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NEW COURT POWERS ON 'SMALL PRINT' FOR TRADING STANDARDS

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Consumers are to be given new powers to fight companies which try to cheat them with confusing small print, accordi...
Consumers are to be given new powers to fight companies which try to cheat them with confusing small print, according to The Mail on Sunday (p22). Regulations are being drafted by the government which will allow trading standards officers and consumer groups to seek high court injunctions on behalf of people who believe they have been wronged.

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.

Consumer affairs minister Kim Howells said: 'The Unfair Contract Terms Regulations are an effective tool and I want to see them widely used against unscrupulous traders who cheat customers by using unfair contracts which are baffling, illegible or designed to deceive'.
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