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More changes to consumer law

01 April 2015

Businesses should prepare themselves for yet more reform of consumer law in the UK, as the Consumer Rights Bill received Royal Assent in March.

The provisions of the Act are expected to come into force on 1 October 2015, with the exception of some provisions on secondary ticketing sales which is set for 26 May 2015.

There is general consensus that existing UK consumer law is unnecessarily complex – it is fragmented and in places unclear. The aim of this consumer law reform is to consolidate the law in the United Kingdom relating to consumers’ rights so as to create clarity and certainty. In particular, it aims to reform:

  • the substantive law on rights and remedies for goods and services
  • the substantive law on rights and remedies for digital content (eg covering apps and downloads)
  • the substantive law on unfair terms
  • the powers of enforcement authorities and new remedies imposed by such authorities on businesses
  • consumer collective actions for anti-competitive behaviour.

The reform is extensive but some points to note are:

  • the new law on the rights and remedies for goods, services and digital content set out in the Bill will only apply to consumer contracts (not to business-to-business, consumer-to-consumer or consumer-to-business contracts).
  • all supplies of goods will be covered so that the rules on the sale of goods, the hire of goods and the hire purchase of goods will all be consolidated in one piece of legislation.
  • the Act sets out the relevant standards applicable to the goods. Alongside satisfactory quality, description, fitness for purpose and other standards which are included under the Sales of Goods Act 1979, it also introduces:
    • pre-contract information required under the Consumer Contracts Regulations will form terms that are automatically implied
    • goods must match a model seen or examined by the consumer (other than where the trader has brought differences to the consumer’s attention before the contract is made)
    • goods which are installed as part of the contract will not conform to the contract if they are installed incorrectly
    • goods which include ‘digital content’ will not conform to the contract of supply of goods if that digital content does not “conform to the contract to provide that content”.

    Businesses will need to review their processes for handling consumer complaints and dealing with faulty goods to ensure they are compliant, or risk regulatory action, before the new provisions come into force this October.

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