The work of the National Consumers League is making a difference in people’s lives across the country. Meet some of the consumers touched by our programs.
Read about NCL’s impact
Preventing yet another victim
Paige, 55, a Nashville wife and mother of two, answered an employment ad for secret shoppers. Before sending payment to the scammers, she reached out to NCL.
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Building a stronger generation
A grease fire flared up in Decklan’s kitchen. As his family scrambled and panicked, fearing that the whole house might erupt in flames, Decklan remained calm. He hurried over to the pantry, grabbed some baking soda, and dumped it on the fire quickly extinguishing the blaze.
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Script Your Future saved my life
Cincinnati resident Charles, 45, lost his computer business — and health insurance— during a time of economic downturn. A diabetic, Charles was now unable to afford his medication. He stopped taking it which made him seriously ill and put his life at risk.
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For a safer workplace
Jeremy is a fast-food worker who has been employed at a number of Chipotle restaurants in New York City. When he was just 20 years old, he took part in an NCL research project that revealed that management practices within the fast food chain were putting workers—and food safety for customers—at risk.
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NCL supports the following consumer protection principles:
1. Truth: Consumer protection laws and regulations at the federal, state, and local levels are needed to protect the public against fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation in the sale or advertisement of merchandise, including both goods and services, in the marketplace.
2. Choice: The marketplace should encourage competition to better ensure that consumers are offered choices in purchasing goods and services and that the prices for these goods and services are fair.
3. Safety: Goods and services sold to consumers should be safe, meet all legal requirements,
contain all necessary warnings required by law, and provide complete instructions for safe
usage. All warnings should be clear, bold, and conspicuous.
4. Fairness: The sale and advertisement of goods and services should be conducted in a fair manner free from confusion, false promises, or scare tactics.
- NCL supports “cooling off” periods when goods and services are sold with extended periodic payments, sold in the home, or involve high financial risks.
- Advertisements that offer goods and services at “sale” prices should be truthful and substantiated with accurate, timely, relative, and meaningful price comparisons.
- “Bait and switch” sales tactics should be unlawful and strongly enforced.
- Access and Service: Consumers should reasonably expect responsive and accurate customer service that permits them to talk to a customer service representative when necessary. When feasible, customer services should be provided in other languages.
- Consumers should be provided with easy access to complain or inquire both at companies offering goods and services for sale and to agencies empowered to enforce consumer protection laws.
- Consumer protection assistance agencies at the local, state, and federal levels should be established and funded to ensure easy access for all consumers.
Right to Redress: Consumers should have the right to redress when consumer laws have been violated in the sales or advertisement of merchandise, including goods and services. Redress should be timely and include a right to appeal.
7. Information: Consumers are entitled to complete and accurate information about the goods and services offered in the marketplace. These disclosures should be communicated in clear and easily understood terms.
- Disclosures should be clearly visible or audible.
- Consumers should have sufficient time to read and review all information provided before having to make a purchase decision.
- Education: Consumers should have access to clear, consistent, and accurate education materials about the goods and services available to them; the laws surrounding the sale and advertisement of these goods and services; the steps for redress; and the risks, rights, usage, and maintenance of the goods or services.
- Consumer education should be a part of the school curriculum at all levels of education and should be a function of all consumer protection agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.
- Individuals and businesses offering goods and services for sale to the public should support consumer education.
- Legal Rights: Federal law should not preempt state law where state law provides greater consumer protections.
- Strong laws and regulations are needed to protect consumers from telemarketing and internet fraud.
- Strong laws and regulations are needed to protect consumers from fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation in the sale and advertisement of auto repair, auto sales and service, home repair, mail order sales, general merchandise advertising, prize and award offerings, furniture, financing, home sales, credit cards, and other areas that have been found to have a high frequency of abuse and violative behavior.
- Enforcement: Consumers are entitled to strong and timely enforcement of federal, state, and local consumer protection laws and regulations. Adequate funding is imperative for effective enforcement and oversight.
