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Government paper plots a consumer complaints revolution

An overhaul of the consumer enforcement system will only make a difference if action can be taken against companies that break the rules

The government has announced plans today to modernise how regulators deal with consumer complaints about suppliers, as well as establishing rights for consumers to benefit from their own data.

The Modernising Consumer Markets Green Paper announced by the business secretary, Greg Clark, will set out how regulators should ensure that consumers are not being unfairly penalised by suppliers who hold information on their behaviour.

The proposals involve plans to strengthen national enforcement of consumer rights, while maintaining strong levels of protection at local level and improving consumers’ access to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services, to avoid costly court hearings.

It will also look at how the data suppliers hold can be made more accessible to consumers, making it easier for people to switch to better value services.

Which? managing director of home products and services, Alex Neill, said: ‘Steps to ensure that consumers get a better deal in vital areas such as financial services, energy and telecoms are welcome, but they will only make a difference if action can be taken against companies that break the rules.

‘The government must now use these reforms to overhaul our consumer enforcement system so that, as we leave the EU, we can deliver an economy where people are supported by high levels of rights and protection – with greater access than ever before to quality, affordable products and services.’

UK and European flag together

Consumer complaints and redress – more can be done

Consumers made more than 12m complaints to financial services, energy and water suppliers last year.

Hundreds of thousands of complaints are being resolved through ADR schemes, which offer an alternative to court action – for example, ombudsmen, independent mediation or arbitration.

Dealing with a financial complaint can be a tricky and confusing business. Our advice guide can help you to know when to go to the ombudsman and how they can help you with your dispute.

The government has said that it believes more can be done to give consumers access to high quality dispute resolution services and to avoid costly court hearings, and will help consumers enforce their rights by:

  • improving consumers’ awareness of and access to alternative dispute resolution and their experience of the process
  • consulting on strengthening advocacy arrangements in the telecoms sector
  • considering strengthening national enforcement of consumer rights, while maintaining strong levels of consumer protection at a local level.

If you’re considering using the small claims court to get your money back from a company, follow this step-by-step guide on how to use the small claims court to help you.

The key principles – competition, tech and redress

The green paper sets out three principles for responding to the challenges and opportunities of modern consumer markets:

  • Competition is central The government has a role in ensuring that consumers are active in the marketplace and that firms compete to provide the best goods and services for the lowest price.
  • New technology that works in favour of the customer Consumers should benefit from new technology and new business models, with competition and regulation working for them.
  • Redress for when things go wrong Consumers should be able to get redress with effective enforcement in cases of consumer harm.

A positive step – simplifying terms

The government proposal will also look at making terms and conditions simpler and more understandable, as well as taking stronger action against scams.

Greg Clark, the business secretary, said: ‘Today’s proposals are an important step in taking forward the objective of our Industrial Strategy to ensure that the British business environment is shaped by competition that benefits consumers in terms of keen prices, quality products and services and cutting-edge innovation.’

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