Elderly 'need protection from alarm salesmen': New law urged to end 'scaremongering'

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The Independent Online
VULNERABLE elderly people need new laws to protect them from salesmen who exploit their fear of crime, the Office of Fair Trading said yesterday.

Sir Bryan Carsberg, the OFT's director general, was especially concerned at the activities of burglar-alarm salesmen. The OFT has revoked the consumer-credit licences of security companies which had used pictures of battered pensioners, or stories of the elderly having boiling oil thrown in their face.

But what was really needed were new laws if such scaremongering practices were to be stamped out, Sir Bryan says in the OFT's annual report published yesterday.

The Conservative Party's 1992 election manifesto had promised action, but nothing had been done so far. Sir Bryan said: 'The burglar- alarm business does involve some unpleasant oppressive selling techniques. We have spoken to the Department of Trade and Industry about it but despite their promise in 1992 we are still no closer to having the matter resolved.

'At the moment we have to prove that the sellers' conduct is persistently bad and we want a change in the law so we can take action sooner.'

Second-hand car salesmen were also a continuing problem, forming the majority of complaints to trading standards officials last year. More car salesmen had their credit licences revoked than any other section of the business community.

Sir Bryan admitted the Government's deregulation programme had led to fears that laws protecting the consumer were being weakened. But he welcomed action to stamp out bad practice in the life assurance and pensions industry.

Last year 190 notices were served questioning the fitness of consumer-credit licenceholders and applicants, after breaches of the law or use of apparently 'deceitful or oppressive or otherwise unfair or improper' business practices, the annual report shows.

More than 207 people were banned from estate agency work. And the OFT received 246 complaints about misleading advertising - a 70 per cent increase over 1992.

The top 10 trading standards complaints were: secondhand cars 68,736; personal goods and services 66,925; home repairs and improvements 40,888; food and drink 36,662; clothing 44,736; recreational goods and services 25,850; upholstered furniture 25,010; car repairs 21,870; double-glazing products 21,088.