Changes to Your Consumer Rights – Part 1

Consumer RightsThe New European Proposals

You may not be aware, but last year the UK government introduced a wide-ranging white paper called “A Better Deal for Consumers – Delivering Real Help Now and Change for the Future”. The proposals made in this white paper follow hot on the heels of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The 2008 Regulation marked the biggest shake-up in consumer law in 40 years. It now appears that the government is going to go even further.

Another forthcoming EU Consumer Rights Directive has inspired some of these changes, but (unusually) the UK may strengthen consumer rights beyond what will be strictly required under EU law. In this article, we will consider the planned EU proposals. In part 2 of our consumer law update we will review the additional measures being proposed by the UK government.

The Proposed Consumer Rights Directive

The EU proposals will have a number of profound effects on current consumer legislation. The most important of these include the following:

  • The simplification of the current pieces of consumer law. Rather than having separate rules covering the supply of goods  and the supply of services  there will be one set of rules covering both, making it easier for consumers to understand the law.
  • A legal requirement to supply clear information before a contract is entered into. This should help to avoid sharp business practices, such as additional postage charges or taxes being charged to the consumer.
  • New rules on delivery and risk will be created to cover the whole of the EU. A trader will have a maximum of 30 days to deliver goods once a contract has been signed. The trader will also bear the risk of any damage to the goods in transit and will be obliged to provide a refund within 7 days where goods are not delivered.
  • A standard 14-day cooling off period, to apply when goods are bought at a distance (e.g. purchases made over the Internet). You will be entitled to change your mind using a simple standard withdrawal form.
  • A standard set of remedies when goods are faulty. So, for example, traders may be obliged to either repair or replace goods in the first instance and provide a fair reduction in price or refund of money.
  • A “blacklist” of unfair contract terms prohibited across the EU.
  • Finally, in response to a high number of consumer complaints where there has been pressure-selling steps will be taken to close loopholes exploited by unscrupulous traders.

The intention is to adopt any legislation to take into account our ever-increasing use of technology. Therefore, if you have ever bought something online, you should be able to do so with more peace of mind. Online auction sites such as ebay will also be covered by the new legislation. These proposals will form the minimum requirements. Member states might increase the level of consumer protection (as will be the case in the UK), but only one set of key rules will apply. This will be a vast improvement from the current situation, where making a purchase in the EU means that any of the 27 different sets of rules might apply to a contract.

The EU proposals are very promising for consumers. In the second part of our consumer law update we will examine whether the UK proposals currently under consultation will live up to the title of the white paper and deliver a real “Change for the Future.

 

1 The Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973 & The Sales of Goods Act 1979 (as amended)
2 The Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982