5th September 2022

When is a consumer not a consumer?

Being a consumer is so central to life in modern Britain that it is easy to go about our day-to-day activities without really thinking about what the word means.

By JTS Staff
Journal of Trading Standards' in-house team
CCAS was set up to strengthen consumers’ position by putting them at the forefront of how businesses operate

Living in the UK is synonymous with consumption. When we pay our taxes or travel on the railways we are referred to us as ‘customers’ rather than citizens or passengers, and when we receive certain medical treatments we are called ‘clients’ rather than patients.

But when being a consumer becomes the default setting, there is a risk that the inherent rights of consumers are forgotten, ignored or taken for granted.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 defines a consumer as ‘an individual acting for purposes that are wholly or mainly outside that individual’s trade, business, craft or profession’; according to that definition, we are all consumers, virtually all of the time. From the moment we get up in the morning and turn on a tap, to the moment we go to bed at night and put our phones on to charge, we are consumers.

There is a danger then that we come to accept mediocre or non-existent customer service in our daily lives as we become bogged down in the soul-destroying morass of call-centre hold music, Kafkaesque online forms, unanswered customer complaints and punitive or non-existent cancellation procedures that define much of the modern consumer experience.

With the cost-of-living crisis fully upon us and poised to worsen in the coming months, consumer satisfaction and confidence are only going to come under further strain as many seek to decrease their outgoings by opting for cut-price goods and services – and are forced to accept the second-rate experience that often accompanies them.

The effects of this will be damaging for businesses as they engage in a race to the bottom that sacrifices quality and standards, catching the attention of enforcers and regulators in the process. It will be damaging for consumers who become exposed to potentially dangerous products, poor quality goods and unfair terms and conditions. And it will be damaging for the economy as a whole, as the domino effect of soaring costs, declining standards and tightened belts begins to cause irreversible harm.

Putting consumers first

The Consumer Codes Approval Scheme (CCAS) was set up to strengthen consumers’ position by putting them at the forefront of how businesses operate. It works by establishing a code of practice, created by industry experts, to which members of that code must adhere. A business that becomes a CCAS member must go the extra mile when it comes to customer service, consumer protection and dealing with complaints.

If they don’t, they are removed from the scheme and are no longer entitled to display the approved code logo on their marketing materials. That logo – and the other benefits of code membership that accompany it, such as membership of an ADR scheme – gives potential customers assurance that they are guaranteed high standards of quality and have a clear route to redress if something goes wrong.

CCAS members sign up to codes specific to their sector – for example, the Consumer Code for Home Builders exists to support and protect consumers purchasing new-build homes, while the Motor Ombudsman, another code member, covers businesses operating in the automotive retail industry.

With 49,000 members signed up to the scheme, CCAS – which is operated by CTSI – provides peace of mind to consumers that their rights will not only be upheld, but that businesses will conduct themselves to the highest standards, often going above and beyond the requirements of consumer protection law to build trust and satisfaction.

In a climate where consumer confidence is at an all-time low, businesses will need to demonstrate a commitment to the highest levels of customer service if they are to set themselves apart from their competitors. Membership of CCAS should be the first thing on their to-do list.

To learn more about CCAS or to find a code member who might be able to help you, click here.

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