The Consumer Rights Act, described by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as "the biggest overhaul of consumer law for a generation", comes into force in October 2015. Anyone supplying goods, services or digital content to consumers and businesses in the transport and logistics sector should note in particular the following changes:
1. Contractual status of information
Statements made by or on behalf of a service provider to a consumer will now form part of the contract if they are taken into account by the consumer when deciding whether to enter into the contract, or when making decisions in relation to the service after entering into the contract. For example, if a salesperson tells a consumer that goods will be delivered within two days, this could become the contractual delivery period.
2. Fairness requirements
Where terms in a consumer contract are deemed unfair, they may not bind the consumer. The existing "fairness test" is retained in the Act, but terms relating to the price and contract subject matter will only be exempt if they are both transparent and prominent, i.e. in plain language, intelligible and brought to the consumer's attention. Terms which allow the trader to determine the price after the consumer is bound will be presumed to be unfair.
3. New statutory remedies
Where a service fails to conform to the contract, consumers may now require repeat performance or, if this is impossible, a price reduction. Consumers are also entitled to a price reduction in other circumstances, e.g. where the trader fails to provide the services within a reasonable time.
Businesses in the transport and logistics sectors must ensure that the terms and conditions set out on websites and in other marketing material comply with the Act and that both staff and third party agents are aware of the new rights and remedies available to consumers. Statements made to consumers that are not intended to have contractual force should be qualified, and contracts must be easy for consumers to understand. Where a service falls short of the standards required, businesses should be prepared either to do it again or offer a discount.