Consumer Protection (Double Charging) Debate

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Consumer Protection (Double Charging)

Huw Merriman Excerpts

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Huw Merriman Portrait Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about protecting consumers from being charged twice for the same good or service; and for connected purposes.

In a nutshell, this Bill would end the practice where customers are fined or charged again for a good or service that they can prove has already been purchased. Having supported constituents who have attempted, unsuccessfully, to appeal against such charges, I am left with the view that the law needs to change to give consumers more rights and to catch up with changes in technology that those who make these charges do not appear to have embraced. I am grateful to the campaign group Which? for its support for bringing about this change.

Let me give a few examples of those who would be helped if we put this Bill on to the statute book. First, there is the driver who parks their car in a local authority car park and puts their annual season ticket on the dashboard; they close the door and the ticket slips down and is not displayed correctly. Despite being able to prove that they have a season ticket registered to their car, they have not displayed the pass and that delivers them a £60 fine. Secondly, there is the rail passenger who prints out their Trainline documentation, but the ticket barrier cannot read a QR code. Despite the documentation demonstrating proof of payment, it is technically not a ticket, and they get charged a penalty fare at the barrier, despite there being a ticket machine that could print the ticket 10 metres on the other side of that barrier.

These are examples from my constituency—real-life examples—and Which? has supplied others. A driver was issued a parking penalty notice by a local authority because he accidentally used the wrong parking area code on a map, and although he paid the right amount to the right council, it was for the wrong part of the car park. Similarly, a driver was issued with a parking penalty even though they had paid the parking company by phone; the car that was previously registered had been replaced. A woman knocked two parking tickets off her dashboard, and accidentally placed the incorrect ticket for display; this woman owns the space in question under her lease and has evidence of the valid ticket confirming that no loss was suffered by the parking company. Finally, a man received a parking penalty notice after he filled in the wrong entry time for a supermarket car park but paid for the length of his stay. No loss was suffered by the supermarket, which could have confirmed the same by looking at its cameras.

There are numerous additional examples of this sharp practice where consumers have been fined despite no loss being suffered by the organisation. Some organisations offer discretion, but some do not. Many cases occur because the organisation is using outmoded technology. Why is it that local authorities fine drivers for not displaying a ticket when an easier and hassle-free alternative is for a parking attendant to be given the technology to check the vehicle registration against the season ticket database? In our digital age, consumers are being offered efficient ways to purchase, but these are not always being matched by an efficient way to prove purchase. The Bill would ensure that organisations catch up with this century’s technology.

Let us take the Trainline case as an example. My constituent took the train from Brighton to Tunbridge Wells, which necessitated a change at London Bridge. The barrier at Brighton recognised the QR code, so no printed orange rail ticket was needed. The leg from London Bridge to Tunbridge Wells did need an orange rail ticket because the barrier at Tunbridge Wells had not been upgraded, but the constituent did not need to leave the platform at London Bridge. Despite showing paperwork confirming name, payment and train times, the constituent got a penalty fare from the operative manning the barrier. He could have walked 10 metres with her to the ticket machine and obtained the ticket there and then. Instead, he explained that the constituent could appeal the penalty fare; that did not succeed, and neither did an appeal to the fares regulator.

In none of these circumstances or examples did the service provider suffer any loss. Instead, such service providers have ended up making a profit off the back of those customers who have already paid. It is an absolute rip-off, and an obvious black hole in consumer legislation that needs a fix, and this is what my Bill would do. Although the cases I have highlighted are transport- related, this is a general consumer issue, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), who is on the Front Bench, will lend his full support. That said, I am grateful for the support of the Transport Committee members who are sponsoring the Bill. I should highlight the importance of those whom this Bill would protect being able to demonstrate purchase. We cannot aid those who seek to commit fraud. With the support of Government, that can be overcome.

The last Bill I attempted to introduce in these circumstances required banks to ensure that every high street supporting 5,000 or more residents had at least one free 24/7 ATM cashpoint. The Government backed that move. Previously, I attempted to bring in automatic and automated passenger refunds, and we have had partial moves in the right direction by the Government. I am grateful to them and to colleagues across the House who have supported the introduction of this Bill—I am afraid that there are more of them than the 11 signatures I am allowed to add, but I am very grateful to see my hon. Friend the Member for Southport (Damien Moore) and my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) here to support it. We all have constituents who have suffered at the hands of pernicious organisations that are living in the last century, and I very much hope that the Government will find a way to support bringing to an end this sharp practice.

Question put and agreed to.


That Huw Merriman, Grahame Morris, Karl MᶜCartney, Gavin Newlands, Jim Shannon, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Greg Smith, Robert Largan, Simon Jupp, Sally-Ann Hart, Steve Brine and Robbie Moore present the Bill.

Huw Merriman accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 235).