The consumer protection policy refers to the stipulated mechanism which gives the consumer the freedom to shop and enjoy various products within their establishments. For instance, the European Union (EU) policy and regulation offers freedom to customers or consumers linked to the European Community to operate freely and shop anywhere and to enjoy protection and price advantage and the supply of quality goods to them.
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Vulnerable consumers refer to those that are exposed to unfair pricing systems, low quality products, limited consumer rights, inadequate access to information and the repression of speech. Vulnerable consumers may include normal buyers, organizations or individuals who are exposed to unfair consumer practices from the supplier, dealers, government or the representative unions.
According to the Consumer Protection Strategy of 2007 to 2013, the primary role of consumer protection is to enhance equal classes of protection and security within the EU. It also facilitates a rich integrated domestic market.
According to the EU, the objective of a good customer protection approach includes the ability to empower the consumer through the creation of a transparent market which can supply the consumer with a wide spectrum of options in terms of quality of prices of commodities. It is also the objective of the policy to safeguard the consumer from all risks and threats.
The Consumer Policy Strategy focuses on different priority areas that include favorable consumer protection policy, fair oversight of consumer market and state consumer policies, facilitating consumer policy through the establishment of market regulation tools and placing of customers at the helm of other EU policies.
The strategic policy is expected to inform and educate the consumers through integration of the practices of the EU centers. The UK, a member of the EU is bound by the directive of the domestic UK law.
The consumer protection claims are handled when the complaints are forwarded to the director general who deals with fair trade. It is however not easy for consumers to complain straight to the OFT1 and they have to employ a middleman. This study evaluates the European and UK policies of consumer protection. The essay will focus on the impact of fair, favorable or unfavorable policies on the consumers.
Consumer protection constitutes laws and rules organized to facilitate consumers’ rights protection and ensure fair trade. It is also the role of the policy to safeguard the weak and vulnerable consumers. Consumers who cannot take care of themselves or who are afraid to take a step of claiming their rights have the advantage of obtaining anchorage from the consumer policy and regulation approaches.
The policy not only protects the consumers but also enlightens them on the various rights and existence of consumer support agencies. The agencies include Consumer Protection Organization, Federal Trade Commission, ombudsmen, business consultancies and government organizations.
A consumer2 is a person who procures goods and services for consumption or direct ownership. His aim is to keep or use the service or goods and not sell them.
When a consumer is weak or not equipped enough to fight for his or her rights in respect to commodity prices; he or she is said to be vulnerable. Exploitative policies among the various nations under the EU have subjected consumers to inflation and sub-standard products and services for a long time. Efficient and effective legislation safeguards consumers against health risks and risks related to unnecessary expenses.
Weak consumers cannot file their complaints when faced with inappropriate services and low quality products from sellers and manufacturers. They are forced to buy and use what to them is substandard and inconvenient but due to the need for the particular commodity, they are forced to succumb to the demand and go on procuring it.
The EU3 and UK policies both outline measures for the consumer protection but not all are put into consideration especially when the issues are related to health, ethics and quality production.
Other types of vulnerable consumers comprise of those informed individuals who are always ready to fight and express their concerns but lack the intervention of a ‘middleman’ or somebody who can represent them in the judicial system or at the high office for immediate action.
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Vulnerable consumers4 may also include the normal buyers who buy essential commodities like food and clothing even if the prices are compromised. They are highly taxed and tend to pay extremely high to acquire the product differently from other consumers from different locations who use the same product.
The consumers may need to complain but the communication channels may be “blocked” by certain interested parties. The conditions can also become oppressive and inconvenient because of little intervention from the observers and other agencies under the EU. The observers can be government agencies, foreign experts and rights’ protection facilities.
Regulation and consumer policy
Proper regulation and consumer protection help both the consumer and the market to work more efficiently. The policies are usually concerned with advertising, complaints, mergers and competition, transparency, fairness and consumers’ rights. The consumer protection policy and regulation in Europe and the UK5 prioritize advertising as a move towards the creation of a competitive and fair market.
The advertising clause serves to improve information quality by maintaining responsible and appropriate standards. The EU Consumer Policy works towards enhancing the consumers’ concerns at the EU level and various issues are addressed through legislative processes. The clause on mergers ensures that all issues are evaluated in the merger or through competitive enquiries.
