The most important consumer protection laws remain: goods must be of satisfactory quality, they must be fit for purpose, and they must match any descriptions or samples given to customers. So what’s new?
Goods must also match any model seen or examined by the customer. You aren’t tied into this, however. If there are differences between the goods you will sell to the customer and the “model”, as long as you have made the customer aware of those differences, all will be well.
Next up is a provision relating to the installation of goods. If, as part of the same contract, the goods are to be installed, they must be installed correctly or the goods will be treated by law as not conforming with the contract.
The third new provision in this category relates to digital content. If goods include digital content, that content must conform to the contract just as much as the goods themselves. If not, the goods will not conform in the eyes of the law.
Finally, where you are required to provide pre-contract information to a customer (such as that required under the Consumer Contracts Regulations), that information is automatically treated as implied terms in the sale contract – terms with which your goods must comply.
In essence, then, these new requirements simply extend the existing protection given to customers, ensuring that the goods sold to them are of suitable quality. From a trader’s perspective, then, nothing at all to worry about!
In an ideal world, goods would always be exactly right, free of any faults, and customers would always be happy with their purchases. In reality, of course, things sometimes go wrong.
At present, customers have “a reasonable time” within which to reject goods if they aren’t up to scratch. The Consumer Rights Act stamps a 30-day deadline on this right. You can extend it if you wish, but unless the goods are perishable and would be expected to have perished after a shorter period, the deadline cannot be shortened. By putting a specific time period on the right, the Act should remove a lot of uncertainty over what exactly “reasonable” means.
Next come the so-called “tiered remedies”: the customer has the right to a repair or replacement. If the customer requests or agrees to a repair or replacement during the 30-day short-term rejection period, the 30 days stops running while the customer waits for you to repair or replace the goods. Once the customer has received the repaired or replaced goods, the short-term right to reject lasts for at least another 7 days or, if the time remaining on the original period is longer, that longer period (as extended by the time taken to repair or replace the goods). An important new proviso is that you have one opportunity to repair the goods or to issue one replacement. After that, if things still aren’t right, or if a repair or replacement is impossible, it’s onward to the next tier: price reduction or the final right to reject (after the first six months, subject to some limited exceptions allowing deductions within the first six, the final right to reject may be subject to deductions for any use or enjoyment the customer has had out of the goods).
As for the burden of proof, the situation under the Consumer Rights Act is unchanged: within the first six months after purchase, the assumption is that the problem existed at the start. After the first six months, the customer must prove that the problem existed at the start.
Although the main bases are covered here, do keep in mind that this is only an overview. This is a blog, after all, not legal advice!
A few other key provisions to keep in mind will already be familiar to those distance and doorstep sellers among you, derived as they are from the Consumer Contracts Regulations: By default, unless you have agreed otherwise with the customer, goods should be delivered within 30 days. The risk in those goods will remain with your good self until they come into the customer’s physical possession (or that of someone else identified by the customer).
So – in a nutshell – there you have it. After reading this no trader should be worrying that business is about to become any more burdensome. Much of the Consumer Rights Act focuses on consolidation and clarification. That said it is important to make sure that you understand your obligations and your customers’ rights and how they will change in October.
As for your documents, we’re on the case. Our templates are being updated right now to help you to comply with the Consumer Rights Act, giving customers helpful pointers on their rights and giving you a structure that should help you to play nice with the rules.
In our next blog we’ll be looking at the services provisions of the Consumer Rights Act. In the meantime, we want to hear from you. How do you feel about the new Act? What are you doing as a trader to prepare? Join us in the comments for a chat!