- Consumers should have the right to both private and class action under these laws. Consumer protection laws should provide for private rights of action that compel payment of all legal fees and triple damages if violations are found.
––Adopted December 13, 2000
Consumer representation is an essential part of the democratic process. In a democratic society, consumers have an inherent right to take part in decision-making that affects their health, safety, and welfare with respect to goods, services, and other economic activity. The National Consumers League makes this basic assumption and supports efforts to assure that right to all consumers.
The principle applies equally to open markets, restricted markets, or publicly regulated markets. The principle implies that consumers have access to information to enable them to deal effectively with providers of goods and services on the basis of accurate, full, and understandable information adequate to this purpose. It requires similarly a recognized, legitimate and effective role for consumers in regulatory structures and processes and in the decision-making processes of federal, state, and local agencies engaged in the provision of goods
Toward this end, the NCL:
1. Supports adequate provision of consumer information and the inclusion of consumer representation in public and private regulatory and accreditation institutions, including professional and government licensing boards and certifying organizations;
2. Encourages corporations and trade associations to establish consumer affairs offices and independent consumer advisory panels representing diverse public interest organizations;
3. Supports the establishment of an independent federal consumer advocacy agency that reports directly to the President of the United States;
4. Supports the establishment and sufficient allocation of resources for consumer agencies and advocates at the state and local level; and
5. Supports public funding for public participation.
––Adopted October 6, 2000
Both the nation and its citizens benefit tremendously from energy sources that are safe and reliable, as well as a marketplace that assures affordable rates. Energy in its various forms is a basic necessity of modern day life and is a critical element of our national infrastructure. The availability of reliable, safe and affordable energy is a matter of the highest public interest. Therefore, as an industry infused with the national and public interest, those who own and operate electric, gas, and nuclear facilities as well as those who produce raw energy resources do so with a public trust and responsibility. It is essential that all levels of government, local, State and Federal, exercise appropriate oversight of the production, sale and distribution of energy to assure affordable, safe, environmentally sound and reliable energy sources for all consumers.
Therefore, public and consumer ownership of utilities, consumer representation on utility regulatory agencies (see Consumer Representation), privacy protections (see Privacy), and environmental protections are key to a successful energy market. The National Consumers League believes that the following principles provide a framework for effective consumer protection (see Consumer Protection; Mergers and Acquisitions):
1. Reliability and Safety
3. Environmental Concerns and Conservation
4. Consumer Protections and Safety Nets
Reliability and Safety
“Reliability” suggests that we can be secure in the knowledge that the systems are in place so that energy sources will always be available for the consumer’s use: when we flip a switch, the lights come on; when we turn on our stove, the burner ignites; when we need transportation, the motor has fuel.
As energy systems shift from a local and state base to become more regional and national in nature, the responsibility for reliability and safety may need to shift. To assure reliability and safety, NCL supports:
1. Clearly defining local, state, and federal roles and responsibilities to ensure reliability and safety, including oversight, approval, and dispute resolution powers as well as consumer protection and education;
2. Establishing joint industry, federal or regional oversight and enforcement for interstate reliability and safety as appropriate, which may include mandatory minimum quality of service standards;
3. Developing rules and standards with transmission providers, transmission users, consumers, and other interested parties
4. Diversifying the mix of energy sources so that dependency on any one source is reduced. This should include increased focus on renewable technology and sources of fuel in addition to realizing the full potential of traditional coal, oil, gas, and nuclear resources, but should not require mandated energy portfolio standards;
