Used cars top list of consumer complaints

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SALES of second-hand cars were the greatest cause of consumer complaints made last year to Citizen's Advice Bureaux and government departments, according to the Office of Fair Trading.

The OFT's annual report shows that a big concern is the sale of ex-rental cars to people who are ignorant of their former use. A survey by the office showed that about a quarter of buyers of ex-rental cars were told of their history, half knew little about it and the rest were 'positively misled'.

The OFT said it was consulting with the industry, auction houses and the retail trade and would develop proposals for tackling the issue.

The report shows that overall consumer complaints fell by 7.5 per cent last year to 696,685. But there were increases in the number relating to holidays, travel agents, personal goods and services, estate agency, footwear repair and non-life insurance.

The OFT is also worried about the level of complaints about home improvements. A survey, to be published this year, shows dissatisfaction with work done on outside walls and windows. The level of dissatisfaction is greatest among public sector tenants, who have little control over the cost and the timing of the work done.

Sir Bryan Carsberg, director-general of fair trading, said that controversy continued over whether independent financial advisers should reveal their commission when they sold products such as life assurance.

Although the Treasury has in the past rejected the idea of disclosure, Sir Bryan said he believed consumers should know what advisers received when they sold one product rather than another if that adviser was described as independent.

Sir Bryan suggested that a new category of adviser might be introduced, billed neither as independent nor as tied to a particular company. The concept required further work, however.

The OFT also said there was evidence of a resurgence of interest in mergers and acquisitions. Martin Howe, in charge of competition at the OFT, said: 'People who advise firms are saying there is a build-up of potential acquisitions behind some logjam which has not yet quite broken.'

Last year the number of mergers qualifying for the OFT's attention was 125, down from 183 the previous year and 306 in 1988.