Consumer protection in the United Kingdom

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Consumer protection in the United Kingdom is effected through a multiplicity of Acts of Parliament, statutory instruments, government agencies and departments and citizens' lobby groups and aims to ensure the market economy produces fairness and quality in goods and services people buy. The main areas of regulating consumer affairs include,

  • fairer terms in contracts for goods and services, by declaring surprising and onerous terms as unfair
  • product safety regulation, to ensure people cannot purchase goods that are potentially harmful
  • financial regulation, to ensure access to credit is cheaper and people fully understand the obligations they have when taking loans
  • stronger competition in the private sector, through breaking up cartels, dismantling monopolies and unwinding some mergers

Because the United Kingdom, through its membership of the European Union is part of the internal market, it works with other European countries and EU institutions to produce and enforce consumer protection laws transnationally.

History[edit]

Regulatory enforcement[edit]

Consumer Protection issues are dealt with when complaints are made to the Director-General of Fair Trade. The Office of Fair Trading[3] will then investigate, impose an injunction or take the matter to litigation. However, consumers cannot directly complain to the OFT. Complaints need to be made to Consumer Direct who will provide legal advice to complainants, or re-direct the individual complaint to Trading Standards for investigation. Due to restrictions within the Enterprise Act 2002, individual complainants are unable to be told whether their case is being investigated or not. In very rare cases, Consumer Direct may direct a very large number of complaints to the OFT to be considered as a systemic complaint. The OFT can also be engaged by consumer groups e.g. The Consumers Association or the statutory consumer protection body - Consumer Focus - via a super complaint. The OFT rarely prosecute companies, however, preferring a light touch regulation approach. Consumer complaints against companies are not published, but investigation work, undertakings and enforcements are located at.[1] Many of the consumer protection laws e.g. Distance Selling Regulations 2000 or Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Act 1997 are actually UK implementations of EU directives. The OFT is one of the bodies responsible for enforcing these rules. This leads to a problem in that these examples of legislation are clearly designed to deal with individual complaints but the OFT will only deal with systemic complaints and will ignore individual complainants redirecting them back to Consumer Direct. The Office of Fair Trading[2] also acts as the UK's official consumer and competition watchdog, with a remit to make markets work well for consumers, and at a local, municipal level by Trading Standards departments. General consumer advice can be obtained from Consumer Direct or via a local branch of the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

Consumer advocacy groups[edit]

The Enterprise Act 2002 allows consumer bodies that have been approved by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to be designated as "super-complainants" to the Office of Fair Trading. These super-complainants are intended to, "strengthen the voice of consumers," who are "unlikely to have access individually to the kind of information necessary to judge whether markets are failing for them." Eight have been designated as of 2007:[3]

Fundraising - Charity fundraisers on the street or calling house-to-house are sometimes called 'chuggers' - a portmanteau of charity muggers. Some charity fundraisers have been shown to use intimidatory and aggressive tactics, violating rules set out by regulatory agencies. [4]

Fair contract terms[edit]

Product safety[edit]

Finance and credit[edit]

Competition law[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]