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Explanatory Memorandum to Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Chapter III – General Consumer Council

33.Chapter III extends the role of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland to confer upon it functions connected with the interests of consumers in relation to water and sewerage services.  The Consumer Council, which is established under the General Consumer Council (NI) Order 1984, has similar statutory functions under legislation governing other utilities.

34.In carrying out its functions the Consumer Council has to have regard to the interests of certain groups and to the achievement of sustainable development (Article 45).  It is also under a duty to make arrangements with the Authority and the Department to ensure co-operation between them (Article 47) and to publish an annual forward work plan (Article 46).

35.Articles 48 to 52 place duties and confer powers upon the Consumer Council in relation to consumer information.  Article 48 obliges the Council to obtain information about consumer matters, including the views of consumers; Article 49 allows the Council to make proposals about consumer matters and Articles 50 and 51 enable it to provide information to consumers and publish advice and information.  Article 52 empowers the Consumer Council to direct the Authority and the undertaker to provide it with information and Article 58 obliges the Authority to consult the Consumer Council on the exercise of any of its functions.  The Consumer Council, itself, may be required to supply information if directed to do so by the Authority or the Department (Article 53).  Article 54 enables the Department to make regulations dealing with issues concerning the provision of information and Article 57 places general restrictions on the disclosure of information by the Consumer Council where that information relates to a particular individual or business or to anything that might be subject to criminal proceedings.

36.Article 55 sets out the Consumer Council’s role in relation to consumer complaints about an undertaker in carrying out its functions.  Where a complaint is referred to the Consumer Council by, or on behalf of, the complainant, it is under a duty to investigate the complaint unless it is frivolous, might be better dealt with by other procedures under the legislation, cannot be resolved by the undertaker, or the undertaker has not been given a chance to resolve the complaint.  The Consumer Council can pursue a complaint on behalf of a complainant and report to the Department or the Authority.  Article 59 places the Consumer Council under a duty to publish statistical information about complaints concerning the undertaker regardless of which body the complaint has been made to.

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