The current consumer landscape in Scotland
15. The consultation paper noted that the division of responsibility for protecting consumers is complicated and any action taken by the Scottish Government to improve consumer outcomes must and will respect the areas of consumer protection which remain reserved to the UK Government. However, the devolution of limited powers provides scope to develop a consumer policy that focuses on creating a culture that prioritises consumer fairness, and more effective mechanisms to redress unfairness where it occurs.
16. The first question asked,
Q1: Do you have any comments on the consumer landscape in Scotland?
17. A total of 49 respondents, across all sub-groups, opted to provide comments in response to this question.
18. Around half of these respondents echoed comments made in the consultation paper and noted that the consumer landscape in Scotland is fragmented, complex, disjointed and / or confusing to navigate. Some of these respondents commented that there are inconsistent levels of service as there is a range of different bodies responsible for policy making, regulation, enforcement, advocacy and advice. These comments came primarily from organisations within the Advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution sector, local authorities / trading standards and individuals. Typical of the comments emerging in response to this question was,
"From the consumer perspective the landscape appears fragmented. This has the effect that it can be difficult for consumers to navigate their way through the options available and sometimes not easy to understand what those options are. Access to mediation to enable early dispute resolution is patchy across Scotland and depends on both the route of access and geographical location. In both cases the information to consumers could do more to inform consumers their choices, about mediation and how to access it."
(Advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution)
19. Several respondents also noted that there has been a loss of local authority trading standards advice services and this has left a gap in what is available to consumers or that consumers are not receiving the quality of advice they need. Indeed, a small number of respondents referred to the 2013 Audit Scotland report which had noted 'the long-term viability of councils' trading standards services is under threat and urgent action is needed to strengthen protection for consumers'. A small number of local authorities noted that some Trading Service Standard (TSS) authorities run local trader registration schemes but that these are not always compatible with others and the number of available schemes can be confusing to consumers.
20. A number of respondents, across most sub-groups, noted the need for a national body such as Consumer Scotland to be established as this would help to provide a more consistent and unified approach to support for consumers. Other comments made by small numbers of respondents also referred to the need for an organisation that can focus on Scotland-specific issues, or the need to recognise differences in the Scottish market. There were also a small number of comments on the need to ensure that Consumer Scotland receives adequate core funding.
21. A number of respondents focused on the roles or areas of focus for Consumer Scotland. These included the need:
- For their remit to include services and goods from the private and public sectors.
- To address gaps in the current landscape and identify emerging markets where advice and advocacy is needed.
- To build on and enhance the structures and relationships which already exist.
- To ensure there is a focus on understanding how consumers may suffer detriment or unfairness to ensure that consumers who are unaware of harm are protected.
- To provide better information for consumers so they can make informed choices.
22. A small number of respondents also referred to the structure of Consumer Scotland and the need for a clear statutory basis for the organisation, with strong strategic oversight and strong leadership, independent and accountable to Scottish Ministers, with its governance and accountability to be aligned with the delivery of outcomes.
23. Several respondents also noted the need for partnership working between Consumer Scotland and other organisations in the advocacy and advice sector, including Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) and the Citizens Advice Bureaux (CABx), with a small number of these respondents referring to a need for the Scottish Government to align with UK-wide protection partners. A small number of respondents commented on the need to work with existing organisations to avoid duplication of effort. Several respondents - primarily within the local authority / trading standards sector - commented on other providers in the sector, for example, making positive comments about the role of CMA in Scotland or that CAS and CABx provide a good local service and the need to continue with these services.
24. There was comment from a small number of respondents of a need for effective Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR).
25. A small number of respondents were not supportive of the establishment of Consumer Scotland, with key comments that:
- There is no need for a separate Scottish consumer organisation.
- This will add to confusion for consumers given that some policy responsibility remains with the Westminster Government.
- This will lead to a repetition and duplication of work.
- There is a need for more or better information so that consumers can make informed choices.
Email: Erin McCreadie