Consumer Protection in the UK

Consumer rights and protection laws provide a means for individuals to fight back against abusive business practices or traders.

Through the implementation of these laws, businesses can be held accountable for taking advantage of any unsuspecting customer who may not know the ropes.

Therefore, it’s crucial to understand your rights to know when something’s wrong.

What are my rights?

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, when exchanging in a purchase of goods or services, the customer and trader enter into a contract.

This contract honours the consumer’s ‘statutory rights’, meaning all goods are fully refundable/exchangeable should they not turn out to be:

  • Fit for purpose – items should fulfill the needs of the consumer; don’t let companies trick you with the phrase “there are no exchanges/refunds on sale items”. This breaches the act if the item/service is not fit for purpose.
  • Of satisfactory quality – items should not be faulty or damaged at the point of purchase or soon after. As long as you can prove this, addressing this should be a walk in the park. This could be anything from a photo, to showing the fault to the trader face to face.
  • As described – particularly relevant to online purchases, if an item turns out to be an inaccurate representation of what you’ve purchased, you are entitled to a price reduction or a repeat performance of the service.

If any of the above criteria are not met when purchasing a product or service, you are entitled to claim.

How to make a complaint

Making a complaint against a business can be a daunting prospect, but there are several ways of addressing the issue with the retailer.

Your rights are against the company that sold you the product/service, not the manufacturer, so any claim must be against the retailer only.

In some cases, a simple repair or replacement will be sufficient. In other cases, it may need to be taken further.

If you feel there are unfair terms (e.g. hidden charges or factors that try to limit your legal rights) which the retailer refuses or contests, we recommend you seek legal advice from The Insolvency Service.

Doing so will enable a thorough investigation into whether the company should be closed down or its directors disqualified.

A complaint will only be considered if you have grounds to prove the company is either:

  • Breaking the law – e.g. fraud.
  • Causing significant harm to others – e.g. suppliers or consumers.
  • Committing serious misconduct – if, for example, company assets are not being used correctly.
  • Showing significant irregularities in its affairs.

Will things change after Brexit?

Consumer protection in the United Kingdom is affected through a multitude of factors, from evolving Acts of Parliament to citizens’ lobby groups.

Brexit is just one of these factors.

If there is a deal negotiated, there will be an implementation period until December 2020 where your rights are reserved and will not change.

During this period, the UK will negotiate our economic partnership with the EU.

If there’s no Brexit deal, products and services supplied by EU-based companies may change how their consumer protection laws are applied to UK customers – although, currently the EU and UK consumer laws are very similar.

Countries may, however, adjust their consumer laws by offering different protections to EU customers versus non-EU customers.

This means it is less likely you will be able to use the UK court to appeal an EU business, and may need to go through the country’s courts instead.

Enforcing a UK judgement on an EU-based company will become much more difficult regardless.

It’s never been more important to check the terms and conditions and company policies to avoid getting caught out.

The policies of UK-based companies will remain the same, so your consumer rights will stay as they are for a lot of businesses in the UK.

Protecting your business

Regardless of whether things change, business owners need to be aware to take full ownership of complaints made towards their service and aim to resolve cases immediately.

Contesting this may result in the customer placing matters into the hands of The Insolvency Service.

Risking your business over consumer protection is not worth the repercussions of potential bankruptcy.

Whether you are a customer or a business owner, make sure you are aware of consumer rights in the UK and how they affect you or your company.

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Hudson Weir are a leading firm of London-based insolvency practitioners specialising in corporate insolvency.

Their team consists of chartered accountants with decades of experience in working with both large and small businesses, as well as individuals facing financial difficulties.