The principle of consumer regulation is usually responsible for facilitating sensible industrial regulation and evaluation with focus on ensuring consumer s’ rights regulation. The clause on super complaints deals with market failure and makes informed decisions by using the power of the super complaint network.
The consumer’s product safety approach assures the consumers the safety of given products and the authority to question safety standards and deceptive operations of the market.
The European consumer policy and regulation
The European consumer policy and regulation is a destination approach in terms of performance, structure and evaluation. The strategic approach focuses on the consumers’ rights in the market mechanisms. It stresses on a number of considerations. The approach considers the clause on fair consumer protection and regulation to be an efficient one in safeguarding consumers’ interests.
In this case, the Council Commission focuses on simplifying the laws by amending the major directives on consumer protection. The commission’s responsibilities constitute the publishing and making of a Green Paper Publication on the evaluation of consumers’ protection. The commission necessitates harmonization towards an improved trend and facilitates an effective consumer protection strategy.
The approach by the European agency focuses on favorable redress and enforcement of the consumer protection laws. The consumer is mandated to monitor the state enforcement systems through surveying and close examining their performance. For an effective, fair and open market, the European consumer policy6 and regulation focuses on the fair evaluation of the consumer market.
It also monitors the national consumer policy. Market surveillance has been enforced through employment of devices such as RAPEX (Rapid Alert System) and also through cooperation from USA, China and other countries working together with the EU in ensuring the continued maintenance of consumer safety. The policy and regulation approach has always prioritized consumer protection.
The commission’s responsibility is to ensure that the consumers access health, transport and industrial facilities. It also ensures that all products of general interest and global service at the EU level are protected. Education is crucial for the consumer and the European commission on consumer protection policy and regulation because it promotes information, sound decision making and awareness in the consumer.
The commission finances the initiative aimed at providing information to prospective consumers like actions by the European Consumer Center Network (ECC-Net). The commission also participates in campaigns in newly established member states. The consumer policy strategy of 2007 to 2013 aims at uniting the 27 national domestic markets to form the biggest retail market internationally.
In the wave of the latest expansion, Eurostat targets 495 million EU inhabitants. The prospects of e-commerce are not fully exploited. The consumer strategy is yet to be formulated by the commission. Reports on consumer expenditure show 58% rise in the EU’s GDP.
Many considerations have in the past been made by the commission but at the moment, all units represented can be able to enjoy the advantage of the retail market with vulnerable groups especially the elderly risking being penalized.
The Green Paper Review on consumer acquisition stipulates that the operational consumer protection laws are based on little harmonization and permit member states to adopt a better formulated legislation. The Green Paper unveiled a public consultation forum which was later terminated in 2007.The forum focused on reviewing the consumer acquisition policy.
The forum proposed three options for the purpose of harmonization. The first option involved full harmonization of the policies on consumer protection. The second option incorporated little harmonization supported by a symbiotic recognition clause.
The third option integrated harmonization which involved the establishment of firms in the various member states; all complying with the rules and regulations applied in their states. The Green Paper proposes the reviewing of the main directives on consumer protection and the establishment of new consumer credit directives. The paper also adopted the drafts of two evaluation reports.
One was a directive on financial services and the other was about general product safety. The Commission for Health and Consumer Safety operates under the docket of the European Commission. The present commissioner’s post is occupied by Toni Brag. This docket is responsible for issues of public and animal health, food safety and the consumers’ welfare functions.
The policy by the commission on the promotion of warnings on smoking of tobacco has been an effective market approach towards public health stimulation. Progress has been realized and the commission has been able to address the issue of pictorial warnings. This fact has enabled a majority of the European nations to impose bans on public smoking.
This legislation was proposed by Marcos Kyprianon, head of Barossa Commission on the subject of health and consumer protection. In 2007, Commissioner Marcos unveiled a project that handled the short supply of “organs’ donation” within the EU. This plan involved promotion, donor cells and specially informed medical staff.
The various commissioners with remarkable adjustments include Richard Barco from Ireland (Jenkins Commission), Stanley Clinton from the UK (Delver Commission i), Grigoris Wafts from Greece (Deloris Commission ii), Christian Scrivener from France (Deloris Commission ii), Emma Boning from Italy (Santer Commission), David Bryne from Ireland (Pride Commission and John Dali from Malta (Barossa Commission).
The present portfolio of clauses and acts involves the president, vice president , director general of the agencies and legislative personnel.
