Reform Of Consumer Law

Date Added 20.05.13

2013 Queen’s Speech has stirred quite a response, in particular, in relation to an EU referendum bill (or the lack thereof). At the time of writing this blog, a Conservative MP has tabled a private member’s bill paving the way for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership in 2017. It remains to be seen whether or not that bill gets defeated as it goes through the Parliamentary process, however, the Queen’s Speech has introduced a number of new bills, including the Draft Consumer Rights Bill.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)  first mooted the idea of a Consumer Rights Bill in July 2009. In November 2010 BIS prepared a report on consumer law and then it finally confirmed the proposed Consumer Rights Bill in September 2011.

Whilst the Draft Bill has not yet been published, the government made available briefing notes to the Queen’s Speech outlining the intended scope of the Draft Bill.

The Draft Bill will reform and consolidate the existing framework of consumer law, which is currently set out in over 100 separate pieces of legislation, into one document. The current pieces of legislation include, to name a few:

–          Sale of Goods Act 1979

–          Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973

–          Sale and Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982

–          Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977

–          Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000

–          Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002.

Currently, the sheer number of the different pieces of legislation imposes a significant financial, administrative and time burden on businesses in trying to understand their obligations and ensure compliance with the same.

Some of the existing legislation is also outdated as it has not been kept up-to-date with technological advances, in particular, in relation to digital content (e.g. setting out a minimum quality requirement for digital content of e-books or the rights of consumers buying downloads of music).

Whilst the Draft Bill will seek to create a single piece of legislation that will cover all consumer rights and remedies, it would seem that the EU Consumer Rights Directive will not be implemented via the Draft Bill. It is more likely to be implemented by way of secondary legislation.

The briefing notes suggest that the Draft Bill is also going to include new remedies that could be imposed by enforcement authorities (such as Trading Standards). These are likely to include the requirement for businesses to appoint a compliance officer, the need to collect and act on customer feedback or provide customers with easier access to compensation, where there have been breaches of consumer law.

If you would like to know whether your business currently complies with the consumer laws or how it could improve its compliance in order to avoid potential breaches and litigation, please feel free to contact our Corporate and Commercial team on 01908 396 230. We will be happy to assist you with reviewing your existing Terms and Conditions, drafting new standard and bespoke Terms and Conditions, drafting website Terms and Conditions and much more.

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