Consumer Law Minefield

1st June 2012

Consumers are currently safeguarded by a range of consumer protection laws applying to the sales of goods and services in the UK. Whilst businesses recognise the need for consumer’s interests to be protected and for public confidence to maintained, they often find the various legislation burdensome and difficult to interpret.

 

In the absence of one single statute setting out the relevant law, businesses are currently required to navigate their way through a complex matrix of legislation to ensure that the sales of their goods and/or services are compliant with the law.

Consumer protection laws are currently set out 12 Acts and Regulations, ranging from the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

Given the current position, many businesses will welcome the news that the government has proposed to centralise consumer protection laws into a single piece of legislation. Other businesses may feel that this is a case of further legislation being imposed at European level.  This legislation will be known as the Consumer Bill of Rights.  The new Bill will collate current consumer rights into a single statute and will implement a new EU Directive into English Law.  The new EU Directive specifically addresses doorstop and distance selling.  Edward Davey (the former Consumer Minister) has said that:

“The Consumer Bill of Rights will consolidate, clarify and strengthen the consumer laws already in place, which will make it easier for everyone to understand and consumer rights in the UK will be stronger than ever. This Bill will give everyone a single place to find all their consumer rights.”

The Consumer Bill of Rights will help to consolidate consumer protection laws in a single piece of legislation but it is inevitable that some consumer laws will fall outside the scope of the Bill (e.g. the Timeshare Act 1992).  Therefore, whilst the ideology is correct the reality might be somewhat different.

The proposed changes will assist businesses by providing a single reference point for consumer rights. However, as the changes are also aimed at increasing consumer confidence it is likely that they will also increase the current scope of consumer rights. For instance, it is likely that the 7 day “cooling off period” (set out in the Distance Selling Regulations) will be extended to 14 days and that businesses will be required to provide consumers with a “model withdrawal form” (to be used to return goods purchased online).

Once in force, the Consumer Bill of Rights will need to be carefully considered by businesses to ensure that their policies and procedures are compliant. It is expected that the Consumer Bill of Rights will be implemented in 2013.

If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, would like assistance with preparing terms and conditions of supply or for information on any other commercial matters, please contact Rebecca Anforth.

Date: 1 June 2012

The information provided in this article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Any law quoted in this article is correct as at 1 June 2012. Appropriate legal advice should be sought for specific circumstances before any action is taken. Copyright © Murrell Associates 2012.