Cowboy builders and decorators had better watch out there’s a new sheriff in town.
UK consumer affairs minister Jo Swinson has rip-off merchants in her sights as she prepares to launch a new law to guarantee shoppers can get refunds on faulty goods and call shoddy tradesmen to account.
The Government is set to publish its Consumer Bill of Rights on Wednesday.
Talking exclusively to The Sunday Post, Swinson said: “There’s a general problem that consumer law is vague and complicated. People either don’t know what their rights are or think they do but think wrongly.
“We want to be punchy and say you have the right to get what you pay for, you’ve a right for things not to be faulty or get your money back, if you buy a service you have a right to get it done properly.”
The Consumer Bill of Rights will bring digital products like music and movie downloads clearly within the scope of consumer law for the first time.
Tradesmen who bodge a job will be obliged to make good their wonky work. Swinson said: “It’s certainly going to help with cowboy builders.”
And there is to be a uniform rule that if something stops working within 30 days of purchase shoppers can get their money back. If it can be fixed but it breaks down again after one repair then you can claim a refund.
Critics may grumble current consumer law is necessarily complex because life is.
While you’d expect a new pair of shoes to last a month you might hope something like a mobile phone or a car would last longer. In such instances the new rules will only entitle you to get a fraction of the original cost back.
Swinson claims a more straightforward law will be good for the economy.
“Businesses benefit because they have real clarity and consumers will because they are clear, too.”
So is this tidying-up measure simply about saving money for the cash-strapped government?
Swinson said: “These measures could help the economy by
£4 billion over the next 10 years so there’s a significant economic driver to this but we’re also keen to protect consumers, particularly vulnerable people.”
Some accuse Swinson of being overprotective to the point of nannying.
She was recently caught up in controversy when she seemed to say parents shouldn’t compliment children on their looks for fear of giving them a complex.
The minister explained: “I didn’t say ‘don’t tell your children they are beautiful’.
“What I did say was we know significant numbers of children feel unhappy about their appearance and that this can have a negative impact on self-esteem.
“At a very extreme level, we’re seeing rising levels of eating disorders among young people and this can cause a lot of worry for parents who are looking for ways to make things easier for their children.
“If parents focus on appearance in terms of compliments then that can mean children end up feeling that appearance has a disproportionate importance in their life.
“That’s not to say that parents shouldn’t tell their children they’re beautiful at all, but feeding the minds of little girls, and little boys, is important too.”
The Government has produced a downloadable parent pack with charity Media Smart to help mums and dads to discuss things like airbrushing of
magazine images with their kids.
The recent controversy has, at least, raised the profile of body image as an issue.
Swinson smiled: “Being misrepresented wouldn’t have been my preferred way of getting it out there.”