HC Deb 01 April 2004 vol 419 cc1585-6W
Mr. Hepburn

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps the Government are taking to tackle the problem of rogue traders. [165075]

Mr. Sutcliffe

The Government have introduced a number of new measures to empower and inform consumers.

The Enterprise Act 2002 introduced a new concept of supercomplaints. It provided the legislative framework for the Office of Fair Trading to conduct an investigation of the doorstep selling market in response to supercomplaint from NACAB (now Citizen's Advice). The OFT's report is expected shortly.

The Enterprise Act also included provisions to strengthen the powers available to enforcement authorities to tackle the activities of rogue traders. The Stop Now Orders, first introduced in 2001 by implementation of the Injunctions Directive in the UK, created a new enforcement regime across a wide range of consumer protection legislation. They enabled designated enforcement authorities to apply to the courts for "Stop Now Orders" to stop the practices of rogue traders if they are acting against the collective interests of consumers. The Enterprise Act has extended that protection across an even wider range of consumer protection—particularly in the service sector.

Another way in which we are informing and empowering consumers is the development of Consumer Support Networks (CSNs). These bring together organisations to plan and deliver better, more accessible and more joined-up support for local consumers. Across Britain, the Networks are helping to raise awareness of consumer issues. This includes considerable emphasis on issues relating to sales in the home, particularly for vulnerable or older consumers.

The Government has made up to £30 million of new money available over a 3 year period to roll out a new national consumer helpline—Consumer Direct. With a single, widely publicised number, it will be a powerful tool for consumer advice across Britain. Consumers, no matter where they live, will be able to access reliable, independent help on consumer matters via their own phone, for the price of a local rate call. For those who prefer it, the service will be available on-line.