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Government unveils raft of consumer protection proposals

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

The Business secretary has proposed a package of reforms to bolster consumer protections, as it’s announced an influential consumer champion is to be named chair of the competition watchdog.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has unveiled proposals to ensure technology and data are used to benefit consumers, not to disadvantage them, take stronger action against scams, make terms and conditions simpler and make it easier for people to switch to better deals.

As part of the ‘Modernising Consumer Markets green paper’ Greg Clark MP today said consumers shouldn’t be unfairly penalised by suppliers that hold information on their behaviour, and when things go wrong, they should be able to get redress.

It comes as data revealed consumers made over 12 million complaints to financial services, energy and water suppliers last year and concerns have been raised that in these sectors, firms charge increasingly higher prices to customers who haven’t switched provider.

The green paper document states: “The large gap between the best and the worst deals received by consumers are difficult to justify and it is often the vulnerable who suffer disproportionately. In some markets, such as telecoms, bundled packages of services provide huge choice but offers can be complex and difficult for consumers to compare.

“We want to harness the power of new technologies and new ways of doing business for the benefit of consumers. But we also want people to feel confident that they are not being exploited for their loyalty to what they may think of as a trustworthy supplier. Competition should drive the best deals, but no one should be exploited if they lack the time or capacity to engage and the vulnerable should be protected.”

The government also said it would work with regulators to explore how best to ensure vulnerable consumers are protected by developing a set of principles to improve the service those with mental ill health and Alzheimer’s disease should expect to receive, as well as developing guidance for companies dealing with vulnerable consumers who rely on a power of attorney.

At the same time, the Rt Hon Greg Clark MP announced that Andrew Tyrie, the former MP, chair of the Treasury Select Committee and chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has been nominated to be the new chair of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), subject to approval.

Tyrie said: “Making markets work for the benefit of millions of people is what the CMA is all about. In the years ahead, competition can and should be put even closer to the centre of British economic life, reaching to every sector, rooting out monopoly and unfair trading practices, and enhancing Britain’s global competitiveness into the bargain.”