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Strengthened consumer protections come into force

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Released 01 Oct 2008

A new system that will better protect consumers comes into effect this week: From 1 October:

* Consumer Focus will be formed through the merger of the National Consumer Council, energywatch and Postwatch. The new body will be a more powerful consumer champion, with much stronger powers than its predecessors - including the ability to demand information from companies.

* Energy and post companies will have to take greater responsibility for resolving customers' complaints. The regulators, Ofgem and Postcomm, will now fine companies who fail to meet tough new standards. They will also announce how well companies are handling complaints - giving those that perform the best a competitive advantage

* If companies and consumers can't reach agreement on complaints a new independent ombudsman will step in. The ombudsman will be free for consumers, but companies will have to pay hundreds of pounds for every case that reaches this stage. Unlike energywatch and postwatch, the redress schemes have the legal power to enforce resolution and award compensation for consumers

* Consumer Direct, the Government funded advice service, will now give consumers information and practical advice on energy and postal issues. It can be contacted on 08454 04 05 06 or by visiting http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk

Business Secretary John Hutton said:

"These changes will help consumers get a better deal.

"One single body, rather than three, means a stronger voice holding business and Government to account. It means a more joined up approach to tackling problems.

"Energy and post companies will have to take greater responsibility for handling complaints or face significant fines. And where complaints can't be resolved voluntarily, new redress schemes give the system teeth."

Ed Mayo, Chief Executive of Consumer Focus, said:

"There could not be a more appropriate time to launch a new, more powerful consumer champion and to improve complaints handling. Current economic conditions are tough and consumers are telling us that value for money is their number one concern.

"The creation of Consumer Focus, a new kind of campaigner, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put consumers at the heart of business and government decision-making. We will campaign for a fair deal for consumers, because if consumers are confident then everybody, including families, business and the economy, benefits."

Notes

1. The changes are taking place as part of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act that received Royal Assent in July 2007.

2. Consumer Focus will have associated bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, each with their own Chair and Members and supported by their own executive staff. These bodies are Consumer Focus Scotland; Consumer Focus Wales; and - in Northern Ireland - Consumer Focus Post. The last will deal only with postal services as the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland deals with all other consumer issues in the province.

3. The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform helps UK business succeed in an increasingly competitive world. It promotes business growth and a strong enterprise economy, leads the better regulation agenda and champions free and fair markets. It is the shareholder in a number of Government-owned assets and it works to secure, clean and competitively priced energy supplies.

4. Consumer Direct is a telephone and online consumer advice service funded by government and managed by the Office of Fair Trading. It offers consumers clear, practical and impartial advice and information. The information and advice helpline is available on a single national telephone number - 08454 04 05 06 from 0800 - 1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900 - 1300 Saturday, excluding bank holidays and public holidays. A Welsh-speaking Consumer Direct service is available on 08454 04 05 05. Calls to Consumer Direct are charged at no more than four pence per minute from a BT landline. Call charges from other landline providers or mobile phones may vary. Please check the rate with your phone service provider.

Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform
7th Floor, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

Public enquiries +44 (0)20 7215 5000
Textphone +44 (0)20 7215 6740 (for those with hearing impairment)
http://www.berr.gov.uk


About the Author

Crown Copyright. Material taken from the BERR- Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform replacing DTI - Department for Trade and Industry. Reproduced under the terms and conditions of the Click-Use Licence.


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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-10-01 10:01:05 in Business Articles

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