Changes to the Consumer Rights Act: What do they mean for me?
With the dust now having settled on the high-profile Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduction, businesses and sole traders are starting to get a clearer picture of what they can expect from it. The update, which was hailed by consumer champion Which? as the "biggest shake up in consumer rights law in a generation", was aimed at simplifying, strengthening and modernising consumer law.
Before going any further, it's worth pointing out that the aforementioned simplification aspect is beyond question. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 wrapped up the former Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations, and the Supply of Goods and Services Act into one handy piece of legislation. But what else was included?
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 has not only amended previous laws but stipulated new ones as well. Amongst the new additions are a set figure placed on the maximum length of time a consumer can be left waiting before getting a refund: 30 days. Whilst this was best practice previously, no exact figure had been set.
Elsewhere, the Act addressed faulty goods that had undergone failed repairs. In the case of a consumer buying an item that turns out to be faulty, if the retailer has failed to replace or repair it, the consumer is within their rights to ask for a refund or price reduction.
Retailers are also no longer permitted to deduct a certain percentage off any money they refund within six months of the purchase date. The only exception here is with motor vehicles, where some deduction is permitted, to allow for the use a consumer has had from their purchase over the past weeks or months.
Entering the digital age
Online shopping is bigger than ever before, something that needed to be reflected in consumer law. This was the reason why much of the Act focused on digital sales. Of course, this doesn't just concern physical goods that are sold online, but also digital ones, such as software downloads or MP3s. There is also the issue of part-digital items, such as smart TVs which are physical objects but have a WiFi connection and numerous apps as well. For such items, it's not just the physical products that could fail, but the software as well.
Therefore, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 now states that goods - whether physical, digital, or even both - must be:
• of satisfactory quality - neither faulty nor damaged upon receipt
• fit for purpose, which includes any purpose revealed to the seller before purchase
• as described - matching any product descriptions offered
The six-month deadline
There are two figures to bear in mind when it comes to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, 30 (days) and six (months). As mentioned previously, any faults that emerge within 30 days of receipt enable the consumer to reject the goods and obtain a full refund.
Between 30 days and six months, there's a minor change. Faults discovered during this time are presumed to have been there all along, meaning that the onus is on the seller to prove otherwise. If the seller is unable to prove that a fault emerged from the ways in which the product was used (or misused), the buyer is entitled to return the product for a full refund, or keep it but arrange a price reduction.
After six months, the burden of proof shifts across to the consumer. It's likely the service of a neutral professional would be called upon to judge which party is responsible - buyer or seller. Otherwise, information on the wider product range - if there's a known fault or recall, for example - will be considered.
In total, a consumer has six years in which to take their case to the small claims court. This doesn't mean an item should be expected to last the six years, though, just that this is the grace period offered.
What should I do to keep on the right side of the law?
For all the panic-inducing headlines and talk of a retail revolution, many businesses are now seeing that the Consumer Rights Act 2015 maybe shouldn't be as feared as first thought. Whilst there are new considerations and the goalposts have been moved slightly, everything is at least much clearer now than it was previously.
The amalgamation of three previous pieces of legislation into one makes it easier for retailers to find all the information they need in one place. It has also been updated to remove any grey areas persisting around the sale of digital products. It really is the better the devil you know.
In terms of protecting a company and its reputation against falling foul of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, everything is standard business practice to which retailers should already be adhering. For example, making sure products are shipped in protective packaging and with a reputable courier service will mean that faults are less likely to emerge in transit. Likewise, businesses should endeavour to only stock high quality products that have been thoroughly tested against industry benchmarks.
'Stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap' might have worked in the past, but today's information-rich environment, where a better understanding of rights and regulations are just a click away, means retailers shouldn't run the risk. Good products that are as described and packaged well should be all a retailer needs to best protect themselves from wandering unwittingly onto the wrong side of the law.
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