26. The consultation paper noted that addressing consumer challenges in Scotland requires a mechanism to:
- Synthesise the abundance of evidence and data of consumer harm produced by the wide range of consumer-focused organisations;
- Identify the most serious or pressing issues leading to consumer detriment;
- Develop and champion evidence-based solutions to tackle those issues.
27. It proposed establishing Consumer Scotland to take on this role. The consultation paper proposed that Consumer Scotland will be an independent body, established by statute and at arms-length from the Scottish Government, be staffed by experts, be user-focused and have the capacity to drive change. Its focus will be selective, Scotland-focused and transparent.
Q2: Do you agree with the proposed functions of Consumer Scotland?
|Yes||No||Don't know||No reply|
|Advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution (18)||4||-||-||14|
|Local Authority/trading standards (5)||4||-||-||1|
|Industry/trade body (7)||3||-||-||4|
|Public body (3)||-||-||-||3|
|Total organisations (43)||12||-||-||31|
28. Respondents were invited to explain their answer and 41, cross all sub-groups, took the opportunity to comment.
29. A key theme was one of broad support for the proposal and a number of respondents reiterated elements of the consultation paper, for example, the importance of various elements such as the need for independence, to be staffed by experts and so on. One issue raised by some of these respondents was the need for adequate resourcing. Respondents also highlighted a wide range of areas where it was felt Consumer Scotland should have responsibility; these included information, education, advice, advocacy, redress, dispute resolution and research.
30. A key theme emerging from respondents was the need for clarity over the relationship between Consumer Scotland and other public bodies with responsibility for consumer protection, with some requests for clarity on the scope of the powers of the new body, how these would be communicated to consumers and how they would fit with existing organisations in the consumer protection landscape.
31. While there was broad support for Consumer Scotland, there were also some comments that it should not duplicate work that is already carried out by other consumer protection organisations, with specific reference to Citizens Advice Scotland and the Citizens Advice Bureaux.
32. A small number of respondents felt that the functions identified do not warrant a new organisation and commented that the establishment of Consumer Scotland could lead to repetition and duplication of activities, particularly if the roles of each are not clearly defined.
33. Several respondents also requested information on the sectors in which Consumer Scotland would operate, for example, whether its remit would extend to the energy sector. While some respondents highlighted existing Scottish-based organisations with which Consumer Scotland would have to operate, a few others noted the importance of UK-wide organisations.
34. Alongside these comments, some respondents noted there is potential for duplication of effort or conflicts of interest, and highlighted the need for effective co-ordination across consumer protection organisations. As noted by one organisation in the utility / energy sector,
"… in determining the functions of Consumer Scotland, the Scottish Government should give careful thought to defining these and ensuring that all participants within the current consumer landscape understand their relevant functions (and any associated interdependencies). Any hierarchy of responsibilities between the consumer bodies should also be made clear. For example, where more than one organisation has an interest in a particular issue, it will be important to understand which organisation's views or interests take priority."
35. There were a small number of comments that the vision for the proposed agency is limited and that it should have a broader role, be forward-thinking and fill the current gaps in consumer advocacy arrangements in legal services and public services.
36. A small number of respondents referred to the BEIS green paper about the effectiveness of national coordination and the incentives for action by local authority trading standards services (LATSS); one of these respondents - a public body - recommended that the Scottish Government should consider wider developments within the consumer protection landscape that are occurring at a UK-wide level.
37. One respondent within a public body suggested that Consumer Scotland should become a member of the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP).
Q3: Which powers and duties would you like Consumer Scotland to have, in order to carry out its proposed role?
38. A total of 37 respondents provided commentary in response to this question.
39. Some respondents noted their agreement with some or all of the powers and duties outlined in the consultation paper. Once again, the issue of duplication of activities was raised by a small number of respondents who commented that the duties of Consumer Scotland need to be clearly defined to avoid duplication of role(s) and responsibility(ies) in terms of work undertaken by other consumer protection bodies.
40. Many respondents who commented at this question identified a wide range of specific powers and duties that should fall to Consumer Scotland. These included a duty to:
- Assess that advocacy and redress is working effectively; including a better resourced court advocacy service.
- Have an overview of the court system.
- Have an overview of Trading Standards Services (TSS) or a duty to assess the quality and performance of TSS.
- Be an enforcement body or to be able to recommend what enforcement should be undertaken by sector regulators and have the power to refer issues to regulators for further investigation.
- Have the power to lay reports directly before the Scottish Parliament and a capacity to make recommendations on legislative remedies to the relevant Parliamentary committee.
- Review consumer issues such as energy or transport.
- Set up approved trader schemes.
- Identify and investigate markets and areas of devolved responsibility that are deemed to be detrimental to consumers' interests and to develop evidence-based solutions and promote good practice.
- Identify and fund prevention activities to protect consumers from harm.
- Carry out investigations and to be able to require businesses to provide information such as offering access to documents, statistics etc.
- Require consumer advice providers to be part of a quality assurance scheme.
- Support vulnerable consumers.
- Accredit and supervise ADR providers.
