Archived Consumer Issues
Last archive 2 January 2005
New guidelines for the credit industry
New 'Injunctions' Directive
for a full pint of beer
Support Networks launched
for home shopping consumers
to control car prices come into force
Society rapped by Office of Fair Trading
Control of Misleading Advertisements Regs
Act in force
Marking Order 1999 in force.
New consultation on Injunctions Directive
Contract awarded for international price survey
Comparative Advertisements Regs
sales survey shock!
Brokers survey shock!
Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations
Affairs White Paper
unwanted junk faxes?
prices too high
getting bad deal says OFT
phone line scam
Tips for Christmas
Consumer Week 1998
for electricity sales
fakers are not Robin Hood!
Protection 'A matter of luck'
products slip through the net
EC Price Indications Directive
Consumer Credit proposals
of the Unfair Contract Terms Regulations
lending - OFT Guidelines
Consumers in the Driving Seat
of UK Consumer Concerns
sight for Junk Mail??..New EC Directive
Consumer Guarantee Directive
to Notices to end?
in the Spotlight
for a beer?
used car report
Consumer Contract rules
guidance on standards of behaviour expected of consumer
credit licence holders was issued last month by the Office
of Fair Trading.
guidelines make clear what sort of behaviour is likely to
lead to action being taken to refuse or remove a licence.
They outline the type of conduct which is not consistent
with fitness to hold a licence. For example: dishonesty,
discrimination, the use of oppressive sales techniques and
unreasonably failing to offer redress to consumers.
Vickers, Director General of Fair Trading, said:
'Ensuring that credit providers are fit to hold their licences
is vital for borrowers and a key part of the OFT's work.
These guidelines are not designed to be a comprehensive
checklist but make clear what we regard as acceptable and
They will assist honest businesses as well as borrowers
and will also ensure that speedier action can be taken against
behaviour which clearly falls below the standard required.'
Section 25(2)(d) of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 the Director
General can, when determining whether or not a licensee
is fit to hold a licence to carry on the business of providing
consumer credit, consider evidence of the licensee engaging
in business practices appearing to him to be deceitful or
oppressive or otherwise unfair or improper (whether unlawful
a licensee has its credit licence revoked it is not able
to offer credit facilities. Consumer credit agreements already
made are not affected.
The OFT plans to add to these general guidelines later this
year with specific guidance for business sectors that attract
high levels of complaint, such as debt collection, credit
broking, used cars and home improvements.
copy of the guidance can be downloaded from www.oft.gov.uk,
hard copy is available from the OFT's Consumer Credit Licensing
Bureau on 020 7211 8626.
more information see:
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New regulations are expected soon, to give new powers to trading
standards officers to implement the European Directive 98/27/EC
on Injunctions for the protection of consumers’ interests,
known as the ‘Injunction Directive’.
will enable trading standards authorities, the Director
General of Fair Trading (DGFT) and certain other bodies
to apply to the court for ‘Stop Now Orders’ to stop traders
from infringing or threatening to infringe specified legislation,
where those infringements or threatened infringements would
harm the collective interests of consumers. Courts will
also be given the power to order traders to publish corrective
statements, to minimise the harm caused to consumers, by
past infringements they may have committed.
These new enforcement mechanisms, will work alongside existing
sanctions such as criminal prosecutions where these are
already provided for in legislation.
are expected to apply to UK legislation, which implements
EC directives on:
The Director General of Fair Trading will have lead responsibility
for all eleven directives areas and will have to put in place
coordination arrangements with other enforcement bodies. Trading
standards authorities in Great Britain and the Department
of Enterprise, Trade and Finance in Northern Ireland would
be empowered to apply for ‘Stop Now Orders’ in all the directive
areas except TV broadcasting and sponsorship, and medicines
negotiated away from business premises ("doorstep selling")
- TV broadcasting
travel, package holidays and package tours
of medicinal products for human use
terms in consumer contracts
contracts ("distance selling")
of consumer goods and associated guarantees
legal aspects of information society services.
Private consumer bodies will be named to act in specific areas
and will need to demonstrate that they would take an independent
and impartial approach to the use of their powers and act
with complete integrity in the interests of consumers.
Directive also establishes reciprocal arrangements within
the EU. This should enable enforcement bodies to tackle
traders based in one Member State who harm the collective
interests of consumers in another State.
Recognised UK enforcement bodies will be able to apply to
the courts of other Member States for orders to stop infringements
which originate there but which harm UK consumers.
Applications for ‘Stop Now Orders’ will be brought in either
the High Court or a county court (the Court of Session or
Sheriff Court in Scotland). Failure to comply with a ‘Stop
Now’ order would be treated as contempt of court punishable
by fines or even imprisonment.
These powers will provide trading standards authorities
with an additional tool, to stop rogue traders in their
tracks, especially where existing criminal sanctions might
be unwieldy or difficult to enforce. They are however a
change of focus, away from criminal law enforcement to civil
law injunctive powers.
It remains to be seen whether the perceived benefits arise
in a local government climate of reduced resources and where
there is currently little experience in using civil powers.
For the good of consumers it is certainly hoped so!
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For a number years the law has been uncertain about how much
liquid a consumer is entitled to receive when he orders a
pint of draught beer or cider. In the White Paper "Modern
Markets: Confident Consumers", the Government gave a commitment
to clarify the law in order to strengthen consumer protection
against short measure.
of Trade and Industry's consultation paper "Fair Measure"
on modernising the regulation of goods sold by quantity
(July 1999) invited views on whether the pint should be
defined as 100% liquid or as not less than 95% liquid. In
the light of responses to the public consultation, the Department
proposes to make three changes to the legislation:
The changes would be introduced by secondary legislation under
the Weights and Measures Act 1985 and would come into force
two years after the legislation is made. Over this period,
lined measure glasses, where needed, could be phased in to
replace brim measure glasses lost by breakage and disappearance,
without unnecessary costs to licensees or their customers,
and bar staff could be trained to serve full liquid measures.
measures in which draught beer and cider are required
to be sold (one third of a pint, one half of a pint, or
multiples of one half of a pint) would be defined as liquid,
which would include liquid in the head of froth but not
gas in the head;
would be obliged to serve 100% liquid on average, with
no deficiency exceeding 5%;
measure glasses could be used if they can contain the
full liquid measure of the beer or cider being served
(including liquid in any head); if not, either lined measure
glasses or metered dispensers would have to be used.
regulations on beer measures date from the Weights and Measures
Act 1963 and are set out in Article 2 of the Weights and
Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Order 1988 (SI 1988/2039),
which is made under Section 22 of the Weights and Measures
Retail sales of draught beer and cider may be sold only
in quantities of one third of a pint, one half of a pint
or multiples of one half of a pint. When selling for consumption
on the premises, licensees must use a capacity measure of
the quantity in question (either a brim measure glass or
a lined measure glass) or a metered dispenser.
The Capacity Serving Measures (Intoxicating Liquor) Regulations
1988 (SI 1988/120) require capacity measures to be tested
and stamped for accuracy. Metered dispensers must be stamped
for accuracy in accordance with the Measuring Equipment
(Intoxicating Liquor) Regulations 1983 (SI 1983/1656).
Act was silent as to whether gas in the head of froth is
part of the measure, and subsequent case law failed to remedy
this uncertainty. Some of the cases merely concluded that
what constitutes a pint of beer depends on the particular
facts of each case, bearing in mind local expectations and
the type of beer. This has not removed the uncertainty as
to whether gas forms part of the measure; and, if so, how
much gas is permitted to form part of the measure before
it becomes excessive and unreasonable.
any new regulations will end this uncertaintly, but questions
of quality and presentation must not give rise to conflict
with the separate questions of quantity and measurement
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Dr Kim Howells, Minister for Consumers, launched a programme
in October to help people get good quality advice on consumer
Networks will link up local authority and other advice services,
such as Trading Standards and Citizen Advice Bureaux, to
help them work better together to meet the consumer advice
needs of the whole community.
The main aim of the initiative is to improve the advice
available to consumers by getting best value from existing
resources. However opportunities will exist for local networks
to apply for funding support for good projects agreed as
part of a Network Development Plan.
the initiative Dr Howells said:
"Well informed and confident consumers help make markets
work better to give people a fair deal. I am determined
that we should help provide people with the information
and advice they need so that they can be confident and more
demanding in tackling consumer problems they face.
At the moment access to good quality consumer advice varies
enormously across the country. In some areas a consumer
may receive considerable help and advice. Elsewhere someone
with an identical problem may get little help.
The Consumer Support Network initiative will address this.
When people need help with a consumer problem - whether
this be simple information or advice, mediation or even
support in the courts - they will be able to approach any
agency within a Network to access the support they need."
McKechnie of the Consumers Association also welcomed the
"Too often people's problems have remained unsolved because
of barriers to access and lack of information. Hopefully,
the CSN will address this and will provide an easily accessible
joined up advice network, giving consumers high quality,
meaningful advice and information."
