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HIES Blog

Self-Regulation For Renewable Businesses will be The Future - Find Out Why?

 

Author: Adrian Simpson

Should self-regulation fill in the gaps in enforcementAGE UK recently released a very hard-hitting press release highlighting that the cuts to Trading Standards are leaving older people vulnerable to fraud and that Elderly people are FIVE times more likely to be hit by fraud than be burgled. The figures detailing the cuts do not make good reading with some areas having experienced 60% cuts.

As a former Trading Standards Officer, I witnessed first-hand the cuts. The County Council where I started my career at had 120 Officers ‘doing the right thing’ but this has now dropped to just 30 Officers. However, the need for consumer advice and help with problems has not diminished, meaning that consumers are losing out.

Specifically, in the Home Improvement market, the Citizens Advice consumer service received 40,000 complaints in 2016 (source - www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/how-citizens-advice-works/media/press-releases/thousands-seek-help-from-citizens-advice-after-home-improvement-nightmares)

So, what are the options for protecting consumers?
It is unlikely that we will ever return to the good old days of ‘consumerism’ where trading standard's offices had large teams of specialist advisors who could answer and assist in any consumer complaints, and some even had walk-in centres that were fixtures of the high street. One great solution is effective regulation through codes of practice. Codes of practice regulating industries are not a new idea, having been first mentioned in the Fair Trading Act 1973. However, it was not until the early 2000’s that the Office of Fair Trading (since abolished) established the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme. Critics of consumer codes state that they are biased and lack teeth, neither of which is true.

The advantages of self-regulation are:

  1. The industry brings its own expertise and knowledge to shape the regulation required.
  2. Rules and regulations can quickly change.
  3. There are no costs for taxpayers as the schemes are almost always self-funding.
  4. As long as consumer protection is at the core of the business, then consumers will always be protected and not left short.
  5. It avoids long-winded formal consultation processes that are required to lead towards legislation.

Not all codes of practice and assured traders schemes are the same
Firstly, it’s important to know the difference between a code of practice (COP) and an approved trader scheme (ATS). An ATS is an organisation, sometimes endorsed by a public body such as trading standards, where traders apply to join and prospective members are rated or assessed against specific criteria which could include fair terms and conditions etc. A COP is a detailed document which traders can subscribe to, it should set very high standards to which traders must reach.

The Chartered Trading Standards Institute, which we belong to sets a very high standard for consumer code sponsors and to become an approved consumer code, we had to show that we will reduce consumer detriment.

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of ATS and like the Insurance comparison industry, they are all vying for consumer attention through catchy jingles and slick catchphrases. We welcome schemes that contribute towards improving industry standards, but the fact remains that anybody can set up an ATS or COP without having to reach any particular standard. We think that should be changed.

Why we should not just have one body overseeing the entire consumer protection landscape
Trade associations whether they operate an ATS or COP bring their expertise and knowledge of the market with them in order to reduce consumer detriment. Throughout our time in operation, we have learned how to quickly, fairly and impartially resolve consumer complaints. Consumers should not be left for long periods of time experiencing more stress and upset, whilst an ATS who has no knowledge or expertise must go away and find experts and get up to speed in a particular area. For example, on average we resolve complaints for consumers in just 7 days.

Recommendations to Government
HIES’ leadership have been providing quality assurance services since 1996 and believe codes of practice should be mandatory across the home improvement sectors. We recently dealt with a consumer who had been to no less than 7 other bodies before she received redress through HIES. This got us thinking over our years of experience about what ‘good’ looks like. After careful consideration, we thought that it’s best that we decide on some principles.

We would happily engage with other bodies and the government to develop a standard.

The 7 principles we are recommending to Government are:

  1. All home improvement businesses are members of an industry sector Code of Practice (COP).
  2. All consumers are registered with the installer’s COP (so the Code has oversight).
  3. The COP writes to every consumer entering into a contract with a member (above, say, £350 contract value) letting them know of the protections in place and also asking for feedback on the installer’s performance.
  4. The COP has a responsibility to provide free mediation, free inspections and free ADR/Ombudsman protection if there are any disputes with its members. Quick timeframes for resolution should be in place.
  5. The COP cannot ‘lose its responsibility’ if the installer is no longer a member.
  6. The COP should police and audit to ensure that all consumers have their deposits and guarantees protected by insurance should the installer cease to trade (and keep records of this).
  7. The COP should police that all ‘performance calculations’ given by installers are verified and audited and if the performance calculations are found to be incorrect, obtain effective redress for the consumer.

 

Things cannot stay the same and consumers need quality protection through high, agreed standards.

 

Get in touch
Call us on 0344 324 5242
Or send an email to info@hiesscheme.org.uk

 

Image source: Pixabay.com

Don't get fined! Make sure you comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

 

GDPR

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which supersedes the UK Data Protection Act 1998 came into force in April 2016, however companies have been given until 25th May 2018 to become compliant.

Strengthening individuals' privacy rights
The GDPR provides individuals with more control over their personal information and ensures companies are now more accountable for data protection by placing a range of new responsibilities upon them.

The regulations regarding how a company obtains consent will be much stricter and individuals will have the right to clear and transparent information on exactly what data is collected about them and how it is processed. They will also have the right to rectify any inaccurate personal data or, in certain cases, have their data erased or moved to another service provider. We have put together a 12 step guide to GDPR to help you navigate your way through to comply.


Click here to view the 12 Steps to GDPR Compliance


What happens if your business does not comply?
Currently, under the Data Protection Act, businesses that do not comply with the regulations could face fines of up to £500,000; criminal prosecutions; and obligatory undertakings (where a company must commit to a specific action to ensure compliance).

Failure to comply with the new regulations could mean:

  1. Fines of up to €20 million or 4% global turnover (whichever is higher).
  2. Liability for damages (individuals will have the right to compensation if the regulations are breached).
  3. Reputational damage and loss of consumer trust.

 

All too often we hear of data being misplaced, stolen, misused or shared without consent. Complying with the GDPR will help protect your current and potential customers and give individuals trust and confidence in your business.


Brexit
The Government has confirmed that Brexit will not affect the GDPR start date and that post-Brexit the UK’s own law (or a newly-proposed Data Protection Act) will mirror the GDPR.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. They have published a detailed guide and produced a number of tools to help companies make sure they are GDPR compliant. Please click here to learn more.

 

Have a question?
Call us on 0344 324 5242
Or send an email to info@hiesscheme.org.uk

Renewable Heat Incentive - Important Changes for 20 September 2017

 

On 30 August, amendments were made by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), including increased tariffs and the introduction of heat demand limits for domestic heat pumps and biomass installations.

These amendments are part of the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2017.

Please click here for a factsheet detailing the important changes to the Domestic RHI scheme published by Ofgem.

Please click here for an overview of the Domestic RHI tariffs and payments published by Ofgem.

To view the full Statutory Instrument please click here

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