Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: consumer protection

Updated 8 May 2015

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/providing-better-information-and-protection-for-consumers. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


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 by 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:

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.

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


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.

Appendix 1: food information and labelling

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Food information for consumers takes many forms, including:

  • food advertising
  • descriptions and pictures of food on packaging and menus
  • nutrition and ingredient information
  • information given on the internet or over the telephone

To make the right choices, consumers need clear, accurate and consistent information about the food they buy.

This is equally true for food sold loose, pre-packed and in restaurants, cafes etc.

Rules on food information

Food information and labelling legislation is largely set at an EU level.

The legislation:

  • sets clear requirements for food businesses on what information they must give consumers, and how to present it
  • helps consumers understand what information they can expect to be provided with when they decide to buy food

It’s enforced in the UK through the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 (FLR) (as amended).

New rules on food information

New rules on food labelling are being brought in by the EU Provision of Food Information to Consumers Regulation No 1169/2011 (EU FIC).

These include:

  • mandatory nutrition labelling on pre-packaged food
  • more country of origin labelling
  • improved date marking (including date of first freezing)
  • clarity and legibility of food information
  • labelling of non pre-packed foods
  • allergen information, including on food sold loose and in restaurants, cafes etc

The new rules will make food labelling clearer, and improve the nutrition and allergen information provided with food.

Most of these rules will apply directly without any need for new UK legislation, but new domestic legislation is needed to provide enforcement powers.

We’ve consulted on these domestic regulations. We aim to have them in place in summer 2013.

Country of origin labelling

Under the new rules, mandatory origin labelling will be required for all fresh meat.

Where claims are made concerning the origin of a food, the origin of the main ingredients will have to be given:

  • if these are different to the claim
  • where failure to provide it would mislead consumers

By December 2013, the European Commission is due to adopt implementing acts setting out what these mean in detail.

Fish names and labelling

Regulations say that fish must be labelled correctly and consistently at the point of sale, so purchasers know exactly what they are buying. The rules require information on:

  • the commercial designation of the species (ie an agreed common name for the species of fish)
  • the production method (ie whether caught at sea, caught in inland waters or farmed)
  • the catch area (ie either the ocean area, or in the case of freshwater fish, the country in which it was caught or farmed)
  • the scientific name
  • whether the product has been previously frozen

The updated Fish Labelling (England) Regulations 2012:

  • add new commercial designations (the names of fish) for species of fish that have recently come onto the market
  • give extra options for some others that were already listed

The regulations also contain new requirements from the Common Fisheries Policy Control Regulation 1224/2009 and Regulation 404/2011 on the scientific name and whether the product has been previously frozen.

Dates when new regulations come into force

The coming into force dates are as follows

Provisions on the designation of minced meat apply 1 Jan 2014
The majority of provisions apply 13 Dec 2014
Current legislation (including Directives 2000/13 and 90/496) repealed 13 Dec 2014
Foods on the market or labelled prior to 3 years after the Regulation came into effect can be sold until Food stocks are exhausted
Foods bearing a nutrition declaration on a voluntary basis must comply with the requirements of the FIC Regulation from 13 Dec 2014
Application date for nutrition declaration becoming mandatory 13 Dec 2016
Foods on the market or labelled prior to 5 years after the Regulation came into effect which do not have a nutrition declaration can be sold until Food stocks are exhausted

Who sets and enforces national food information legislation

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for food labelling legislation in England that is principally not about food safety. Defra also co-ordinates food labelling policy across government.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for food safety, and for working with enforcement authorities.

Department of Health (DH) is responsible for nutrition information policy. More information about food labelling is available from NHS choices.

For Scotland and Northern Ireland, all domestic labelling and standards legislation is the responsibility of the FSA.

In Wales, responsibility for general labelling requirements rests with the FSA and responsibility for nutrition labelling lies with the Welsh Assembly Government. Advertising of food is additionally regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority. Other consumer protection legislation is also relevant to the sale of food, including the Consumer Protection against Unfair Commercial Practices regulation.

Appendix 2: community buying

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Community buying is when consumers group together to buy goods or services in bulk.

This can make things cheaper, as buying in larger volumes usually means better deals and lower prices.

Community buying also helps people who don’t have access to transport and can’t get to bigger stores selling at the best prices. It can also be useful for people who don’t like buying on the internet or can’t afford to pay delivery costs.