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Consumers who purchase goods and services by phone, mail order,
fax or via the internet will soon be able to do so with greater
confidence thanks to new Regulations which come into force
on 31 October 2000.
Introducing The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations
2000, Helen Liddell said:
"These Regulations are good news for consumers buying goods
and services from home. Millions of us now buy from catalogues
and over the phone, and with the popularity of buying products
on the internet increasing daily, it is important that all
consumers are protected and made aware of their rights. The
Distance Selling Regulations provide statutory backing for
the good business practices which many companies already observe
and will help to ensure that this best practice is followed
regulations help by giving consumers:
There will be a two-month transitional period to enable businesses
to take on board the requirements of the Regulations and the
DTI have published a set of faqs at http://www.dti.gov.uk/CACP/ca/dsdbulletin.htm.
right to receive clear information about the goods or
services before deciding to purchase;
of this information in writing or in another appropriate
durable medium, eg fax or e-mail;
- A cooling
off period of seven working days in which the consumer
can withdraw from the contract; (some exceptions)
agreed otherwise with the supplier, the right to receive
goods or services within 30 days.
of the regulations, a distance contract is one where the
consumer and supplier do not have face to face contact up
to and including the moment when the contract is concluded.
The Directive covers the sale of goods or services concluded
via e-commerce as well as other means of distance selling
including mail order and telephone sales, and fax.
The Directive requires that the consumer be given information
in writing or another "durable medium that is available
and accessible to him". It is not specific about the means
that could be used because of the constant development of
means of communication.
Consumers have an unconditional right to withdraw from the
contract within 7 working days and have their money refunded.
Where suppliers fail to provide the necessary information
in writing or in other durable form or to meet the performance
requirement the cancellation period is extended by up to
3 months. If the contract is not performed within 30 days,
then unless the parties have agreed to a longer period,
the consumer is entitled to his money back, unless substitute
goods or services are supplied and he accepts them.
Regulations do not specifically implement Article 10 of
the Directive, which relates to Unsolicited Commercial Communications
from business to consumers by phone, fax, mail or e-mail.
In the case of phone and fax implementation has already
been made by means of the Telecommunications (Data Protection
and Privacy) Regulations 1999. For mail and e-mail the DTI
considers that the self-regulatory schemes that are currently
in place provide the necessary protection.
are a number of schemes which allow consumers to register
their wish not to receive unsolicited marketing material
or telephone calls:
Telephone Sales Calls - Telephone Preference Service 0845
070 0707, 5th Floor, Haymarket House, 1 Oxendon Street,
London SW1Y 4EE. http://www.tpsonline.org.uk
Marketing Faxes - Under Government legislation introduced
on 1 May 1999 it is unlawful to send an unsolicited fax
to an individual which includes consumers, sole traders
and except in Scotland partnerships without their prior
consent. For further information see: http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/html/reg_welcome.htm
Direct Marketing Mail - Mailing Preference Service, Freepost
22, London W1E 7EZ. http://www.dma.org.uk
Unsolicited Marketing Mail - The Direct Marketing Association
(DMA) has a scheme for consumers who do not wish to receive
unaddressed marketing mail - Door to Door Council Manager,
DMA, Freepost 22, London W1E 7EZ. To stop unaddressed
leaflets delivered by the Royal Mail, consumers should
write to Royal Mail Door-to Door Service, Freepost, Beaumont
House, Oxford OX4 5BR.
Marketing E Mails - If you wish to register not to receive
Unsolicited Commercial E-mails (UCE), the EMPS (E-mail
Preference Scheme) is operated by the DMA in the United
States. Please note that the database is held in the US,
and your personal data is not, therefore, covered by UK
Data Protection legislation. For further details see http://www.e-mps.org/en/
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measures to bring down car prices took effect on the 1st
September 2000 as the first X-registration cars left the
forecourts. The Supply of New Cars Order, introduced to
bring about greater competition in the supply and sale
of new cars, was announced by Secretary of State for Trade
and Industry, following a Competition Commission investigation,
which concluded that prices paid by private buyers for
new cars in the UK are on average 10 per cent too high.
central measure in the Order requires suppliers to offer
dealers who buy cars outright similar volume discounts
to those offered to fleet buyers. Suppliers must make
their first offer of volume related discounts to dealers
before 30 November.
The Order also:
suppliers from discriminating in respect of discounts
when supplying cars to a contract hire company according
to whether the end-user is a private or fleet buyer;
suppliers from discriminating against or refusing
to supply dealers because of the dealer's advertised
suppliers from agreeing to pay bonuses or give preferences
to dealers on the grounds of the number of cars pre-registered
by the dealer;
suppliers to publish information about the number
of cars they have pre-registered; and
that sales of cars obtained from authorised dealers
in other EU Member States count towards dealers' annual
sales targets, performance against which can affect
whether a dealer keeps it's franchise.
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about the Law Society’s failure to deal effectively with
mounting complaints against solicitors nearly lost them
their Group Consumer Credit Licence last month (June 2000).
John Bridgeman, Director General of Fair Trading, has
renewed the group credit licence of the Law Society of
England and Wales for only one year, subject to quarterly
reviews. Group licences are normally issued for five years.
In giving such a limited extension to the Law Society
Mr Bridgeman made clear that the Society needed to deal
with the level of consumer complaints much more effectively
Bridgeman said: ‘I gave very serious thought to removing
from the Law Society its group credit licence. The volume
of complaints against solicitors and the continuing
failure of the Law Society to take effective action
to improve matters substantially causes me great concern.
It serves to undermine public confidence in the profession.
‘Most importantly, the Law Society should seek to change
its members’ attitude to complaints and recognise that
effective complaint handling at an early stage is the
best way of ensuring they have satisfied customers.
‘Some progress has been made over the last year but
only in respect of the complaints backlog being dealt
with by the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors.
This is not sufficient to remove my underlying worry
that insufficient importance is given to consumer care.
‘However if the Society’s self regulatory regime can
be made to work, it will offer consumers a level of
protection that would be extremely difficult to match
through any other system. I am giving the Law Society
a final warning and a final chance to put their house
in order. I will renew the licence for a further year,
but during that year my Office will conduct quarterly
reviews of progress.
‘If substantial and quantifiable progress is not made
action to revoke the group licence will be taken. The
Law Society should not mistake the fact that this is
very much a last chance and that I will expect evidence
of real movement by the time of the first review of
the licence in early November.’
the group licence is not renewed it would mean that
solicitors who hold a practising certificate which is
in force - would have to apply for individual standard
licences under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, if they
wished to engage in activities regulated by the Consumer
Credit Act 1974.
full details see the Office
of Fair Trading site.
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Regulations, which came into force on 23 April, implement
Council Directive No. 97/55/EC which amends Directive
84/450/EEC concerning misleading advertising so as to
include comparative advertising. These Regulations amend
the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988
(S.I. 1988/915) by adding provisions dealing with "comparative
advertisements" to the regime governing "misleading advertisements".
A "comparative advertisement" is defined as being an advertisement
which either implicitly or explicitly identifies a competitor
or goods or services offered by a competitor (regulation
3(4)). A comparative advertisement is permitted only when
certain conditions are met.
example of comparative advertising is in the current widespread
practice of supermarkets displaying a 'basket', or 'trolley'
of goods with a considerable saving identified if you
buy them in their store!!
is not misleading;
compares goods or services meeting the same needs
or intended for the same purpose;
objectively compares one or more material, relevant,
verifiable and representative features of those goods
and services, which may include price;
does not create confusion in the market place between
the advertiser and a competitor or between the advertiser's
trade marks, trade names, other distinguishing marks,
goods or services and those of a competitor;
does not discredit or denigrate the trade marks, trade
names, other distinguishing marks, goods, services,
activities, or circumstances of a competitor;
products with designation of origin, it relates in
each case to products with the same designation;
does not take unfair advantage of the reputation of
a trade mark, trade name or other distinguishing marks
of a competitor or of the designation of origin of
does not present goods or services as imitations or
replicas of goods or services bearing a protected
trade mark or trade name.
The provisions of the principal Regulations, which require
the Director General of Fair Trading to consider complaints
(other than frivolous or vexatious ones) about misleading
advertisements are extended to apply to complaints concerning
comparative advertisements. Similarly the provisions empowering
the Director to bring proceedings for an injunction to
prevent the publication or continued publication of an
advertisement is extended in relation to a comparative
advertisement which he considers is not permitted under
all a very valuable piece of legislation, which not
only protects consumers from misleading advertisements,
but competitor businesses as well. The full text of
the amendment regulations can be seen on the HMSO site.
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which came into force on 1st March 2000 introduces new
competition rules which prohibit agreements, business
practices and conduct that damage competition in the UK.
The new rules are designed to ensure that UK businesses
remain competitive. Complying with them will help to ensure
that business is as competitive as it can be - good for
businesses and good for consumers.
