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DfT in chaos on disabled consumer rights

  • Written by Roberto Castiglioni

Cartoon showing DfT punching wheelchair userAfter years of lobbying for adequate enforcement powers of consumer rights, the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority has been told by the government that their request will be addressed in due course, but they are not sure when that will happen.

“What ministers want to focus on is ensuring consumer confidence." The Department for Transport’s Aviation Director, Ben Smith, told the Airlines 2022 conference earlier this week. "There have been suggestions the CAA’s powers do not go far enough and the consultation is asking if they should be strengthened,” 
 
It is unclear to which consultation Mr. Smith was referring as the last consultation on the subject closed on the 27th of March 2022. 
 
In its Aviation framework "Flightpath to the future" published on May 26th, 2022, the government makes reference to " To help ensure consumers always receive the protection they deserve, the Government recently launched a consultation focused on improving consumer rights, considering what additional modern and flexible tools could be used to enhance protections for consumers traveling by air." The consultation referenced is the one that closed two months prior to the publication of Flightpath to the future.
 
Last October, responding to a written question submitted by Lord David Blunkett at the House of Lords, Undersecretary for TransportLord David Blunkett Baroness Charlotte Vere stated that the government would announce its next steps shortly. To this day, the government has not yet announced what those next steps were.
 
In 2011, Dame Deirdre Hutton, who served as chair of the Civil Aviation Authority between 2009 and 2020, made her views on the CAA's consumer enforcement powers clear. "We do have enforcement powers, but these are limited to the ability to take a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action."
 
While government ministers appear to make unclear statements, the UK Civil Aviation Authority remains focused on pursuing adequate and effective enforcement tools.
 
We have regularly asked for stronger consumer enforcement powers, including the ability to impose fines on airlines. This would allow us to take faster action when appropriate and bring our powers in line with other sectoral regulators, " Paul Smith, Consumer Director at the UK Civil Aviation Authority, told The Points Guy U.K.If implemented, proposals outlined in the government’s recent consultation on enforcement powers, which are supported by the Transport Select Committee, will improve passenger rights and equip us with better tools to act swiftly and effectively for the benefit of consumers.
 
The only certainty coming out of the government's erratic responses is that they seem determined to kick this issue into the long grass.
 
Meanwhile, people with disabilities continue to express their frustrations. "Is there any other avenue open to me, apart from never traveling by air again?" asked Anne Bell.

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