/ Money, Parenting, Technology

The Bills we want MPs to choose

Parliament at sunset

Tomorrow we pay our annual visit to Parliament to lobby MPs to pick one of our suggested backbench Bills. Why? Because there’s a ballot to choose 20 MPs who’ll be given priority to present a Private Member’s Bill.

Usually 400+ MPs enter the Private Member’s Bill ballot, but who will the lucky 20 winners be? You can watch the proceedings at 9am and later today the list will be published on the Parliament website.

The lucky 20 MPs have to decide what Bill they’ll publish by 24 June, with the top seven guaranteed debating time in the autumn.

Why it matters and what we’re proposing this year

There’s no guarantee any of the Bills will become law but they can influence government policy, as we have seen with our own recent backbench Bills.

For example, in 2013, we successfully persuaded Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart to table our Bill to tackle nuisance calls. Although the Bill didn’t become law, it played its part in persuading the Government to take the problem of unwanted marketing calls and texts more seriously.

The Government published its own Action Plan in spring 2014 and asked Which? to chair a task force looking at how consumers consent to receive marketing communications by phone and text. The task force has published a series of recommendations.

So what is Which? promoting this year? Now the General Election is out of the way, we’re having a second go with three of our unsuccessful Bills from last year but we’ve also got a new Bill picking up an issue recommended by the recent task force on nuisance calls and texts.

Bill 1: holding company directors to account for nuisance calls and texts

Our new Bill would be a measure to help tackle unwanted phone calls and texts by strengthening the powers of the Information Commissioner.

It would enable him to make company directors accountable for corporate breaches of the law banning unwanted calls and textsThis measure was recommended by the Nuisance Calls and Texts task force on consent and lead generation in December 2014.

Bill 2: making complaints count in public services

This is about public services and relates to our ongoing Making Complaints Count campaign. Last year, 5.3 million people who had a problem with a public service didn’t complain.

We think the complaints system across public services needs to change. This Bill has a simple aim. To help give people a voice when they have had problems with a public service and improve the identification of systemic problems so they can be tackled.

Bill 3: better information for students about universities

This is specifically about higher education. Prospective students don’t currently have access to certain information that would help inform their choice of university and course. This is the first big financial decision a young person will make and it should be a well-informed decision.

This Bill will improve the information made available to prospective students through the ‘Key Information Set’ and ensure that universities are complying with the direction from the Competition and Markets Authority on the information that should be made available.

Bill 4: switching mobile provider

Our fourth Bill would make switching mobile phone provider easier and quicker.  In the mobile phone market, the current switching process requires consumers to contact their existing provider to get a code to then give to the new provider.

This Bill would make receiving service providers responsible for managing the transfer of services, meaning that consumers need only speak to their new provider, as is the case with banks and energy companies.

In effect, the Bill would introduce ‘recipient-led’ or ‘gaining provider led’ (GPL) switching across the entire telecommunications sector, making the switching process easier and quicker.

What happens next?

Now our job is to see whether we can persuade any of the 20 MPs who have won the ballot to introduce our Bills by 24 June.

Which of our four Bills would you most like MPs to take up and why?

Comments
Member

My choice is Bill 1: holding company directors to account for nuisance calls and texts.

Much of what we discuss on Which? Conversation relates to consumers being let down by companies. Fines – if they are ever levied – are just passed on as higher prices, so holding directors to account is the only solution likely to have a worthwhile effect. The same treatment could be given to the directors of companies that break other laws.

Member

I’m not sure any of these would be the priority I’d choose. I’d like to see all consumers helped by making the Trading Standards an effective organisation to which we could complain directly and see action.

Perhaps complaints against public bodies – but only if they were committed to responding to them quickly. I’m tired of seeing complaints drag on for years.

Member

I think we will have to launch our own campaign about Trading Standards, Malcolm. It does not seem to be on the agenda. 🙁

I’ve just had a gas-powered soldering iron burst into flame because of a leak. Its predecessor (same brand, different model) did exactly the same, a few years ago. I thought of contacting Trading Standards but previous experience suggests this would be a waste of time.

Member
wev says:
4 June 2015

I agree. There should have been a bill to improve Trading Standards and Action Fraud, and the way police deal with fraud complaints

Member
wev says:
4 June 2015

What’s happened to Tivium and other Green Deal providers that missell?

Has Trading Standards or the police done anything?

Member

Thanks for the comments so far. Well, today has been a busy day as we have been in touch with all 20 MPs and we now wait to see if any are interested in our proposed Bills. After a weekend of reading, the next two weeks will be key for that. The MPs will probably have had quite a few suggestions sent to them today, and of course they will also have their own priorities and ideas.

As regards the comments about the role and funding of trading standards, we do understand your concerns but addressing that via a private member’s bill (PMB) is not possible (as a PMB can’t cost public money, other than in very limited ways, while the issue is a complex one for government – local and central – to address). Though it does not get much public attention, concern over the status and future of trading standards is a live policy issue, not least to the wider trading standards community. In March 2015, the Government published a report with the Trading Standards Institute about ‘the impact of local authority trading standards in challenging times’ https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/420218/bis-15-139-the-impact-of-local-authority-trading-standards-in-challenging-times-r2.pdf)
while later this year we are expecting the National Audit Office to review the way consumer law is enforced and managed by the key players, such as the National Trading Standards Board, Consumer Protection Partnership, CMA, Citizens Advice, local Trading Standards Depts, etc, since the consumer landscape changes were implemented from 2013-14.

We will post an update to this Conversation on or around 24 June by which time we will know if a MP (or MPs) have agreed to table our PMBs.

Member

Mark, Thanks. I hope Which? will be taking part in any work to look at improving the effectiveness of trading standards, since their role impacts so heavily on consumers.

Looking quickly at the report is worrying. It says TS are now reactive, not proactive, have reduced testing, now focus on income generating tasks (OK providing other tasks are not neglected), have reduced weights and measures checks, analysing food and product safety testing! Just examples.

Budgets are the problem as they have been heavily cut – in England authorities allocate between £1.99 and £12.45 per 100 referrals from CAB. No wonder they are ineffective. You are far better off in Scotland where the allocation is £7.43 to £81.39 per 100 referrals.

Typical county budgets are £1-£2 million a year. Our county takes in business rates of £16m. Increasing those by 2% would provide a 15 to 30% increase in funding for trading standards. Since businesses are a large part of trading standards function – and many will benefit – surely there is a source here to begin providing extra finance?

“Something must be done”. Are Which?, as representing consumers, able to focus effort on helping get the system reformed?

Member
wev says:
4 June 2015

Mark, thank you for talking about Trading Standards. It would be nice if you could next say whether the way police and related bodies handle fraud and are effective against it is a live policy issue.

When fraud happens, it’s confusing for people to know who to turn to. Do they go to the police, or Trading Standards, or someone else? Or everyone at the same time? There’s no clear guidance. And each one provides a different outcome.