There are more than 100 community buying schemes in the UK. They include:

  • Parkwood Estate shop, Kent - local residents have got together to bulk buy things like nappies, wet wipes and washing powder, saving up to 29% on some items
  • Brighter Living Partnership, Sefton, Merseyside - the partnership supplies food co-operatives in Sefton with fruit and vegetables
  • Oxford Rural Community Council oil buying scheme - runs a bulk oil buying scheme with more than 500 members across 20 counties, who save up to 10% on their oil
  • Smarterbuys - the Buy Better Together Challenge winner, Smarterbuys is using its prize money to develop its work and spread awareness of its service helping people with affordable loans
  • Fair Food Carlisle - second in the Buy Better Together Challenge, FFC provides workplaces in the Carlisle area with a weekly supply of locally-grown produce

Our evaluation of the Buy Better Together Challenge – jointly run by BIS and Co-operatives UK – shows it has encouraged existing collective purchasing schemes and successfully started new schemes.

After the Challenge ended in November 2012, this policy was taken forward by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) through the Cheaper Energy Together fund. This supported the development of innovative collective switching schemes for energy, where consumers group together to negotiate a better deal with their gas and electricity suppliers. £5 million of funds was awarded to 31 projects, covering 94 local councils and 8 voluntary or non-profit organisations in Great Britain.

Encouraging community buying is an essential part of the Community Energy Strategy announced by DECC on 27 January 2014. There will be a new community energy saving competition that will offer £100,000 to communities to develop innovative approaches to saving energy and money. Details will be announced when the competition is launched later in 2014, and may include collective switching schemes for gas and electricity or collective buying schemes for fuel, as well as projects to help communities use less energy.

If you’d like to know more about setting up or running a scheme, our Guide for community buying groups has all the information you need.

Appendix 3: implementing the Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) was passed by the EU in October 2011. The CRD came into force in all EU member states in 2014. The CRD aims to simplify consumer rights in certain important areas, mostly relating to buying and selling.

Before you buy:

  • consumers should get clear and comprehensive information before they buy: this also applies to ‘distance selling’ – selling over the phone or the internet and to purchases where a trader visits the consumer at home

While you’re buying:

After you buy:

  • where you’ve bought remotely (on the internet, by phone) or at home, you should be given the information, including total costs, in writing, and if you have cancellation rights, should be given a cancellation form

  • if you’ve bought away from a trader’s place of business - over the internet, or in your own home for example – you get the right to an increased ‘cooling off period’ of 14 days after buying

  • where the seller offers a helpline number, you should not be obliged to pay more than the basic rate to contact them about something you have bought

Additional payments:

  • no additional payments unless the consumer expressly agrees to them, which means that boxes authorising additional payments should not already be ticked for you

As this is an EU directive, intended to align and simplify rules across all member states, member states don’t have much flexibility on how they should put it into law in their own country.

The government consulted on the areas where we do have flexibility. The consultation on implementation of the CRD closed on 1 November 2012.

We then published a response to the consultation with detailed proposals on implementing the directive and asked for comments on our draft regulations by 11 October 2013. We also updated the impact assessment in light of these comments. Business have had to comply with these regulations from 13 June 2014.

Further information for business is available at the Trading Standards Institute guidance for business or contact your local trading standards. Free help and advice is also available through the Business Support helpline. Consumers can get further help through Citizens Advice.

These regulations are part of a wider, fundamental reform of consumer law, including the draft Consumer Rights Bill, which aims to make consumers better informed and better protected when they’re buying.

Appendix 4: personal data

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The midata project works with businesses to give consumers better access to the electronic personal data that companies hold about them.

It also aims to give consumers greater control of their data.

Giving people greater access to electronic records of their past buying and spending habits can help them to make better buying choices. For example, data that a phone company holds about your mobile use may help you choose a new tariff.

midata aims to:

  • get more private sector businesses to release personal data to consumers electronically
  • make sure consumers can access their own data securely
  • encourage businesses to develop applications (apps) that will help consumers make effective use of their data

Some of the UK’s biggest companies are already working with us on the project. These include Google, British Gas, Lloyds TSB and O2.

We’re also working with regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office, OfCom and OfGem, and consumer bodies such as Citizens Advice and Which?

Using the law

Following a public consultation we announced in November 2012 that we’d use the law to compel businesses to release consumers’ electronic personal data if they didn’t do it voluntarily.

The power to do this was approved by Parliament through the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013.

As a start, we’re looking for voluntary progress from 3 major sectors:

  • banking (current accounts and credit cards)
  • mobile phone companies
  • energy companies

Following a review of the midata voluntary programme, the government has concluded that for now there is not a strong objective case for using powers under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 to require companies to release data. We have committed to reviewing the situation again.

