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Consumer Rights

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 2 July 2009


My honourable friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Apprenticeships—Joint with DCSF) (Kevin Brennan), has made the following Statement.

I am today publishing a consumer White Paper: A Better Deal for Consumers: Delivering Real Help Now and Change for the Future.

The White Paper sets out the Government's new, more active and strategic approach to financial and other consumer markets. It follows publication this week of Building Britain's Future, which sets out the Government's plans for creating growth and jobs as the economy moves out of recession, and a vision for improving consumer rights in public services. This White Paper deals with consumer rights in the wider economy.

Consumers have been seriously affected by the turmoil in the financial markets, as well as by the longer-term changes in the way that goods and services are bought and sold. We are taking decisive action to provide real help for consumers now and to enhance and enforce consumer rights in a changing world.

Businesses now face tighter margins and more competitive prices, which can act as an incentive to provide greater choice and lower prices. This can lead to increased transparency, greater profitability for the most efficient and an opportunity to build and develop customer loyalty. It is also important at all times, but particularly in these challenging economic times, that government are committed to minimising the burdens, including regulation, on business.

A Better Deal for Consumers outlines the real help we are providing now for people in financial difficulties, together with longer-term measures we are planning to bolster confidence and help consumers exercise greater personal responsibility, while protecting consumers from unfair practices, and ensuring effective and proportionate enforcement.

The White Paper focuses on four key themes:

real help now for vulnerable consumers;

a new approach to consumer credit;

empowering consumers through better enforcement and information; and

modernising consumer law.

It sets out the real help we are providing now for vulnerable consumers. It describes practical actions to help consumers facing challenging economic circumstances, including measures to help keep people in their homes and help people in difficulty in debt. These measures include help for homeowners in mortgage arrears and tenants who are falling behind on their rent, a new self-help toolkit for those in debt, and measures to ensure more responsible debt recovery practices.

The White Paper describes a new approach to consumer credit, setting out how we intend to make the consumer credit market work better for consumers. It includes proposals to reform credit card regulation (including a ban on the sending of unsolicited credit card cheques), new requirements on all lenders to check credit-worthiness of consumers before they lend to them, and a review by the Office of Fair Trading of high-cost credit providers.

It also sets out measures to empower consumers through better enforcement and information. Consumers need clearer information and better enforcement in order to take advantage of, and not be taken advantage of by, new and rapidly developing markets. Actions include a new consumer advocate who will co-ordinate work to educate consumers, and be a champion for consumers. The White Paper also gives details of a new national strategy and specialist team for internet enforcement on consumer issues, and a central “fighting fund” to tackle rogues operating on a big scale.

Building on evidence gathered in the consumer law review, the White Paper sets out our plans for modernising consumer law to enhance and protect consumer rights in a changing world. We will do this through a new consumer rights Bill, which will implement in due course the EU consumer rights directive and modernise and simplify UK consumer sales law.

A Better Deal for Consumers has been produced in consultation with the devolved Administrations. In those policy areas where the Government's responsibilities extend, the proposals outlined will apply across the UK. However, other aspects of policy highlighted in the White Paper are devolved, in differing settlements, to the Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Devolved Administrations can tailor their policies to deliver public services which meet the specific needs of each country.

The proposals and actions in this White Paper will form the basis of a consumer policy that responds to change and helps all consumers make informed and responsible choices.