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e-Consumer protection consultation

Start date: 21 July 2010
Close date: 13 October 2010

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Summary

The UK Government asked the Office of Fair Trading to develop a longer term national strategy for protecting consumers online. The objective of the strategy is to enable the OFT, local authority Trading Standards Services and other agencies to work together more effectively. The strategy outlines a range of actions designed to improve the effectiveness of online markets by increasing internet enforcement capability, promoting business compliance and increasing consumers' awareness of their online rights.

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Outline of the strategy for protecting consumers online

The UK has a vibrant internet economy, with strong online participation, high levels of trust and comparatively substantial online spend. Fraud associated with the use of credit cards online is declining. Business compliance is increasing. On the whole, consumers feel they have the right level of protection, and trust public authorities. However more can be done to address specific issues to problems: one in seven e-commerce consumers has experienced a problem buying goods and services using the internet, and around 40 per cent of UK consumers are not transacting online.

The need for a more coherent approach to protecting consumers online arose in response to concerns identified by the government in the July 2009 Consumer White Paper. The objective of this strategy is to enable the OFT, TSS and other agencies to work together more effectively. The strategy explicitly focuses on protecting consumers from economic harm and raising consumer awareness of their rights when transacting online. It does not look at issues of personal safety and security or national security.

A strategy consultation was published in July 2010 and received 45 responses. During the consultation, a number of workshops were held with a range of industry groups, consumer bodies, businesses and non-profit organisations. The consultation was publicised in a number of online blogs, magazines and emails.

Responses to the consultation and a detailed evidence review have highlighted the fragmented nature of enforcement, the range of internet enforcement capability across the 198 TSS, the low (but increasing) levels of business compliance with consumer protection legislation, and the low levels of consumer awareness of their rights.

Some key aspects of consumer protection will need to improve if the UK is to maintain or improve its current level of protection for consumers: more effective enforcement, greater business compliance and better consumer understanding of their rights.

Specifically, for more effective enforcement we need to:

  • improve data-sharing and intelligence between the OFT and TSS, across the UK and nationally
  • increase coordination of enforcement (where this is possible without compromising sensitive investigations)
  • develop internet enforcement capability within the OFT and TSS, and across the UK.

Increasing business compliance can be promoted through:

  • better guidance for businesses on how to comply with consumer protection regulations and by making it easier for businesses to find relevant guidance materials
  • working jointly with business to design-in compliance and to share information for the purposes of intelligence and horizon scanning.

We can help empower consumers by:

  • educating consumers about their online rights and work with consumer bodies to ensure consistent messages
  • working on initiatives that improve the transparency of the transactions, and the security of payment mechanisms
  • improving the access and quality of consumer redress, and consumer learning (for example, consumer feedback and rating sites).

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Related documents

The summary of responses to the consultation will be available in early January 2011.

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Contacts

Project Director: Marcia Poletti (020 7211 5879/marcia.poletti@oft.gsi.gov.uk)
Senior responsible officer: Ann Pope (020 7211 8786/ann.pope@oft.gsi.gov.uk)
Media enquiries: Any media enquiries should be directed to a member of our Press Office




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