The consumer enforcement system is too reliant on overstretched local authorities and is on ‘the verge of collapse’, watchdog says.
In a new report entitled Creating a successful enforcement system for UK consumers, the consumer watchdog Which? says the current system depends too much on councils’ Trading Standards Services.
It urges the Government to grant the Competition and Markets Authority the power to create a Consumer and Competition Authority, which could lead on the enforcement of consumer rights and fair trading law.
This will be particularly important if Brexit goes ahead, Which? says, because a lot of the competition work that is currently done at the European level will have to be done by the CMA.
Which? is also advocating for an independent product safety body that can provide specialist expertise and take on issues of national significance.
‘British consumers have strong rights and protections on paper, but a broken enforcement system means rogue firms can rip off customers or dismiss their complaints - and get off the hook far too easily,’ said Caroline Normand, Which? director of policy.
‘As Britain prepares to go it alone outside the European Union, now is the time for fundamental reforms to ensure consumers are properly protected from online scams, rip-off prices and unsafe products.’
The report also highlights the need to provide regulators with effective powers to take action when companies are found to be breaking the law.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, rejected Which?’s call for new national bodies to improve the consumer enforcement system.
‘The answer to this problem is not to take funding, resources and expertise from councils to create new national bodies or to expand existing organisations, as these will lack the intelligence - and currently the powers - to take effective action at a local level against criminals,’ he said.
‘Instead, with the number of trading standards officers having more than halved since 2009 and budgets to this service having almost halved since 2011, government needs to use the forthcoming Spending Review to address the funding shortfall that local government faces.’