The assembly portfolio involves agriculture and rural development, climate actions, competition panels, development schemes, digital agendas, economic affairs, monetary affairs, education and cultural networks, environment, financial programs and budgetary scheme, health and consumer policy, industry and entrepreneurship, international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response and justice, citizenship and fundamental rights.
These entire parameters make the European Consumer Protection Unit what it is today.
UK’s policy and regulation on consumer protection
The UK being a part of the EU is legally bound by the policies of the EU. The intervention of the EU law, the UK policy and regulations are emerging to be independent entities with different procedures and regulations to safeguard the consumers.
The UK tends to recognize the different areas that the EU has attempted to enforce the policy but failed and the UK has in the past made attempts to resuscitate it. In the different circumstances, especially where domestic laws are crucial, matters concerning consumer protection are usually evaluated and involve contract restitution tools or criminal laws.
The issues pertaining to consumers are configured and evaluated as complaints are forwarded to the general director in charge of air trade. Direct complaints from the consumer to the OFT are not allowed. An intermediary has to relay the complaint to the OFT. The intermediary provides legal information and advice to the respective complainant.
He can also decide to take the complaints to the trading standard for further evaluation. Following the restriction placed on the Enterprise Act 2012, uncollected complainants face the challenge of not knowing whether their complaints will be considered or not. This aspect becomes difficult for the individual consumers who are unable to access the outcome of their complaints.
The consumer can in certain circumstances forward large volumes of complaints to be evaluated systemically. The OFT is reported to be lenient and rarely takes companies to court but prefers “slim” touch regulation policies. The consumers’ complaints raised against the organization or company do not go through publication but pass through investigative work.
Certain consumer protection laws like the unfair stipulation of the Consumer Contract Regulation of 1999 or Distance Selling Regulation of 2000 were directives derived from the UK implementation. The OFT becomes responsible for enforcing this regulation.
However, these policies can lead to a problem considering that the legalization tackles individual’s complaints and ignores systemic complaints from them. The OFT plays the role of the UK’s official “watchdog” in respect to competition and consumer insights. It oversees the operations of the market at the local and international level through trading standards offices.
General advice on consumer operation can be drawn from the consumer docket or through the Citizens’ Advice Bureau Brand. The UK Policy and Regulation integrates several acts and clauses.
They include Sales of Good Act 1979, Unfair Contract Terms Act of1977, Consumer Protection Act of1987, Electronic Consumer Regulation of 2005, Consumer Protection Regulation of 2000, The Enterprise Act of 2002, Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulation of 2008 and General Product Safety Regulation of 2005.
These acts have existed for a long time and have maintained the UK’s dominance within the European community. These policies on consumer protection have affected many acts of parliament, government departments, statutory instruments’ lobby groups and citizens with the goal of facilitating a market economy that is fair. The policies ensure that consumers enjoy quality and safe goods and services.
The primary zones of regulating consumer matters include the product safety evaluation that protects people from buying potentially harmful goods. It ensures favorable terms for goods and services by elimination of unfair terms. It also includes financial regulation to facilitate credit access by ensuring that it is affordable.
The zone also requires that consumers fully understand the terms and obligations attached to loans and credit facilities. The other zone deals with strong competition especially from the private sector by elimination of cartels, destroying monopolies and dissolution of mergers.
Even though the UK is a part of the EU’s internal market, it works alongside other countries from Europe and EU institutions by outlining and enforcing transitional policies. A lot of parties play different roles in the maintenance of the policies with respect to the established laws. Examples of them include the Bank of England, OFT, Financial Services Authority, Competition Commission and the European Commission.
The Consumer Advocacy Group is a crucial organization that maintains justice and transparency with respect to the consumers’ protection policies. The supposed super-complainant aims at empowering the consumer’s concerns. The consumers in this case become vulnerable by not having individual access to vital information. The information can form a basis of evaluating the market.
Eight types of advocacy groups have been structured since the year 2007 and they include CAMRA which is a lobbying cluster that deals with quality and nature of beer and the Citizens Advice Bureau which provides free legal advice and specific help on consumers’ rights in the UK.
Others include Water Voice, Consumer Direct, Post Watch and General Consumer Council of Northern Ireland, Good Garage Scheme and the National Consumer Council. The Consumer Association has tangible authority of taking action as envisaged by the Completion Act of1988. The association is a lobby assembly and is sponsored by subscription of regular consumers.