Act has implications for businesses of all types and
sizes - even sole traders. There is limited immunity
from financial penalties for ‘small agreements’ and
‘conduct of minor significance’, but this does not extend
to agreements to fix prices, nor cover the other consequences
of infringement, such as agreements being made void
and the possibility of being sued for damages. Moreover,
the Director General has the power to withdraw the immunity
in certain circumstances.
It is recognised, however, that the way in which small
businesses choose to ensure compliance may reflect their
size. In other words, smaller undertakings will not
be expected to implement a formal compliance programme,
but they will need to ensure that their employees are
aware of and kept up to date with the possibility of
anti-competitive practices and their consequences if
they are to demonstrate that they have taken adequate
steps to achieve compliance.
Act prohibits agreements and practices that prevent,
restrict or distort competition - or are intended to
do so. These can be formal agreements or informal, written
or not. In general terms, the Competition Act 1998 outlaws
any agreements, business practices and conduct which
have a damaging effect on competition in the United
More specifically, the Act prohibits:
the Act, the UK regulatory authorities have powers to
investigate undertakings believed to be involved in anti-competitive
activities and to impose financial penalties where appropriate.
Third parties may be able to claim for damages in the
agreements between undertakings, decisions by associations
of undertakings (such as trade associations), and
concerted practices which prevent, restrict or distort
competition, or are intended to do so, and which may
affect trade within the United Kingdom (known as the
Chapter I prohibition) - this prohibition applies
to both informal and formal arrangements (that is,
agreements, decisions, or practices), whether or not
they are set out in writing and
abuse by one or more undertakings of a dominant position
in a market which may affect trade within the United
Kingdom (the Chapter II prohibition).
many different types of agreement are caught by the
prohibition, the Act lists specific examples to which
the prohibition is particularly applicable. These include:
is enforced by the Director General of Fair Tradings,
and he has wide-ranging powers to investigate suspected
breaches. Officials can enter premises and demand relevant
documents, and may even get a warrant to make a search.
Offending agreements or conduct can be ordered to be terminated.
to fix purchase or selling prices or other trading
to limit or control production, markets, technical
development or investment;
to share markets or supply sources;
to make contracts subject to unrelated conditions;
to apply different trading conditions to equivalent
transactions, thereby placing some parties at a competitive
If there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an
undertaking is infringing either prohibition, he - or
authorised officials acting on his behalf - can enter
premises and require the production of documents he considers
relevant to the investigation.
Further, if he obtains a warrant from the High Court or
the Court of Session, he - or his authorised officials
- can enter the premises, using reasonable force where
necessary, and search for documents. Normally, only copies
of any relevant documents will be taken away but, in limited
circumstances, originals may be seized.
an undertaking is found to have breached either prohibition,
the Director General may order the business to terminate
or amend the offending agreement or cease the offending
Further, the Director General has the power to order
interim measures which require an undertaking to refrain
from engaging in suspected illegal activity while he
investigates the matter. But he will exercise this power
only when he considers it necessary to take urgent action
to protect third parties from suffering serious, irreparable
damage, or to protect the wider public interest.
Undertakings found to have infringed either prohibition
may be liable to a financial penalty of up to 10% of
their turnover in the United Kingdom. The turnover of
an undertaking for the purposes of this maximum cap
on penalties is defined in the Competition Act (Determination
of Turnover for Penalties) Order 2000
In addition those parts of any agreement which are found
to infringe the Chapter I prohibition are null and void
and therefore cannot be enforced. Third parties who
consider they have been harmed as a result of any unlawful
agreement, practice, or conduct may have a claim for
damages in the courts.
information can be obtained from the Office
of Fair Trading site
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10th November 1999 under section 4 of the Prices Act 1974,
this Order implements Directive 98/6/EC of the European
Parliament and of the Council (OJ No. L180, 18.3.98 p.
27), on consumer protection in the indication of the prices
of products offered to consumers.
Order completely revokes the Price Marking Order 1991
from 18th March 2000 and applies to all products offered
by traders to consumers other than those supplied in
the course of the provision of a service, those sold
by auction or works of art or antiques. With specified
exceptions, the Order requires that the selling price
is given where a product is offered by a trader to a
Order also requires, subject to specified exceptions,
that the unit price must be indicated for all products
sold from bulk or for pre-packaged products which are
required by or under Parts IV or V of the Weights and
Measures Act 1985 to be marked with quantity or to be
made up in a prescribed quantity.
Order requires the display of prices in sterling but
permits additional indications of price in a foreign
currency subject to specified conditions. All price
and other indications required under the Order are subject
to requirements on visibility. Prices are required to
be inclusive of VAT and all other taxes and provision
is made in respect of price indications following a
change in the rate of VAT. Provision is also made in
respect of the manner in which the unit price shall
be expressed with regard to decimal places and roundings
can see the full text of the Order on the HMSO
more detail, the Order requires the display of:
goods are made up by quantity the standard units of quantity
unit price for goods sold;
from bulk (for example, fruit and vegetables)
- goods which are required by Weights and Measures
legislation to be marked with quantity or to be
made up in a prescribed quantity.
for a range of goods, both foods and non-foods, alternate
units must be used, e.g. bread must be unit priced per
100g. The legislation includes the full list of alternate
units and where they must be used. Where goods are sold
by number then the price per single item must be shown.
always, price marking must be unambiguous, easily identifiable
and clearly legible. The order does not give hard and
fast rules as to how this is to be attained, it does
however require that consumers should not have to ask
assistance in order to see prices.
In addition prices can be shown in a number of ways,
provided they meet the above requirements. For example
goods kept out of sight of the consumer are exempt from
price marking until they are put up for sale. All prices
must be inclusive of VAT. Other charges may be shown separately
but they must be easy to identify, easy to read and must
not confuse the consumer.
the goods themselves
a ticket or notice near to them
together with other prices on a list or catalogue(s)
in close proximity to them.
more detailed advice for retailers please visit our
TS Help section or go directly
to the Price
Marking advice page.
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European Directive on injunctions for the protection of consumers'
interests (Directive 98/27/EC), known as the "Injunctions
Directive", was adopted on 19 May 1998. It has to be implemented
in all Member States by 1 January 2001.
The purpose of the Directive is to permit consumer protection
bodies to apply to the courts or competent administrative
authorities both in their own and in other Member States
for orders to stop traders infringing the legislation implementing
nine specific consumer protection directives where these
infringements harm the collective interests of consumers.
It is not however intended as a means of seeking redress
for individual consumers.
The nine directives are:
tenth, the recently adopted directive on the sale of consumer
goods and associated guarantees (99/44/EC) is also covered
but is not required to be implemented until 1 January 2002.
The results of this consultation will be built into the implementation
plans for that directive, on which there will be separate
advertising (84/450/EEC as amended by 97/55/EC);
negotiated away from business premises ("doorstep selling")
credit (87/102/EEC as last amended by 98/7/EC);
broadcasting activities (89/552/EEC (Articles 10 to 21)
as amended by 97/36/EC);
travel, package holidays and package tours (90/314/EEC);
of medicinal products for human use (92/28/EEC);
terms in consumer contracts (93/13/EEC);
contracts ("distance selling") (97/7/EC).
The UK Government's proposed approach and options for implementing
the Directive is planned in such as way as:
Directive supports the aim of improving the enforcement of
EU consumer protection legislation. It provides novel opportunities
for consumer protection authorities and bodies to take action
against infringements which originate in one Member State
but have their harmful effects on consumers in another.
to undermine existing regulatory and self-regulatory procedures;
to place undue burdens on business;
enable private consumer bodies, which meet strict criteria,
to take action;
ensure there is co-ordination between UK consumer bodies
to prevent multiple challenges to businesses;
bodies, including those from other Member States, must
consult both the trader and a nominated public body before
they can take court action.
The ability for consumer protection bodies to apply for
injunctions (interdicts in Scotland) to stop infringements
of the listed directives is intended as an additional enforcement
mechanism which will run alongside, rather than replace,
existing procedures such as criminal proceedings where these
are already provided for in legislation.
The DTI is anxious to receive views from a wide range of
interests, and more details of the Directive and the consultation
process can be found on their website at:http://www.dti.gov.uk/CACP/ca/injdir.htm
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arrangements for resolving consumers' financial complaints
will come into force later this year when a new Financial
Services Ombudsman service is launched.
This service will bring together eight different complaint
handling and ombudsman schemes which currently operate in
the financial sector - for example the Banking Ombudsman,
the Building Societies Ombudsman, the Insurance Ombudsman,
the PIA Ombudsman etc. It is hoped that this 'one-stop shop'
approach will provide a better service to consumers with better
accessibility, and certainly co-ordination of complaints against
rogue businesses should be much better than it has been to
Services Authority are keen to generate as much comment
and debate about how this service should be set up and operated.
Please visit their website and send in your comments, especially
if you have had any bad experiences in this sector.....hey!
- who hasn't ;)
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for the international price survey of consumer goods, promised
in the recent Department of Trade and Industry White
Paper on Consumer Affairs, has been awarded to leading
marketing research company AC Nielsen.
