%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%Rogue claims companies that provide bad service and bombard people with nuisance calls face fines totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds under new plans.
Those who use information gathered by unlawful unsolicited calls and texts, waste people's time and money by making spurious claims or use misleading marketing could be fined up to 20% of annual turnover, justice minister Lord Faulks said.
Fines will be based on the turnover of the company and the nature of the offences, meaning they could potentially stretch to millions of pounds in some cases.
Lord Faulks said: "No longer should claims companies be able to plague hardworking people and waste everyone's time.
"The scale of these fines shows just how serious we are about stopping them.
"This is also good news for the reputable firms in this industry, as it will boost confidence in the services provided by the sector."
The fines, due to be introduced later this year, will be brought against companies which break rules set by the Claims Management Regulation (CMR) unit at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
CMR head Kevin Rousell said: "Again and again we have seen examples of bad practice from claims management companies (CMCs) that continue to plague the claims industry and bother the public.
"We already take tough action against companies which break the rules, but now these fines will help to drive malpractice out of the industry and improve the reputation for those who do follow the correct procedures."
The unit already has powers to vary, suspend or cancel any firm's licence to operate in the claims management sector.
In April last year, a ban was introduced on referral fees in personal injury cases.
Latest figures show that the number of CMCs registered to handle personal injury claims has fallen from around 2,300 at the start of last year to 1,200 at the end of May, the MoJ said.
10 consumer rights you should know
Rogue claims firms to face fines
The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.
This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.
Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".
Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.
If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.
If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.
After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.
The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).
Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.
Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.
Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.
You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.
The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.
If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.
The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.
Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.
They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.
What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.
You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.
Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.
They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.
In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.
Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.
You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.
You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.
We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.
In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.
Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.