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Achieving a fairer deal for Internet shoppers

17th November 2012

A campaign spearheaded by The Highland Council to win a fairer deal for consumers over delivery charges for goods bought on the internet. This is especially for those living in remote communities, is continuing to produce beneficial outcomes for consumers.

Members of The Highland Councils Transport Environmental and Community Services Committee heard on Thursday how the work being carried out by Trading Standards professionals across the North of Scotland, in close partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), Consumer Focus Scotland (CFS) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is reaping rewards with an increasing number of suppliers clarifying and in some cases reducing their charges.

A report from Gordon Robb, Trading Standards Manager, updated the Committee on progress; both by Highland Trading Standards own investigations into the activities of a number of individual internet traders, but also on other wider developments that are hoped will contribute to a fairer deal for all.

He said: Successfully bringing a number of major businesses into compliance through detailed discussions with the businesses has in itself borne fruit, but the added influence of a number of initiatives driven by consumer organisations and the inclusion of the issue within the remit of a Scottish Parliament Cross Party Group that is looking at wider postal issues has also made a big difference.

Also planned for later this month is a Parcel Delivery Summit organised by Consumer Focus Scotland. This will bring together various parties, including retailers and carriers, to seek solutions to some of the on-going problems.

Trisha McAuley, Deputy Director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: The Highland Council Trading Standards have made great progress in making more internet traders aware of their responsibilities to consumers including clear, up-front delivery costs. These are exactly the types of issues we will be discussing at the Parcel Delivery Summit, chaired by Fergus Ewing MSP, in Inverness later this month. Consumer Focus Scotland will continue to work with our partners to secure a fairer and more modern delivery service for consumers throughout Scotland.

An imminent report by Citizens Advice Scotland and the highlighting of delivery charges in the OFTs recent work on Price and Choice in Remote Communities, are seen as important developments in persuading many businesses to sort out their own trading practices ahead of any regulatory intervention by Trading Standards.

Ahead of the publication of their own report, Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland said: Its great to see Highlands Council Trading Standards successfully tackling retailers that arent complying with the law and that are causing serious detriment to consumers. Over 3,000 people responded to our survey the highest response weve ever had showing that online shoppers across Scotland are outraged by discriminatory and unfair delivery practices. By working with partners like Trading Standards, the OFT and Consumer Focus Scotland, were confident that we can get a better deal for consumers wherever they live in Scotland.

In relation to the OFTs continuing interest in the issue, Kyla Brand, Office of Fair Trading Representative in Scotland said: The Highland Council Trading Standards have been at the forefront of the campaign to encourage online sellers to provide a better service to people living in remote areas. The OFT supports this aim, and we have recently launched new online resources to help internet businesses understand their obligations and comply with the law. Along with Highland Council, we want to see people living further afield gaining maximum advantage from the opportunities offered in the online market.

Councillor Graham Phillips, Chairman of the TEC Services Committee said: I am delighted that we are making real progress on this matter which is benefiting Highland consumers, who depend more than most for internet purchases because of the geography of our large and rural area. The extent of the partnership working that is going on here at all levels and the success that has been achieved should not however be underestimated. At an operational level the data obtained by CAS during their survey last year has been made available and using the experience and expertise built up by Highland to target the internet businesses that consumers identified as treating them unfairly, is currently being used by Trading Standards professionals in Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City, Moray, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney and Shetland. At a national level the work being done by all involved can only help to achieve a fairer deal for anyone living in our remoter communities.

Options for the development of a Trusted Trader type scheme for internet delivery charges are also highlighted in the Committee report. This was an idea first floated by Highland Council Leader, Drew Hendry and has the potential to increase commercial pressure on internet traders to recognise the need to address how they deal with customers in remote areas.

As the momentum on this issue continues to grow, all involved are urging the public not to accept shoddy behaviour by internet traders when it comes to delivery charges or any other undesirable aspect of how customers are treated when ordering goods online, but to make their feelings known to the trader involved, seek alternative and more cost effective delivery options and where appropriate to take their complaints direct to Trading Standards at 38 Harbour Road, Inverness IV1 1UF; by e-mail to trading.standards[AT]highland.gov.uk or by telephone via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.

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