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Getting rid of the National Consumer Agency?

Regular readers are probably aware that I’m not a big fan of the actions of the National Consumer Agency. And though it might have been expected, you haven’t seem me dancing in the streets with the news that the NCA would be no more following the 2009 budget announcement that the NCA would be merged with the Competition Authority.

Apart from a comment about the proposal on my original budget post, I haven’t really approached this subject.

There’s not a whole lot for me to say really, having thought about it since the original announcement. I absolutely believe that we need an organisation such as the National Consumer Agency to protect the interests of Irish consumers, but not operated in the way this organisation is.

The NCA has at least 60 different pieces of consumer legislation at their disposal under which they can protect consumers, yet during 2007 when they received at least 2,250 complaints regarding suspected legislation breaches, there were only the following prosecutions:

  • Failure to display price of grocery product – 3
  • Failure to display prices in a public house – 3
  • Failure to display price of petrol – 6
  • Other fines imposed – 4
  • Prohibition Orders – 3
  • Oh, and don’t forget the classic “undertakings” – there was 1 of those.

That’s less than a 1% prosecution rate – hardly “putting the consumer first”.

And what does it take to achieve this 1% prosecution rate – according to the NCA 2007 Annual Report:

The Agency employed 59 staff, of which 55 were civil servants on secondment from the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, 3 were on secondment from Forfás and 1 is a member of staff of the Agency.

And at a cost to the tax payer of:

State funding was provided through the Office of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and amounted to €5,369,331 for the period ended 31December 2007.

We do need a National Consumer Agency – and possibly we need it to be independent and for it to not be merged with the Competition Authority – but for an organisation that claims to be “putting consumers first” it needs to do a whole lot more and to be a whole lot more effective before we can feel in any way protected.

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