The Working Group identified the need for consumer advice provision in Scotland to be effective and available in a variety ways (face-to-face, online or by telephone), whenever needed. It noted concerns over the complexity of the advice landscape and the accessibility and awareness of consumer advice. It also noted the potential for greater data sharing between advice providers and with other organisations involved in consumer protection.
The Working Group recommended that the Scottish Government work with key stakeholders to map the consumer advice landscape to identify duplication and gaps in provision. It saw benefit in creation of a single portal for consumers to seek advice and be referred quickly to the correct advice provider.
The Working Group also recommended that the Scottish Government work with consumer advice providers to increase the range of users accessing advice provision, through marketing, coordination of education and analysis of the factors that prevent or enable access. It recognised the need to raise young people's awareness and knowledge of consumer issues and recommended work with Education Scotland to inform curriculum development.
The Working Group recommended that Consumer Scotland should not itself deliver consumer advice, but should be responsible for its oversight and co-ordination to ensure consistency and promotion of best practice, and for improving data sharing.
Scottish Government's response
The Scottish Government recognises the important role that consumer advice has to play in informing individuals and empowering them to take action. We agree with the Working Group's assessment that advice provision in Scotland must be comprehensive, of a consistently high quality and provided in ways that meet the differing needs of consumers across the country.
There is much to be celebrated in the current system of advice provision, which generally works well to support individual consumers. Because of this, and the fact that devolution of competence for consumer advice will take place during the 2016/17 financial year, the Scottish Government's intention is that advice through the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline and Extra Help Unit will continue, as currently provided.
However, we also note the Working Group's conclusions that more work needs to be done to ensure advice is available to all consumers who need it and to understand the barriers that prevent consumers from seeking help. We also agree that in some respects the landscape is fragmented, that the type and quality of advice can vary across locations and that arrangements for data sharing and trend detection should be strengthened.
- In considering the possible form and functions of a dedicated consumer protection body for Scotland, we will take account of the Working Group's recommendation that it should be responsible for the oversight and co-ordination of advice provision and for ensuring greater data sharing.
- We will work with stakeholders to map the consumer advice landscape to identify and, where possible, address gaps and duplication in advice provision.
- We will explore the feasibility of creating a single portal for consumers, to ensure their referral to the most appropriate advice or redress provider.
- We will use existing frameworks and standards to strengthen consistency between advice providers and develop measurable outcomes.
- We will work with education providers to explore ways to embed consumer rights education in children's learning.
- We will work with advice providers to explore ways to increase data sharing between advice providers and with other organisations involved in consumer protection.
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