5. Maintaining reserves, including bio-based renewable reserves, to ensure availability of required energy resources;
6. Retaining qualified workers with skills and experience.
For the average consumer, “cost” equates to “price.” And the watchwords in pricing are affordability and predictability. Both can be affected by reliability issues — consumers know from past “energy crisis” experience that diminishing supply quickly affects cost, making cost both unpredictable and unaffordable. But cost and price also are affected by other issues. Unregulated markets, for instance, appear more vulnerable to cost fluctuations due to market abuses. Regulated markets may appear slow to respond to passing on cost savings to consumers. Therefore, both regulated and unregulated markets must be monitored for cost issues. Also, the manner in which a market is moved from being regulated to unregulated can affect costs, so these processes must be watched carefully as well. NCL supports measures to:
1. Create or strengthen state and federal programs that monitor for abuse in the energy markets resulting in predatory pricing. In the electric and natural gas markets this should include monitoring and enforcement action regarding such events as unauthorized service billing (cramming) or switching customers to another supplier without permission (slamming). It also should include some oversight or appeal authority regarding contract abuses between consumers and providers, providers and other providers, and providers and other contractors.
2. Carefully consider cost effects of deregulating retail markets that presently are regulated. Many issues such as stranded costs, availability of suppliers other than the incumbent monopoly, and supply margins all impact the extent to which regulation or deregulation benefit consumers from a cost standpoint.
3. Develop standards and processes for government intervention when prices escalate out of control.
Environmental Concerns and Conservation
Some may argue that one “cost” of keeping prices low for consumers is to reduce efforts to produce energy while protecting the environment. NCL opposes such thinking as both shortsighted and harmful. We find consumers generally desire clean water, air, and land, and that they oppose the unnecessary harm of wildlife. We would argue that many environmental efforts,
such as conservation, have saved money for consumers. But even for those measures with some cost, consumers appear willing to pay for the long-term benefits that accrue in terms of health and quality of life. NCL supports both environmental protection and conservation through measures to:
1. Ensure enforcement of a strong Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act;
2. Increase financial support for programs to conserve energy and to increase
reliance on cleaner power sources;
3. Increase funding for research and development of alternative and renewable energy technologies, including: wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass fuels, geothermal, advanced fossil fuel, fuel cells, and electric or gas transportation;
4. Make appropriate changes to building codes and efficiency standards at the local, state and federal levels to incorporate existing methods and especially new technologies as they become available;
5. Provide incentives for the development of efficient transportation methods such as vehicle fuel efficiency, renewable bio-based fuel vehicles, and mass transit;
6. Educate and provide incentives for consumers and property owners to use mass transit and conserve energy.
Consumer and Worker Protections and Safety Nets
To an extent that is perhaps unsurpassed in any other market, broad safety nets must be in place for consumers to ensure their protection and their access to essential and sometimes lifesaving energy services. NCL supports:
1. Adhering to the principals of Universal Service — ensuring that basic energy service is available to everyone no matter what their economic circumstances or where they reside:
2. Ensuring consumers have true choice in competitive markets:
3. Ensuring easy access to assistance for low-income consumers and those with critical needs;
4. Ensuring the continuation of traditional consumer protections, including: disconnection polices, repair access, and avenues for redress (See Consumer Protection);
5. Developing processes for providing service when the consumer’s primary provider is unable to do so;
6. Giving consumers adequate information to identify and gain access to safety net protections;
7. Providing adequate health and safety protections for energy sector workers;
8. When the workforce is reduced, retraining opportunities should be available to those who have lost their jobs (See Fair Labor).
––Adopted December 13, 2001
The National Consumers League is committed to fair and equitable access to credit, banking services, investment opportunities and insurance for all consumers. The financial services marketplace is confusing to many consumers. Particularly in the area of investments, but as well in all financial services, NCL believes that companies offering these services have a responsibility to help consumers make fully informed decisions by providing accurate, complete and readily understandable information in both written and verbal communications.
General Protections for Consumers of Financial Services and Products
1. Consumers must be protected against misleading, unfair or deceptive practices in the financial services industry.
2. They must also be protected against invasions of privacy. Privacy disclosures should explain in plain language the kinds of personal information that are collected for use in developing marketing profiles and how consumers may prevent that use (See the League’s privacy policies).
3. Financial services institutions, including those that offer credit, should be required to ensure that they offer products appropriate to the needs, credit worthiness and financial capacity of their customers. Consumers should not be urged or induced to purchase products that would extend their obligations beyond their financial capacity.
