After a tumultuous few weeks in British politics, the Government tried to introduce some certainty in today’s Queen’s Speech by setting out a big agenda of new legislation it wants to pass in the next two years. So what do you make of today’s proposals?
Of course, Brexit will dominate the agenda with eight out of the 27 Bills proposed. We’ve got the Repeal Bill, which should ‘lift and shift’ existing EU rules – including many consumer issues – into UK law. And alongside it, Bills to introduce new UK approaches on customs, trade, agriculture and more.
Beyond Brexit, however, there was a distinct consumer flavour to a lot of the Bills and announcements that the Queen announced in Parliament today.
There are Bills to establish the new single Financial Advice Body and to better regulate Claims Management Companies, which have been a source of so many nuisance calls.
There’s also legislation on automated vehicles and electric cars, action on logbook loans, steps to update the ATOL protections when we go on holiday and plans to tackle unfair fees for tenants in the private rental market with the Draft Tenants’ Fees Bill.
Plus promised consultations on energy pricing, the homebuying process and leaseholds, as well as social care funding and quality.
The action on Claims Management Companies (CMCs) is of particular interest to Which?. Our long-standing campaign on nuisance calls and texts has, in part, been driven by the volume of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) and Personal Injury claims calls that CMCs have pestered us with over the years.
The Government announced a while back that it would move regulation of CMCs to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – something that Which? supported. We hope that the FCA will bring a similar energy and rigour to regulating these firms to the way it has gone about regulating payday lenders.
But we want the Bill to go further. When we use a CMC to make a claim for PPI or a flight delay, why should CMCs take a cut of the compensation for consumers? Shouldn’t the company paying out the compensation take the hit? We want reforms to require businesses, rather than consumers, to pick up the costs of CMCs’ charges when they are at fault.
The big question in advance of today’s Queen’s Speech was whether it would include a Bill to introduce the much-touted energy price cap. Now that the Government doesn’t have an overall majority, it’s clearly nervous about whether such a high-profile issue would get through Parliament unchanged.
Instead, the Government has decided to consult on the cap as part of a Consumer and Markets Green Paper. This was first announced right back in autumn 2016 and is also likely to include proposals to improve the home buying process as well as more action to make the telecoms market work for consumers.
More of a surprise was the inclusion of a Smart Meter Bill. This will give the Government much greater flexibility around how it will roll out these meters. Smart meters should ensure we have accurate energy bills, a better understanding of our energy use and make it easier to switch.
There have been grumblings for some time that the proposed deadline of 2020 to get these meters into homes would be missed. Nevertheless, a delay is worrying and the Government will need to swiftly reassure consumers that this won’t lead to bills increasing and that the roll out will be delivered in the most consumer friendly way possible.
With social care and energy prices the top two priorities for consumers for the new Government, it’s good to see commitment today to make progress on these issues.
We’ll be making sure that legislation, such as the Data Protection Bill results in action on consumers’ third priority issue – fraud and scams, which often happen as a result of misuse of our data.
So there’s a lot for Which? to be working on over the next two years to make sure these Bills really do result in the reforms we need to see to essential markets. But what do you make of today’s Queen’s Speech? Do you think the Bills and consultations will make a difference? Was there anything missing for you in today’s Queen’s Speech?