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Consumer advice

Introduction

This guide introduces sources of free help and advice for UK consumers and explains the different roles played by consumer-related bodies including Citizen's Advice Bureaux, Local Authority Trading Standards, Consumer Futures, GOV.UK, industry ombudsmen and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

GOV.UK

GOV.UK is a Government-run website that aims to offer easy access to a host of government information and online government services for the general public, all from a convenient single location. Subject categories include:

- Education and learning;
- Employment;
- Health and well-being;
- Money, tax and benefits;
- Motoring;
- Pensions and retirement planning.

Citizen's Advice Bureaux

Operating through over 400 locations throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Citizens Advice Bureaux are independent charities that work to help people resolve money, legal and other problems by offering free information and advice on consumers' rights and responsibilities.

Advice from Citizens Advice is independent, impartial and confidential. Citizens Advice operates an Advice Guide, which includes answers to many frequently asked questions. A central charity also lobbies Government to improve policies and practices that affect people's lives.

Industry ombudsmen

An ombudsman is an official independent body to which complaints can be referred by consumers who aren't happy with the response they've received from the organisation they're complaining about.

For example, the Financial Ombudsman Service works to settle complaints between consumers and businesses that provide financial services (including banking, insurance, mortgages, pensions, loans, credit cards, etc). The Financial Ombudsman Service also offers to help consumers with the process of lodging their complaints in the first place.

An ombudsman service is usually free to consumers and will look carefully at both sides of a referred complaint before deciding on the action to be taken. Consumers aren't usually bound by an ombudsman's decision unless and until they decide to accept it. Ombudsmen don't fine or create rules for businesses; that role sits instead with the relevant industry regulators.

Other examples of ombudsman services include the Energy Ombudsman and the Housing Ombudsman Service.

Consumer Futures

Formed through a merger of Energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council, Consumer Futures is a statutory organisation that campaigns on behalf of consumers in England, Scotland, Wales and (for postal services only) Northern Ireland.

Consumer Futures isn't an industry regulator and doesn't deal directly with consumers in the first instance. However, it can investigate any consumer complaints that it considers to be of wider interest and can also lodge super-complaints about failing services.


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