The Queen’s Speech today continued to emphasise the importance of consumer protection in the government’s legislative agenda. The government announced its intention to “ensure fairer markets for consumers”, citing a number of sectors where consumer protection issues are a particular priority, including energy, travel and rented housing.
The government intends to publish a green paper on consumer markets where unfair practices are identified. It has already identified particular concerns around cancelling subscriptions, complex billing and switching suppliers in the energy and telecoms sectors. The green paper will also examine how consumers enforce their rights, with more widespread alternatives to litigation likely to be recommended. Interestingly, this focus on consumer awareness and enforcement is very much in line with the European Commission’s recent announcement following its review of EU consumer law.
The speech specifically cited unfair practices in the energy market as an issue to be tackled by the government. However, there was no mention of the more controversial energy price cap proposed by the Prime Minister earlier this year – instead, there will be a Bill to provide for the continued roll-out of Smart Meters.
The spotlight was also turned on the rental market, with a Draft Tenants' Fees Bill announced, which will ban “unfair” letting fees imposed by landlord or agents as a condition of a tenancy.
Changes were also announced to extend the ATOL holidaymakers’ protection scheme to online holiday bookings.
Finally, a new Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill seeks to facilitate the introduction of driverless cars – one of several new technologies which the government is eager to support. Following a consultation last year, the government is seeking to extend compulsory insurance to cover automated vehicles, with single policies covering both the motorist and the automated vehicle. The Bill would also allow the government to require the installation of charging points at service stations and other locations. Further consultations are expected on the rolling programme of regulatory reform to facilitate the introduction of driverless car technologies.