This will be an annual study to investigate price differentials
using a 'shopping basket' of 100 items between the UK and
the US, France and Germany. The DTI will take action if
any discrepancies are found to be caused by anti-competitive
The outcome of the study will be followed with some interest
as many commentators have remarked on the noticeable price
differences between the UK, and especially the USA, which
cannot be explained away by things like sales taxes, exchange
rates, and overheads.
Some of the price differences highlighted in a recent
Which report included
Levi jeans which were 45ukp in London but 32.50ukp in New
York, a Ralph Lauren shirt which was 70ukp in London and
33ukp in NYC, and an Olympus camera which was 150ukp in
London and only 99ukp in New York.
As we are currently seeing with the motor car industry,
the more pressure which can be put on manufacturers to reduce
prices the better. And the more flexible and confident that
consumers are to purchase goods in other countries, or through
the internet, the more that prices will have to fall in
the UK, for UK manufacturers and retailers to retain their
current levels of business.
It's simple supply and demand.... hopefully!
Back to the top
The Government is currently consulting on the proposed Control
of Misleading Advertisements (Comparative Advertisements)
(Amendment) Regulations 2000 which are intended to implement
the requirements of Directive 97/55/EC concerning misleading
comparative advertising ("the Directive").
The UK is obliged to implement any necessary changes in law
by 23 April 2000.
Comparative advertising is defined in the Directive as
being any advertisement which explicitly or by implication
identifies a competitor or goods or services offered by
a competitor. Generally such advertising is already
permitted in the UK, subject to both voluntary and legal
controls . The voluntary controls include specific rules
relating to comparative advertising, which are similar to
the conditions in the Directive, contained in the advertising
industry’s British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion.
The broadcasting regulatory bodies’ respective codes on
advertising also contain very similar provisions. The regulatory
bodies have statutory powers to direct licence holders to
ensure that the provisions of these codes are complied with.
Fundamentally, therefore, for practical purposes, it is
the DTI's view that advertising practice in the UK is unlikely
to be affected to any great extent by these changes in the
The Directive is primarily a consumer protection measure
having among its objectives the promotion of the single
European market. It is intended to harmonise laws on comparative
advertising in Member States by amending the Misleading
Advertising Directive (84/450/EEC) so as to permit comparative
advertisements providing the following conditions are met:
To facilitate the extended scope of the Misleading Advertising
Directive, the Directive also extends the enforcement Articles
of Directive 84/450/EEC so that they apply to the control
of comparative advertisements as well. This includes the requirement
that advertisers must be able to substantiate their claims
and that Member States must have in place sufficient enforcement
provisions to enable the purpose of the Directive to be met.
- they are not misleading;
- they compare goods or services meeting the same needs
or intended for the same purpose;
- they objectively compare one or more material, relevant,
verifiable and representative features, which may include
- they do not create confusion in the market place between
the advertiser and the competitor or between the advertiser’s
trade marks, trade names, other distinguishing marks,
or his goods and services, and those of a competitor;
- they do not discredit or denigrate the trade marks,
trade names, other distinguishing marks, or the goods,
services, activities or circumstances of a competitor;
- if the comparison relates to a product with a designation
of origin under Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2081/92 of
14 July 1984 on the protection of geographical indications
and designations of origin for agricultural products and
foodstuffs, the comparison is only permitted if it compares
the product with another product with the same designation
- they do not take unfair advantage of the reputation
of a trade mark, trade name other distinguishing mark
of a competitor or of the designation of origin of competing
- they do not present goods or services as imitations
or replicas of goods or services bearing a protected trade
mark or trade name;
- where a comparison relates to a special offer it must
indicate clearly the date on which the offer closes, or,
if appropriate, that the offer is subject to availability.
If the offer has not yet begun it must also indicate the
commencement date of the period during which the offer
The main means by which the Government will implement these
requirements is by amending the Control of Misleading Advertisements
Regulations 1988 (SI 1988/915) to include the conditions for
comparative advertising mentioned above. The amendment will
also extend the enforcement responsibilities of the Director
General of Fair Trading (DGFT) and the responsibilities of
the Independent Television Commission, the Welsh television
authority, and the Radio Authority in respect of comparative
Investment advertisements, advertisements in respect of
investment business, and other advertisements which are
covered by the separate regime under the Financial Services
Act 1986 and which are currently excluded from the coverage
of the 1988 Regulations will continue to be excluded. Assurances
have been given by the FSA that the current financial services
regime is capable of adequately implementing the Directive
in respect of those advertisements which feature comparisons.
It is proposed that the new financial services regime being
formulated under the Financial Services and Markets Bill
will extend to deposit and general insurance advertisements
as well. When the new regime comes into force, it is therefore
envisaged that the Control of Misleading Advertisements
Regulations will be further amended to exclude advertisements
for deposit and general insurance services.
For more details on these proposals, search the Department
of Trade and Industry site at www.dti.gov.uk.
Back to the top
Under age sales survey shock!
Trading Standards Officers call for introduction of a Proof
Of Age Scheme after a national survey by Trading Standards
Officers found more than one in six shops in England and Wales
flouted the law by selling restricted goods to children. In
some areas the figure was even higher - 75 per cent of traders
selling to under-age children in the Isle of Wight, 66.7 per
cent in the London Borough of Bromley and 60 per cent in Wolverhampton.
Young volunteers, aged between 10 and 14, were sold items
such as cigarettes, adult videos, solvents, National Lottery
tickets and knives - in many cases with no questions asked.
The area with the highest percentage of sales of age-restricted
goods was the Isle of Wight, where a 13-year-old girl managed
to buy cigarettes at 21 out of 28 premises visited.
Kevin Law, Isle of Wight Area Trading Standards Officer,
said: 'We were very surprised by the results because we
believed the shopkeepers in the area were very responsible.
'Most of them do more than is required in the way of displaying
notices and prompts on tills for staff to ask the age of
young people. 'The traders themselves have been shaken by
this survey because, despite their precautions, staff obviously
still sold to a 13-year-old girl. We have given them oral
and written warnings - our advice is even if someone looks
16 or 17 ask them to prove they are.'
Wolverhampton Trading Standards, in the West Midlands, used
two 13-year-old boys in their survey and found retailers
sold to them in six out of 10 cases - the highest for any
borough outside London. Peter Calvert, Divisional Manager
for Wolverhampton Trading Standards, said: 'We were quite
surprised by the level of sales as it runs against the trend
in other surveys we have carried out in the last two years.'
A total of 59 Trading Standards authorities in England and
Wales took part in the survey, visiting 2,388 premises.
The young volunteers were able to buy age-restricted goods
in 412 premises. They were asked for their age in 725 outlets
and for further proof of age in 402 cases.
See the ITSA site at tradingstandards.gov.uk
for more details and the full press release.
AGE-RESTRICTED GOODS SURVEY ENGLAND & WALES SUMMARY
Visits Purchase Made
English Counties 1000 181
English Districts 867 137
London Boroughs 261 44
All English 2128 362
Wales 260 50
All English and Welsh 2388 412
Back to the top
Mortgage Brokers survey shock!
the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Food and Trading
Standards have recently collaborated with trading standards
authorities across the UK in a survey examining broker compliance
with the requirements of the Mortgage Code. This survey involved
nineteen local authorities from around the country undertaking
mystery shopper visits to 160 brokers. These visits took place
during the latter half of July and August, and coincide with
a Government review of the regulation of mortgages.
The survey findings will make for disturbing reading for
consumers. The considerable efforts that have gone into
developing the Code and promoting compliance are not being
reflected out on the high street. In far too many cases,
the survey found little or no information about mortgage
products and the services offered by brokers, giving the
public bad advice and putting their finances at risk.
The Mortgage Code defines a number of minimum requirements
for mortgage lenders and brokers. These are intended to
ensure that consumers receive adequate and appropriate information.
In practice, however, the experience of local authority
‘mystery shoppers’ is that brokers are either unfamiliar
with the Code requirements or unconcerned with meeting them.
For example the survey found that:
The inescapable conclusion is that the present arrangements
are proving insufficient to ensure an adequate standard of
consumer protection and confidence. Whilst self-regulation
undoubtedly has a part to play, some legislative enhancement
is necessary to deliver the desired minimum standards.
- 29% of brokers did not even tell consumers about the
- 33% of brokers gave no description of the service they
- 35% of brokers did not say on whose behalf they were
- 40% of brokers were considered to have offered inadequate
advice or information;
- 70% of brokers did not tell consumers of their data
- 28% of brokers did not give any written information
about their service; and
- 67% of brokers failed to display an Mortgage Code Arbitration
In conjunction with the Local Government Association and ITSA
a press release has been issued drawing attention to the key
findings. Copies of both this and the full report are available
to download from http://www.lacots.org.uk/mortgageregulation/brokers.htm.
Concern about the mortgage sales process, particularly
the scope for mis-selling, is at an all time high. The factors
fuelling this disquiet are many, but include:
Mortgages are complicated products - and are becoming ever
more complex. As well as the loan itself, consumers have to
take a view on a number of related considerations, including
investments, insurance, fees and potential charges. A mortgage
broker can therefore play a key role in helping consumers
understand and decide upon the appropriate product(s). Even
the best-informed consumer would benefit from informed and
impartial advice, for those less able it is vital that the
quality of service from mortgage brokers is at least adequate.
