(Photo: Reuters)
(Photo: Reuters)

Citizens Advice, the British Retail Consortium and money saving expert Martin Lewis have all welcomed new UK government draft legislation that bolsters consumer rights, particularly for the vulnerable and elderly. New proposals will allow consumers to obtain compensation against aggressive or misleading business practices more effectively.

Following the unveiling of new draft legislation that will amend the Consumer Protection Regulations from Unfair Trading Regulations, an assortment of experts in the consumer rights' field voiced support for the changes to business practices.

"This is an important shift of emphasis from the rather arduous and resource-heavy prosecuting of rogue behaviour, towards rights for the individual," said Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com.

"Individuals will gain more rights of redress and it'll be easier for them to change their minds if something fails to live up to the spiel.

"In itself, this strengthens the deterrent for companies which target the vulnerable. The important part will be ensuring the system makes it relatively easy for people to enforce the rules - or only the financially-literate and confident will gain."

Jo Swinson, minister for employment relations and consumer affairs who unveiled the new legislation, said that the changes will boost the UK economy by over £4bn (€4.6bn, $6.1bn) over the next decade.

In a 2009 report, Consumer Focus calculated that the total detriment suffered by consumers as a result of misleading and aggressive practices was around £3.3bn a year.

Doorstep Selling

The UK government said that while "a vast majority of businesses exhibited high standards," there are traders who seek to exploit consumers through misleading and aggressive business practices, which are a particular problem for vulnerable and elderly consumers.

"Citizens Advice helps with over 77,000 problems with misleading claims and pressure selling a year. A beefed-up approach to tackling misleading and aggressive practices is desperately needed and will be a step towards protecting people from bullying businesses," said Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy.

"People are losing out as they take out services such as insurance, timeshares and home improvements only to later discover it is not what they were promised or wanted."

The UK government gave an example of a real case study where the more vulnerable were taken advantage of through misleading and aggressive sales techniques:

An elderly couple who live on the 7th floor of a tower block are bullied by a door to door salesman into purchasing a £2000 mobility scooter they don't want or need. The scooter is delivered that same day. The couple do not use the scooter and complain to the company a month later. The company refuses to give them a full refund but Citizens Advice advise them that they can take action in the civil court. The court awards them a full refund and they are also awarded additional compensation for the distress they have suffered.

Online Crackdown

The new consumer protection legislation is set to give consumers access to clearer information about any additional costs and more generous time limits for returning goods bought online.

"The BRC supports both the new consumer rights that derive from the European Union Consumer Rights Directive and the proposals from the UK Government, to clarify consumer and business rights and obligations on aspects of the UK Sale of Goods Law and misleading and aggressive practices," said Tom Ironside, British Retail Consortium Director of Business & Regulation.

The new regulations will also ban customer helplines from charging more than the basic rate of a phone call to call the trader about something they have bought.

For the full interview with Jo Swinson, check out IBTimes TV or the video at the top right-hand side of the page.