Belfast Telegraph

Consumer Council has us covered

By Rick Hill

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) consultation on the future of consumer representation in Northern Ireland has closed and, as readers will expect, the Consumer Council has submitted a response.

Of the 300-plus responses received by Deti, many said the current model of consumer representation is the right one.

Currently, our integrated organisation has policy, consumer complaints and education functions all working together. Following up on one complaint can lead us to lobby and campaign for improvements for all.

I'm not saying we shouldn't continuously look for ways to improve and develop the way we represent consumers (we do). We've had some good feedback in that regard during this process.

Some responses to the consultation have advocated strengthening the Consumer Council's information-gathering powers in line with those held by Consumer Futures in Britain. This would mean companies could be compelled to share more information with us than they now have to.

Our own submission also highlighted this recommendation, together with proposals, such as ensuring we proactively identify future issues and concerns.

Policy decisions, especially on energy, finance, transport and water are taken with a long-term view, so it's essential the impact is considered over the long term.

The Consumer Council's latest cost of living research (December 2013) has revealed almost half (49%) of consumers are now worried about their ability to make ends meet, with 56% worried about it in future.

While other recent surveys have indicated an improvement in consumer confidence, there is a definite lag before consumers see this translated to their pocket.

As people continue to struggle, Northern Ireland needs the Consumer Council, a steadfast, independent organisation dedicated to representing all consumer and business needs, at every level.

For almost 30 years the Consumer Council has adapted to respond to consumers' changing needs. We now look forward to working with Deti to ensure consumers continue to be protected.

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