Are there any upcoming consumer law changes I should be aware of?

The Government has just finished consulting on a package of measures to clarify existing consumer law. Andrew Shufflebotham, head of retail at law firm Addleshaw Goddard, says that many consider the current framework no longer fit for purpose, and that retailers will benefit from the increased clarity, even though the proposed provisions are mostly consumer oriented.

The Consumer Rights Directive will apply to contracts concluded after June 2014. Most of the directive is mandatory, so the Government was only consulting on areas where there is flexibility – the consultation closed on November 1.

The directive focuses on transparency, requiring clear pre-contractual information including on costs and delivery, in relation to distance and doorstep contracts. The directive also deals with cancellation rights for distance and off-premises contracts. Retailers should therefore review their processes and online terms and conditions.

The directive also prohibits excessive fees for contacting the retailer. Post-contract helplines can only be charged to consumers at basic rate. A separate consultation is currently looking at banning excessive charges for the use of credit and debit cards, ahead of June 2014.

The Law Commission is also consulting on a new approach to unfair terms in consumer contracts. If the proposals are implemented, firms will have to conduct a review of all terms and conditions to ensure they are transparent and prominent. “Not only the wording will matter, but also its presentation and prominence to the ‘average’ consumer,” says Shufflebotham.

He adds: “Retailers need to start preparing now to ensure they are fully compliant when the changes come into force.”