery don't they deserve all they get?"

This ignores the fact that many of the victims were not "cosmetic" patients in the strictest sense - many who I met had suffered physical problems requiring implants.

In any case, shouldn't women be entitled to safe products when they are spending their hard-earned money?

There are still many battles ahead for these women, for example the Harley Medical Group which implanted around 14,000 has so far replaced only about 1000.

In 2013 the trial of the suspected executives will commence in France. Men, too, are likely to be involved. When I was at the PIP factory I found artificial testicles as well.

PPI mis-selling

PPI is another sorry tale of greed and error.

The end of 2012 brings the total paid out for mis-sold PPI to more than £7.5 billion since January 2011.

For years, Payment Protection Insurance was wrongly sold (for example to people who could never have actually claimed) and the chaos was deepened when complaints about the scandal were also mishandled.

Millions more could still claim and the banks are bracing for the final bill - around £10 billion has been set aside. The was £3 billion in claims for the first half of 2012 alone.

High Street woes

Thousands lost jobs as Comet closed down. Credit: PA

It was a telling coincidence that Comet was closing its doors just as the first year anniversary of the Mary Portas Review was reached.

It was a year in which many ideas surfaced about how the decline of our High Streets could be halted, but as one shopkeeper I interviewed said, "it's customers we need, not ideas."

Government did put some money into 'Portas Pilot Towns,' but only £1.5 million shared between 15 towns.

We have yet to see if their trial of the Portas plans will succeed, but as we end the year, signs are far from good.

Comet closed its final stores, HMV warned of its financial stress and Pizza Hut announced a shift from High Street and into shopping malls.

Meanwhile the online retail sector is reporting another record breaking Christmas trading season.