Until now, only the Office of Fair Trading has been allowed to take up the cudgels against firms which treat customers unfairly. But under new rules due early next year, aggrieved consumers can use trading standards departments and independent groups, such as the Consumers' Association, to fight their corner in court. It will, it is claimed, give a massive boost to consumer power.
Ministers believe the new system will deter companies from trying to bamboozle customers by resporting to misleading or unclear contracts. Of the 3,000 complaints about unfair deals investigated by the OFT in the past three years, 75% have required action and 1,200 led to the terms being dropped or revised. None has gone to court. But some companies refused to budge even when told to do so.