The Consumer Rights Act 2015 comes into force this October: are you ready for it?

15th May 2015

consumer rights

The new Consumer Rights Act 2015 will come into force on the 1st October 2015 and harmonises the current laws surrounding business to consumer contracts for goods and services.

On the 1st October 2015, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will come into force, strengthening and simplifying existing legal protection for consumers. One set of rules will be applicable to all contracts in which goods or services are supplied, and for the first time there will specific rules for digital content (such as music downloads and online films).

When purchasing goods or services, a consumer has the right under this Act to receive satisfactory goods that match their product description. The goods must be of a quality that a reasonable person would deem to be satisfactory, which will take into account factors such as appearance, whether there are faults, the safety of the product, its fitness for purpose, etc. Fitness for a particular purpose means either what the consumer told the trader they wished to purchase the product for, or what the good’s purpose clearly is, such as the purpose of clothing is clearly to be worn. Therefore, if an item of clothing is not suitable or able to be worn the clothing would not be fit for purpose.

Products must match the description, sample or model that the consumer viewed or was supplied with before purchasing it. If there are substantial or fundamental differences, the trader may have committed an offence. Where the contract concerns an installation, the product must be installed correctly, and in line with any other laws or regulations concerning the particular good. If a business provides a service that is not carried out with due care and skill and is therefore inadequate, the business must attempt to bring the service ‘in line’ with what was originally agreed. Where this fails or is not possible, the consumer is entitled to receive at least part of the money they paid, the exact amount depending on the quality of the service and the subsequent effect of this.

The Act protects the presumption that if a defect is discovered within 6 months of purchase or delivery, it is assumed to have been there at the time of sale (unless the good concerned is a motor vehicle). It is for the trader to prove otherwise, such as obvious signs of mis-use. Conversely, if the defect is discovered more than 6 months after purchase, the burden of proving it was there at the time of sale rests with the consumer. This provision also applies to digital contents.

The Act sets out the remedies available to a customer if the goods/ services they purchased do not meet the minimum requirements. The short-time right to reject already exists, and under the Act is increased from 14 days to 30 days. If the goods are highly perishable, such as certain foods, this limit is decreased, and will depend on the individual case. Additionally, if the consumer is alleging that the installation of goods has been incorrect, the 30 day limit does not apply. The refund provided by the trader must be in full; unless the contract relates to a hire agreement, in which case the refund will represent any part paid for but not adequately supplied. The trader may not delay the refund unreasonably, and the refund must be provided to the consumer within 14 days of the trader agreeing to the refund.

The trader is normally responsible for the reasonable cost of returning the goods, except in cases in which the contract requires the consumer to return the goods to the place he purchased them, as is often the case in retail. In certain circumstances the consumer is eligible to recover all or part of the cost of returning the goods, for example the cost of a recovery service for motor vehicles.

If the customer does have not or has chosen not to exercise their legal right to a refund, they may claim a repair or replacement. The replacement or repair cannot be charged to the customer, and must be provided within a reasonable time without causing any significant inconvenience to the consumer. After the trader has had one attempt at replacing or repairing the goods and the goods remain inadequate, this is deemed to have failed. When this occurs, the consumer is entitled to reject the goods and receive a refund, or if they choose further attempts can be made to repair or replace the goods.

There are instances in which a repair or replacement fails or is altogether unsuitable, for example, a replacement of a wedding cake found to be inedible would not solve the issue on the day, thereby defeating its purpose. In these circumstances, the consumer could choose to keep the goods and receive a reduced refund, or return the product for a refund. A reduction can be made to this refund for any usage the consumer gained form the product.

If a business provides a service that is not carried out with due care and skill and is therefore inadequate, the business must attempt to bring the product ‘in line’ with what was originally agreed. Where this fails or is not possible, the consumer is entitled to receive at least part of the money they paid, the exact amount depending on the quality of the service and the subsequent effect of this.

A consumer may be entitled to additional compensation for losses caused by the inadequate product or service, including any property damage the goods caused or personal injuries sustained using them. The Act limits the circumstances that a consumer can claim for damages: a consumer cannot claim for defects that were either obvious or brought to his attention before the sale; they cannot claim for damage they themselves caused; or damage resulting from usual wear and tear. In addition, if a consumer chooses to purchase a product for a non-obvious purpose and it turns out to be unsuitable, they have no basis to claim compensation from the trader.

Digital contents will have the same rules applying to them in October, granting consumers much-needed protection. Under the new Act, the same standards apply to digital contents as with any other goods, e.g. being fit for purpose and goods being as described. The remedies available to consumers of digital content are repair or replacement, or a partial refund. A contract that attempts to limit a trader’s liability in reference to the remedies, or attempts to disadvantage the consumers enforcing the remedies, will not be binding on the consumer.

In summary, the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 will harmonise the existing provisions and create a single, consistent approach in the law. The 30 day limit to receive a refund provides consumers with enhanced protection, as does the presumption within 6 months of sale that a defect was there at the time of sale, unless otherwise proven.

If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or would like assistance with updating your terms of business please contact Rebecca Anforth, head of Intellectual Property, on 01872 226999 or rebecca@murrellassociates.co.uk or Melanie Brown, author of the article.