Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Consumer Council could be scrapped

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster has issued proposals for reform of the Consumer Council

The Consumer Council could be abolished because it is no longer essential and costs too much.

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster issued proposals for reform which include closing down the organisation, but will await the result of a public consultation.

Since it was established in 1985, a devolved government has been installed at Stormont and a utility regulator appointed to protect the interests of energy and water consumers.

Ms Foster launched options for the future after receiving an expert report.

"The report concludes that the continued existence of the Consumer Council may no longer be essential to consumers, nor be the most cost-effective mechanism for consumer representation in Northern Ireland," she said.

The report recognised that the Council provides certain functions which are not exercised by another body but which must continue to be fulfilled. The Council represents the public on transport, water and energy matters.

Ms Foster added: "I have considered the report findings and now wish to consult on the most appropriate model for the delivery of consumer representation in Northern Ireland, recognising the very different political and consumer context we now enjoy."

Options under consideration include:

:: Continuation of the Council as an arm's length body to represent the consumer.

:: Establishing an independent consumer representative body outside government.

:: Abolishing the Council and transferring its consumer representation role to an existing non-government advice body.

The Council was last reviewed in 1999. Now a locally accountable government and numerous local and regional advice bodies are in place.

The minister said there is an effective Trading Standards Service and much greater retail competition.

Ms Foster added: "The report recognises that the Council has been responsive to consumers and has been effective as an organisation."

A council spokeswoman said: "The Consumer Council's top priority is providing the best possible representation and support for consumers and we will provide our views and recommendations as part of the consultation process.

"It is business as usual at the Consumer Council. We are working hard to represent consumers, lobby on their behalf, investigate their complaints and provide them with resources and information about their rights.

"The Consumer Council has a record of making a real difference and delivering benefits for consumers and we will continue to do so."

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