openDemocracyUK

Consumer protection for the chop?

Will the UK Coalition cut away consumer protection?
Jim Killock
12 October 2010

This coming Thursday, in two days time, we are expecting to hear that Consumer Focus - formerly the national Consumer Council - and the Office of Fair Trading are due for the chop.

They stand accused of being superfluous fripperies that we can do without. They are “Quangos” to be stuck on the “bonfire”.

I don’t think that’s true. In fact, I think they are vital, and the work they do cannot be reproduced by the “Big Society”.

For instance, last year, Consumer Focus have stopped British gas charging customers £640 for reconnection if someone has tampered with their gas meter. Innocent people were being charged regardless of ability to pay.

Dealing with abuses like this, or mobile overcharging, or stopping E.coli outbreaks: we benefit a professional, well-paid body with high-powered access to government.

I belong to a campaigning organization that works alongside Consumer Focus. We do a different job, that is supported by their work. The Open Rights Group campaign publicly through our members, as well as lobbying, where Consumer Focus take a policy role. They are well-known and have well-developed status among people who might be prone to dismiss a relatively new organization like ORG.

On our issues – things like data protection, privacy and the Digital Economy Act – we know we benefit from Consumer Focus’ work and reputation. Consumer protection is a job that even the coalition agreement recognises needs to be done:

 5. CONSUMER PROTECTION 

The Government believes that action is needed to protect consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, and to promote greater competition across the economy. We need to promote more responsible corporate and consumer behaviour through greater transparency

The plan seems to be to abolish the bodies responsible for consumer protection: and hope for the best. That doesn’t seem like a well-worked out scheme to me, but rather cutting for the sake of cuts.

If you want to do something about it, you can start by writing to your MP.

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