Two sets of Regulations came into force this year which implemented the Consumer Rights Directive and constituted a major part of the government's reform of UK consumer protection law.
The Consumer Protection (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations have applied since June 2014. This legislation introduced a number of changes, including:
- the cooling off period changed from 7 to 14 days;
- changes to pre-contractual information requirements, especially for online sales;
- refunds must be given within 14 days (rather than 30);
- consumers must be provided with standard cancellation forms for off-premises and distance contracts
- pre-contractual information requirements now apply to on-premises consumer contracts for the first time; and
- a requirement to inform online consumers clearly at the point of entering into a payment obligation.
In the summer, the European Commission published guidance on the Consumer Rights Directive which sits alongside BIS guidance on the Regulation.
The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI/2014/870) (Regulations), principally amend the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPUT Regs) and also partially amend the Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Misrepresentation Act 1967 (plus Scottish and Northern Irish equivalents).
They came into force on 1 October 2014 (save for the provisions amending the Consumer Contracts Regulations which came into force on 13 June 2014) and apply to contracts entered into, or payments made, on or after that date. The Regulations introduce rights for consumers to redress in respect of misleading and aggressive commercial practices.
The right to redress is available under certain circumstances in relation to:
- business to consumer contracts (trader sells or supplies a product to consumer);
- consumer to business contracts (consumer sells goods to trader); and
- a consumer payment (a payment made by a consumer to a trader for the supply of a product).
The other significant development in 2014 was the progress of the Consumer Rights Bill. The Consumer Rights Bill is a major piece of legislation which will consolidate and update consumer protection law in relation to contracts for goods, services and digital content as well as dealing with the enforcement of consumer protection and competition law. The Bill has been progressing through Parliament and, at the time of writing, has completed its third and final reading in the House of Lords.
The CRB consolidates the law on consumer contracts for goods and services and introduces digital content as a new category of contract with its own statutory rights and remedies. Part II of the CRB reforms the law in relation to unfair contract terms in consumer contracts and Part III covers enforcement of consumer protection and the introduction of private actions for breach of competition law.
The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent during the next Parliamentary session and before the General Election. It is currently anticipated that it will come into force on 1 October 2015, and BIS plans to issue guidance in April. This is something we'll be talking a lot more about next year.
For more on the consumer protection reforms, both those which have already taken place and those which are still ahead of us, see our dedicated consumer protection law reform web page.