The street fundraising initiative that originates from charity mergers is usually an offensive and aggressive move that violates legislation and policies outlined by regulating agencies. Different acts facilitate different clauses and fields. For product safety, the Consumer Protection Act facilitates safety of both goods and services.
For finance and credit, the Consumer Credit Act of 1974, Financial Services Act of 2010, Financial Services and Market Act of 2010 and financial ombudsmen services facilitate monitoring policies. The Competition Act of 1998 and Enterprise Act of 2002 generate healthy and fair competition and practices.
UK’s assistance to the vulnerable consumers
The UK’s regulatory policy makes her a stronghold when it comes to consumer protection. The clause on fair trade allows individuals from England, Wales and other parts of UK to enjoy fair trade. Fair trade refers to a good pricing system, fair competition and market procedure. This act tends to empower the weak and depressed consumers as it gives them hope of justice and fairness.
The policies are able to outline what is unfair and inform the consumers on the current market structures. The product safety regulation clause protects consumers, general public and various stakeholders from using harmful products and services. For example the Tobacco Awareness Scheme is aimed at informing individuals with little or no information on tobacco and narcotics about the dangers of using drugs.
Customers or consumers benefit directly or indirectly from this clause. They benefit directly through information availability and indirectly through third parties. The financial regulation clause helps the less informed consumers and general public on financial services. The policy helps individuals to recognize the need for accessing realistic loans and credit facilities.
It is the mandate of the Consumer Protection Commission and Agency to facilitate fair monetary organizations and authentic signatories. Two types of consumers are found in the UK.They include those consumers who seek financial advice from established individuals and successive personalities and those who play the ‘try and error’ technique. They latter operate by chance.
To them, financial gain is based on luck and previous experience. The consumer policy and regulation tends to address the needs of these consumers by creating educational programs in media and social communication networks like Face book7 and Tweeter8.The clause on competition policy and regulation within the private quarters helps in controlling cartels and fighting monopoly.
Monopoly has been a menace to the common consumers who have been subdued by the cartels in favor of certain individuals. They help in abolishing mergers that appear unfair and improperly constituted. The consumers are able to enjoy commodities The Consumer Policy and Regulation protects consumers from the freedom from monopoly and egocentric individuals.
The role played by the OFT has been a crucial one in solving consumers’ complaints through legal means. The OFT is able to speak for the weak, irresponsible and vulnerable consumers. The movement of the complaints from the OFT to the trading standards helps the organization to conduct comprehensive investigations.
The proximity focus by the OFT is to maintain links with its consumers through formation of small groups that act as a representatives of the consumer cycle. The groups are able to convey the complaints to the OFT. The OFT’s nature of not prosecuting companies has been able to encourage different companies to solve their issues and consumer complaints amicably and responsibly.
Consumers are safeguarded from fear of facing prosecution; especially if it is a scheme that undermines the Consumer Regulation and Policy. The OFT “watchdog’s” role has helped the UK community to understand the importance of a better consumers’ regulation and policy.
The freedom that the Enterprise Act of 2002 offers consumer bodies to be structured as super complainants allows the consumer to maintain the proximity of contact between the consumers and the OFT. The Citizen Advice Bureau provides free information and advice to vulnerable consumers who encounter problems in accessing important policy information especially when assessing costs.
Certain consumers find it difficult to file their complaints because they cannot afford advocacy fees. The Water Voice or Consumer Water Council helps the consumer in accessing safe, pathogen free and clean water. Safe water benefits vulnerable consumers in sewage polluted areas, poor drained areas and areas experiencing underground leakages.
The good garage and auto mobile repair schemes have helped consumers in accessing better automobile services. People who do not have enough information on car servicing and maintenance, cost of purchase and repair can depend on the scheme for direction.
Recent invention in automobiles has been re-coded and appreciated as the consumers are availed with important information to earn their desired vehicles based on their willingness to buy and access the services. The policy assures the consumer of an efficient delivery system, resource policy and legislative measure. The Sale of Goods Act of 1979 facilitates efficiency of sales to the targeted consumer.
The act assures vulnerable consumers of the right sales. The act connects the consumer with producers thus enabling an effective network of business. Consumers who are usually exposed to diverse challenges on the kind of products or services to go for are offered a variety of options by the policy. The Unfair Contract Act of 1977 is a practical clause for the vulnerable and less experienced consumers.
