Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan today launched a public consultation on the role and powers that will be given to a new champion of consumer rights, the ‘Consumer Advocate’, who will be tasked with ensuring UK consumers get a fairer deal in the future.
This is the latest of a series of announcements by the Government acting on the side of and strengthening the rights of British consumers. The Government announced plans to appoint a Consumer Advocate earlier this year as part of the White Paper “A Better Deal for Consumers: Delivering Real Help Now and Change for the Future” – which set out a package of measures designed to get consumers a better deal in the downturn and strengthen their consumer rights.
Kevin Brennan said:
“The Consumer Advocate’s job will be to fight consumers’ corner as a new national figurehead. The Advocate will support consumers, take legal action on their behalf, help them to get compensation and warn consumers about latest scams. This is especially important during the downturn when people’s finances are hard pressed.
“We will advertise the role shortly and today we’re seeking the public’s views on the role and powers that the advocate will have, both in the short term and in the future.”
The consultation seeks views on a number of key issues:
· Enabling the Consumer Advocate to take collective legal action on behalf of groups of individual consumers. This would create a new mechanism through which consumers could get redress and compensation. It is important as consumers are understandably very reluctant to take court action themselves. The consultation seeks views on the scope of the power and circumstances in which it could be used. The Office of Fair Trading estimated that consumers had suffered a detriment amounting to £6.6bn in 2007 as a result of problems with goods or services purchased.
· Giving the Consumer Advocate the power to pay back compensation to UK consumers who have lost out to overseas businesses. This would ensure that an appropriate body in the UK has the power to receive, hold and distribute funds secured by overseas enforcement agencies that rightly belong to UK consumers. The OFT estimates that 140,000 people fall victim to foreign lottery scams every year - costing the UK public an estimated £260m a year.
· How the Consumer Advocate can improve the effectiveness of consumer education and how best to communicate with the most vulnerable consumers. A large number of bodies are currently involved in consumer education. The Government wants the Advocate to improve the coordination of education and information campaigns and to champion the needs of consumers.
The Government wants the first Consumer Advocate to also act as Chair of Consumer Focus.
Larry Whitty, the current Chair, has overseen the successful creation of Consumer Focus. He is due to retire next year and will step down once a Consumer Advocate is in place. This is expected to be in the Spring of 2010.
Notes to editors
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
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