Policy

Providing better information and protection for consumers

Issue

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.

Actions

Our consumer rights reform programme consists of a combination of measures, including:

Consumer Rights Bill

We plan to simplify and clarify consumer law with a new bill (Act of Parliament). This will contain a clear list of rights for consumers, along with new measures to protect them. The Consumer Rights Bill now going through Parliament contains redress for when things go wrong. Subject to Parliamentary approval, we plan for it to come into force on 1 October 2015. We have produced a summary of plans to implement the measures in the Bill.

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:

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.

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.

Community buying

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:

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

Background

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:

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:

We also worked with the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission, who both did studies on misleading and aggressive selling.