On 20 December 2012 the UK consumer watchdogs Consumer Focus, Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland have published a report on the actions needed from Government, companies and regulators to empower consumers in vulnerable positions. The consumer organisations are warning that business practices must change and consumer protection improved to empower consumers at a disadvantage in the market, and civil society organisations have a role to play in helping to change company behaviour.
In order to empower consumers in vulnerable situations and allow them to “get the best deals, demand better products or services, and be able to resolve problems when things go wrong”, the organisations are calling for:
- A cross-sector Government working group – a Consumer Vulnerability Action Team – to ensure consumer vulnerability issues in all markets are addressed by Government, Industry and civil society.
- Large-scale change in companies' behaviour towards consumers in vulnerable positions. This should include adopting BSI standard BS18477, encouraging responsible business practices and accessible systems to address consumer vulnerability.
- An end to the poorest customers paying a ‘poverty premium’ – companies should be challenged by regulators on fair provision of goods and services and come up with deals that don’t discriminate against households at a disadvantage.
- The Government’s proposed Consumer Bill of Rights should include guidance to encourage companies to identify and respond effectively to consumer vulnerability and adopt BS18477.
- Improved use of information, advice and technology to put tools at the fingers of consumers in vulnerable positions to empower them to engage with consumer markets.
- An enhanced role for civil society (social enterprises, voluntary and community organisations and co-operatives) in consumer markets and empowering consumers.
Teresa Perchard, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Citizens Advice, said: “Businesses and public service providers all need to make it much easier and simpler for consumers to get better deals and services. Too often the consumers in the most vulnerable positions are confronted with overly complex, inaccessible and unresponsive systems making it impossible for them to get the best deals, or resolve problems easily when things go wrong. The result is real unfairness and hardship. All consumers can be vulnerable at some point in their lives, so action is needed to really improve standards across the board, underpinned by effective consumer protection as well as information, advice and support services.”
Further information: http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/news/changing-business-practice-is-key-to-empowering-consumers-in-vulnerable-positions and http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/files/2012/12/Tackling-consumer-vulnerability.pdf
Source: Consumer Focus