In this guest post for Which? Conversation, consumer affairs minister Norman Lamb explains why we need to bring consumer law into the 21st century, particularly when it comes to digital technology.
Did you know that if you buy software or a video game that doesn’t work properly you may not be legally entitled to get your money back?
If you buy faulty goods you can expect it to be put right through a repair, replacement or refund. So wouldn’t you expect the same for a service that wasn’t up to scratch? You might be surprised if you took a look at current consumer law in the UK.
Complicated law and small print leads many people to believe that you don’t have any rights at all. It can be difficult to know what you’re entitled to and hard to get a fair deal when things go wrong. Which? does vital work in helping consumers understand their rights and I am determined that government does all it can to ensure consumer rights are fit for purpose now and for the future.
Consumer Bill of Rights
I want to develop a single, comprehensive set of shoppers’ rights, which sets out in plain English, all the rights and remedies that consumers have. The intention is to drive up business standards and help you settle issues much more quickly and easily.
At the start of July we launched a consultation seeking your views on proposals to strengthen the law on goods, services, and digital content like music and e-books. Your input will form part of a new Consumer Bill of Rights. We‘ve published a short online version of the main consultation to make it easy for you to share your views because I really want to hear them.
So what could change under the proposals? We have a number of proposals but I’ll pick out a few.
30 days to return goods
When you buy something that doesn’t work you currently have a short period in which you can take it back for a full refund. However, the law doesn’t say how long that period is. We think it’s unfair that one retailer might argue this right runs out after a fortnight but another one would give you longer. We think this period should be 30 days, in line with what some retailers are currently offering, but do you agree?
Consumer law relating to sub-standard services is fairly weak, and we want to make the law on services closer to the goods regime. We want to know whether you think it would help if we clarify in law what you are entitled to if something does go wrong with your service.
Archaic consumer law
The changes also cover the digital industry, which has moved light years ahead in the past few decades. Now we have e-books, content streaming, cloud networks and apps. Current consumer law is archaic; it was written over 30 years ago and was not designed to deal with digital content.
One problem is faulty content; what do you do when your download is corrupted? It can be difficult to handle, which is why we’re asking whether you should be able to get your money back.
The changes to the digital regime will need to be much broader if we are to protect consumers from faulty digital content. That is why we’re looking at how the entire consumer rights framework applies to digital content, particularly if it’s supplied as a download or in the cloud. This will be a big change and it’s important to get your views on what sorts of rights and responsibilities should apply.
We want the Consumer Bill of Rights to be a big win for consumer empowerment, so we need you to tell us if our ideas will be of practical help.
Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Norman Lamb – consumer affairs minister – all opinions expressed here are their own, not necessarily those of Which?