Government Points to Citizens Advice as New UK Consumer Advocate

angry uk internet user

The Citizens Advice agency has today been tentatively labelled as the “preferred option” by the UK Government to take on the new independent role of “consumer advocate,” which among other things will be given the task of tackling “unfair” practices within the UK telecoms market (broadband ISPs and mobile operators).

Further details can be found in the new consultation, which confirms that the Government is considering three primary options: Option 1) Replicating the arrangements in energy and post, by appointing Citizens Advice as the new statutory consumer advocate for telecoms; Option 2) Expanding the funding and remit of Ofcom’s existing Communications Consumer Panel (CCP); and Option 3) Creating a new Arm’s Length Body to become the new statutory consumer advocate for telecoms.

At present Option 1 is the “preferred option” for England and Wales. Meanwhile it’s proposed that the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland (GCCNI) would be expanded in N.Ireland to take on a similar role, while Scotland is currently looking to establish a new body called Consumer Scotland that would perform the same sort of functions over the border. All of this could get very confusing for consumers.

The new advocate will:

* Conduct research and use it to highlight areas where the consumer experience can be improved.

* Represent consumers in key policy and regulatory debates, as the rollout of full fibre broadband and 5G mobile technology gathers pace.

* Provide direct support and advice to consumers, particularly the most vulnerable, who can struggle to engage with what is an increasingly complex market, as the Extra Help Unit does in the energy sector.

* Work directly with industry to help them improve consumer outcomes, for example by bringing together industry best practice.

* Support our digital connectivity ambitions by running campaigns to help consumers get the best deals and upgrade to better and faster services, similar to the Big Energy Saving Week.

Apparently the new advocate would be funded through Ofcom’s industry levy.

Gillian Guy, CEO of Citizens Advice, said:

“Despite broadband and mobile services being essential to our daily lives, right now consumers lack a voice when things go wrong. A dedicated telecoms consumer advocate will finally bring this in line with other industries and will help the regulator do its job holding providers to account.

Loyal customers who stick with their broadband and mobile providers pay hundreds of pounds more a year.

But it’s not just people being left out of pocket. People rely on broadband and mobile services for keeping in touch with family and friends, as well as for work and business. Too often they struggle with poor service and bad practice. Evidence shows millions of people face problems every year with these services.

It’s time for consumers to have someone on their side for mobile and broadband services, which have for too long been dominated by the interests of big business.”

The new consultation will be open for feedback until 14th October 2019.

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