Call for strengthened protection for consumers
Citizens Advice has called on the Government to strengthen the complaints process for consumers after finding that poor services and faulty goods affected the lives of millions in the last year.
Some 14 million people suffered the knock-on effects of consumer problems in 2017 alone that affected their lives, finances or health, a survey of 5,000 people for Citizens Advice found.
This includes 3.2 million people who had to take time off work to resolve an issue.
More than half (59%) said their problem required them paying additional costs, 37% said it left them worried or anxious and 12% suffered damage to their home or property as a result.
Some 17% had to take time off work, 21% had to send emails or take calls during working hours and a quarter spent more than a month sorting out their problem.
Citizens Advice is calling on the Government to use its upcoming Consumer Green Paper to mandate better complaints procedures and solutions that remain out of the courts.
Currently, the only way of seeking financial compensation for problems relating to non-essential markets, such as those relating to used cars or home renovations, is often through small claims courts.
The charity said Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes - which usually involve an independent mediator but are voluntary - should be mandatory across all markets.
Previous research from Citizens Advice found consumer problems cost the UK £23 billion a year.
The study found the most common consumer problems (22%) are with mobile and broadband services, which cost an average of £80 to solve.
Some 16% of those who faced problems said they were either unable to meet existing financial commitments, took on additional debt, harmed their credit rating or missed one or more housing payments as a result.
The charity said it had seen 500,000 cases of consumer problems in the past year.
They included a 74-year-old widower who lost £8,000 after a company failed to install her stairlift and then ceased trading and an online teacher who called his broadband provider 15 times over six weeks to fix an inconsistent connection was left out of pocket for mobile data.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "We know consumer problems can be costly, but our new research shows that they can also have a serious impact on people's lives.
"Whether a faulty second-hand car, lack of broadband service or a botched home renovation, these problems can spiral out of control - and people are often left to deal with them on their own.
"This is another example of how the odds are stacked against consumers in favour of big business. The Government should use its upcoming Consumer Green Paper to strengthen the voice of consumers and make it easier for them to seek compensation without having to go to court."
A Government spokesman said: "The UK has a strong consumer protection regime and we want to ensure people have access to information and compensation when things go wrong.
"Our Consumer Green Paper will look at ways to make it easier for people to engage with markets to find the best deals."