Emma Parris: New law is welcome present for shoppers

Tightening up of consumers' rights will help shoppers of all ages in run-up to Christmas. Picture: Jane Barlow
Tightening up of consumers' rights will help shoppers of all ages in run-up to Christmas. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Improvements to consumer rights legislation make it clear where everyone stands, writes Emma Parris

MOST of the main stores now set up their Christmas stalls long before Halloween and the pressure on parents to buy just the right gift for their children becomes that bit greater.

However, whatever the pressures, whatever the cost, the good news is that things have just got a little easier for shoppers.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015, which sees the biggest change in consumer law for some time, changes the rules relating to the supply of goods, services and digital content for all contracts made after 1 October and has been designed to bring together, improve and update existing consumer law.

Under this new act, the familiar terms implied in contracts for the sale of goods or services – “fitness for purpose”, “satisfactory quality” and “goods corresponding with description” – all still remain.

However, whether shopping in the high street or online, certain rules will now apply which are intended to make it easier for the consumer to understand and to use those rules, whatever the purchase.

For example, new protection measures have been introduced which will allow consumers to obtain a full refund for faulty goods for a period of 30 days after their purchase.

Interestingly, this is the first time that a timeframe has been specified in which a consumer can reject faulty goods and obtain a full refund.

Previously, consumers were only entitled to refunds within a “reasonable time”, which led to a great deal of uncertainty amongst consumers and retailers alike.

The cost of returning any faulty goods must also be borne by the retailer, unless these are returned in person to the store from where they were purchased, making the need for the consumer to retain receipt and proof of postage for any returned goods all the greater.

Not surprisingly, the 30-day limit does not apply to perishable goods, such as fresh produce.

In such cases, the right to reject perishable goods lasts only as long as it would be reasonable to expect these goods to last. The “use by” or “best before” dates are therefore likely to be useful guides.

If faulty goods are not rejected within 30 days, the retailer is allowed only one attempt to repair or replace them.

Under previous legislation, there was no specific limit on the number of attempts that could be made by a retailer to try to repair or replace the goods, a situation which could again cause confusion for consumers.

This means that a retailer can no longer insist upon several attempts to repair, for example, a faulty computer.

If the repair is unsuccessful, or if the replacement has the same fault as the original item, a consumer can then request a full refund, or alternatively a reduction in the price, if they choose to keep the goods.

If the consumer obtains a refund within the first six months of purchasing the goods, a full refund of the purchase price must be given.

However, after six months the retailer is entitled to make a deduction for the use of the goods.

The only exception to this is in relation to cars and other motor vehicles, where a reasonable reduction may, in fact, be made by the retailer for the use that a consumer may have had of the vehicle within the first six months of purchase.

The act also sets out certain rights, which a consumer is entitled to, in relation to faulty digital content. Again, this is the first time such rights have been set out in legislation. The law was previously unclear and was in much need of an update to reflect the ever-increasing use of digital technology.

If digital content is faulty, a consumer has the right to a repair or a replacement rather than a refund. Digital content is specified as goods, which are produced and supplied in digital form, such as music and film downloads, e-books, apps and games.

In summary, the new act provides a useful update to consumer law, which has undoubtedly been strengthened by these new rights.

It could be said that there is little that the act can do to relieve the pressure on parents to buy the latest game or toy for their children in the lead-up to Christmas; however, perhaps it could now be argued that the new act has allowed the after-sales communications to be just a little more palatable.

l Emma Parris is a Litigation Associate with Russel + Aitken LLP.

www.russelaitken.com