Appendix 5: giving more power to consumers

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

‘Better choices: better deals. Report on progress on the consumer empowerment strategy’ sets out the progress we’ve made on our commitments since we published ‘Better choices: better deals’ in April 2011.

In June 2014 we published the results of a survey on Consumer Engagement and Detriment that showed that the vast majority of UK consumers feel confident (92%) and knowledgeable (87%) when choosing and buying goods and services – significantly higher than the European averages (72% and 63% respectively).

However, the research found that consumers could be losing out by not making claims to which they are entitled: for example, two-thirds are unaware they have the right to have a fridge that breaks down after 18 months repaired or replaced for free, even if they do not have an extended guarantee.

Black and minority ethnic consumers in particular were found to know the least about their rights and were less likely to speak to a consumer organisation such as Citizens Advice or Which? if they encounter a problem. They are also significantly less likely to consider switching a utility provider (45%) compared to (58%) of other consumers.

Other key survey findings include:

  • more than 9 out of 10 consumers agree that they are confident and savvy customers and carefully weigh up the features and price to make an informed decision
  • some 55% of consumers have considered switching one or more suppliers across the services surveyed – this includes 27% of energy customers and 27% of car insurance customers
  • over a third of consumers have actually switched supplier for one or more of these services in the last 12 months

Other work we’ve been pursuing includes:

  • urging companies to give consumers better access to their own personal data and taking a power to regulate, if necessary, following a review of the midata programme
  • promoting community buying and collaborative consumption through running the Buy Better Together Challenge
  • encouraging other forms of collaborative consumption, including schemes such as car or bike sharing programmes
  • through partner organisations, helping vulnerable consumers to get access to essential goods and services
  • innovative ways of helping the vulnerable, looking across government departments, as well as in the voluntary sector and business
  • encouraging the take-up of British Standard 18477 which supports business efforts to identify and respond to the needs of vulnerable consumers
  • persuading businesses to come up with deals that don’t discriminate against the less well-off

See also the Consumer empowerment survey, which examines how and why different types of consumer decide on major purchases or choose a utility provider. It also gives us a better understanding of their shopping habits.

Appendix 6: misleading and aggressive selling

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Misleading selling

Misleading selling is when a seller or manufacturer doesn’t tell you the truth about something you’re buying. For example, a mobile phone shop assistant tells you a network’s coverage is good in your area, but when you take out a contract you find out it’s actually poor.

Aggressive selling

Aggressive selling is when a seller pressures you into buying something you don’t want. This could happen when, for example, a seller refuses to leave your home unless you buy their product.

If you think you have been misleadingly or aggressively sold something, please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0845 4 04 05 05.

Misleading and aggressive practices are already against the law. Even so, we recognise that it’s difficult for a private consumer to get compensation when they’ve been missold a product in this way.

We have published the final response to the proposals we made following recommendations received from the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission. The final regulations introduce new rights for consumers to seek redress when they have been the victims of these practices. They came into force on 1 October 2014. We have published guidance for business and consumers on the new rights.

Appendix 7: consumer and competition landscape

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Consumer landscape

The ‘consumer landscape’ is the network of organisations in the UK that provides advice and help to consumers and enforces consumer law. The network includes:

Our reorganisation of the network is making it easier for people and businesses to get the information and support they need. Prosecution of traders who break the law is also quicker and more effective.

These organisations also work together as the ‘Consumer Protection Partnership’. Its role is to identify, prioritise and co-ordinate joint action to deal with the issues causing greatest harm to consumers. By working together the partners can make sure important issues do not fall between the gaps in the network.

National Trading Standards

National Trading Standards (NTS) prioritises national and cross local authority boundary enforcement in England and Wales. This makes sure that Trading Standards can deal with complex criminal activity more effectively. NTS provides national enforcement services including the Illegal Money Lending Teams and Scambuster Teams. In Scotland, Trading Standards Scotland provides cross-boundary and national consumer enforcement.

Citizens Advice service

The Citizens Advice service provides a Consumer Service Helpline 03454 04 05 06. It also provides online information and advice about consumer rights through its Adviceguide website. The Citizens Advice service is the recognised national ‘consumer advocate’ for all general consumer issues and those in the regulated gas, electricity and postal sectors. This means that it speaks up for and highlights issues on behalf of consumers. The service also has responsibility for educating consumers about their rights.

General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland

The General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland provides ‘advocacy’ for consumers in Northern Ireland. This means that it speaks up for and highlights issues on behalf of consumers. The service also has responsibility for educating consumers about their rights. This includes postal issues in Northern Ireland, although postal services policy remains the responsibility of the UK government.