- Recommend the creation of regulatory bodies or ombudsmen in sectors where existing regulation is not sufficient.
- Supporting the independence of Consumer Scotland by empowering it with consultation rights vis-à-vis Scottish authorities' decisions and policies which have an impact on consumer interests; as well as coordination with other relevant regulatory or consumer bodies.
- Make a wide range of recommendations and ensure that recommendations are imposed, in an appropriate timeframe.
- Be able to make super-complaints (albeit that one respondent noted that Consumer Scotland would have to be designated by the Secretary of State to be able to make super-complaints), launch market studies and agree voluntary action with industry.
41. There were a small number of references of a need to have a strong network with regulators that is underpinned by agreements that take into account the established expertise of other organisations.
42. A small number of respondents reiterated their opposition to the establishment of Consumer Scotland on the grounds that the organisation is not needed, concerns over duplication of effort or that it would be preferable to review the operations and funding of CAS.
43. A small number of respondents also felt that the powers of Consumer Scotland should be limited; for example, one organisation in the energy / utility sector felt that Consumer Scotland should only have the power to make recommendations to government and the regulator on policy development.
Q4: What are the criteria that would constitute a specifically Scottish consumer issue?
44. A total of 35 respondents, across all sub-groups, provided commentary in response to this question. A number of these respondents, primarily in the advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution sector, noted that specifically Scottish consumer issues could include any matters falling under devolution, albeit that a small number of respondents also commented that some consumer services - such as water - would impact on a wider UK population. A small number of organisations in the local authority / trading standards sector also noted that this should not include issues that are Scotland-only.
45. A similar number of respondents simply noted that any issue affecting consumers in Scotland should be considered a specifically Scottish consumer issue, with a small number of organisations noting that markets are not just governed by administrative boundaries. Another key suggested criterion was instances where Scottish consumers are disproportionately affected in comparison to the rest of the UK; examples cited by respondents included energy prices, petrol prices, digital inclusion and parcel delivery prices.
46. Several respondents cited Scottish geography and / or the location of consumers affected; again, parcel delivery was cited as an example. One or two respondents referred to the demography, socio-economic circumstances or climate of Scotland as other criteria for consideration.
47. A number of respondents referred to specific services that could be deemed specifically Scottish and these included:
- Public transport and ferry services.
- The health service.
- Legal and related services.
- Telephone, broadband and digital services.
- Heating and insulation.
- Energy, gas and electricity, although one organisation in the utility / energy sector queried if energy would be included as this is not a devolved sector.
- Access to money and debt management.
- Parcel delivery.
48. A small number of respondents requested clarification of the term 'consumer' or suggested there is a need to allow for a wide interpretation of 'specifically Scottish'.
49. As at previous questions, a small number of respondents noted their antipathy towards establishing Consumer Scotland, with comments that it is better to consider community safety rather than focus on purely Scottish issues or that there is a need for cross-border working and liaison to avoid duplication and risk of gaps in the market. One respondent in the industry / trade sector commented that is would be better for Consumer Scotland to support, assist and collaborate with the wider UK consumer protection system.
Q5: Which criteria might Consumer Scotland consider when assessing the level of harm needed to be reached before an investigation is pursued?
50. A total of 35 respondents, across all sub-groups, chose to answer this question.
51. A number of respondents, primarily from the Advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution or Local authority / trading standards sectors offered a number of criteria that could be considered. These included a need to consider:
- Where there are specific issues with vulnerable customers.
- The number of people that are affected.
- The prevalence of issues.
- How widespread an issue is.
- The level of harm to individual consumers.
- The potential future impact or whether there will be long term economic harm.
- Where there is financial loss or harm.
- Where there are associated costs to the public purse.
- Where research or data from other organisations highlight consumer detriment.
- Where there is detriment to socio-economic well-being, education, health and social welfare, housing, security and safety or other aspects of consumers' lives.
- Anything which harms the collective interests of consumers.
- Practices or policies that put consumers at a disadvantage in dealing with service providers.
- The scale and duration of harm.
- Where there is detriment to a business.
52. A relatively small number of respondents referred to definitions or approaches that have been adopted by other organisations and which could be adopted by Consumer Scotland. These included the use of the Consumer Scorecard by the Ministerial Taskforce, the definition developed by the Strategic Intelligence Prevention and Enforcement Partnership (SIPEP), the consumer principles promoted by CAS, the CMA Prioritisation Principles or internationally recognised consumer principles.
53. Some respondents noted that consideration should be given as to whether other public authorities such as Trading Standards Services, or organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland, are better placed to deal with specific issues. A small number of these respondents noted that Consumer Scotland should focus its attention on unregulated sectors where there are no other organisations with jurisdiction.
54. Several respondents commented that the remit of Consumer Scotland needs to be broad, with wide discretion, or that the criteria will vary according to a specific issue or specific circumstances and that specific criteria may not be helpful.
55. A small number of respondents made general comments about the need to address the issue where there is a clear evidence base, or robust data on which to take action, rather than distinguishing issues that are based on limited or anecdotal evidence.