4. Discriminatory practices in the financial services industry must not be tolerated.
5. Consumers should be protected against exploitive sales tactics and excessive charges for services.
6. Financial services institutions should be required to provide training to employees so that they are able to provide accurate, complete, readable and understandable information to consumers
7. In general, financial services firms should provide consumers with clear, conspicuous, standardized and easy to understand disclosures in regard to:
a. Annually, the financial health of a financial institution;
b. Any state guarantee or other programs that protect consumers in case of default; and
c. Consumer rights if a financial institution fails.
8. Consumers of financial services and products should have access to the courts for redress, and should not be limited to mandatory arbitration.
9. Federal banking regulators should assess the activities of affiliates in banking, lending and investment activities in determining the compliance of banks with the Community Reinvestment Act. These affiliates should be required to comply with state consumer protection laws. The performance standards for CRA ratings should include incentives for increased prime lending.
10. Consumers of financial services and products should have access to a toll-free number for obtaining readily available assistance for complaints, questions and concerns.
11. Financial services companies must be required to provide, at no cost, paper billing and account statements unless a consumer affirmatively opts for electronic billing.
1. Minimum standards for insurance company solvency should be established by the federal government.
2. States should have full-time, independent insurance consumer advocates.
3. State insurance commissioners, key staff and contractors should be subject to strong conflict of interest prohibitions.
4. States should strengthen their oversight of the solvency of insurance companies and require sufficient funding to cover losses of the insured.
5. The scope and cost of insurance products must be disclosed. The disclosures should be in easy to understand language that will enable consumers to comparison shop for price and benefit coverage and limitations and exclusions.
6. Consumers should be given a minimum of thirty days advance notice of cancellation and non-renewal of policies. Liability policies should be cancelled only for good cause.
7. Notification or warning of cancellation at a minimum of thirty days before cancellation occurs.
8. Insurance eligibility or rates should not be determined by gender, race, national origin, religious affiliation or any other group characteristics. The prohibition against redlining should be vigorously enforced.
Banking and Credit
1. Banking services at a minimum should include:
a. Basic checking or savings;
b. Small minimum balances;
c. Fixed number of free transactions and reasonable charges for transactions in
excess of set number;
d. Monthly easy-to-understand statement with full detail of account activity;
e. Free teller service;
f. Protection against duplicative fees for use of ATM cards; and
g. Protection against point of sale charges for use of debit card.
2. Those who offer banking services should make them available to low income consumers.
3. Depository institutions should not charge their customers a fee for cashing government
checks. Those without an account should be charged only a nominal amount.
4. Consumers must be ensured of access to credit on fair and reasonable terms.
5. Federal and state laws should be enforced and enhanced as necessary to ensure the protecting consumers against erroneous information and for providing greater consumer access to credit files. Credit reports should be more user friendly.
6. Consumers should have access to their credit scores and information about how they are determined.
7. Consumers should have access to their credit reports, with an annual report available from the three major credit-reporting agencies at no charge, upon request.
8. The interests of legitimate bankruptcy petitioners should be protected by federal law, especially for those with low incomes. Retirement benefits and savings should be protected.
9. Consumers should be protected from abusive debt collection practices. Federal and state regulators should have the resources to more strictly enforce the laws governing this industry. Penalties for violation of the law should be strengthened. The laws should also be expanded to allow for private rights of action against collectors.
10. Consumers should be protected against usurious interest charges and fees.
11. The use of the Rule of 78 for calculating refunds of prepaid interest and insurance charges should be prohibited.
12. Consumers should be protected against involuntary purchase of credit insurance and other credit protection products.
13. The sale of credit and non-credit insurance products that are paid with a lump sum from proceeds of credit transaction should be prohibited.