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute (TSI) manages the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme. This scheme is an important way to provide protection to consumers. It improves standards of customer services without placing unnecessary regulatory burdens on business. TSI is also responsible for providing business-facing education guidance on consumer issues. The guidance offers a practical explanation of legal requirements and how businesses can comply and understand their duties under consumer law.

Competition landscape

We’ve reformed some of the institutions that deal with competition and anti-competitive activities in business.

These institutions are known as the ‘competition landscape’. They included the Office of Fair Trading, the Competition Commission and the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT). We replaced the first 2 with the Competition and Markets Authority in April 2014.

We have combined the 2 authorities to:

  • make decision-making quicker and more effective
  • help competition authorities make best use of their resources to deal with the most uncompetitive practices
  • improve speed and predictability for business

As a single body, the CMA makes better use of public money. Businesses also find it easier to deal with just one agency.


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 our 3 aims to:

  • reduce the complexity of the consumer landscape
  • increase the effectiveness of consumer enforcement
  • improve cost-effectiveness and move resources closer to the point of contact with consumers

In April 2012, we published our ideas for reforming both the consumer and the competition landscape. This included transferring the main responsibility for consumer advice to the Citizens Advice service. It also included giving Trading Standards the lead in consumer enforcement. The reforms were completed in April 2014.

Appendix 8: Consumer Rights Act 2015

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Consumer law is changing in 2015, as the Consumer Rights Act and the Alternative Dispute Resolution Directive come into force.

On 27 May 2015, some new rules contained in Part 3 of the Consumer Rights Act come into force. These are:

  • all letting agents in England will be required to publicise a full tariff of their fees
  • additional requirements on those selling tickets via secondary ticketing channels

Other major changes in the Consumer Rights Act come into force in October 2015. They will cover:

  • what should happen when goods are faulty
  • unfair terms in a contract
  • what happens when a business is acting in a way which isn’t competitive
  • written notice for routine inspections to be given by public enforcers, such as Trading Standards
  • greater flexibility for public enforcers to respond to breaches of consumer law, such as seeking redress for consumers who have suffered harm

As well as these changes there are 2 new areas of law covering:

  • what should happen when digital content (eg online films, games, e-books) is faulty - the act now gives consumers a clear right to repair or replacement
  • how services should match up to what has been agreed, and what should happen when they do not or when they are not provided with reasonable care and skill (eg giving some money back if it is not practical to bring the service into line with what was agreed)

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 stands alongside the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and the Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (which amend the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008) to create a greatly simplified body of consumer law. Taken together, they set out the basic rules which govern how consumers buy and businesses sell to them in the UK.

If you are a business, you can find more information and guidance at the Trading Standards Institute’s Business Companion. Each guidance document provides helpful ‘point of sale’ information - simple wording which can be displayed to help staff and customers understand the new rights.

If you would like to speak to someone about the changes, call the Business Support Helpline.

If you are a consumer, find out more at Citizen’s Advice.

Appendix 9: settling consumer disputes

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Alternative dispute resolution for consumers

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) refers to ways of resolving disputes between consumers and traders that don’t involve going to court.

Common forms of ADR are:

  • mediation, where an independent third party helps the disputing parties to come to a mutually acceptable outcome
  • arbitration, where an independent third party considers the facts and takes a decision that’s often binding on one or both parties

The European Directive on alternative dispute resolution, which comes into force in July 2015, requires all EU countries to have ADR available for consumer disputes. It also requires ADR providers to meet certain standards.

Better ADR and easier access to it will be good for all businesses committed to giving their customers the best possible service.

In the UK, there are already several large and well-established ADR schemes in regulated sectors. These include:

  • financial services
  • energy
  • telecoms

Outside the regulated sectors, many businesses are members of voluntary ADR schemes. From July 2015, the number of traders taking part in ADR schemes is likely to increase as the obligation on them to direct consumers to a certified ADR scheme (where a dispute cannot be solved in-house) becomes law.

We will be implementing the Directive through 2 sets of regulations, the first of which was laid before Parliament on 17 March 2015. These regulations set up the competent authorities who will certify ADR schemes, as well as setting out the standards which ADR providers must meet in order to be certified. The second set of regulations will be laid by the summer of 2015.

In the regulated sectors the regulators (for example Ofgem, the FCA and CAA) will act as the competent authority. In all other areas the Secretary of State will act as the generic competent authority. The Secretary of State has appointed the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) to carry these functions on his behalf.

As consumers are increasingly active online, including across national boundaries, we will put the regulation on online dispute resolution into UK law by early January 2016.