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Consumer Rights Over 40 years

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Natasha Emerson | 14:19 PM, Friday, 5 November 2010

Which? October 1970

In this guest blog Louise Hanson, Head of Campaigns at Which?, reflects on the how the consumer experience has changed over the past 40 years.

There's been a sea change in consumer rights over the past 40 years. In 1970, consumers were yet to receive the protection of the Office of Fair Trading and it would be another two years before the Geoffrey Howe was appointed Britain's first Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs. In 1970, it was still legal for suppliers to demand payments for something they knew hadn't been requested and for people to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt.

Although times have changed and people's needs are different, consumers still require as much protection, if not more, than before. In 1976 there was a 50-50 chance a colour television would break down, now people are concerned about online shopping rights and international scams. We've tested over 25,000 products in the last 10 years and our testing labs show that although things like TVs breakdown less than they once did, safety issues such as product recalls and car faults still happen and we need to remain vigilant.

Between the 1970s and late 1980s, it became obvious that people needed more consumer protection and one new consumer law a year was passed by Parliament. And the milestones didn't stop there - over the past 20 years we've seen the formation of the Food Standards Agency in 2000, and the establishment of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).

The development of FOS has been particularly important as it's been a one stop shop for consumers who can't get their complaints with financial services sorted out. But incredibly, we're still seeing the financial industry ignoring consumer's demands and their record of dealing with consumer complaints remains pitifully poor. However, the fact that consumers are being more proactive in fighting for their rights is a great leap forward and we'd always encourage them to do more.

Over the years, we've seen a huge increase in the willingness of consumers to take action to help themselves - particularly in financial services with endowment and bank charges complaints and the still ongoing complaints about PPI. We offer consumers template letters on our website and hundreds of thousands of people have used them to get redress.

In the past 10 years the Internet has also had a massive impact on improving the 'consumer experience'. There has been a surge in the number of websites that encourage people to share their thoughts on everything from hotels to local traders and many thousands of people make recommendations each day.

We still have a long way to go. While many of the problems facing consumers remain constant from one decade to the next, the emergence of new products and markets means that we're continually being handed new challenges.
A Which? survey in 2009 found that up to four million people have placed orders with an online retailer that went bust before their goods were delivered, and at least 17 per cent of those didn't get their money back.

And more work needs to be done. As the Government announces significant changes to the consumer landscape as part of its spending review, we believe that it's vital that front line advice and enforcement services are maintained.

You and Yours has been at the centre of tackling consumer detriment over the past 40 years and they've done a fantastic job, highlighting issues that really matter to the public. We wish them every success for the next 40 years.

It will be fascinating to see where we are in the next few decades. There are many battles still to be fought, but if we've learnt anything from the past, it's that we're going to have to remain nimble when it comes to consumer protection and adapt to the emerging needs and markets that are just over the horizon.

Louise Hanson
Head of Campaigns at Which?

Louise Hanson, Which?


  • Comment number 1.

    About Forced labour.

    Why all the hype about the unemployed having to do a full weeks work for their money? This has been going on for at least three years under the guise of New Deal Plus. The scheme has been penalising the long-term unemployed by making life as inconvenient as possible while threatening them destitution if they complain or dissent in any way. That the companies that run the scheme (checkout are foreign and able to make substantial profits from the free labour force without having to pay tax in this country is one thing. That the government are using them to re introduce slave labour to Britain is another.
    While I was on New Deal with Pertemps, I heard rumours that at least one building material supplier had let four full time, short contract, workers go in favour of taking on six unwaged New deal claimants. At Fourstar, the unemployed did totally menial work braking up electrical equipment for recycling, filling plastic bags with washers, putting stickers on fobs and making bird boxes and planters. If they had not been doing the work unwaged (and, I suspect, the work was being charged for by Fourstar) then the companies having the work done would have had to employ someone on a wage to do it.
    It strikes me that if thousands of the unemployed are to be forced to work for free, then every firm that has low skilled workers will quickly jump on the bandwagon and sack their paid workers in favour of a government slave. It isn’t a big step from there to chain gangs, forced labour camps and, who knows, extermination camps for the feckless, the crippled and the unproductive. They could be run along the lines that Idi Amin pioneered whereby one unemployed is given the choice of killing the person in front of him/her or suffering the fate themselves. Maybe, the Olympic stadiums could be turned into Roman style arenas and we could be made to fight to the death for the entertainment of the rich, with the winner being offered a job, cleaning the toilets at some government building for minimum wages.
    Do I sound bitter? Well yes; I have been out of work for over four years and although I have applied for countless jobs, I have been struck down with arthritis, damaged my back and found that all my qualifications have been superseded by new certificates which I cannot afford to gain. I am 56 and competing with much younger and fitter workers. I am, however, still fit enough to do a number of jobs if only someone would give me a start. Meanwhile, I try to live on the £63.23 per week I receive in benefits (plus having my rates paid). I would like to know how I am at fault and were are all these jobs that the government are creating to mop up the millions that will be out of work due to their ineptitude.

    PS. Thank you for letting me have this rant. I know it will do no good but at least I feel better for it.

    Stephen Gail


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