‘Tighten up rules’ call to tackle sharp practice

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PEOPLE from Bradford are more likely to contact the national complaints and advice line Consumer Direct than anywhere else in the country according to a new report which claims some banks are ripping off the public.

It claims consumers lose an estimated £11 billion-a-year – or £430 per household – as a result of hidden charges and a lack of competition in the financial services industry.

The study, which was commissioned by the Labour Party, will now be fed into its policy review.

Ed Mayo, former head of the National Consumer Council, called for an overhaul of rules to “empower” the public against cons and sharp practice.

He said those on lower incomes were paying around £1,289 more a year for goods and services than the better off, because they could not take advantage of cheap credit or discounts such as for paying bills by direct debit.

Mr Mayo said: “In the financial services sector, drawing together estimates where they exist – on mis-selling, hidden charges and lack of competition – I have estimated the annual consumer detriment in financial services to stand at around £11 billion per annum.

“That is £430 per household across the UK.”

Among the worst markets for consumers are cars, banking and utilities, the research found.

Mr Mayo said consumers should be able to take “class actions” in the UK over issues such as PPI mis-selling.

A “fighting fund” should be established to help enforce consumer rights, paid for by fines imposed on misbehaving firms. He also proposed giving a single member of the Government responsibility for furthering consumer interests across departments.

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna said: “In light of successive scandals which have eroded the confidence of consumers – both individuals and businesses – we need to change the rules of the game to stop people getting a raw deal, restore trust and back responsible businesses.

He added: “We will look very closely at the recommendations which Ed Mayo has made, as well as the valuable insights which he offers in his report, over the coming months.”