Executive director Richard Lloyd said plans outlined in a consultation on civil enforcement remedies ‘should help ensure consumers are no longer left out of pocket if they have been ripped off or are the victims of mis-selling’.
The proposals, from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), will change the way authorities such as trading standards departments pursue enforcement. They include giving courts the option of making a business designate a ‘point’ person who will consider how well a business complies with consumer law and making it easier for consumers to recover money when they are victims of malpractice.
The government has not heeded calls from the business lobby for a higher standard of proof than in ordinary civil cases to accompany a wider range of consumer remedies. And micro-businesses, which coalition policy dictates should be excluded from the burden of new legislation, would come under the new enforcement regime.
To exclude micro-businesses would be ‘counterproductive’, BIS argues, because consumers would choose to avoid buying from firms with fewer obligations to treat them fairly.
At present, when a business breaks a consumer law, the customer can go to an enforcer for help. The enforcer will take forward the complaint on their behalf, seeking a criminal prosecution or an injunction order in the civil courts which stops the conduct in question.
However, the individual will not necessarily see any positive action by the business or gain any benefits for themselves as a result. Under new proposals, where a consumer has lost money due to a business breaking consumer law, whether through overpayment or mis-selling, consumers would get that money back.
Business minister Jo Swinson said: ‘When consumers have been wronged they should be able to have free access to justice quickly and simply. With these proposals, when a business has infringed your rights as a consumer the court will make sure they reverse the damage and give consumers their money back. This will put the balance back in the system, and give consumers more power to exercise their choices confidently.’
Richard Lloyd of Which? added: ‘We hope these proposals will spread better practice among businesses and help boost consumer confidence. We will want to see the authorities, including trading standards, using these powers to get consumers a better deal.’
The consultation can be viewed on the BIS website.