22 April 2024, 22:30
By Stephen Sidkin Apr 03, 2015

The latest developments in consumer law

Changes to consumer law kept the retail world busy last year, says lawyer Stephen Sidkin – yet whilst there were significant modifications and developments, the biggest reform is still to come …

Here is a simple guide to some of what is new in consumer law, who has been affected and what can be expected in the coming months:

The do’s and don’ts for online retailers

Last June, the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 were implemented. The number of retailers with online channels is increasing, and the regulations introduced a number of new provisions relating to sales made via online stores. 

Some of the changes retailers should be aware of include:

* An obligation on retailers to provide consumers with various pieces of information, such as the characteristics of the goods, the identity of the trader and, where applicable, any additional costs – such as delivery costs – that will be charged to the buyer

* An obligation on retailers to be clear as to which click of the button triggers payment by the consumer

* An obligation on retailers to make delivery without undue delay, and in any event within 30 days of the contract being entered into

* An extended cooling-off period of 14 days in which, after receiving the goods, a consumer can return the unwanted items and receive a refund (to be provided by the retailer within 14 days)

Retailers beware – power to the consumer

On 1st October 2014, consumers were given new powers to take action against retailers who mislead or aggressively target consumers. The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 were introduced enabling consumers in relevant circumstances to:

* Bring a contract to an end and demand a full refund

* Be awarded with a discount of between 25 and 100%, depending on the seriousness of the complaint

“On 1st October 2014, consumers were given new powers to take action against retailers who mislead or aggressively target consumers”

* Or, where the consumer has suffered loss or distress, receive a payment in damages

The regulations give consumers a powerful new right to take civil action against a retailer that finds itself in breach.

What the future holds

There is still some work to be done and Parliamentary approvals to be reached, but progress is being made with the Consumer Rights Bill (CRB). 

The CRB is the largest revamp there has been to consumer law in decades. A general consensus that the multiple pieces of legislation currently in place are confusing led to the introduction of the CRB in an attempt to “streamline”, “clarify”, “modernise”, “deregulate” and “enhance” the existing law.  

The CRB covers the supply of goods, services and digital content, and concerns matters such as:

* The fairness of terms in consumer contracts

* The enforcement of consumer law

* Consumers’ rights to a private claim for compensation in the event of a breach of competition law

The Houses of Parliament are still disputing aspects of the wording of the CRB, but the Consumer Rights Act is expected to come into force in October 2015. Guidance documents relating to unfair terms, investigatory powers of enforcers and consumers’ enforcement rights have been tested and are intended to be available well before the new act is introduced, to ensure consumers and, importantly, businesses, know exactly where they stand.

Stephen Sidkin is a partner at corporate law firm Fox Williams LLP. He established and leads Fox Williams’ agentlaw team. This article was written with the assistance of Veronique Bergau, a trainee solicitor at Fox Williams LLP. This article was featured in the March issue of Furniture News magazine.

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