This article was originally written for and featured in Footwear Today.
Like London buses – Consumer law changes come in 3s
Did you miss them? Certainly the title of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 would in itself have cured insomnia. But in order to comply with the Regulations retailers – particularly those using the online channel – should have implemented by 13 June the following changes:
- Information – providing the full pre-contract information in a clear and comprehensible manner and the correct form.
- Money – making it clear as to when clicking a button online will amount to payment and when there is a charge for additional services.
- Delivery – within 30 days unless the consumer agrees otherwise.
- Cancellation and returns – the cooling-off period is extended to 14 calendar days and there are additional information requirements.
- Refunds – must be for the total price, including delivery and processed within 14 days.
The next change in consumer law is on 1 October 2014 when the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (CPRs) come into force.
The purpose of these Regulations is to protect consumers against businesses using misleading actions or aggressive practices. They improve the existing framework by bringing a right of redress that can be bought by consumers themselves.
The CPRs provide three remedies for the aggrieved consumer:
- A right to end the contract and receive a full refund of the price in certain circumstances;
- A right to a discount of between 25 to 100% of the payment made by the consumer to the infringing business;
- An entitlement to see damages for;
- Consequential financial loss; or
- Alarm or distress resulting from the infringing business’s action or practice; or
Although intended to protect consumers, it can be expected that in some situations, businesses may take advantage of the new CPRs if there is the possibility of significantly damaging a competitor. This could be by friends of employees of company A morphing into aggrieved “consumers” of company B. Whichever way action is brought, the best way for businesses to avoid liability under the CPRs is not to engage in unfair practices in the first place.
The final “bus” has not yet reached the Statute Book. But, barring an early general election, with all party support the Consumer Rights Bill (CRB) is likely to receive Royal Assent in the second quarter of 2015.
The CRB consolidates and modernises consumer law from over 100 pieces of legislation to a framework that should be less of a compliance burden on businesses. It starts by introducing consistent definitions including defining who is a ‘trader’ and a ‘consumer’, and goes on to provide clearer and more extensive rights and remedies for consumers under the following headings.
Goods – Rights & Remedies
The need for goods to be of satisfactory quality, fit for a particular purpose, and match their description will remain. But remedies for breach of these new requirements have been strengthened.
The new ‘tiered’ remedies will work like this:
- The consumer has 30 days to reject. To do so they must inform the retailer of their decision but this does not need to be in writing.
- Alternatively the consumer can request a repair or replacement. The retailer will then have one opportunity to complete this before the consumer can request the next tier of remedy.
- If the retailer cannot repair, repair is ineffective, or a replacement is defective then the consumer will have the right to a price reduction or to reject the goods.
Digital Content – Rights & Remedies
The definition of digital content is not new but in light of the uncertainty surrounding its broadened scope, the Government has said that it will produce guidance as to retailers’ responsibilities.
Fortunately retailers will not have to come to terms with new jargon as the CRB refers to the requirements that the digital content be of satisfactory quality, is fit for purpose, and in compliance with the description both in the original product and in the upgrades – essentially the standards applicable to ‘goods’. But the task for retailers will be to comply with the new requirements. In addition once the digital content is received there is no right to reject. Consumers can require a repair or replacement or if these are not possible or do not remedy the problem then a refund (either part or full) can be required. There are additional remedies in the situation that digital content infects or damages the consumer’s other electronic items.
Essentially consumer terms that are unfair will not be binding on the consumer. Retailers will want to be cautious in the extent to which they attempt to restrict their liability, or get consumers to agree to something when it is expressed in a convoluted or confusing way.
The Government’s objective is that the CRB bolsters the ability of public enforcers to bring traders in front of the courts, ensures compensation where a consumer has suffered loss, and reduces the risk of repeat offences. The Government has sad that the CRB will give both enforcement offices and retailers clarity of the goals and should help to speed up the resolution of disputes. In addition to this there will be a new ability for consumers to take a collective action where there has been an infringement of competition law.
And if the objectives are not fulfilled, the next Government can introduce amending legislation.