Consumer Minister Kevin Brennan yesterday 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 in a series of announcements by the Government to strengthen the rights of British consumers.
Back in July, the Government announced plans to appoint a Consumer Advocate 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 give 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 often 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 (OFT) estimates UK consumers suffered £6.6 billion in losses in 2007 as a result of defective goods or services.
- 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 £260 million a year.
- How the Consumer Advocate can improve the effectiveness of consumer
education and how best to communicate with the most vulnerable
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.
You can obtain further information about consumer rights on FindLaw.
Depending on your circumstances, however, you may want to speak with a solicitor who specialises in consumer law. You can be matched with a solicitor in your area for free via solicitor matching services, which can also help you to understand the best course of action for your situation and whether you are ready to hire a solicitor.