Monday, 26 March 2012

Government will look again at 'super complaint' powers

You may be forgiven for not being aware of the Financial Services Bill (FSB) which is currently making its passage through Parliament but a significant victory for consumers was won last week after I spoke to an amendment to the Bill.

The government has agreed to rewrite a section of the FSB to stop ‘super complaints’ from being brought by trade bodies.

Under the Enterprise Act 2002, super complaints can be made by designated consumer groups and are an excellent tool for raising issues of mass consumer detriment. Most recently Which? secured a ban on excessive debit and card charges after a super complaint highlighted the lack of transparency and high price of the charges which cost consumers millions of pounds a year.

I argued that the FSB would have undermined the Enterprise Act 2002. The wording of the Bill could be interpreted as allowing trade bodies (which represent firms) to bring super complaints. I maintained that super complaints were not designed as a tool for industry and that they already have a clear avenue of complaint to the regulator and therefore, should not be allowed to hijack this aspect of consumer protection.

The minister accepted my argument and will now bring forward a revision to the Bill to reflect the amendment.

Currently super complaints can only be used by bodies that genuinely represent consumers and have been used by bodies like Which? The Bill could have widened the groups who have this power to include trade bodies hijacking the system from consumers to firms.

I am pleased that the minister agreed that these powers should not be available to bodies representing professional businesses and investors but should remain as a powerful tool for true consumer representatives like Which? and Citizens Advice.

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