The simple truth is that the current self-regulatory system
does not ensure this.
- the creation of a new control framework for the financial
- widely reported evidence of mis-selling across a range
of investment products;
- the resurgence in the housing market; and
- evidence of actual or perceived consumer detriment in
relation to mortgage sales.
Back to the top
New Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts
Coming into force on 1 October 1999, the new Unfair Terms
in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, (SI 1999/2083) revoke
and replace the existing Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts
Regulations 1994 (S.I. 1994/3159) and should provide much
greater protection for consumers as was promised in the recent
White Paper on Consumer Affairs (see next story)
The regulations re-enact most of the 1994 Regulations
with modifications to reflect more closely the wording of
the EC Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts
(O.J. No. L95, 21.4.93, p. 29). One of the most significant
extensions is the ability of bodies other than the Office
of Fair Trading to seek injunctions (in Scotland interdict)
to prevent the continued use of potentially unfair contract
terms in consumer contracts.
One of the great problems of the original regulations was
that the resources of the OFT were so stretched in this
area that no traders were ever taken to court, and some
were not pursued, even if they failed to change their terms
- or ignored the Office completely!
Devolving powers to local authority trading standards services
will have a greater impact as action can be taken locally
and much more swiftly.
The Regulations apply, with certain exceptions, to unfair
terms in contracts concluded between a consumer and a seller
or supplier (regulation 4). They provide that an unfair
term is one which has not been individually negotiated and
which, contrary to the requirement of good faith, causes
a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations
under the contract to the detriment of the consumer. Schedule
2 contains an indicative list of terms which may be regarded
Importantly unfair contract terms are not binding on the
consumer (regulation 8).
The Regulations do maintain the obligation on the Director
General of Fair Trading to consider any complaint made to
him about the fairness of any contract term drawn up for
general use, but the other qualifying bodies named
in Schedule 1 (statutory regulators, trading standards departments
and Consumers' Association) may also apply for an injunction
to prevent the continued use of an unfair contract term
provided it has notified the Director General of its intention
at least 14 days before the application is made.
The Regulations also provide a new power for the Director
General and the public qualifying bodies to require traders
to produce copies of their standard contracts, and give
information about their use, in order to facilitate investigation
of complaints and ensure compliance with undertakings or
If you have any doubts about any terms in contracts you
have for goods or services, give your local
trading standards service a call!
Back to the top
Consumer Affairs White paper
In its new White Paper, modern markets: confident consumers,
released by the DTI on 23 July, the Government has set a new
The Paper states that open and competitive markets are the
best guarantee of a good deal for consumers and proposes a
framework that fosters free and fair competition, but is tough
on those who seek to damage the competitive process.
- to promote open and competitive markets
- to provide people with the skills, knowledge and information
they need to become demanding consumers
- to encourage responsible businesses to follow good practice
- to avoid burdening those businesses with unnecessary
- to protect the public from serious trading malpractice
and unsafe products.
The Government is also launching an annual study to investigate
price differentials between the UK and the US, France and
Germany. That is a proposed 'shopping basket' of 100 items.
Competition authorities will then take action if any discrepancies
are caused by anti-competitive behaviour.
To make informed choices, consumers need reliable information
on price, quality and the safety of products.
To that end steps will be taken to ensure:
Many of these things will be achieved by changes in the law
to give trading standards officers access to tougher controls
on pricing, fair trading, and misdescriptions of services.
And to ensure that small businesses as well as consumers are
- better information on prices
- truthful advertising and claims
- the provision timely information
- the building of knowledge and skills
- customer service is promoted
- effective codes of practice
- good practice
- more help ia available for business
Consumer education is also made a top priority. The Government
is proposing to work with a wide range of groups including
local authority trading standards services who have already
developed a wide range of training packages for adults and
The Office of Fair Trading is to have an enhanced role in
the approval and publicising of codes of practice for various
trades. There are already a vast number of codes, but all
are self regulated, and in many cases this has not worked
to the consumers advantage. New codes are more likely to be
The Government has recognised what TSOs have known for
decades - existing law fails to deter the small number of
rogue traders who continually disregard legislation aimed
at protecting consumers. The Government now wants a much
clearer targeting of the dishonest.
The whole White Paper is available in .pdf format from the
new DTI site http://www.consumer.gov.uk
- a power for the courts to grant injunctions against
specific practices carried out by specified traders
- a power for the courts to ban from trading for a period
of time those traders with a history of disregarding their
- a power for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
to make orders by secondary legislation specifying that
certain practices which have been shown to be harmful
should be made illegal.
- that the power to seek injunctions and banning orders
will be made available to local authorities as well as
- a modern trading standards service in local government,
strengthened to meet the expectations of consumers and
business, including money for more and better training
to provide more officers to enforce consumer protection
law and ensure a high quality service across the country
- to widening the enforcement base by giving more bodies
the right to take action against unfair contract terms
and to seek injunctions against traders who breach the
law in nine key areas.
At last the document we have been waiting for to provide
the protection consumers need, and plug the gaps and loop
holes of existing regulation....or is it?
It remains to be seem if all the threads of the proposals
will be implemented or if it is well intentioned waffle,
but there are a lot of good proposals which will be universally
- extension of Fair Trading controls to trading standards
from the OFT. The OFT has long had extensive powers in
these areas, but its remoteness and resource difficulties
has meant frustration for consumers and TSOs when action
has not been as swift as it could have been. These powers
should really bite on cowboy traders.
- review of Trade Descriptions legislation to cover services
to the same extent as goods. A long standing anomaly!
- extension of controls over homeworking schemes and trading
- improved focus on counterfeit goods and car clocking
- new proposals on the froth on beer question which has
been around for ever! - it remains to be seen what can
be done about this and in fact this is a small item which
has already been jumped on by news reporters in an unhelpful
- emphasis on consumer advice, however it does appear
that trading standards authorities are sidelined somewhat
with more emphasis on advice provision by CABx and other
'advice networks'. This does not recognise the good work
that many authorities do in this area and many were hoping
that consumer advice would be made a statutory requirement
- additional funding for TSO training is welcome as the
service is around 500 officers short across the country,
but many services are woefully underfunded at the local
level and there needs to be more recognition of this.
- recognition of consumer difficulties in many different
areas, such as electronic commerce, financial services
- setting up of a new consumer gateway internet site.
To be honest this should have been set up years ago, and
on first sight appears not to be an amalgam of different
agencies as is the excellent US consumer gateway www.consumer.gov
but simply a site containing much of the pre-existing
DTI information. We will have to wait and see what happens
here. If it gets really good it might even take the place
of Trading Standards Net *g*
- a widening of the 'enforcement base' - it is not completely
clear what this will involve, but if for instance, locally
unaccountable, organisations such as the Consumers Association
are given powers then there may be some confusion in the
minds of consumers and businesses as to who the enforcement
authorities really are. Enforcement should be retained
by a strengthened, locally accountable trading standards
service which serves the needs of its local citizens and
- it is also not clear how devolution of Scotland and
Wales will affect some of the proposals - the scots legal
system for example differs greatly from the english one
and proposals on injunctions for example may have to be
further discussed north of the border.
Back to the top
A Devon soft drinks manufacturer has been sent to prison in
connection with 'passing off' his products as Coca-Cola and
Schweppes soft drinks.
The allegation was that he had refilled empty Coca-Cola and
Schweppes boxes with his own 'post mix syrup' - a product
which is made up by adding carbonated water in pubs and clubs.
A joint operation between St Helens Trading Standards
and HM Customs closed down a clothing scam in the North
East recently - a large consignment of fake clothing imported
from Portugal raised the suspicions of Customs Officers.
Two midlands traders have been jailed for selling fake
goods - one for nine months on eight offences under the
Trade Marks Act for selling fake Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren
and Armani clothing - and the other for one month after
Trading Standards Officers seized over 500 items of fake
clothing from a market in Warwickshire.
A joint operation between Police and Trading Standards
Officers in Swindon led to a counterfeit clothes seller
being jailed for nine months after a raid on his house netted
nearly 100 fake items.
It is estimated that Formula One stars like Damon Hill
and Michael Schumacher have lost up to 100 million pounds
in a swindle involving poor quality fake sports wear and
F1 memorabilia. A team of private detectives are on the
For more information on anti counterfeiting work try the
Back to the top
End to unwanted junk faxes?
UK consumers and businesses have greater protection against
receiving unwanted "junk" faxes and phone calls, thanks to
The Telecommunications (Data Protection and Privacy) (Direct
Marketing) Regulations 1998 which came into force at the beginning
of May 1999.
The Regulations give effect to the direct marketing provisions
of the Telecoms Data Protection Directive (97/66/EC) which
requires EC Member States to put in place a scheme to ensure
that individuals who do not wish to receive unsolicited
direct marketing calls do not continue to receive such calls.
