Belfast Telegraph

Consumer Council's work vital

By Rick Hill

The economy is showing signs of improvement, however research shows Northern Ireland consumers have less than half the UK average disposable income. With many still having to make hard choices, it's important the Consumer Council continues to have a strong, independent voice to represent them.

Minister Arlene Foster's recognition of this, with the conclusion of the review of the Consumer Council, is welcome.

The Consumer Council provides a unique mix of lobbying on consumers' behalf, investigating complaints and running educational campaigns on consumers' rights and responsibilities. The combination of those elements gives consumers a strong and informed advocate.

Many consumers, businesses, politicians, community groups and others truly value our role and it has been very encouraging that they've shown such strong support for our retention. The minister does propose to make some changes, however, so we look forward to discussing those.

The Consumer Council is a continually adapting organisation and that's the way it should be – consumer needs and the issues affecting them can change rapidly and the Consumer Council needs to be responsive.

We continually strive to improve the service we provide and we've already been focusing on some areas with which the minister's statement resonates, for example increasing our outreach – we had 100 events across Northern Ireland last year, double the number from the previous year – and increasing our partnership work. And, of course, we continue to chair the Financial Capability Partnership and play a key role in the Fuel Poverty Coalition.

Another area is our support for businesses – while we've always been here to represent businesses and investigate their water, energy and transport complaints, we've recognised that we need to do more to raise awareness of that, and that's an area where we've started to do more work.

We look forward to discussing these issues and other proposals with the department, so as to provide an increasingly useful and responsive service for consumers.

Rick Hill is chair of the Consumer Council

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