56. A number of other comments were made, each by a small number of respondents; these included;
- Criteria are not needed if a consumer has the opportunity to seek redress.
- There is a need to define what constitutes harm.
- There should be consensus among stakeholders that a specific issue constitutes harm.
Q6: Are there additional functions you think Consumer Scotland should have to allow it to deliver impacts for consumers in the current landscape?
57. A total of 34 respondents provided commentary in response to this question, some of whom reiterated points made at earlier questions.
58. There were a small number of general comments on the need for Consumer Scotland to have a wide remit and a capacity to respond to issues in a speedy way to protect consumers.
59. A number of key themes emerged in response to this question. A number of respondents considered that Consumer Scotland should have a function to oversee or coordinate advice services so as to ensure consistency and expertise in the quality of advice and levels of service offered as well as offering a capacity to store data centrally. Allied to this, there were some comments that Consumer Scotland could bring together and collaborate with other bodies with a consumer focus; and influence and collaborate with them. Examples given by one respondent were ACS and Ofgem.
60. That said, a small number of these respondents highlighted the need to ensure that while Consumer Scotland could bring together stakeholders working within the current consumer landscape to join up data sources and ensure information sharing, there is a need to ensure that any organisations have clear roles and responsibilities so there is no duplication in terms of the services offered. One organisation in the energy / utility sector requested clarification on the consumer landscape and the role of CAS.
61. Several respondents felt that Consumer Scotland should be able to ensure that consumers have access to advice and redress services, with one local authority commenting that redress is the logical extension to advice provided or any enforcement action taken.
62. A small number of respondents suggested an education or awareness raising role for Consumer Scotland, for example, in promoting or lobbying for a Prevention Agenda to help educate consumers, or for consumer education to be provided within schools. Allied to this, there was a suggestion that the organisation should promote competitive markets.
63. While acknowledging that it is a reserved area, a few respondents called for enforcement powers for Consumer Scotland.
64. Other suggestions made by one or two respondents included:
- Statutory powers so that Consumer Scotland can obtain information from service providers or regulators.
- A research function; for example, to be able to investigate structural barriers to effective consumer empowerment.
- Powers to make representations to bodies outwith Scotland in instances where policies or practices impact on consumers in Scotland.
- Powers of inspection and entry to ensure that companies comply with consumer law.
- To offer an ombudsman service.
- To be the quality assurance body for consumer advice providers.
- To have an overarching scrutiny role.
- To lay down the criteria for the accreditation of ADR providers.
- To champion models of regulation which focus more on consumers.
65. A very small number of respondents commented that the functions outlined in the consultation paper are appropriate for Consumer Scotland to gather evidence, investigate and make recommendations for the benefit of consumers.
66. One organisation in the energy / utility sector commented that there should be a single well-funded organisation with a dual function; firstly, to offer an advice service for consumers; secondly, that has a research and policy development team to contribute to the wider policy debate.
67. Other suggestions made by one or two respondents included a suggestion to roll out the In-Court Projects so that there is one per Sheriffdom, to set up a simplified consumer court or to set up a simplified Scottish ADR system.
Q7: Are there any additional functions Consumer Scotland should have that will enable it to adapt and respond to future consumer challenges?
68. A total of 17 respondents provided commentary in response to this question, with many of these reiterating their response to the previous question or reiterating points made in responses to earlier questions.
69. The key theme that emerged was a suggestion for a duty for Consumer Scotland to have a 'horizon scanning' role in order to check what future developments might occur, both within specific sectors and across the consumer landscape as a whole. This would enable them to look ahead and avoid future problems, as well as monitor and respond to new markets and ensure that advice and advocacy providers are aware of new areas of detriment to consumers.
70. Another key theme which emerged was the need for Consumer Scotland to work with other bodies and regulators in Scotland and the UK, with a small number of suggestions for a coordinating role in relation to other agencies. As one organisation in the advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution noted,
"It is imperative that consumers recognise that they are supported by a single, consistent system of consumer redress, regardless of whether this space is shared by a number of consumer advocacy groups."
71. A small number of respondents again referred to redress and enforcement, with one organisation in the advice body/consumer org/complaint resolution commenting that,
"We would also suggest that Consumer Scotland might have a role in relation to both consumer redress and consumer enforcement. While consumer protection laws are reserved to Westminster, the enforcement of these laws is primarily carried out by Scottish local authorities' trading standards services. Major concerns about the current trading standards arrangements in Scotland have been raised by the Accounts Commission and others. The Working Group recommended that Consumer Scotland should have a role in the co-ordination of trading standards services in Scotland, and in setting national enforcement priorities, among other things."
72. Other comments, made by single respondents included:
- A need for the Scottish Government to offer a commitment to review the legislation behind making Consumer Scotland a statutory body so that changes to legislation can be made quickly in order to Consumer Scotland to remain fit-for-purpose.
- A need for Consumer Scotland to be sufficiently resourced.
- A need for Consumer Scotland to be flexible and responsive to changing circumstances.
Email: Erin McCreadie