The Regulations also make provision for protection against
unsolicited direct marketing by fax. In the case of individual
subscribers, unsolicited direct marketing faxes are not
permitted unless the recipient has expressly consented.
Corporate subscribers may choose to opt-out of receiving
such faxes with the scheme (as may individuals if they want
the additional safeguard).
"Individual" for the purpose of these Regulations refers
to private individuals and sole traders throughout the UK,
and partnerships in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is now an offence to send unsolicited direct marketing
faxes to an individual. In addition, companies who do not
wish to receive unsolicited direct marketing faxes, and individuals
who do not wish to receive unsolicited direct marketing phone
calls, will be able to register with opt-out schemes, run
by the Direct Marketing Association appointed by OFTEL.
- provide a ban on sending unwanted "junk" faxes to individuals;
- enable people to opt-out of receiving unwanted direct
marketing phone-calls by registering, free of charge,
their name with a centralised list;
- enable companies to sign up to a similar scheme to avoid
receiving "junk" faxes;
- require marketers to offer a contact address or freephone
number so that people can contact them to ask to be removed
from their databases.
Welcoming the regulations, a Department
of Trade and Industry spokesman said:
"Being disturbed at home by an unwanted phone call from
someone trying to sell you a product you don’t want is for
many an irritating invasion of privacy.
"Its even more frustrating for people who have a fax at
home who receive unwanted junk faxes that not only use up
their fax paper, but can also disturb them at night.
"Small companies in particular, are frustrated by this.
Having their fax machines clogged by unwanted advertising
and "joke" faxes not only costs money, but important business
correspondence can be delayed as a result.
"Thankfully, most businesses are committed to responsible
direct marketing practices; these Regulations will ensure
greater protection for individuals and businesses against
those few unscrupulous operators who do sadly exist".
People wishing to register with the opt-out schemes from
4 May should call:
0845 070 0707 for telephone preference registration; and
0845 070 0702 for fax preference registration
Direct marketing businesses should call 01932 414161 for
an information pack.
The Regulations will be enforced by the Data Protection
Back to the top
EC Consumer Complaint Form
A new European consumer complaint form has been drawn up by
the services of the European Commission, as part of an ongoing
initiative looking at ways to help in consumer redress and
access to justice.
The form is designed to improve communication between
consumers and businesses, with a view to helping them reach
amicable solutions to problems which they may encounter
in their various transactions.
It can be used for disputes within national frontiers
or those extending to the rest of the European Union. The
form has been designed to "guide" and orient consumers in
formulating their claims and contains multiple-choice lists
of responses to help consumers indicate their problems and
their claims, together with sufficient space for users to
give additional details or describe particular circumstances
not covered by the multiple-choice lists.
The multiple-choice design, and the fact that the form is
available in all 11 languages of the European Union, should
facilitate the problem of translation in cases of cross-border
disputes where the parties speak different languages.
At the moment this is the start of a pilot project, supported
in the UK by the DTI in order to assess the form’s relevance
and effectiveness. Depending on the results, the Commission
will then make any changes deemed necessary.
The European complaint form is in no way designed to replace
the first stage of dialogue between consumer and trader.
It should be used only if this initial contact fails to
produce a satisfactory result, and can then take the place
of the letter of complaint that consumers would normally
The EC consumer complaint form could be a useful tool,
helping to resolve consumer disputes, and if widely adopted
making it much easier for consumers to act for themselves.
However at the moment there are many barriers to its success,
most importantly traders will be unaware of it and most
small traders may be unwilling to accept it. If it is so
easy to use consumers may abuse the process, using the form
to make frivolous complaints and bringing the whole idea
into disrepute. Crossborder complaints, although few, will
also be a problem - although the form is available in many
languages someone will still have to translate the actual
complaint into another language which could prove difficult.
But lets see what happens...many local authorities and consumer
agencies across the EU will undoubtably support the use
of the form in the trial period.
For more details on this project see the EC site at: http://europa.eu.int
Back to the top
The Government has published a document proposing changes
to the way in which the gas, electricity, water and telecommunications
utilities are regulated.
The intention is to introduce legislation to set a framework
which will ensure lower prices and higher quality services
Key proposals include:
More details on this matter can be obtained from the DTI
- the regulatory framework should be able to address structural
changes in the utility markets, for instance multi-utilities
- Offer and Ofgas should merge
- consumer protection should be the regulators primary
- independent consumer councils should promote the consumer
- the formula RPI-X (retail price index minus X) should
be retained as the fundamental system of price regulation
- regulators should however consider appropriate cases
where it might be appropriate to refine this formula to
reflect the Green Paper principles on price regulation
- a clearer link should be made between the prices utilities
can charge and the customer service standards they achieve
- full information should be available on company performance
on customer service standards and on the links between
this performance and the pay of directors
- ministers should issue statutory guidance on social
and environmental objectives
- the energy and telecommunications regulators should
be replaced by executive boards
Back to the top
A regular survey by the European Commission has confirmed
again that prices in the UK are the highest for new motor
vehicles in the European Union.
The survey shows that some cars are also 40 percent dearer
than in Ireland, which is also a right hand drive country.
The biggest discrepancies were found in the case of the
Ford Mondeo which is cheapest in Spain and is a staggering
58.5 percent dearer in the UK.
Ironically the whole Rover range is most expensive in the
However some manufacturers have reduced their UK prices,
for example the Peugeot 106 by 7 percent and the Renault
Megane by 16 percent.
There was much less price divergence between other European
countries, for example between France and Spain the differences
averaged less than 10 percent.
Further information on the European Commission survey
and other related matters can be found on the EU
Back to the top
A new Order, laid before Parliament on the 20th May, is set
to abolish the use of suppliers Recommended Retail Prices
(RRPs) by retailers for certain domestic electrical goods.
It follows a Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry into
the market in certain electrical goods which uncovered some
potentially anti-competitive supplier practices.
The Restriction on Agreements and Conduct (Specified Domestic
Electrical Goods) Order 1998 comes into force on 1st September
1998 and prohibits suppliers from recommending or notifying
a price at which 'specified goods' should be resold.
These goods are:
It will be unlawful for a supplier (a person carrying
on a business of selling specified goods other than a business
in which such goods are sold only by retail)
- cold food storage equipment
- hifi systems
- tumble driers
- video cassette recorders
- washing machines
This Order is made under the Fair Trading Act 1973 and the
full text can be viewed on the HMSO
- To notify to dealers prices recommended or suggested
as appropriate to be charged by those dealers
- To make an agreement to restrict a dealers determination
of the prices at which he advertises or sells specified
- Except where allowed, to withold supplies of any specified
goods from any dealer
- To discriminate between one dealer and another in the
prices he charges them on the grounds that the dealer
is likely to advertise or sell goods cheaper than the
- To give any preference to any dealer on the ground of
the prices at which the dealer has advertised or sold
any specified goods
- Tp procure a supplier to contravene the provisions described
in 1 to 5 above
Although the Order does not directly refer to the use
of rrps by retailers, they should disappear as the only
person legally able to make a recommended price is the supplier.
Although currently untested, it is likely that the existing
provisions of section 20 of the Consumer Protection Act
1987, combined with the DTI code of Practice on Price Indications,
will make the use of rrps (for specified goods)
The provisions of The Control of Misleading Advertisments
Regulations 1988 could also be used, however these are enforced
by the Director General of Fair Trading rather than Trading
Standards Officers, and may prove less effective.
Back to the top
Consumers are getting an increasingly raw deal according to
the Office of Fair Trading in their recently published 1997
Complaints about goods and services have risen by a quarter
over the past five years.
Last year Trading Standards officers, who compile the majority
of the figures, received 851,456 complaints, 25,000 more
than in the preceding 12 months.
Unsurprisingly secondhand cars topped the list with more
than 90,000 complaints with defective electrical goods coming
a close second. The newly deregulated gas industry is the
fastest growing problem area with complaints up a third
on last year.
John Bridgeman, Director General of Fair Trading said
that voluntary codes of practice had failed to stem the
tide of complaints.
To find out more about the OFT visit their website at
Back to the top
Premium phone line scam
Consumers should watch out for a new high priced premium rate
telephone call scam which is currently doing the rounds:-
Thousands of letters have been sent out all over the country
with an attractive picture of a Mercedes E230 under the words
'CONGRATULATIONS' and your name - hoping to fool people into
thinking they may actually have won this car!!!
In fact anyone wishing to check on their prize must call
a premium rate number costing £1 per minute with the call
lasting for 9 minutes...thats £9 a call!!!
What you are most likely to have 'won' is a cheap wristwatch,
or a mobile phone - for which you must take out an airtime
contract costing over £200
Although the flyers appear to be perfectly legal consumers
are advised to chuck them in the bin and buy nine lottery
tickets instead....you've probably got a better chance of
Back to the top
Top 10 Christmas Tips
Forget the goodwill!...For rogue traders Christmas is a golden
opportunity to fleece the public, says Trading Standards Net.
