A better deal for all

DianneHayter.jpgDianne Hayter on our plans to change the Consumers Rights Bill to protect the UK’s most vulnerable consumers

While rip offs, scams and dangerous goods are targeted at all of us, it is the vulnerable in our society who are in need of loans or less able to negotiate a better deal. Today sees the start of Report stage of the Consumer Rights Bill in the Lords, and over three sessions (concluding next week) Labour will attempt to improve support for those most at risk if not properly protected.

Three of our major amendments focus on loans.

One on logbook loans prevents creditors taking possession of goods without a court order and protects innocent third party buyers from the threat of repossession. Another restricts advertising of pay-day loans so these are not on when children are watching televeision. And the third would curtail the worst excesses of the ‘Rent-to-Buy’ stores, where household goods are theoretically ‘rented’, with ownership only passing to the customer after perhaps three years of weekly payments. In such cases, the outlay can amount to three times the retail price (including compulsory and expensive insurance) – and with no rights against repossession for a missed payment, as ownership hasn’t yet passed to the consumer.  

We will also seek to remove a nonsensical clause from the Bill regarding the government’s intent to make Trading Standards Officers (TSOs) give 48 hours’ notice, in writing, when they wish to inspect premises. TSOs do much to protect shoppers and should be allowed to do their job properly.

We also have a couple of key housing-related amendments.

One cracks down on the increased practice of estate and letting agents’ charging both buyers and sellers (or landlords and tenants) for the same service – something that is clearly unethical, sucks money out of the housing market and produces clear conflicts of interest. Another would force Letting Agents to put tenants’ rents into a Protected Client Bank Account whilst waiting to pass them to the landlord. This would stop rogue Agents from making off with the money or losing it to creditors if they become insolvent.

Another of our amendments would look to reduce the scourge of nuisance calls, especially those selling PPI, payday loans and false promises of compensation. Mandating that all such marketing callers reveal their telephone number would allow people to either block or report the caller.

We were also ready to press for an extension of the jurisdiction of the independent adjudicator for universities to all students studying for degrees, but the government has caved on this issue in the past few days. Good on them for doing so, and we can only hope that they consider doing something similar on other issues as we go through the Report stage.

Beyond our own amendments, there is also set to be pretty lively debate on dealing with internet ticket touting, following an amendment tabled by two former sports stars on the Conservative benches, Baroness Heyhoe-Flint and Lord Moynihan. This has formal support from, among others, my frontbench colleague and Shadow Minister for both DCMS and BIS, Wilf Stevenson. It is an issue ripe for Ministers to see sense and perform a last minute u-turn, but they so far remain unconvinced.

In the round, the government is failing to stand up for consumers, and deal with nefarious practices such as unethical lending, nuisance calls and industrial scale ticket touting – whilst also making trading standards’ jobs more difficult. Over the course of the next week, Labour will try to improve the Consumer Rights Bill through arguments and votes, all of which is geared to getting people a better deal and more bang for their buck.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Consumer Affairs Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 19th November 2014

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