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The biggest shake up of consumer law in a generation

Man playing video game

Today the Consumer Rights Act was given Royal Assent in Parliament. Here’s Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson on why it will help empower you when things go wrong with products, services and digital content.

The measures included in the Act will come into full effect in October 2015, so that gives you time to make sure you understand the new rights and responsibilities. This Act will make the UK’s consumer law clearer and easier to understand, meaning that consumers can buy with greater confidence and businesses will know what is expected of them.

Consumers spend as much as 190 million hours a year trying to resolve issues with goods and services they have purchased – the new Act will help to reduce that and make the whole process easier to navigate. This clarity was the driving force in designing the new legislation – making sure that people know what they can do when things go wrong.

There are too many separate measures to go into in detail here, but I would like to outline some of the most important.

Rejecting faulty goods

We’re introducing a 30-day time period for the rejection of faulty goods to get a full refund. The law has previously been unclear on how long this period should last but, as of October, it will be clearly defined.

You’ll also have clear rules for what should happen if a service isn’t provided with reasonable care and skill or as agreed. For example, this could be a catering service delivered lukewarm or decorating that’s been completed in the wrong colour.

New rights for digital content

I think the reforms we have made to consumer law for digital content mark a real turning point. We have updated the law for the 21st Century by giving you clear rights when you buy digital content, such as film and music downloads.

It’s an important step – digital content is a large and growing part of the UK economy. You will have new rights in relation to the quality of digital content, and we are setting what you can expect from businesses if things go wrong.

I’ll give you an example – let’s say you’ve been playing a ‘freemium’ computer game, and during that time you’ve spent money on in-app purchases to improve your game character. After your last character upgrade, the game stopped working. Under the Act you would be entitled to a repair or a replacement. If a repair isn’t provided within a reasonable time or is impossible to replace then you’d be entitled to some money back.

Fewer disagreements when things go wrong

These updated rights will help consumers and businesses avoid disagreements. This will mean fewer hours navigating your rights in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong. It will mean better relationships between businesses and consumers, and easier conversations when something goes wrong because there will be a clearer understanding of what the rules mean.

I look forward to October when these changes will come into force. I know that Which? members and supporters will be among the first to understand what they will be able to expect when they make purchases, and to start changing how they talk to businesses. I think the Act is an enormous achievement, and I thank Which? for their invaluable input throughout.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson. All opinions expressed here are Jo’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Comments
Member

As Jo says, the new legislation should be a great help for consumers in relation to digital content and the ability to reject faulty goods after purchase. I am very much looking forward to October, when the law becomes effective.

I do hope that there will be a better relationship between consumers and retailers in the event of problems, but remain to be convinced that this will be achieved. What particularly concerns me is the current failure of even the largest retailers to accept that they have a responsibility under the Sale of Goods Act if a product fails after the manufacturer’s warranty has expired, despite lack of evidence of abuse or excessive use.

Member

I forgot to mention the link in the introduction does not work.

Member

Now the link has disappeared. 🙁 Here is a link to the press release: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biggest-overhaul-of-consumer-rights-in-a-generation

Member

Here is a link to the Consumer Rights Act 2015: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/15/pdfs/ukpga_20150015_en.pdf

Member

Reasonable product durability – trouble free operation for a sensible length of time or cycles – is a key issue in my view; I don’t know whether the new act improves upon the Sale of Goods Act in this respect. I did ask Which? in the formative stages if it was contributing on this topic. I also hope Which? will address the issue of developing reasonable durabilities for key products so a claim can be made with credible support. Consumers who pay good money for what they believe to be a decent product should expect it to last without fault for a reasonable time and, if it does not, to get a sensible solution without them suffering undue expense.

Member

One way of pursuing the matter of durability would be to assist a few members make claims against retailers under the Sale of Goods Act.

In the past two years, Which? has used actors to establish that major retailers are avoiding their responsibilities under the Sale of Goods Act. Actors can only do so much, but using real people with faulty goods would enable cases to be pursued to a successful conclusion. These examples could be used to give others confidence to pursue their own claims.

It might help to take some large retailers to court to help them appreciate that consumers have legal rights and it is simply not good enough to say that they cannot help because products are out of warranty or to tell us to take the matter up with the manufacturer.

Member

This is a good step forward and I welcome it. Just saving 10% of those 190 million hours sorting out product and service problems would be very useful and lowering the temperature of consumer disputes will be a great help on all sides. Training for staff will be the key and, like Wavechange, I have some misgivings that it might take some time for things to change of the shop floor. I am also worried that more and more consumer relationships are on the shady side of the marketplace these days where the light of inspection and regulation doesn’t shine brightly enough. I hope it is not presumed that the new Act might pave the way for further reductions in the trading standards services; if anything it should enable them to take stronger action on important issues and do more effective enforcement work.

Member

John, that’s 11000 (unproductive) jobs lost 🙂 .Perhaps if they were redeployed in Quality control some of the remaining 170 million hours might also be saved.