Monday, October 12, 2009

Consumer Indirect

I know that recently the Unfair Commercial Practices Bill came in, broadening the measures that exist against naughty traders, and that despite making a large number of commerical practices unlawful, no budgetary increase was made to allow the Trading Standards Offices to actually cope with the attendant increase in workload. This, to some extent, is irrelevant anyway, because the TSOs decide what they should or shouldn't investigate.

However the following is my experience to date with attempting to get the diploma mill Chelsea University shut down. As explained in previous posts, I managed to find out an office address for the business in Westminster. Thinking that the easiest thing to do would be to complain to the TSO in Westminster, I trotted off an email explaining my concerns.

A few days later, I received an email from the Westminster TSO saying that I could only complain to my local TSO; that is, the TSO closest to my home address. To that end, if I were ripped off in Norwich, say, my first port of call would be Lambeth TSO. This seemed nonsensical, but not outrageously unreasonable. One short dish of cut and pasta later and I had emailed Lambeth.

I then heard nothing. For about six weeks. I fired off another email to ask what the delay was, and received a reply, stating the following:

Dear Mr Xxxxxxx,

Thank you for your email dated 8th October 2009 where you expressed concerns about the Chelsea's University website. Yesterday I checked the Trading Standards Inbox but was unable to locate your original enquiry dated 25th August 2009. This will probably explain why your enquiry was not acknowledged sooner. Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused. I forwarded your message to a Trading Standards officer and he suggested that you refer the matter to Consumer Direct. Consumer Direct -, is the free advice and information service for UK consumers, initiated by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (formerly the Department of Trade and Industry) and supported by the Office of Fair Trading. You can contact them on 08454040506. They provide clear and practical advice to help sort out problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods or services. Your call will also ensure that the details are entered on the national database so that all complaints against the company can be monitored.

If Consumer Direct feels that a criminal offence has been committed or business practices need to be investigated, they will refer the case to the trading standards team where the company's head office is located or registered since Lambeth's team has no enforcing powers outside the borough. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention, and I hope it will be resolved shortly.

Yours sincerely

Customer Services Officer
Public Protection
Housing, Regeneration and Environment
Lambeth Council

Let us leave aside whether "Yesterday I checked the Trading Standards Inbox but was unable to locate your original enquiry dated 25th August 2009." actually will "probably explain" the delay. Let us not ask quite whether my query fell into Housing, Regeneration or Environment. Let us instead revel in the fact that, having gone direct to the Westminster TSO, redirected to Lambeth, I was now being asked to contact a third body (given over to advice and information, rather than the handling of complaints) so that they might, in turn contact the same organisation I went to first.

But complain to Consumer Direct I did. Today I received the following:

Dear Mr Xxxxxxx,

Thank you for your enquiry to Consumer Direct dated 7th October. Your reference number for this case is LR – XXXXXX and should be quoted in all further correspondence regarding this case. Based on the information you have provided the key legal points in response to your enquiry are as follows: Consumer Direct is a practical advice service only and does not intervene or take action against traders. We have however created a case and passed this to trading standards for their consideration. Whilst being under no commitment to contact you they may take further action against the trader if they deem it necessary. If you require consumer advice, if you have paid this organisation or have a personal dispute then we request you get back to us with such details. If it was simply to report the trader then this has been logged and trading standards will take the appropriate action.

If you require any further advice or information about this case, please do not hesitate to contact Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06 quoting the case reference number.

Thank you for your enquiry.

Consumer Direct

Tel: 08454 04 05 06
Open: 8:00am to 6:30pm Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 1:00pm Saturday

So I am left now in a situation where an organisation is under no obligation to let me know whether my complaint merits investigation, and the onus is on me to contact them. I will, needless to say, be pursuing whether or not they do anything about Chelsea University, or the dodgy certificate seller, but I am somewhat irritated by the confusing level of administrative pass-the-parcel that has had to take place in order for the first person I contacted to actually decide whether or not the fraudulent degree mongers are worthy of the attention of the law.

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