Consumers’ ability to access alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, like the energy and water ombudsman’s schemes, should be beefed up, according to the government’s consumer green paper.
Modernising Consumer Markets, which was published on Wednesday (11 April), states that ombudsman schemes could be “more effective”.
It says even where alternatives to court exist for resolving disputes many consumers do not make use of them, citing Citizens Advice research.
And it says consumers who use alternative dispute resolution tend to be “older, more educated, and earn more than the average adult”.
It says ombudsman services should make it as easy as possible to seek redress.
It says: “Further action is needed to improve the quality of service offered by alternative dispute resolution providers.”
The paper also proposes developing a set of principles to improve the service that consumers with mental ill health, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease should expect to receive.
It says the regulators will get together to identify these principles and how they can improve services to these consumers.
The green paper also set out proposals for developing “performance scorecards” for suppliers and digital comparison tools in regulated markets to make it easier to hold them to account.
Alongside the unveiling of the green paper, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) secretary of state Greg Clark announced that former Treasury select committee Andrew Tyrie has been appointed to chair the Competition and Markets Authority.
Responding to the green paper’s publication, Which? managing director of home products and services Alex Neill, said: “Steps to ensure that consumers get a better deal in vital areas like financial services, energy and telecoms are welcome, but will only make a difference if action can be taken against companies that break the rules.
“The government must now use these reforms to overhaul our consumer enforcement system so that, as we leave the EU, we can deliver an economy where people are supported by high levels of rights and protection – with greater access than ever before to quality, affordable products and services.”
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, added: “Our research has shown that, left to their own devices, companies take advantage of consumers’ loyalty, and can charge them an average of nearly £1,000 per year for it.
“Vulnerable people are often the hardest hit by unfair practices and government should hold companies to account to make sure they are protected.