Trade & Industry Committee

24 October 2007



The Committee’s Report into the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is published at 11.00am today, 24 October 2007.

The inquiry was part of a series into non-departmental public bodies associated with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR).

Overall, the Committee finds that the OFT has responded positively to the criticisms in the National Audit Office’s 2005 report, is encouraged by the organisation’s progress so far, and looks forward to the NAO’s reappraisal of the OFT after April 2008.

The report raises some concerns in specific areas:

• The ability of the OFT to offer pay and conditions attractive to the best staff, given the greater financial flexibility accorded to other regulators;

• Although the Committee supports the proposed changes to the threshold for merger referral, it urges the OFT to ensure that competition in smaller and local markets is not neglected;

• The codes of practice approved by the OFT have been fewer and less far-reaching than the Committee would like to see, given the benefit to consumers;

• Apparent inconsistency of the quality of service given by the telephone advice line Consumer Direct across its supply regions, with the Committee calling on the OFT to investigate;

• The ability of Consumer Direct to cope, under current resources, with up to one million extra calls once it becomes the public contact point for the former gas and electricity and postal services consumer bodies Energywatch and Postwatch, which are being amalgamated into a single National Consumer Council.  The Committee calls on the Government to clarify how, in the future, consumers complaints will be taken up with the service providers, and fund the relevant bodies appropriately.

The Committee’s Chairman, Peter Luff, said “The OFT is certainly shaping up its act following the NAO criticisms and I congratulate them on that.  The important Consumer Direct service, though, looks a little fragile as currently structured and resourced.  This is an area that Committee will keep under review.”

For further information please call the Committee Office on 020 7219 5777/5779 or Peter Luff on 07921 039870