A letter in The Times of 20 August 2019 reveals that budgets and staff of enforcement agencies has declined on average by 50% over the last ten years. The NCF has been banging this drum for a while now and are happy to sign the letter and join this campaign. Consumers do not see the full benefit of laws and regulations to protect them if there is inadequate enforcement. Our Consumer Congress in December 2017 was already drawing attention to the reduction of resource – since 2009 trading standards teams have lost more than half of their full-time equivalent staff.
The Congress report listed a number of actions to be taken. We have set up an enforcement group to focus on this theme. A key action of the group has been to propose a revision of the BEIS Regulators’ Code (2014), the aim being to achieve a better balance between the interests of the Regulators, the regulated and consumers than is achieved by the current Code. In replying to the submission, Consumer Minister, Kelly Tolhurst MP, said:
“Good regulation, as promoted by the Code, supports business productivity, innovation and growth whilst maintaining clear, risk-based, protection for consumers. lt is important that the Code remains relevant and practical and I welcome the National Consumer Federation’s thoughtful views.”
Consumers need action urgently to strengthen UK enforcement and regulatory bodies who will have to take over/back tasks done at EU level. We are currently awaiting a response from the Officials in the Department’s Office of Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) on the points we raised in our submission.
There is an element of double jeopardy with reports of consumers left to their own devices to get redress with more and more representing themselves (badly) in legal actions. The justice system has seen cuts in legal aid and rising pressure on county courts and the small claims process. In the cybercrime context, The Times has reported poor practice at the Action Fraud office revealing that call handlers mocked fraud victims as ‘morons’, ‘psychos’ and ‘screwballs’ and were trained to mislead them into believing they were talking to police officers.
Effective enforcement agencies and regulators are needed more than ever and the NCF is happy to echo and support the campaign launched by Unchecked.uk:
“As a country we believe in fair play, common standards, and everyone playing by the same rules – but the truth is, the people we rely on to enforce those rules are being hamstrung. Today, we have launched Unchecked.uk to show that vital protections can no longer be taken for granted.”
The NCF, will do all we can to make sure that consumers enjoy the protections that they need and have worked for.