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Nuki&#39s Eye

What causes British consumer regulators continually to allow crooks to

break the law with impunity?

If you think this is a glib question penned only to cause controversy, you

are very wrong. It is a serious question intended to highlight a serious

problem with consumer protection in Britain.

Despite having the clearest possible evidence that specific firms are

breaking the law to the detriment of consumers, consumer regulators allow

those crooks off the hook time and time again.

I am not talking here about the big headline-grabbing cases where

prosecutions have failed at the final hurdle because of the complexity of

the crime, but the 1,001 small, but important, breaches of the law that are

allowed to recur day in day out.

Last weekend&#39s Sunday Telegraph covered a typical example. The headline

onthe back page of its Family Finance section screamed: Loan rate &#39liars&#39

face prosecution.

The journalist went on to report: “Household names, including Marks &

Spencer, Woolwich, Northern Rock and MBNA could soon be dragged through the

courts, or at least have their credit licences revoked unless they stop

breaking the law by sending out misleading literature in a bid to sell

personal loans.

“The Office of Fair Trading and local Trading Standards Officers are

furious that most banks and retailers are simply ignoring regulations that

came into force on March 1 aimed at stopping them advertising loans in ways

that make them appear much cheaper than they are.”

Don&#39t misunderstand me. It was a good article which highlighted an

important issue but it made my blood boil to read it.

If the OFT knows that M&S and pals have been breaking the law since March

1 why has it done noth-ing about it other than get-ting “furious”?

If the police had good evidence that you or I had been committing a

serious offence for more than two months, our houses would have been

raided, statements takenand charges laid against us in the courts.

No right-thinking person would expect anything less.

And here&#39s the rub. The OFT has failed to enforce the law not by accident

but as a matter of policy. It actually told the perpetrators that they

should feel free to break the law for a short time at least.

“The consumer watchdog, together with trading standards officers – the

prosecuting authorities – granted companies an amnesty ofa few months to

changetheir literature”, reports the Sunday Telegraph.

So you see the question I kicked off with was not so daft after all.

Consumer regulators in this country really do allow crooks to break the law

with impunity.

Should the facts in this story be related to consumer watchdogs in America

they would fall about laughing.

And if you think about it, it is almost a joke. Here we are in the 21st

century and – after five years of debate – we finally get a competition law

which not only makes fibbing about loan rates illegal but gives the OFT the

tools it needs to enforce it.

The OFT could have raided the offices of all of the companies mentioned

above on March 1 to gather further evidence of their law breaking and fined

them up to 10 per cent of their turnover once it had collected it.

But instead it offered the effective law breakers a loosely worded amnesty

to carry on breaking the law and got “furious” a few months later when –

surprise, surprise – it found that the new law was still being broken.

So what causes British consumer regulators to allow crooks to break the

law with impunity? The answer, I am sorry to conclude, is that they do not

really care aboutconsumers.

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