Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt this month announced plans for a radical shake up of consumer protection laws. In a speech to the Consumers’ Association Hewitt unveiled a consultation document which will form the basis of the government’s consumer policy over the next ten years.

One of the documents key proposals is that complex existing consumer protection laws will be simplified and a single clear unfair trading law will be developed. The government also plans to provide a single point of contact for consumer information, the ‘Consumer Direct’ website (www.consumerdirect.gov.uk) and hotline. This service is already operational in Scotland and will be rolled out across the rest of the UK over the next few years.

Hewitt said “Confident, well-informed consumers are good for business and help stimulate a more competitive and innovative economy. But surveys show that when consumers complain and get an unsatisfactory respons, 85 per cent take no further action. This is bad news for consumers and business.”

The government is also taking aim at unscrupulous doorstep salesmen. The document suggests moves such as prohibiting any money being paid and goods or services being delivered before a seven day cooling off period and extending the cooling off period to include requested visits from a salesperson, rather than from the initial cold call. Hewitt stressed that many honest businesses use cold calling as a legitimate sales tactic and the government had no wish to hinder them with additional regulation.

The announcement was welcomed by consumer rights groups such as the Consumers Association and the National Consumer Council. Deirdre Hutton, chair of the NCC said “‘The measures outlined today have the potential to strengthen the backbone of our existing consumer protection framework, giving consumers fairer treatment, better access to information, more power to get things put right and more confidence in their ability to shape markets.”

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