BERR seeks comments on proposed changes to UK consumer law

18 July 2008

Rhian Hill

The UK government has issued a request for comments on proposed changes to UK consumer law. Although there are a number of consumer protection measures already in place in the UK, the government wishes to simplify current legislation. Although the project is at an information gathering stage, these proposals could lead to far-reaching changes to UK consumer law.

The UK consumer protection law can be found in a number of pieces of legislation. The most recent addition is the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007, which implemented the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and came into force in May 2008. Despite recent individual measures to strengthen consumer protection laws, the UK Government has signalled that it wishes to review the consumer law regime.

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, BERR, has issued a call for evidence in relation to proposed changes to the current framework. Although the document states that the UK has a well-established and mature framework of consumer legislation,the current legislative framework is seen as complex and costly. The call for evidence seeks to address issues such as the fragmentation of legislation (i.e. that the legislation is focused across a number of different pieces of legislation), and how the legislation can better address e-commerce issues. The documentation also expresses the Government’s concern that the current legislation may not be suitable for vulnerable users, who may find the amount of information available threatening.

The document is focused on the desire to move to a more simplified legislative structure. The call for evidence advocates following the 2004 consultation on “Extending Competitive Markets: Empowered Customs, Successful Businesses”. This document proposed that legislation should set out general principles that are backed by supporting guidance. The proposal expands on this basic model suggesting that in each area there should be:

  • general principles;

  • supporting provisions; and

  • non-legislative additional provisions (in codes of conduct, guidance etc).

This type of approach has already been followed in the recent Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007. The call for evidence asks for specific comments on proposals for reform in six areas: supply of goods and services; cancellation rights; weights and measures; consumer credit; product safety; and unfair contract terms.

For example, in the area of unfair contract terms, the consultation asks whether the detailed regulation could be simplified by the use of high level principles, instead of detailed provision as seen in the current legislation.

The Code also considers the steps that should be taken to ensure consumer empowerment, and considers whether customers should be given targeted information instead of a large amount of general information. The guidance also seeks to ensure that interventions for misconduct should be targeted based on risk.

The call for evidence is open until 31 July 2008.