Who were the top 10 villains of 2013?

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Electric Meter Dials

It's been a tough year for most of us - but some individuals and organisations have made things that bit worse than they ever needed to be.

From the energy firms to payday lenders, we look at some of the people and companies that really shouldn't be on your Christmas card list this year.



The energy companies
One of the biggest hit to consumers' wallets this year was the massive hike in prices announced by the Big Six this autumn. In a period when wholesale costs rose just 1.7 percent, says regulator Ofgem, they imposed average price rises of 9.1 percent. And there's a special mention for those companies that waited until *after* Downing Street had urged people to switch suppliers, picked up new customers - and then raised prices themselves.

The government
The government's 'bedroom tax' has caused great personal misery for many - and, by most accounts, looks set to cost the tax-payer more too. While shifting under-occupiers to smaller properties makes sense in theory, it only works if those smaller properties exist. In many, if not most parts of the country, they don't. Acoording to one analysis, the introduction of the bedroom tax has led to a five-fold increase in the number of people discretionary housing payments (DHP). Meanwhile, many people are moving into private rented housing - more expensive than council housing and still tax-payer-subsidised.

Payday lenders
With more and more people struggling to get by, payday lenders were having a field day earlier this year - some were found to have APRs as high as 68,300 percent. Several have been accused of using aggressive debt collection methods, and Citizens Advice found evidence that they were lending to people who were aged under 18, had mental health issues or were drunk. Finally, in November, chancellor George Osborne announced plans to cap their charges - although the level hasn't yet been set.

The meat industry
In January this year, it came to light that horse DNA had been found in beefburgers from a number of British supermarkets. It then turned up in many other products - making up 60 percent of one Asda lasagne, for example. Through labyrinthine shipping routes and with a bit of mis-labelling, European horsemeat became 'beef' mince. Consumer confidence in the food industry has fallen dramatically, with half of people now mistrustful of ingredient information. No-one has yet been prosecuted.

Sports Direct, JD Wetherspoon, Dominos Pizza (etc)
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), as many as a million people in the UK now work on zero-hours contracts, which require workers to work as and when wanted, with no set hours, being paid only for work done. While zero-hours contracts do suit some people, they leave many insecure, with unreliable incomes and can make planning childcare near-impossible.

Former Co-operative bank chairman Paul Flowers
Customers fled the Co-operative Bank in their droves after the revelations about its former chairman Paul Flowers hit the headlines. A Methodist minister, he was revealed to have a predilection for rent boys and crystal meth. Perhaps more of a concern for consumers, though, was his staggering incompetence: he managed to massively understate the value of the bank's assets during a grilling by lawmakers and turned out to have virtually no relevant banking qualifications or experience.

GCHQ and the NSA
This was the year we discovered just how much Big Brother is watching us, with revelations about online spying by the US' National Security Agency and our own GCHQ. Leaks by former CIA agent Edward Snowden revealed the UK's participation in the Prism spy programme which saw millions of ordinary citizens' emails, Google searches and the like being accessed. In the latest revelations, in December, it turns out that the spooks have even been carrying out surveillance of computer gamers playing World of Warcraft - just in case they're terrorists in real life.

Supermarkets and furniture retailers
This summer, Tesco was fined £300,000 for mis-labelling its strawberries, selling them at 'half price' for three months, after they'd been on sale at the full price for only seven days. The supermarket made a £2.3 million profit from the promotion. But the Office of Fair Trading found the practice was rife, investigating six high street carpet and furniture retailers over the same tactic.

The BBC
Earlier this summer, BBC bosses were grilled by MPs after handing out £60 million in severance deals since 2005 - often far more than the staff were entitled to under their contracts. The biggest pay-off was awarded to Mark Byford, the former deputy director general, who netted over £1 million. Meanwhile, it's been revealed that the BBC has had as many as 4,600 interns over the last three years - earning nothing at all.

G4S and Serco
This summer, the government revealed that G4S and Serco had charged for monitoring the electronic tags of offenders who were dead, back in custody or had left the country. They've finally been stripped of their contracts - but only after overcharging the tax-payer as much as £50 million.

The biggest scams of 2013

The biggest scams of 2013