14. Borrowers should be provided a reasonable notice prior to foreclosures.
15. Predatory lending abuses should be curbed. Consumers should be protected against the practice of repeated, unnecessary and inappropriate refinancing of loans, commonly referred to as flipping, which is used not to address their financial needs but to extract additional costs and fees from them. Unfair prepayment penalties should be prohibited.
16. Closing costs or other fees that are financed in the loan amount should be limited. Closing costs and fees should reflect the true expenses involved.
17. Banking and credit companies must disclose:
a. All relevant fees and terms and conditions–both on invoices and all sales
documents–should be in plain language for checking, savings and money market accounts, and all other financial products;
b. The availability of privacy policies;
c. Changes in the terms of financial service agreements, at least thirty days in advance of the change;
d. The availability of credit reports, with an annual report from the three major
credit-reporting agencies at no charge, upon request;
e. The cost of refinancing loans as compared to financing a separate loan.
f. An explanation of credit insurance, whom it benefits and disclosure that purchase of credit insurance is strictly optional;
g. Home loan disbursements and settlement statements at least three days before closing;
h. The period of time it will take to pay a balance due and the total amount, if a
consumer makes only the minimum payment due; and
i. The distinction between non-deposit products (e.g., stocks and mutual funds) that are not insured and the deposit products that are covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
1. Plain-language disclosure about the disciplinary and other background of brokers and investment advisors should be readily available at no cost to enquiring consumers from government agencies (both state and federal) and self-regulatory organizations.
2. The federal and state governments should support investor education targeting consumers, with an emphasis on the young. State securities agencies that impose fines and other penalties on investment law violators should be able to reserve and “dedicate” such funds for investor education purposes.
3. The risks and costs of investments must be communicated in plain language, omitting no material considerations.
4. Investment products should be described in a standardized manner that supports comprehension and comparison.
5. Compensation of broker-dealers must be disclosed. Account statements should also show the current value of investments, commissions at the time of each sale and the cost of fees. Special incentives for brokers should be disclosed at the time of sale. Conflicts of interest should be disclosed.
6. Investors should have access to the courts to recover losses and damages due to malfeasance by financial services providers.
7. Standards for investment advisors should be strengthened, with federal requirements for training, testing and registration.
8. For investment fraud and abuse, penalties should include civil and criminal sanctions.
9. The SEC should adopt stronger regulations to prevent fraudulent, unfair or deceptive practices in the industry, to include accounting methods Remedies should include financial recovery for consumers.
––Adopted December 12, 2006
The National Consumers League believes that all Americans have a right to a home that meets the needs of it residents in a suitable living environment. Government bears the responsibility to assure that no one is forced to live in housing that is unsafe, dilapidated, lacks basic facilities, or costs so much that other necessities must be sacrificed.
Throughout the United States, low and moderate-income families are being forced to spend an increasing share of their incomes on housing. To access affordable housing, some families must live further from quality jobs, marketplaces, public transportation, and community services. Thus they are spending more on transportation costs in traveling to work. Lower income residents in some urban areas are being displaced by the more affluent, due to the development of more expensive housing and amenities. As a result, the availability of affordable and appropriate housing is diminished, as well as the capacity of the community to continue to meet the needs of those with lower incomes.
For most consumers, purchase of a home is their greatest expenditure. Consumers who contract for mortgages and loans based on equity in a home must have fair and equitable access to credit, and be protected against fraud, usury, unnecessary foreclosure, flipping of loans and other practices that harm homeowners. Disclosure of terms and conditions must be in plain
English (See NCL Financial Services policy).
Each housing market is unique, with many factors determining the policies and actions that will enable a community to meet the housing needs of its residents. Housing policies should be flexible at the national, state and local levels to best address local housing needs. Effective policies will be targeted to both people and places and provide assistance to renters as well as homeowners.
The needs of those who are homeless, living in substandard housing or with very low incomes should be the first priority of national, state and local housing policies. Policies designed to assist moderate-income households should not come at the expense of those in the most need. These policies should directly subsidize housing costs while encouraging work, allowing wealth accumulation, and strengthening families.
