Regulators were originally established in law to secure the interests of consumers in markets where people depend on essential goods and services – food, money, energy, water, post and communication, transport – to go about their daily lives.
This government’s Better Regulation Agenda changed the overall brief for regulators. It says it is “committed to reducing regulatory burdens and supporting compliant business growth through the development of an open and constructive relationship between regulators and those they regulate” and wants regulation which “supports and enables regulators to design their service and enforcement policies in a manner that best suits the needs of businesses and other regulated entities.”
Perhaps the real agenda can be taken from the fact that it measures progress by calculating savings to business that have resulted from reducing the costs of regulation, rather than whether consumers are being properly protected. It appears that the regulators have taken this new Code to mean that the interests of the companies are to take priority over the interests of customers.
Well, how else are we to interpret their approaches to some of the issues that are really important to protecting consumers?
It has now been revealed that the energy regulator, OFGEM, has given its approval to price comparison sites which actually hide the best energy deals from the customer. And, why would they do this? Because they don’t get paid commission on the best deals. It’s astonishing. How could anyone acting in consumers’ interests ever believe that that is reasonable? Clearly it isn’t.
And, what about the position of those customers who enter into – often very expensive - phone contracts only to discover that, in practice, they simply can’t get decent reception for all or most of the time, even in their own homes, but find that they are locked in to payments for a service they can’t get? You would have thought that any half-decent regulator would say “if you can’t get the service you are paying for, the contract is void”. Does OFCOM do that? No. It allows the phone-providers to have all sorts of get-outs.
We urgently need a new over-arching brief which puts protection for customers, rather than the interests of the companies, right at the heart of the regulatory regimes.