The government has introduced a raft of new consumer protection legislation over the last three years to overhaul and consolidate the previously fragmented and confusing consumer protection landscape and to implement the Consumer Rights Directive (CRD).

The Consumer Rights Act 2015

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) came into force on 1 October 2015. It constitutes a major reform of consumer protection law covering:

  • statutory implied terms and remedies in consumer contracts for goods, digital content and services;
  • unfair contract terms in consumer contracts;
  • enforcement of consumer protection law;
  • secondary ticketing provisions; and
  • measures to facilitate private actions for breaches of competition law.

Consumer facing businesses need to review their:

  • sales lifecycle;
  • sales contracts including standard website and app terms;
  • limitation of liability clauses to check compliance and references to legislation;
  • pre-contractual information (including in notices and announcements); and
  • cancellation and returns policies.

Why?

  • The CRA sets out implied contract terms which cannot be excluded in relation to consumer contracts for goods, digital content and services;
  • tiered remedies are set out in relation to breach of statutory implied terms;
  • contracts for the supply of digital content are treated as a separate category of contract with their own statutory rights and remedies for the first time;
  • the unfair contract terms in consumer contracts regime has changed with the amendment of the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977; and
  • the revocation of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

Other recent changes to the consumer protection legal landscape

The Consumer Protection (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments Regulations 2013

The Consumer Protection (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations (Consumer Contracts Regulations) have applied since June 2014 and implement the bulk of the CRD. 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.

The European Commission has published guidance on the CRD which sits alongside BIS guidance on the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014

The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI/2014/870) (Regulations), principally amend the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 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).

Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012

These Regulations which implement Article 19 of the CRD, prohibit traders from imposing payment surcharges for use of particular payment mechanisms such as credit cards, which exceed the cost to the trader of using that payment mechanism. The Regulations apply to all consumer contracts for goods, services, digital content and most utilities (there are exemptions for some financial services contracts). The Regulations go beyond the requirements of Article 19 as they also apply to package holidays. They came into force on 6 April 2013 and apply to all relevant contracts entered into on or after that date (with exemptions for micro-businesses and new businesses before 12 June 2014).