Government plans to set up ‘super consumer councils’

The Government is planning to set up a raft of “super consumer councils” to investigate consumers’ complaints about utility providers.

The proposals, shortly to be put out to consultation, would mean the creation of three consumer complaints watchdogs, one for energy, one for telecommunications and another for water.

It is likely that they would replicate the format of the Gas Consumers Council. The GCC, headed by Sue Slipman, who joins National Lottery operator Camelot at the end of this month, has embarrassed gas firms with the regular publication of lists shaming companies which attract complaints about customer service, billing and pricing.

The consultation document is to be published “as soon as possible” according to a spokesman for the Department of Trade & Industry, the ministry headed by Peter Mandelson which will be responsible for setting up the new councils.

The creation of the consumer councils could mean stripping out the consumer complaints function from the utility regulators – Ofwat, which regulates the water companies and Oftel, which regulates the telecoms industry. The electricity and gas regulators Offer and Ofgas, headed by Stephen Littlechild and Clare Spottiswoode, are to be merged under one energy regulator, and will have a corresponding consumer council.

The move is part of the Government’s overhaul of utilities regulation outlined in a Green Paper “A Fair Deal For Consumers”.

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