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Government Proposes Tougher Rules to Protect UK Consumers

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018 (3:15 pm) - Score 720
consumer switching uk broadband and phone

The Government has today published a new Green Paper that proposes a number of changes to help protect consumers from bad practices, such as by simplifying Terms & Conditions (T&Cs), bundles and protecting people from “unexpected payments” that may arise via subscription services.

Green papers tend to reflect preliminary reports of tentative government proposals, which are published in order to provoke discussion ahead of a more formal policy being established. In keeping with that today’s new Consumer Green Paper (PDF) reflects a general summary of potential changes and these will now be consulted upon until 4th July 2018.

A number of the proposed changes could easily impact broadband ISPs, as well as phone and mobile network operators. For example, there’s some general talk of potentially tackling post-contract price hikes and calls for a simplification of comparison systems or complex ISP bundles so that consumers might find it easier to compare the available options before switching.

consumer_uk_switching_price_differences_broadband_2018

Further improvements to the independent ombudsman (complaints handling) system, which is tackled by the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process, could also be on the cards in order to raise awareness and make it easier for consumers to use.

Greg Clark MP, UK Business Secretary, said:

“Britain has long been a world leader in ensuring that markets work in the interests of consumers, taking innovative approaches to regulation that have been taken up by other countries across the world.

I am determined that we should renew that innovative, pro-consumer approach as new technologies present new challenges and opportunities.

Today’s proposals are an important step in taking forward the objective of our Industrial Strategy to ensure that the British business environment is shaped by competition that benefits consumers in terms of keen prices, quality products and services and cutting-edge innovation.”

All of this comes only a few short years after the Consumer Rights Act 2015 was introduced, which helped to clarify broadband prices and delivered a number of other important changes (here).

Key Proposals

Simpler terms and conditions

* consumers need to understand what they have agreed to when accepting a contract or privacy notice. Consumers are more likely to read and understand terms and conditions (T&Cs) if they are shortened and simplified.

* the Behavioural Insights Team will produce a concise, good practice guide for business on presenting T&Cs and privacy notices online. We will consult on whether T&Cs in some sectors should be required to reach a given level of comprehension, such as measured by online testing.

* the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is working with sector regulators, trade bodies and trading standards to improve business compliance so as to minimise use of unfair terms in consumer markets.

Cracking down on subscription traps

* subscriptions are increasingly common online and many consumers who take up free trial or scam subscriptions end up inadvertently paying for unwanted services.

* the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP) will recommend how to make it easier for consumers to cancel unwanted subscriptions (including free trial subscriptions) and avoid unreasonable charges.

Digital innovation

* launching a review into how to make data portability work best for all consumers in regulated markets as part of a ‘Smart Data’ review, building on the approach pioneered by Open Banking.

* we are consulting on consumer perceptions of personalised pricing and on the evidence of detriment to consumers.

* the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation will seek to ensure that our governance, rules and regulations consider public concerns around data driven technologies, and address businesses’ needs for greater clarity and certainty around data use.

Driving better performance by suppliers in regulated markets

* development of ‘performance scorecards’ for suppliers and digital comparison tools in regulated markets to hold them to account for the outcomes they deliver.

Protecting the vulnerable

The government will work with regulators to explore how best to ensure vulnerable consumers are protected, by:

* identifying and sharing best practice policies and approaches to vulnerable consumers from across sectors.

* developing a set of principles to improve the service that consumers with mental ill health and Alzheimer’s disease should expect to receive.

* developing guidance for companies dealing with vulnerable consumers who rely on power of attorney.

Redress for when things go wrong

* we are consulting on the model of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) that would deliver the best experience for consumers.

* this includes seeking views on improving consumer awareness and take-up of ADR and raising business participation.

Strengthening national enforcement of consumer rights, while maintaining strong levels of protection at local level

* the government is keen to ensure that our whole system of consumer protection provides a robust response to both local and national threats.

* we will consult on how to improve accountability for the enforcement of consumer law and strengthen our system of consumer protection while maintaining strong links to local authorities.

Competition to drive innovation

The government will carry out a statutory review of the competition powers, seeking views on whether the competition regime delivers competition for the benefit of consumers, provides the CMA and regulators with the tools they currently need to tackle anti-competitive behaviour and is sufficiently equipped to manage emerging challenges.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
7 Responses
  1. GNewton

    What are they doing about the ASA who promoted false “fibre broadband” advertising in this country?

  2. Bill

    Some providers still include clauses that allow them to vary the contract at any time and the customer has to lump it.

    This should be illegal, it effectively renders the “contract” meaningless.

    Many ISPs now include a clause that allows customers to quit the contract if the provider makes any changes – this should become mandatory for all.

  3. Walker

    I don’t think increases should be allowed during a contract period, if you sign up for a 12, 18 or 24 month contract then the price should stay the same through this.

    Also if you wish to terminate the contract early then the vat should be removed from the remaining balance, instead of the company pocketing it..

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