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What is consumer protection?

Consumer protection is about treating customers fairly and honestly. Here are the most important things you need to know about your consumer protection responsibilities.

How do the consumer protection regulations affect my business?

The regulations apply to every business that deals with consumers.

If you treat your customers fairly and honestly you’ve nothing to worry about. But if you don’t comply with the law you can be investigated by the local trading standards service and by other official bodies.

These investigations can lead to prosecutions and fines, and of course damage to your reputation and loss of customers.

Be aware that even if you have specific terms and conditions for your business, these will be outranked by your consumers’ statutory rights. 

What sorts of activities are unlawful?

The consumer protection regulations ban three types of activities.

  1. Conduct that is not ‘honest market practice’ or not in ‘good faith’
  2. Misleading activity, such as giving false or deceptive messages or leaving out important information, e.g. having hidden fees or charges
  3. Aggressive sales techniques that use ‘harassment, coercion or undue influence’.

In addition the regulations also ban 31 specific practices (see the next section for examples). 

My customers are other businesses so how much of this applies to me?

Selling to other businesses is not covered by consumer protection regulations, but there are rules about sales and marketing to other businesses:

 

What ‘specific practices’ are banned under the consumer protection regulations?

Here are examples of banned practices:

  • Having fake credentials, displaying a trust / quality mark without permission, or claiming an endorsement / authorisation that you don’t have. E.g a gas boiler servicing business claims its engineers are properly registered when in reality they are not
  • Using ‘bait advertising’. E.g advertising products that you don’t have in order to entice customers in the hope that they will buy other products from you
  • Trying to pressurise a customer into buying something by falsely saying that it’s only available at a certain price for a very limited time
  • Using scare tactics, such as exaggerating the risk to customers if they don’t buy a product
  • Faking goods. E.g deliberately packaging a product so that it closely resembles that of a market leading competitor in order to mislead customers into buying what they think is the leading product
  • Pulling the wool over a customer’s eyes. E.g trying to get someone to make a purchase at a time when market conditions are less favourable than usual
  • Claiming something is ‘free’ when in fact to claim it will cost the customer more than the unavoidable cost of the phone call, text, etc.

See Next Steps below for where to find details of all 31 banned activities.

What rights do my customers have regarding goods?

If you sell goods to consumers, here are some key rights your customers have.

  • Bottom line

    Your goods must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match any descriptions and samples you provide.

  • Unsatisfactory goods

    Consumers can reject unsatisfactory goods within 30 days and receive a full refund (shorter periods apply to perishable goods). But customers are not entitled to a refund just because they change their mind – unless of course you offer this as part of your own terms and conditions.

  • After 30 days

    If a fault occurs in the first six months you must repair or replace the goods. You have only one chance: after that, if a problem re-occurs or a new fault develops, your customer can return the item for a full refund or ask for a price discount.

  • Delivery

    You must deliver goods within 30 days unless the customer agrees otherwise before placing their order.

Quiz: What rights do my customers have regarding goods they order from their home?

If goods are faulty you must give a full refund up to 30 days after purchase.

If goods prove to be faulty up to one year after purchase and they can’t be repaired or replaced, the customer is entitled to a full refund in most cases.

What rights do my customer have regarding services?

You might provide services – for example car repair, plumbing, landscaping, hairdressing, architect services, accountancy, etc – as distinct from providing goods, or as well as providing goods. If you do provide services, according to law, for all jobs, from small repairs with no written details, to large projects with detailed specifications, you’ve entered into a ‘contract’, even if no written contract exists. You must perform the contract: 

  • With reasonable care and skill
  • Within a reasonable time
  • At a reasonable price.

If you don’t do the above, or you fail to provide services that match what you’ve said you’ll do, your customer can ask you to perform the service again. If you don’t perform the service again within a reasonable time, or it’s not possible to repeat it, your customer can ask for a price reduction of up to 100%.

What else do I need to be aware of if I’m involved in distance selling – online or over the phone?

You will also need to be aware of the following:

  • If your business uses telephone selling to consumers, ensure that the people you’re calling are not registered with the Telephone Preference Service. If they are, this means that they’ve opted out of receiving marketing telephone calls so you should not call them
  • Be aware that it’s not just consumers who may be TPS registered. There’s also a Corporate TPS for businesses who don’t want to receive unsolicited calls, so make sure you don’t call these either
  • If you do call people or businesses who are registered you could end up getting into hot water with the Information Commissioner
  • If you’re selling online you need to thoroughly familiarise yourself with the E-Commerce Regulations. These have extensive provisions, ranging from the information you need to provide about your business – for example the types of contact details you need to show – through regulations on pricing policies, to rules about contracts, advertising, and email
  • Be aware that if you’re selling internationally local laws may apply. For example, customers may be covered by their local consumer protection laws. 
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