Clause 13

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 19th April 2007.

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Investigation of complaints relating to disconnection of gas or electricity

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) 9:00 am, 19th April 2007

I beg to move amendment No. 53, in clause 13, page 9, line 41, at end add—

‘(8) If the Council refuses to investigate a complaint under subsection (4) it must write to the complainant as soon as reasonably possible, setting out—

(a) its decision not to investigate the complaint, and

(b) the reasons for its decision.’.

We have a two-handed situation on the Liberal-Democrat Benches, so I apologise in advance for any future confusion that we shall cause. I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Caton, of this extremely well-mannered and productive Committee as it has so far proved to be.

The amendment is simple. It would introduce subsection (8) to ensure that, if the council refuses to investigate a complaint, the complainant is entitled to know in writing that it will not investigate the matter and the reason why it has taken that decision. Such a provision would be entirely reasonable and we look forward to hearing what other members of the Committee think of this sensible amendment.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Employment Relations & Postal Services)

Good morning, Mr. Caton. The Committee warmly welcomed you and your co-Chairman on Tuesday and expressed its collective confidence in your skill to guide us through our deliberations. I am sure that I can say on behalf of Labour Members what a pleasure it is to see you in the Chair this morning.

Amendment No. 53 would require the new council to write to a consumer as soon as reasonably possible if it decided not to take up a complaint made by that consumer as a result of any of the exceptions listed in clause 13(4) and to provide reasons for its decision. At present, the Department for Trade and Industry sets key performance indicators for its non-departmental public bodies as part of the annual budget and work programme round. That process results in targets. In the case of Energywatch, for example, the body has targets to resolve 95 per cent. of inquiries within 10 working days; to resolve 80 per cent. of complaints within 35 working days; and to resolve 95 per cent. of complaints within 66 working days.

Those targets and performance against the targets are published in the Energywatch annual report. The Committee can be sure that that will be a feature of the annual reports for the new council as provided by clause 7(2)(c), which allows the Secretary of State to specify matters to be included in the report. In future, for the new council we will establish a comprehensive set of performance targets that will be measurable and meaningful. They will be challenging and more precise than what is envisaged by the amendment, which refers to the council writing to the complainant

“as soon as reasonably possible”.

The performance targets will cover such issues as response times to consumers on any inquiry or correspondence and keep consumers informed about the progress of their inquiries. We want to ensure that the new council delivers on demanding targets to provide excellent service for consumers. The amendment attempts to set what should be best practice for the new council in dealing with consumers’ complaints. Since the functions of the new council are focused specifically on aiding consumers, the council should develop its own processes and targets for communicating with consumers.

We take the purpose of the amendment seriously and do not disagree with the overall objective. However, as I have explained, we are already doing what the amendment seeks by setting targets for non-departmental public bodies such as Energywatch. The system will provide us with the flexibility to set the right targets for the new council to ensure that it provides the high standards of service for consumers that we expect. In light of my explanation, I hope that the hon. Lady will understand why the Government are unable to accept the amendment and that she will withdraw it.

Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

If the Minister is saying that the requirement to respond in writing to the complainant is already covered in the clause, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.