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Consumer Scotland set to strengthen consumer rights

Ombudsman Services | Dec 31, 2019

Holyrood’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee has approved the introduction of the Consumer Scotland Bill.

The Bill sets out to strengthen the provision of essential services and consumer rights in Scotland.

Consumer Scotland will be a public body which will work with existing organisations to improve access to services and redress across the country.

The primary aims of the Bill are to:

  • reduce harm to consumers in Scotland
  • increase confidence among consumers in Scotland in dealing with businesses that supply goods and services to consumers; and
  • increase the extent to which consumer matters are taken into account by public bodies in Scotland

Our role in the Bill

A number of organisations were consulted as part of the development of the Consumer Scotland Bill.

Ombudsman Services was first involved in the Working Group for Consumer Competition and Policy for Scotland, established by the Scottish Government in 2016.

The outcomes of this working group were instrumental in setting the framework for the Consumer Scotland Bill and establishing the four pillars of consumer policy on which the Bill is founded:

  • advice
  • advocacy
  • regulation; and
  • redress

Earlier this year, Ombudsman Services responded to the call for views on the Consumer Scotland Bill from The Scottish Parliament.

In our response, we highlighted the importance of strategic redress when things go wrong. This included stressing the need for Consumer Scotland to work within the wider regulatory landscape to ensure a collaborative and consistent approach to consumer protection and redress.

Specifically, we advised of the benefits of a ‘prevention ahead of cure’ approach, that can be facilitated by insights from ombudsman schemes and providers of alternative dispute resolution as well as other industry stakeholders.

We were able to advise in this area based on our experience and success as part of a Tripartite Group within the energy sector. The energy sector Tripartite Group consists of Ofgem, Citizens Advice and Ombudsman Services.

We work closely to share data and insights to spot trends and adopt early intervention where consumer detriment is apparent.

In addition to the written comments we submitted in response to the proposed Consumer Scotland Bill, our Head of Ombudsman, Jon Lenton was invited to speak at an evidence session.

During this session, Jon raised the issue that Ombudsman Services receives a set of complaints that are unique to Scotland. For example, we see a disproportionate volume of complaints around broadband and mobile signals and broadband speed from consumers living in Scotland.

This is particularly true of complaints from rural parts of the country and consumers living in these areas are potentially some of the most vulnerable.

Ed Dodman, director of regulatory affairs at Ombudsman Services, said:

“We believe that establishing Consumer Scotland will help to embed the four pillars of consumer policy – advice, advocacy, regulation and redress – and enhance the provision of services and consumer protection across Scotland.

“In particular, we support the Bill in placing a keen focus on protecting consumers in vulnerable circumstances and reducing consumer harm.

We believe that establishing Consumer Scotland will help to embed the four pillars of consumer policy – advice, advocacy, regulation and redress.

Ed Dodman, Director of Regulatory Affairs, Ombudsman Services

“We agree that it will be critical for Consumer Scotland to work with other stakeholders, including ombudsman schemes and alternative dispute providers, to maximise insights and take a preventative, holistic approach to consumer protection.

“We look forward to continuing our work with The Scottish Parliament and other stakeholders to ensure the thorough and considered introduction of the Bill.”