NCL asserts policies directed towards places should promote balanced metropolitan growth with racially and economically diverse residential neighborhoods. Policies should encourage the production and preservation of low-cost housing units with access to quality schools, recreational facilities, jobs, and transportation. In particular, production subsidies should be targeted towards special populations, such as the elderly, handicapped, and homeless
individuals. Regional planning should include inclusionary zoning of low-cost units, open space, centralized community services, and environmental conservation.
––Adopted October 6, 2006
NCL supports a principled, comprehensive immigration reform that treats all immigrants with respect and dignity, no matter their legal status in the United States. NCL’s policy is below:
- Renews our commitment to citizenship that fully integrates undocumented immigrants into our way of life, affirming our shared rights, protections and responsibilities by providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans.
- Protects the sanctity of family by reducing the backlogs and keeping spouses, parents and children together.
- Attracts the best and brightest skilled professionals to strengthen our economy, create jobs, and build on the success of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and incorporates DREAMers, young immigrants who are Americans but for a piece of paper, into mainstream life through a path to citizenship so that America benefits from their scholastic achievements and military service.
- Ensures smart and effective enforcement that protects our borders, fosters commerce, and promotes the safe and legitimate movement of people and goods at our ports of entry.
- Ends the exploitation of U.S. and immigrant workers by providing safe and legal avenues for foreign workers to fill legitimate workforce needs, and establishes a workable employment verification system that prevents unlawful employment.
NCL supports comprehensive immigration reform that reflects both the League’s history and legacy in support of workers and consumers, and our interest and values as Americans, and is consistent with our nation’s commitment to fairness and equality.
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
n assessing the impact of mergers and acquisitions, the National Consumers League will consider the short-term and long-term implications based on whether they will:
1. Enhance competition in the relevant markets;
2. Avoid anticompetitive concentration in violation of federal law;
3. Offer consumers more choices and better products or services;
4. Have a beneficial impact on consumer prices for products or services;
5. Include a commitment to universal access, design and service to accommodate all consumers, regardless of geographic location, disability, race, income or other potential barriers;
6. Provide equity in pricing and choice for consumers without discrimination;
7. Incorporate the best practices in marketing, dispute resolution and other consumer protection measures;
8. Meet consumer demand for good quality products and services and provide prompt customer service by ensuring a sufficient number of adequately trained employees;
9. Cause no diminution of current wage levels in the industry and ensure good wages, benefits and working conditions for all employees;
10. Have a beneficial impact on the quality and quantity of jobs of affected employees.
––Adopted February 9, 2000
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
The development of sound, adequate safety and performance standards for consumer products and services helps assure the physical and economic welfare of consumers. NCL has pioneered, and continues to participate in, developing effective methods to assure a competent consumer contribution in the development of product and service standards. These methods should be applied in the development of both mandatory and voluntary standards. A major priority of NCL is to assure that all groups developing product standards include adequate consumer representation in their development. The National Consumers League:
1. Supports strong and effective government regulatory and enforcement agencies to assure safety of services and products used by consumers and the environment in which they are used;
2. Supports both public and private standards activities that are directed at better informing consumers of product and service performance characteristics;
3. Encourages the federal government to take appropriate actions to assure that the voluntary standards community include adequate financing of, and meaningful consumer participation in, standards-setting activities, and to assure due process in setting of standards;
4. Supports interagency and international efforts to establish relevant, forceful, and far-reaching standards;
5. Believes that corporations have a responsibility to assure that safety and universal design be built into product and service design. We support and urge continuation of objective product testing, such as Consumers Union conducts;
6. Supports consumer education and information to teach safe behavior but recognizes that consumer education is never an acceptable substitute for quality safety standards and careful design and production;
7. Urges that diligent enforcement of safety standards be carried out by private as well as public groups; and
8. Encourages prompt gathering of injury data by the public and private sectors in order to identify trends, inform consumers, and take appropriate actions to address safety concerns.
––Adopted December 13, 2000