Comment: tougher consumer protection good for the industry
Giving the Trading Standards Authority and Citizen's Advice more teeth and greater resources has to be good news for construction, says Liz Male, chair of TrustMark.
Take a peek outside the building world for a moment, and you will notice something important happening that will impact positively on the domestic repair, maintenance and improvement (RMI) sector.
A recent Government announcement to make the Citizens Advice service a champion for consumer information will now ensure a more powerful local route for homeowners to find the good firms in construction and the advice they need to hire a tradesman with confidence. To date, there has been a bewildering array of public, private and voluntary bodies with overlapping responsibilities in consumer protection, which have formed a complex landscape difficult for homeowners to understand. Add to that the myriad of ‘findanyoldbuilder.com’ commercial websites, and it’s no wonder the public haven’t known whom to trust or where to turn for help.
Getting redress against cowboy builders may also become easier now. The essential work done by Trading Standards has received a boost with £10.5 million additional funding and new systems making it easier to catch rogue traders operating across local authority boundaries. This national approach will give Trading Standards more teeth.
Both the Trading Standards and Citizens Advice services have high levels of public awareness and public trust. Together they can inform people better, bolster front-line protection and take more effective enforcement action where necessary.
At TrustMark we have always worked to build links with both services. We share a common set of values – a not-for-profit social enterprise, committed to greater consumer empowerment, and dedicated to helping people find the best local solution to their needs.
TrustMark may not have had that much publicity in the past (that’s changing now), but the scheme has a register of more than 20,000 trades and still provides the best way for consumers to identify a tradesman who has been vetted, inspected, agrees to abide by Government-endorsed standards of competence and fair trading, and gets monitored for compliance.
We have always been concerned that there was too much fragmentation and not enough clear signposting by the key agencies, independent third sector organisations, trade bodies and advisory services that touch the consumer throughout the process of finding help to repair, maintain or improve a home.
The new changes to the consumer protection landscape go a long way towards our calls for joined-up working, which will be particularly good news for the vulnerable.
What matters most now is that the new consumer landscape beds down as quickly as possible before the Green Deal goes live later this year.
The RMI market is growing, boosted in part by a depressed housing market, which encourages homeowners to ‘improve not move’. We also anticipate a substantial increase in RMI work triggered by the Green Deal. Early estimates suggest that even just a 25% uptake of Green Deal work in pre-1980, owner occupied homes would add another £2 billion a year to the RMI sector for associated works and repairs required over and above the Green Deal work itself.
Thankfully these latest changes to the consumer landscape, plus TrustMark’s continued support and close working relationship with Citizens Advice and Trading Standards, will ensure there is consistency of advice and a service in every community clearly pointing the way to reputable tradesmen in the RMI sector.
How the changes will work...
- Effective abolition of Consumer Direct (advice service), Consumer Focus (another consumer advice service), and large parts of the OFT’s responsibilities
- New Competition and Markets Authority to take over the competition-related issues from OFT and enforcement of unfair contract terms legislation
- New Consumer Bill of Rights likely to become law by end 2014 (consultation due in May, which will look to consolidate all the various bits of consumer protection/rights law, Acts, regulations etc)
- Currently, local authority Trading Standards enforce small scale breaches of consumer law, whereas the OFT tended to take on larger cases
- Now local Trading Standards services, under guidance from a new National Trading Standards Board, will have primary powers to enforce most consumer law, including national-level and cross-boundary cases
- Consumer advice work transferred from Consumer Director to Citizens Advice, which will become the publicly-funded voice of consumers and the main source of information about consumer rights
- New unit to be set up to share intelligence between National Trading Standards Board, Citizens Advice and other bodies
- New EU proposals also likely to change the way class actions and Alternative Dispute Resolution is handled in UK too.