An updated Consumer Rights Act is expected to be enacted next year which aims to streamline consumer rights legislation and to extend and modernise protection in various areas. A scheme for the proposed bill has been published by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and has undergone a consultation process. It is now a matter for the Department to publish the Bill. It was originally envisaged that it would become law in the middle of 2016, though this may be affected by the impending general election.
The proposed changes include:
- Right to a refund: This right will be clarified with the introduction of a standard 30 day period within which consumers can return goods and obtain a refund. At present, consumers may only seek repair or replacement.
- Supply of Digital Content: The proposed legislation will deal specifically with the supply of data produced in digital form such as computer programs, applications and music accessed through downloading or streaming. It is expected to give broadly similar protections to those which currently apply to the supply of goods, while also taking account of the unique nature of digital content. For example, it will deal specifically with trial versions and software updates. Consumer remedies will be adapted to account for the fact that digital content cannot necessarily be returned and can be easily copied.
- Gift Vouchers: Retailers will no longer be permitted to set expiry dates on gift vouchers. This is aimed at addressing the present situation where approximately 20 per cent of gift vouchers in Ireland are never redeemed. It is possible that, following consultation, additional changes will be introduced to give further protection to consumers in this area.
- Supply of Services: Under existing laws, service providers are required only to exercise due skill, care and diligence and can exclude this implied term in certain circumstances. The proposed legislation will bring protections more into line with the protections available to purchasers of goods. Services will have to be fit for purpose, consumers will be entitled to rely on information provided and the services will have to be provided within a reasonable time frame. Furthermore, the service provider will be prohibited from excluding these protections and, for the first time, statutory remedies will be available to consumers in this area.
- Return of Gifts: It is proposed that consumers who receive gifts will have the same rights as those who purchase the goods themselves. Consideration is being given to extending this to gifts of services and digital content.
- Unfair Contract Terms: At present, protections only apply in relation to standard form contracts produced by the retailer or service provider. A number of changes are proposed with regard to unfair contract terms in consumer contracts, including extending the scope to include contracts which have been negotiated by the consumer.
- Health Care, Social Services and Gambling: These areas will come within the remit of consumer protection and service providers will be obliged to provide certain information to consumers. For example, GPs will be required to inform the patient of the price of a consultation in advance.