Government backing new measures to protect consumers
Hard-hitting measures to clamp down on poor trading practices are to be introduced as part of a new UK-wide scheme to strengthen industry self-regulation.
The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) is launching its new Consumer Codes Approval Scheme to give customers greater confidence in trade associations and business organisations that operate codes of practice.
Consumer Minister Jo Swinson has given the Government’s official backing to the scheme, saying it will be a real boost for empowering consumers and helping drive economic growth..
TSI Chief Executive Leon Livermore said: “The Government recognises the importance of this new scheme, which comes with an important sting in the tail.
“The misuse of the TSI Consumer Codes of Approval logo by traders is a breach of the Consumer Protection Regulations for which they can be taken to the courts, should they fail to take heed of the robust disciplinary and sanctions procedures built into the codes.
“We're not going to be shy in tackling some of the biggest industries that cause the greatest problems to consumers. We already have members of the scheme covering the motor industry, solar power, mobility aids and debt – but we expect to include double glazing, furniture and travel in the near future. We are confident more members will come on board as they recognise the power of the TSI Consumer Codes Approval Scheme logo in attracting consumers to their business."
More than 15,000 traders have already signed up to one of nine approved codes of practice. Consumers will be able to look for the TSI Approved Code logo, or search a dedicated database at www.tradingstandards.gov.uk, for a member of an approved code in their area.
“Trading Standards’ oversight and endorsement adds real weight to self-regulation. Over the past five years, certainly in my experience of the automotive industry, significant progress has already been made and the consolidated approach by Trading Standards will take this to the next level. It will create a robust consumer environment of trust and reassurance, protecting the public from unscrupulous traders at the same time as generating an economic boost for committed code subscribers.”
The Consumer Affairs and Trading Standards Conference 2013
The Trading Standards Institute’s annual trading standards and consumer affairs Conference and Exhibition is the leading consumer affairs and trading standards event in Europe. The 2013 Conference is at Brighton Centre from Tuesday 18 June to Thursday 20 June.
Under the scheme, which replaces the Office of Fair Trading scheme, businesses will also be required to offer enhanced consumer protection, including offering ombudsman or arbitration to resolve disputes, protecting customer deposits and respecting consumers in their own home.
Baroness Crawley of Edgbaston, chair of the new Consumer Codes Approval Board, which is responsible for independently evaluating the codes of practice operated by trade bodies, said: "Industry is well placed to understand the demands and expectations of their customers, but those consumers need the added confidence that industry codes of practice have been verified as fit for purpose by an independent body - that's where the Trading Standards Institute comes in."
The new scheme includes a Consumer Advisory Panel, but also a permanent position for Citizens Advice on the Board. Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said: “We deal with over a million consumer problems each year and know how difficult it is for people to find a seller they can trust, the Approved Trader Scheme will help to combat this.”
Inaugural trade bodies sponsoring the new code include: British Association of Removers, British Healthcare Trades Association, Debt Managers Standards Association, Institute of Professional Will Writers, Motor Codes Ltd, Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd, Robert Bosch Ltd, The Carpet Foundation and Vehicle Builders Repairers Association Ltd.
Chris Mason, Managing Director of Motor Codes and Chair of the Code Sponsors Panel, said:
How codes of conduct protect consumers – case study 1
When retired physicist John Eaton decided to install six solar panels on the roof of his home in Newton Mearns, near Glasgow, he hoped the electricity it generated would not only reduce his energy bills but would help him do his bit for the environment.
But when the panels generated just half the electricity that had been promised, he turned to the Renewable Energy Consumer Code (RECC), which was set up by the Renewable Energy Association to protect customers who want to buy or lease small scale energy generation systems for their properties.
He said: “I had contacted the contractors and installers a number of times, but they ignored me, so I approached RECC. They contacted the contractors who offered to install another three panels, which was insufficient to make up the shortfall. I had paid over £10,000 for the system so suggested the contractors pay me back some money pro-rata. I knew they had received a Government grant towards the work, so they wouldn’t be out of pocket.
“There was a long delay, from December that year until the following May, when I heard the company had rejected my proposed settlement.”
As Mr Eaton and the company couldn’t agree a settlement his case was referred to independent conciliation. As a result of the conciliator’s recommendation, he was eventually awarded almost £5,000, which the company paid back over six months.
The Independent Conciliator who handled the case said that because Mr Eaton had been given significantly misleading information about the estimated output of the solar panel system, the company was in breach of contract.
Mr Eaton said: “RECC put forward exactly what I expected. The important thing is they are there to negotiate on behalf of the customer and the company. I was definitely miss-sold the installation.”
Case study 2
David Bamlett is a plumber and electrician who relies on his Nissan pick-up for work.
When his timing chain failed, just three months outside the five-year warranty, he was left facing a hefty bill, as well as the headache of finding a replacement vehicle to keep him on the road.
The 44-year-old, from Darlington, said: “I’d had the vehicle regularly serviced by Nissan and been to them for the sort of work that was expected, but when the timing belt went I couldn’t believe it as I was three months over the five-year warranty.
“I was looking at a bill of about £2,500 and was initially offered £300 towards the work but Nissan themselves suggested I speak to Motor Codes.”
Motor Codes established that an earlier rattling David had reported, while the part was still under warranty, had been put down to a fuel pump issue but could, in fact, have led to the faulty timing chain being replaced while still covered. As a result Nissan picked up the full bill for repairs, including other issues that were discovered while the work was being carried out.
David said: “Motor Codes called me back about a week later and said they had good news as Nissan were going to cover it. It was absolutely brilliant.”
Notes to Editors
Photo shows: Leon Livermore, Trading Standards Institute Chief Executive; photos of the key people and scheme sponsors will be available after the launch.
Interview opportunities are available on Tuesday June 18th from 6am onwards at the Brighton Centre with either TSI Chief Executive Leon Livermore, or Andy Foster, TSI Director of Operations and Policy, who has led on developing the code.
Trading Standards Institute (TSI)
TSI is a training and membership organisation that has represented the interests of the Trading Standards profession since 1881 nationally and internationally. We aim to raise the profile of the profession while working towards fairer, better informed and safer consumer and business communities.
TSI’s members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities and in businesses.
The Trading Standards Institute also hosts the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) which provides consumer advice with regards to cross border disputes within the EU and also the European Consumer Centre Service (ECCS).
Some 1,500 people are expected to attend the conference, including representatives from local and central government and those interested in fair trading, representatives of business and commerce, together with consumer organisations.
Journalists and photographers are welcome to attend but should contact the press office on 0845 608 9430 to arrange passes.
For more information please visit http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/events/conference2013.cfm and follow the #TSIConf13 stream on our @TSI_uk Twitter account.
DATE: 18 June 2013