The Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress (CEARA) Act 2007 is designed to create a new, stronger and more coherent consumer advocacy body, introduce redress to the energy, postal services and estate agency sectors; and improve regulation of estate agents and doorstep selling.
Royal Assent was signified to the Bill in both Houses of Parliament on Thursday 19th July 2007. The Act has been published.
The Act covers three policy areas:
1. ‘Consumer Voice’ - provisions include measures to:
• strengthen and streamline consumer representation, by bringing together energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council to form a more coherent and effective consumer advocacy body (which will also be called the ‘National Consumer Council’).
The new body will be a more powerful consumer advocate with the critical mass to engage effectively with Government, regulators and industry sectors, and with the benefit of being able to draw on experience and expertise from a number of sectors, as well as providing greater value for money for consumers;
• require suppliers in the energy and postal services sectors, (and potentially the water sector after consultation in 2008) to belong to a redress scheme to ensure complaint resolution for consumers and award compensation where warranted;
• enable regulators in the energy and postal services sectors to make regulations to prescribe complaint handling standards which will be binding on suppliers in those sectors; and
• extend Consumer Direct to cover enquiries and simple complaints from customers in the gas, electricity and postal services sectors to provide a simpler line of communication between a complainant in the regulated sectors and a single consumer advice service.
2. Estate Agents - provisions include measures to:
• require estate agents to belong to an independent approved ombudsman scheme which will determine disputes between estate agents and buyers or sellers of residential property in the UK;
• require estate agents to make and keep adequate records of their dealing with a client for six years;
• give the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Trading Standards Officers powers to inspect an estate agent’s files on a transaction; and
• give the OFT more scope to consider an estate agent’s fitness to practice
These provisions implement a number of recommendations in the OFT's 2004 report on the estate agency market.
3. Doorstep Selling - provisions include a measure to:
• provide a power to extend to solicited visits, the cancellation rights and cooling off period such as those that consumers currently enjoy for unsolicited visits to their home.
This implements the commitment made to introduce primary legislation to this effect in the Government response to a public consultation (published 7th September 2006).
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