Friday, 31 January 2014

Get it sorted

Constituents bring all sorts of consumer problems to me to ask if I can help sort them out. They include unexpected rises in bills, being tied into contracts, being mis-sold goods or services and a range of other practices that make them feel they’ve been cheated or left short changed.

Problems range wide and far, such as landlords who charge additional fees to tenants or try to change lettings contracts, issues with insurance policies and pensions fees, builders and contractors who fail to complete works, problems with goods and tickets bought online, and even supermarket special offers that are more expensive than the original product. I can’t start to claim to solve them all, but I’ve certainly learned lots about the law on these issues.

In the UK, consumer law has developed piecemeal over the last thirty years. It is now complex, ambiguous and has simply failed to keep up with technological change. As a result, both consumers and businesses find it difficult to understand their legal rights and obligations.

After consultations in 2011/12, the government published a draft Consumer Rights Bill (CRB) last June. If implemented, it will be the biggest overhaul of consumer law for decades.

CRB sets out a framework that brings together consumer rights covering contracts for goods, services, digital content as well as the law about unfair terms in consumer contracts. In addition, CRB proposes changes to the powers that regulators, such as Trading Standards Officers, have to investigate breaches and to enforce the law. It also proposes easier ways for consumers and small businesses to challenge anti-competitive behaviour.

So, in preparation for scrutinising the CRB to see if it is fit-for-purpose, MPs will be interested to hear about problems you are having with goods and services. What has caused the problem? What could have prevented the problem arising in the first place? When things went wrong, why couldn’t you get it sorted and what redress were you seeking but didn’t get?

Make sure you speak up now. There may not be another big review for decades!

If you want to find out more about the issues and what is being proposed, go to:

Monday, 27 January 2014

No hand guns in Britain. They’re banned for a reason.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has called for our firearm laws to be relaxed, calling the current ban on handguns "ludicrous”. He says that as long as you promise to keep your handgun in a locked box you should be able to have a gun licence and keep a handgun.

Farage didn’t score highly on analysis when he said that Tony Blair’s Labour government had introduced our gun laws. Actually, they were introduced by John Major’s Conservative government in 1996 after the Dunblane massacre when Thomas Hamilton shot and killed 16 young children and a teacher, before killing himself.

Quite why - given our economic, social and environmental challenges – Farage thinks this is a priority over the cost of living issues I don’t know. Suffice it to say that I’ve never had a constituent lobby me to demand that every adult should be able to keep a handgun. I have had many lobby me to get even tighter gun laws and give tougher punishments for those who have one unlawfully.

We have a low gun murder rate in the UK, but it’s still too high. In the USA, with the type of gun laws that Farage demands, you are 36 times more likely to be murdered with a handgun. Is this seriously what we want for our country? I think not.

Nothing that Nigel Farage says now surprises me. Last week, he completely disowned UKIP’s 2010 election manifesto, which he had ordered to been taken off UKIP’s website. He called it ‘486 pages of complete drivel’. His attempt to distance himself from it was a little surprising, given that he’d written the foreword, co-authored the summary of these ‘straight talking’ policies, and then helped launch it, as is shown in the video of the event.

Farage was correct in saying that his manifesto was drivel, but none of those policies was as dangerous as ‘handguns for all’. Just say no.