To help shoppers avoid the nasties we have compiled a
list of our Top Ten Christmas Tips, it's pretty similar
to last year - but the points are still worth making.
If you are ripped off over the festive period, or have any
other consumer related complaint please contact your local
authority Trading Standards Department.
These warnings may seem extreme in some cases but experience
shows that hundreds of people will be ripped off, or injured
by poor quality gifts over the festive period......be careful
what you buy this Christmas.
Big stores are sold out of the latest toy or computer
game - so how lucky that you can pick one up in the local
Christmas market or boot sale!... Chances are though that
it is a shoddily made or even dangerous fake....don't
disappoint your kids, buy the real thing.
- Keep your receipt
You might like that pair of 70s style flares, but the
recipient of the present might not!!...having a receipt
will make it much easier to take the gift back after Christmas
- faulty or not!
- Pirated software
Counterfeiters find it easy to make a killing at Christmas
selling pirated software, or videos, or dodgy computers
done up and sold as new....if it works at all you are
lucky, if not it will wreck your machine! Buy the proper
licensed software - you will at least get some support
from the company if you can't figger out how to make it
- Keep you head at the party
Make sure you count your change when the party's in full
swing after the office night out....thankfully enough
people do check to bring a procession of dishonest publicans
to book for shortchanging customers when they are a little
'under the weather'. Check your change before it's too
Be very careful that the toys you buy your child are safe...heads
that come off revealing sharp spikes, lead based paint,
small parts a toddler can swallow, bikes that break at
the welds...can all cause Xmas danger as well as disappointment.
Also be prepared - check that they work before you wrap
them up, and make sure you have the correct batteries!!
Also always check for the CE mark and any warnings on
the packaging as to suitability etc.
- Buying on the Net
By all means scan the Internet for bargains, but make
sure the vendor is bona fide, always use a secure service
for passing credit card details, and allow plenty of time
for delivery....watch out especially if you are buying
in an internet auction situation.
Buying on the Web should be as easy as on the phone, but
it will be more difficult if things go wrong - especially
if the seller is in Australia!!
Also don't forget that you may be liable to pay VAT and
duty when importing goods from abroad - this can add around
25% to the cost.
- Homeworking Scams
A favourite scam to rip off the unsuspecting parent trying
to make a few extra bucks over Christmas is the Homeworking
scheme- often addressing envelopes, making mobile phone
covers or the like. More often then not they turn out
to be some simple pyramid scam which sees your money disappear
into someone elses pocket - always take advice from your
local Trading Standards before paying any money into these
schemes, they are regulated.
- Loan sharks
Hard up parents, desperate to give their kids a Christmas
to remember are al fair game for these bullies..interest
rates of a thousand percent are not uncommon...given the
evidence Trading Standards Officers can put these people
where belong over Christmas....behind bars
- Never never shopping
For people with limited means, the idea of paying for
things by instalments seems a good idea, and worth the
slight premium price.
But make sure you can afford to repay the debts or a happy
Christmas could become a miserable New Year.
- Electric Shockers
Electrically unsafe Xmas tree lights can give a nasty
shock or set fire to your home, tree ornaments may break
and harm a child, or be swallowed or contain toxic chemicals....be
careful when decorating this Christmas - make sure lights
are double insulated - if in doubt get a new set - they'll
cost less than a redecoration job!
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November 2nd sees the start of National Consumer Week 1998,
organised by ITSA the Institute of Trading Standards Administration
- Trading Standards Officers' professional body.
Right across the UK individual authorities are organising
events in connection with this years theme of 'Safety'.
For a listing of this years events in your area see the ITSA
press release on Consumer Week.
Many of the projects centre around the problem areas of sale
of fireworks to under 18s, incorrect storage of fireworks,
testing of electric blankets, and even testing of cars on
forecourts for safety by Dundee
On the theme of firework safety - Consumer Affairs Minister
Dr Kim Howells last week launched the final phase of the
DTIs year's firework
Sparklers - which burn at up to 2,000 C and caused more
injuries than any other firework last year - have been targeted
in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) campaign which
is being supported by Trading Standards Officers across
Dr Kim Howells said:
'No responsible parent would let a young child near a hot
chip-pan, a lit barbecue or a boiling kettle - yet thousands
give their children sparklers to use unsupervised.
With millions of children enjoying half-term this week,
and with the knowledge that 75 per cent of all firework
injuries happen on 5 November and the two surrounding weekends,
I am appealing to parents to play their part and help keep
all our children safe this Bonfire Night.'
While firework injuries overall have dropped in recent
years, injuries from sparklers have been on the increase.
Last year sparklers caused nearly a quarter of all firework
injuries, accounting for 200 casualties - about 25 per cent
being children aged five or under.
In addition, local council trading standards officers
will also be helping to enforce firework regulations which,
for the first time this year, include a total ban on the
sale of all bangers, mini-rockets and aerial shells to the
general public. The minimum age of sale of fireworks, including
sparklers, is now 18 and retailers are no longer able to
split retail packs of fireworks.
The results of a nationwide survey into the storage and
sale of fireworks backs the Institute of Trading Standards
Administration's demand to hit rogue traders through a formal
In the past fortnight, Trading Standards departments across
the UK have swooped on retailers selling fireworks and what
they found "shocked and appalled seasoned professionals",
said ITSA Chairman Eric Robinson.
Amongst the horror stories, he listed fireworks piled
in cardboard boxes around a shop and stored with matches
and lighter fuel; displays of bangers and mini-rockets that
are banned by law, illegally imported fireworks that are
positively lethal - and routine sales to children, without
any attempt to find out whether they are under age.
"In one case a retailer was happy to sell an 'air-bomb'
to a twelve year old who in no way could be taken for 18
- which is the legal minimum age for purchase"
For more on this ITSA press story - see TS
Central the site maintained by the Institute of Trading
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Professor Stephen Littlechild, Director General of Electricity
Supply has announced a new licence condition which should
help protect electricity consumers from misleading or unacceptanle
sales and marketing practices by suppliers or agents.
The main points of the condition are:
OFFER Press notices can be accessed via the internet at http://www.coi.gov.uk/coi/depts/GER/GER.html
- suppliers must set up appropriate procedures for selecting
and training their own and agents' sales staff
- suppliers cannot link up with agents who request payment
in advance from customers for arranging a supply of electricity
- suppliers must pay compensation to customers who are
the victims of marketing malpractice
- where a contract has been entered into on the doorstep
or over the telephone, suppliers must check within 14
days that the customer is satisfied, or the contract can
- where a sale takes place two months or more before a
customer is due to change supplier, the company must keep
the customer informed or progress
- suppliers must keep a record of marketing complaints
and submit it to OFFER quarterly.
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'Consumer protection has been reduced to a matter of chance;
a matter of luck which is largely dependant on where you live.
And 90 million causes for complaint are costing UK consumers
a cool œ2.5 billion a year'
Paul Galland, current Chairman of the Institute of Trading
Standards Administration (ITSA), was reporting on the 'scaling
down' of his service that has taken place due to lack of
investment in consumer protection and a badly managed local
government re-organisation. A shake-up that increased the
number of councils and fragmented still further the limited
funds and the trained people who are trying to enforce a
growing body of legislation, designed to protect the health
and the pocket of the public.
Opening the Institute's annual conference in London, Galland
called upon central and local government to find new ways
of working to stem the tide of consumer complaints currently
rising by around 7.5 % a year, and restore the balance in
a market place where consumers feel less protected than
they used to and find it hard to get access to satisfaction
Whilst praising the Government for being ready to listen
and for introducing new measures to tackle long standing
problems, he urged Ministers to shake off the attitude that
had become second nature in Whitehall in the past; a system
where consumer protection laws were introduced with little
investment or obvious desire to make them work.
Looking forward to a new era for consumer affairs, he
urged central government to provide the resources to match
the job. He also said local government should stop treating
consumer affairs as a 'Cinderella function'. Out of every
pound spent by local government, on average less than a
third of a penny goes to fund its Trading Standards responsibilities
'Local government could dramatically increase the amount
it puts into the Trading Standards Service by as much as
25% right now - without having any noticeable impact on
other responsibilities. An increase that would transform
consumer protection and fair trading.'
He told local councils they were risking the loss of yet
another of their responsibilities by failing to invest in
the service. In a recent poll of Trading Standards Departments,
nearly two-thirds reported that their 1998/99 budgets had
been cut in real terms, by an average of 5%.
At the same time, three in four local authorities admit
they can't meet their target for risk-based inspections.
The Audit Commission reports that the average inspection
rate of high and medium-risk businesses is 31% against an
expected level of 59% and falling (2).
Galland stressed the urgency of Government producing the
Strategy for Consumer Affairs that has been talked about
for the past year. He hoped the Strategy would co-ordinate
the activities of all seven Government Departments that
have a hand in consumer affairs and would set out clear
priorities and expectations.
