The British Retail Consortium has backed the creation of a “consumer advocate”, but warned that he or she must take an active role in improving customers’ understanding of their consumer rights.

As part of a shake-up of consumer laws announced in a Consumer White Paper today, a consumer advocate will have the power to take on class actions against big companies and even the Government if consumers feel that they have been ripped off.

A public figure is set to be appointed to fight for consumers who feel they have been mistreated by retailers, banks, utility companies or any other major body.

In a statement the BRC said: “The creation of a consumer advocate is welcome if the post is genuinely intended to improve customers’ understanding of their rights.”

An “effective” consumer advocate could help retailers by providing customers with the information needed to solve problems efficiently and swiftly, it added.

However, the BRC called for the advocate to be “unambiguously independent” and for the “confusing range of consumer education bodies” to be rationalised.

The White Paper, presented by consumer minister Kevin Brennan, will also give Trading Standards officers more powers and recommends that lenders should be investigated.

BRC director-general Stephen Robertson said: “Retailers strive to satisfy their customers. They are the lifeblood of the industry. Responsible retailers go well beyond the legal minimum to meet customers’ needs and put things right if they go wrong.

“A consumer advocate will only be worthwhile if it actually improves customer education and advice. It must not be just a gesture.

“Most consumer problems are sorted out face to face in-store but improving access to the other options that already exist is good for customers and retailers when it leads to a speedier more efficient resolution.”