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Consumer Protection

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 13 June 2013

Yesterday the Government published our response to the recent consultations on consumer rights and, alongside that, a draft Consumer Rights Bill. This will help consumers and their advocates understand their rights when things go wrong.

A constituent of mine paid £20 for the previous day’s congestion charge, rather than £12, having found an authentic-looking site at the top of Google’s listings. The ownership disclosure was out of sight on the landing page, below the fold. What can be done to protect against such intermediary internet rip-offs?

As many of us know from our constituency work, there are a large number of consumer rip-offs. The purpose of this legislation is to provide for much stronger redress, particularly in internet trade, which is growing rapidly—we have had the most rapid growth of any country outside Finland—and we must bring consumer legislation up to match it.

Glasgow’s Evening Times reported this week that one in five Glasgow citizens is currently using payday loans to try to meet everyday costs. What measures do the Government propose taking in their new legislation to protect consumers and, in particular, control the rollover of payday loans, which is often the nub causing people to go into serious debt?

A great deal is happening on the payday loan front. The Office of Fair Trading is coming to the end of its investigation, which will result in action that is appropriate to the competition authority. Responsibility will shortly pass to the Financial Conduct Authority, which has more powers and can be more active in that field. We are looking, in particular, at how we can deal with misleading and dangerous advertising in that area.

At my surgeries I have met residents who have come to see me because they are anxious about having been ripped off or having been victims of mis-selling. What will the proposals do to help them get their money back?

They will considerably improve the rights of redress, and there is a whole series of specific measures in the Bill, which will be debated at length, on how to achieve that. When we aggregate all the redress elements, we estimate that it will probably be worth something in the order of £4 billion over 10 years to consumers.

In June last year the Government announced a crackdown on cowboy builders. The DCLG website states:

“The measures will also ensure that householders have a financial safety net in place… if… self-check installers fail to finish work properly or if they can’t be chased through the courts.”

Around 85,000 complaints about cowboy builders are made to the OFT every year. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many people have benefited from that Government scheme in its first 12 months?

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman exactly how many, but I am happy to write to him about that. I launched the scheme and am therefore interested in seeing how successful it has been. Over the years we have all met constituents who have had appalling experiences with rogue builders. The existing system operating through trade standards has not been totally effective. This kind of branding will, we hope, bring more cowboy builders to account.