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New customer rights must not impose more burdens

Plans by the Government to introduce new consumer rights must avoid placing extra regulatory costs on firms, a leading business group has argued.

The Government has set out its plans for providing greater protection for consumers.

The new approach has been published in a document entitled Better Choices, Better Deals and will affect how businesses must supply information to their customers who buy goods and services.

Part of the initiative will be a project called mydata, which will assess how to give people their personal data in a format that is safe to pass onto third parties, such as price comparison sites.

If an application or website can pick out the one perfect deal based on user information, this, the Government insisted, will help to make consumer choices simpler.

Also under the plans, the Government will expect regulators, departments and public service providers to release more information about complaints and performance data.

The Department of Business will give its backing to the development of a self-regulatory quality mark for web and comparison sites, and there will be a new resolution scheme for e-commerce disputes.

Announcing the document, Edward Davey, the Business Minister, said: "This is an important new initiative that will radically change how consumers relate to business.

"By giving consumers more power in their relationship with businesses they will be better placed to get the deal they want, and that deal may put a bit of money back in their pockets. This will in turn reward the most competitive and innovative businesses."

However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned against imposing additional and costly regulatory burdens on firms.

Tom Ironside, the BRC's director of business and regulation, said: "This wide ranging document includes some interesting ideas that could support action firms are already taking, in response to demand from customers, in areas such as providing nutritional and environmental information on food and other products."

But he added that pledges to empower customers must not translate into pointless and burdensome new obligations.

Mr Ironside continued: "A light-touch, non-regulatory approach is welcome but voluntary agreements or responsibility deals can end up imposing the same burdens as formal legislation. They must be used with care.

"Many of the issues covered in this paper are regulated at European level. Anything the Westminster Government does must be consistent with existing and planned EU regulation. And there's a strong need for consistency across the UK nations. UK-wide retailers should not be faced with four different consumer rights regimes."

The report can be found at http://www.bis.gov.uk/policies/consumer-issues/consumer-empowerment