Consumers who are well-informed about their rights and what they’re buying are more confident. This means that they are more likely to spend money well by getting better deals or buying new goods and services. This rewards those businesses who are good at responding to what consumers want and helps stimulate growth.
The government wants to give consumers more confidence - and legal back-up - to deal with bad service or shoddy goods. Through clear, modern legislation, we also want to help consumers and their advocates have a better understanding of their rights.
Our consumer rights reform programme consists of a combination of measures, including:
Consumer Rights Act
The Consumer Rights Act received Royal Assent on 26 March 2015. We plan for the measures to come into force on 1 October 2015. They will make consumer law clearer and easier to understand, meaning that consumers can buy and businesses can sell to them with confidence. On the rare occasions when problems arise, they will be able to sort out disputes more quickly and cheaply.
Consumer and competition landscape reform
The programme of clarifying and simplifying consumer law began with reforms to the network of organisations in the UK that:
- provide help and advice to consumers and enforces consumer law
- provide advice and guidance to businesses to help them remain compliant with consumer laws and regulations.
- deal with competition issues and anti-competitive activities in business
These reforms to the ‘consumer and competition landscape’ include:
- transferring the main responsibility for consumer advice to the Citizens Advice service
- helping Trading Standards to take the lead in consumer enforcement
- setting up the Competition and Markets Authority
Implementing the Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU
The Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) is an EU measure that gives consumers extra rights when buying in the UK and the EU. All EU members have agreed to it.
The provisions of the CRD were implemented through the:
- Payment Surcharges Regulations 2012, which took effect in April 2013
- Consumer Contracts Regulations (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which came into force on 13 June 2014
Misleading and aggressive selling
We’ve improved the rights of people who have been misled or pressured into buying something. This was achieved through regulations that came into force on 1 October 2014.
Delivery charges for online orders
We’re helping consumers living in more remote communities to make informed choices about the businesses they order from over the internet. Citizens Advice has worked with industry to develop a Statement of Principles for parcel deliveries for businesses that will make delivery surcharges more transparent to customers when placing their orders. We’re keeping this issue under review, as businesses will need time to see what impact the guidance has made.
Recall of unsafe products
Consumer champion, Lynn Faulds Wood, will chair an independent review of the UK’s system for the recall of unsafe products. It will explore consumer understanding of the process and focus on how we can make enforcement more effective. Read more about the review and how to share your views and experiences.
Giving more power to consumers: personal data
We’re helping consumers make better buying decisions by giving them improved access to the personal data companies hold about them. This is called the midata programme. We’re working with business, consumer and privacy groups.
In December 2012, we published ‘Better choices, better deals: report on progress on the consumer empowerment strategy’. The report outlined our achievements in meeting the commitments since we launched the strategy in April 2011.
You can read more about how we are giving more power to consumers.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
We’re implementing the European Directive on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the regulation on Online Dispute Resolution (ODR). This will help consumers across Europe get greater access to redress, should something go wrong with their bought goods or services, without having to resort to legal action.
It will provide a more efficient and cost effective way for consumers to resolve disputes with traders, and provide traders with an opportunity to show how seriously they take the effective resolution of disputes with consumers.
The ADR Directive and part of the ODR Regulation are due to be implemented in the UK by 9 July 2015. The rest of the ODR Regulation comes into force on 9 January 2016.
Consumers can combine their buying power to buy goods and services together. This can get them better deals. The government is supporting community buying in several ways, by:
supporting collective switching schemes in the energy market to help consumers join together to get a better deal
providing clear advice to community groups who want to get started
New food information legislation
The laws about food information are largely made at EU level. They set out the requirements for what information the food industry must give consumers and how this information must be presented. The EU has introduced new food information legislation and we’re introducing this in the UK.
Who can I contact for help and advice?
We can’t help with individual problems. Find out who to contact for consumer protection advice
In June 2011, the National Audit Office published a report on ‘Protecting consumers: the system for enforcing consumer law’. The report estimated that consumers suffer harm totalling £6.6 billion every year. It also identified a lack of clear lines of responsibility between enforcement agencies to respond to this.
Who we’ve consulted
In June 2011, we consulted on proposed reforms to ensure that not only enforcement, but also consumer advice and representation are provided effectively and efficiently. These proposals were guided by 3 aims:
- reducing the complexity of the consumer landscape
- increasing the effectiveness of consumer enforcement
- improving cost-effectiveness and moving resources closer to the point of contact with consumers
We consulted in 2012 about whether we should have an ‘order-making power’ for midata. This power would give us the legal authority to make businesses release personal data to their customers. Following the consultation, we announced that we would legislate if companies didn’t release customers’ data voluntarily.
In 2012 we also consulted on:
- proposals to update and simplify consumer law - how would they affect consumers and businesses for the supply of goods, services and digital content
- simplifying consumer law enforcement powers
- extending the range of remedies available to public enforcers of consumer law
We published a combined government response to the 3 consultations on 12 June 2013 with the Draft Consumer Rights Bill.
We consulted on the early implementation of a ban on above cost payment surcharges. This closed on 15 October 2012 and regulations to introduce the ban came into force on 6 April 2013.
Who we’re working with
We worked with several partners to produce our ‘Guide for community buying groups’. All the organisations below contributed or checked material for us:
- Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE)
- Allen Valleys Oil Buying Co-operative
- Brighter Living Partnership
- Citizens Advice
- Co-operatives UK
- Oxfordshire Rural Community Council
- The R Shop Bulk Buying Project
- Solar 100 Project