The Strategy should give Trading Standards the power to
stamp out, once and for all, the persistent rogue traders,
cowboy builders, car clockers, home working fraudsters ,
illegal doorstep salesmen and phoenix companies who continually
re-invent themselves to rip off customers.
He also called for better and cheaper access to justice
on consumer complaints; a more effective mechanism for dealing
with traders who are confused rather than criminals but
face the same legal system as hardened crooks; and controls
on distance selling scams, including the Internet (3).
Urging local authorities to work together and not try
to 'go it alone' he ended by echoing Consumer Minister Nigel
Griffiths' words to last year's ITSA Conference:
'No one should be in doubt about the importance of Trading
Standards as a strategic service'.
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'Don't believe that by fighting the counterfeiter we are just
doing battle on behalf of big companies who can 'well afford
Introducing a debate at the Institute of Trading Standards
Administration 1998 conference on the œ760 million racket
in fakes, Ed Chicken (ITSA Lead Officer on counterfeiting)
detailed the cost to smaller businesses and the communities
Every fake bought is money from the pocket of a local
trader. He slammed the 'robin hood' idea that counterfeiters
provide brand satisfaction at a fraction of the cost - confirmed
by a MORI poll that revealed 40% of the public would knowingly
buy a fake.
He suspected the figure would drop considerably if the
fakes were pharmaceuticals or aircraft parts - but bitter
experience shows that even the professionals can be unaware
that they are using fake medical equipment!
"Product counterfeiting should be on the political agenda
alongside pension mis-selling, cowboy builders, package
holiday problems or car clocking - but it is not and the
subject does not even feature in the annual returns from
the Office of Fair Trading."
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When a company discovers it has supplied dangerous goods,
a crisis can rapidly develop. Consumers are at risk and the
clock is ticking. Responsible companies will want to let their
customers know, protect their reputation and avoid the threat
But not all.
Research commissioned by Trading Standards professionals
reveals that many unsafe goods are NOT recalled and that
some firms struggle to operate safety recalls effectively
- simply through lack of guidance.
There are also concerns that global trading is not being
matched by global standards of quality, safety and enforcement;
with goods deemed unsafe in one country being exported to
another market with a more relaxed attitude to safety.
The number of product safety recalls in the UK is increasing
every year. Yet there is a lack of consistency on what is
being recalled and why. Internationally, there is no single
body responsible for monitoring what is happening and communication
between regulators is poor. For example, it is easier to
find out about recalls in America and Australia than within
our European trading partners.
The report offers practical help for companies to prepare
an efficient product recall plan.
It calls on the Government to require companies to report
unsafe goods - as is the law in the States and Australia
and to require companies to recall unsafe goods - as in
the case in Sweden, Germany and Finland. It also asks the
EC to ban the export of such goods, to develop an international
strategy for product safety and to establish an accessible
database linked to a fast and efficient 'alarm system' between
Back to the top
On 24 April 1998, Liverpool Trading Standards released details
of ten models of babywalker which failed the British Standard
4648:1989 after tests at accredited test houses. The testing
indicated significant safety dangers to babies using these
products, although producers have strenuously denied safety
problems with their products.
problems are confined to ten models:
Failures related to labelling and structural failures and
the following companies can be contacted direct:
- Bee Bop Albion with Activity Tray
- ABC Design Activity Walker No 997064
- Chicco Item No 63098
- Brevi Speedy 'Art 554'
- Silver Cross Safari
- Baby Club New baby Walking Trainer Model T-1074
- Mio Bambino/Mio Bambino Marnello
- Mamas and Papas Walk'n'Play / Mio Bambino Walk'n'Play
- Petite Star Gym Bar or Toy Bar (177 244.97) (Exclusive
Official government statistics estimate that almost 23000
infants were injured and taken to hospital between 1992 and
1996 following accidents involving babywalkers.
- Petite Star Products 01923 663344, Replacement labels
available from Index
- Chicco UK 01623 750870
- Mamas and Papas/Mio Bambino 01484 438292
- Kooltrade 0161 834 3436, purchasers of Scallywag brans
babywalkers can get upgrade components free of charge
17500 involved infants under one year old, although it is
not possible to say how many of these were the result of problems
such as those identified in the recent testing.
In a press release, Nigel Griffiths, Minister for Consumer
Affairs, urged companies supplying babywalkers to ensure
they comply fully with UK product safety regulations.
Mr Griffiths said: "Immediate action by manufacturers and
retailers is required to restore public confidence in these
It is vital that baby walker manufacturers take immediate
action to ensure that babies are safe. Liverpool and Caerphilly
trading standards departments have raised serious concerns
about the safety of a number of babywalkers. I share these
concerns. Children who use babywalkers are at a particularly
vulnerable age and need to be protected from any risk of
injury from them.
All suppliers of babywalkers affected must co-operate fully
with the trading standards departments involved in these
investigations to ensure that all measures necessary to
protect children are taken without delay.
Parents who have bought the models identified in the investigations
carried out by trading standards officers must follow the
advice provided by the importers and suppliers of those
The action which Liverpool and Caerphilly are taking relates
to the safety requirements set out in the British Standard
for babywalkers. I believe we can further strengthen the
safety design requirements for babywalkers.
In the meantime work is underway on a European standard
for these products and key DTI safety experts are working
to ensure that the resulting standard will result in the
highest possible levels of safety."
Neither Liverpool or Caerphilly are calling for a ban on
Mr Griffiths added: "Very many parents find babywalkers
useful and I have not received evidence to justify an outright
ban on these products."
The safety of babywalkers is controlled by the General
Product Safety Regulations 1994 in conjunction with BS 4648:1989.
Back to the top
This Directive, in the Official Journal of 18 March 1998,
concerns the way that price indications are to be given to
The principle of providing price information to consumers
is nothing new and was established in the Community by Directive
79/581/EEC, and implemented in the UK by, amongst other legislation,
the Price Marking Order 1991.
However price marking has become complex and this new Directive
proposes a simplified mechanism, especially with the imminent
introduction of the euro.
The Directive stipulates that there must be an indication
of the selling price, and a unit price to consumers, in order
to improve consumer information and help the ability of shoppers
to make price comparisons. Many UK businesses already make
such unit price information available to consumers, ie lager
at 23p per 100ml
The selling price and unit price shall be indicated for
all products offered to consumers, except where the unit
price is identical to the selling price.
Member States have some authority to waive the unit price
requirements in certain circumstances, or where it would
be likely to cause confusion.
Member States may also decide not to apply the requirements
For products sold by bulk only the unit price need be indicated.
- goods are supplied in the course of a service
- goods are supplied by auction
As is the current UK situation, prices must be unambiguous,
easily identifiable and clearly legible. The maximum number
of prices to be displayed may be limited in legislation,
similar to the current requirements of the Food and
Drink on Premises Order
Although arrangements should be in place by 18 March 2000,
Member States may allow a transitional period (probably
three years) to allow small businesses etc catch up on the
requirements of the Directive.
The Directive itself will of course have to be implemented
by UK legislation.
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The DTI (Department of Trade
and Industry) has just issued a new consultation document
entitled 'Clarification and Simplification of United Kingdom
Consumer Credit Law'.
The UK already has very strict regulation of Consumer Credit
practices but there have been several areas in need of review
for some time.
are taking place on the following main areas:
Advertising of Low Start Mortgages
Mortgage advertising has changed dramatically since the introduction
of the Act, and even since the introduction of the Regulations
which are proposed to be changed, the Consumer Credit
(Advertisements) Regulations 1989 and the Consumer Credit
(Total Charge for Credit) Regulations 1980.
The changes would require that for a low start mortgage the
APR (annual percentage rate) would have to take account of
the likely rate after the low start period had finished.
This may appear common sense but there have been many cases
of lenders advertising a ridiculous low start rate, for example
1 percent when they know full well that it is almost impossible
for the variable rate to come down to that by the end of the
low start period, when the borrower may have to pay around
8 percent. The situation has been further confused as all
lenders do not follow the same method.
It is likely that the new proposals will only apply to credit
agreements relating to house purchases or improvements as
the EU Directive on Consumer Credit stipulates that for the
calculation of the APR it must be assumed that interest and
other charges remain fixed until the end of the period. The
Directive does not apply to house purchase or improvement
Back to the top of article
warnings on advertising
Under the Consumer Credit (Advertisements) Regulations 1989
advertisements must convey a 'fair and reasonably comprehensive
indication of the nature of the credit or hire facilities
offered by the advertiser and of their true cost to persons
The 'wealth' warning which must appear on adverts in the intermediate
and full categories 'Your home is at risk if you do not
keep up repayments on a mortgage or other loan secured on
it' has been argued to be a disincentive to advertising,
and unnecessary as self regulation is enough to ensure consumer
protection. For example by advertisements being subject to
the Code of Advertising Practice.
The DTI believe that a distinction should be made between
transient and non-transient advertising.
Radio TV and cinema being transient while advertising in a
magazine or newspaper is non-transient and warning notices
should remain in the latter.
It is estimated that there is a current annual loss of income
from radio advertising of £13M due to the current warning
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