By Democrat reporter
It’s not just Christmas bells you have to listen out for at this time of year – it’s alarm bells.
For the smiling man – or woman – at your front door may not be Santa Claus.
The Scottish Government has been asked by Dr Alastair Allan, a rural MSP, what measures it can take to better enhance the consumer protection for vulnerable people facing aggressive sales at the doorstep.
Business Minister Jamie Hepburn told his SNP colleague that consumer protection remains reserved to the United Kingdom Government, but through advice and advocacy “we are doing what we can to support consumers”.
He added: “The Scottish Government is working with a number of partners to produce a scams prevention strategy that will help all consumers with practical steps to reduce the harm and detriment that aggressive sales techniques can cause.”
Dr Allan said he had reports of a particular problem – “have had several instances brought to me in my constituency of elderly people being told by a company that they must sign up for insulation under the UK Government’s energy company obligation scheme.
“In one instance, a householder was actually told that they would be breaking the law if they did not. I have also seen numerous houses left in a terrible and, in some cases, highly dangerous condition. I appreciate that that is not a Scottish Government scheme, but what can be done to rein in that cynical behaviour towards elderly and often vulnerable people?”
Mr Hepburn said: “We are all aware from our constituency caseloads of too many instances where rogue traders have been operating under that and previous schemes.
“Of course, some of the activity can constitute a criminal matter and be subject to investigation and potential prosecution, but I believe that there is a clear need for the UK Government to improve consumer protection as part of its energy efficiency schemes.
“We have raised that with it, and from January it intends to require all businesses participating in the ECO scheme to be registered with TrustMark, the UK Government-sponsored trusted trader scheme.
“I welcome that response but, in common with Citizens Advice Scotland and others, we have told UK ministers that those changes come a little too late and do not do quite enough to protect vulnerable consumers.
“We continue to work with stakeholders to direct householders to our home energy Scotland service, which provides free, expert and impartial advice to anyone who wants to understand how they can heat their home more effectively and efficiently.”