The act teaches them about the importance of fair trade and competition. The principle of regulation engages the act in working to motivate rational regulation and industrial evaluation while maintaining safety of the consumers. The UK’s policy generates economic momentum by prioritizing the consumer.
The consumer becomes the subject matter and point of interest of the market. The merger inscription ensures that consumers’ issues are incorporated in competition and merger enquiries. Alongside the super complaints docket, the merger works to check on market failure and opportunity cost.
EU’s assistance to the vulnerable consumers
The European Policy and Regulation integrates a number of clauses and acts that are expected to be implemented and applied by all stakeholders. It is however noted that despite the acts and clauses, the EU has managed to produce little, or at a given point, no assistance to the vulnerable consumers. The commission’s council has also done little to observe consumers’ protection regulations.
The Green Paper has been termed as ‘just any other publication’. Not many producers, manufacturers or suppliers are ready to comply with the clause. Certain manufacturers view the publication as a framework for developing top level consumer protection. The EU which is comprised of many member states experiences difficulty in running the policies because of the big number of its members.
Based on the members, the fair monitoring of markets and national consumer policies becomes a challenge, with unfair representation of commissioners and representatives. Many issues emerge and the consumers’ interests tend to diverge from the original intentions.
The provision of better education to consumers is one of the many policies that the EU tends to maintain but due to ignorance and little information; consumers become vulnerable due to lack of enough information. Health is important for all consumers and especially among the weak and malnourished ones. The European policy and regulation on consumer protection is mandated to maintain health and safety standards.
When it comes to work policies, construction workers tend to fear the medical cover because the policy and regulation does not include compensation especially if the accident is beyond the job scope. This fact delays the response awaited by the consumer.
The profiles of climatic action, energy and environment are sometimes a challenge and unfair to vulnerable consumers who may include the normal citizens, government members and non-governmental agents.
The provision on age and medical background of consumers in respect to drug and substance abuse has always been promoted in Europe with the set standards and regulations protecting consumers from exploitation and abuse. The commission in charge of safety creates awareness in social and public settings for individuals who are ready to be informed.
The youths are the most affected when it comes to drug and substance abuse with rising cases of addiction and crime. Suicide has also being linked to drug abuse or overdose.
The policies of e-commerce9 have not been favorably exploited. The vulnerable consumers involving individuals and groups are yet to experience the full force of E-commerce. Better and immediate regulations are needed to avail electronic exchange of both goods and services. Most consumers are ill informed when it comes to monetary and budgetary matters.
This kind of ignorance can bring about vulnerability to the consumers. The economic, monetary and budgetary clauses suggest the acquisition of economic power by the consumers in the future. The long procedures and formalities on monetary and budgetary policies may distract the consumers and consequently expose them to exploitation.
Countries from Africa, Asia and America prefer to buy things especially electronics and automobiles in Europe. In this regard, the policies employed by the UK and the entire world should protect the international consumer. The formulation of better and convenient policies can ensure that consumers are assured of a better, healthier, convenient and economically powerful market and trade.
Research should be conducted to find better policy frameworks within the EU and in the UK which can enhance consumer protection. Consumers have in the past been exploited by various states within the European region and this fact has led to the deterioration of economic standards in the region.
Various governments under the EU should allocate more funds towards creation of mechanisms that would eliminate cartels which have exploited innocent consumers for decades.
The initiative cannot however be realized if the EU member states do not demonstrate the will to safeguard the consumers in the European region. Whether the countries enforce the legislation or not is not an issue. The right legislation for consumer protection must first be established.
1 OFT refers to Office of Fair Trade. It is a legal entity that safeguards consumers from being exploited through economic policies
2 Consumer refers to an individual who buys goods and services for his own consumption
3 EU refers to the European Union
4 Vulnerable consumer refers to a consumer who is susceptible to exploitation
5 UK refers to the United Kingdom
6 The European consumer policy and regulation refers to a legislation that is used by states within the EU. The legislation outlines measures for the protection of consumers.
7 Face book is a type of an on-line social site that individuals subscribe to and become members. Once a member, an individual can meet other members on-line and access their personal information
8Twitter is a type of an on-line social site that individuals use in making comments about various issues happening in the local and international levels.
9 E-Commerce refers to on-line trade activities