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Government consults on powers to fine firms that “exploit” consumer loyalty

The government is exploring powers for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to fine businesses directly who have broken consumer law.

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Firms that overcharge or mislead their customers could be hit with direct fines without the need to go through a court, under plans revealed by business secretary Greg Clark.

 

The government has confirmed it will consult on giving the CMA powers to decide itself whether consumer law has been broken, without having to go through the courts as is currently the case.

 

The powers would enable the CMA to intervene earlier and more quickly to tackle these failings and would include being able to directly impose fines on firms for poor business behaviour.

 

This will act as a powerful deterrent to firms that are harming consumers with misleading claims, unfair terms and conditions and hard-to-exit contracts - practices that are central to many ‘subscription traps’.

 

These measures aim to ensure subscriptions are as easy to exit as they are to enter. It also helps the CMA tackle bad practices in other consumer markets like secondary ticketing and unfair terms for care home residents.

 

The government also announced that it will legislate to give regulators, such as Ofcom and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), new powers to stop loyal customers being taken advantage of if their existing powers are insufficient.

 

The proposed measures come as the government publishes a response to the recommendations by the CMA on the super complaint on consumer loyalty brought forward by Citizens Advice.

The powers will be consulted on in the government’s upcoming Consumer White Paper.

 

Other proposed measures in the response include legislating, if necessary, to ensure mobile providers end the practice of charging customers the same rate once they have effectively paid off their handsets at the end of the minimum contract period.

 

This comes after the government published its findings of the Smart Data Review, as part of London Tech Week. The plans aim to make it easier for consumers to safely share their information with innovative new services that could find them better deals.

 

The review also included measures to protect vulnerable consumers, including a new Vulnerable Consumer Challenge which will encourage innovators, charities and regulators to ensure their most vulnerable and least digitally engaged customers are able to enjoy the best deals.

 

The government also recently announced plans to create a new independent, statutory advocate for consumers in the telecoms sector, with the aim of strengthening the consumer voice and helping the industry, regulators and government identify how to improve the consumer experience.

 

Business secretary Greg Clark said: “The key to successful markets and businesses is ensuring that they work for the benefit of consumers and that unfair practices are tackled effectively, as the majority do.

 

“I strongly believe that consumer loyalty should not be exploited and nor should consumers have to work so hard to get a fair deal. We have already shown our willingness to take action through our energy price cap, which means every household is protected from unjustified price rises.

 

“We are committed to ensuring consumers are not unfairly targeted and penalised for their loyalty and that they can access quality products and services for a price that is competitive and fair.

 

“A core part of how we do this is by making sure all consumers, including the vulnerable, can benefit from the emergence of smart data and technology to access better deals from innovative digital services.”

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