Consumer Skills
11th March 2008


New research suggests that having a sound knowledge of consumer rights can save an individual around £200 a year.

The research, by the Consumer Council, shows that the number of Northern Ireland consumers who feel confident to complain about shoddy service and faulty goods has doubled since 2003. In 2003, 37% of Northern Ireland consumers felt confident about expressing their rights, in 2007 it was 73%. Consumer empowerment can change lives by putting on average an estimated £219 per year back in people’s pockets. It also is good for the economy with the power to pump back in a potential £52million each year.

However, while overall confidence and skills soar, too many consumers still lack the right knowledge, awareness and skills, and concerns remain about how businesses handle complaints and customer care. Launching the Consumer Council’s Proficiency report, “Well, What Do Consumers Know Now?”, Economy Minister Nigel Dodds said:

“Consumer skills are an important building block of our economy. As my Department’s Consumer Strategy states, empowered customers can drive up business performance and profits and stimulate competition that benefits individual consumers, business and the economy as a whole.

“I congratulate the Consumer Council on the terrific progress made in the last four years towards achieving a culture of informed consumers in Northern Ireland. Leading academics said it would take 10 years or more to bring consumers here into line with the rest of the UK and it is a credit to the Consumer Council and their many partners that it has been achieved in less than half the time.”

Eleanor Gill, Chief Executive of the Consumer Council said: “Northern Ireland consumers are mobilised, with twice as many consumers feeling more confident and willing to exercise their rights. They’re getting refunds, refusing to tolerate poor service in shops, banks and restaurants and they’re shopping around for the best deals on holidays, cars and bank accounts. More consumers are embracing the benefits of new technology with the number of people regularly buying online trebling since 2003. However, consumers still have real concerns about disclosing personal and financial details online.

“While many consumers have their wits about them, some young people, older people and those living on low incomes still don’t have the tools and knowledge they need to be informed and confident consumers. The Consumer Council will continue to work in partnership with others to develop resources and campaigns to help close this gap and ensure that all of Northern Ireland consumers can enjoy the benefits of being an empowered consumer.

“Improved consumer skills are a win-win for customers and business. Many businesses are thriving because they focus on excellent customer care. However, our research shows that not all businesses have caught on to the power of placing customers first and putting things right when they go wrong. Helping businesses to focus on consumers and their needs is a key priority for us over the next three years.

“As well as goods and services, public services have a huge impact on our daily lives as pupils, passengers, patients and claimants. The Consumer Council will be building on its work to put consumers at the heart of quality public services that are more accessible, responsive and efficient.

“A lot has been achieved and we want to thank all our partners that we have had the privilege of working with over the last four years to build consumer power. There is still a lot to be done and we look forward to working with business, government, community and voluntary organisations and consumers to improve standards on the high street, online and in our public services.”


1. The figure £219 per year is based on the Office of Fair Trading’s Consumer Detriment Report, 2000 and has been recalculated for 2007 in accordance with the rate of inflation.

2. The figure of £52million each year is based on a simple index calculated on the number of adults in 2007 who are not consumer proficient compared with 2003. For every one consumer not proficient in 2003 only 0.757 are for 2007. This index is then applied to the level of consumer detriment as it was estimated to be in 2003 (£214million)

3. Since 2003, the number of people shopping online has trebled from 5% to 16%.

4. The Consumer Council’s Proficiency Report can be viewed at

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