Consumer laws to be unified

Currently consumer regulations are split into several different areas of the law, and the government is considering bringing all of these laws together under a single Act of Parliament so that this area of law is simple to understand.

The government have made the draft Bill which is known as the ‘Consumer Bill of Rights.’ It is not only designed to bring some much needed clarity to this area of law, but it will also serve to increase the rights of consumers. Currently, there are twelve different regulations and acts that protect consumers, and this causes problems for people who want to know their rights.

It is also costly for the government. The new Bill intends to incorporate a new directive that has been created by the EU. This directive is expected to be made effective in the UK by 2013, but this new Bill should make it come into effect before this time.

The consumer minister, Ed Davey has said, “The confusing state of the law in this area is bad for consumers but it is also bad for businesses as they are having to spend more money ensuring that they comply with all relevant laws. This new Bill, if made an Act, will mean a great deal more clarity than we have seen previously. It will provide a single place for people to look if they want to know their rights.”

A statement by the government about the Bill has said that it will serve to update some of the laws on digital goods, as well as bringing clarification to what an unfair term is in a contract. One of the most welcome changes will be additional protection for vulnerable consumers with the banning of misleading and aggressive sales pitches. It is said that the Bill will allow those who have been pushed into a contract through aggression to be able to get out of it.

The government commented, “We want to eliminate the practices by some sales people where they are refusing to leave people alone until they get a sale. We also want to remove the ability for people to imply that they are associated with government bodies or charities when they are not. This Bill is going to give people more time to cancel contracts they have been manipulated into.”

Consumer Focus, the group for the protection of consumer rights has said, “We welcome these changes, a Bill of Rights dedicated to consumer protection is going to make things easier for everyone. Markets function better if the consumers in them are knowledgeable about what product or service they are buying. Not only is this good for consumers, but it is good for the whole economy.

Currently many of the laws that protect consumers are enforced by the Office of Fair Trading. There is already quite a good amount of protection for consumers that are provided through such laws as the Distance Selling Regulations. These are designed to give people different rights if they are not buying in a physical store.

They state that a consumer, even once they have paid for and have had a package delivered, have a week to cancel the contract and send the goods back for a full refund.  The new EU directive will see this extended to a two week period.

Claire McCracken is a lawyer with Pinsent Masons and has said, “Consumers struggle to understand the laws that are there to protect them and this change to the law is long overdue. This new Bill will hopefully help people to understand exactly what their rights are.”