The Consumer Rights Act has been hailed as a more modern and fairer piece of legislation in the area of consumer law: The Law Gazette reported the Government’s announcement of the Act as the biggest overhaul of consumer law in a generation. The aim of the Act is to consolidate legislation and regulations from previous decades, such as the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977, and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999. In this article I will be discussing the previsions for electronic goods, unfair contract terms and the consolidation and modernisation of previous legislation.
The critics of the previous acts and regulations claimed they were outdated and could not be applied in the modern day. Therefore, it is crucial to note he most substantial overhaul of the consumer laws in the 2015 Act, which can be found in sections 33-47. These sections include the provisions concerning digital content. Digital content is defined in section 2 (9) of the Act as data and products which are produced and supplied in digital form, such as e-books, downloaded music and services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. Furthermore, there are provisions in sections 34,35 and 36 of the Act that stipulate the requirements for the standard of a digital product, stating it should be of satisfactory quality, fitness for purpose and according to its description. In addition in section 42-45, if the digital product is not of satisfactory quality, the consumer has a right to a repair or a replacement of the product, as well as a right to a price reduction or a refund. The above-mentioned provisions are of significance as consumers of digital content are now afforded the same level of protection as those consumers who purchase physical products. Thus, this is the first time in the UK that consumers of digital goods are afforded such a high level of protection.
Furthermore, this Act attempts to consolidate previous legislation and regulations into one easy to read and understand act. Comparing the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Consumer Rights Act 2015 there is a recognisable difference in their wording and structure. The new Act is more understandable and therefore has an improved informative and explanatory effect for consumers with regard to their rights under the current law. For example, right at the start of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 there is section 2 which is dedicated to providing key definitions in plain English, such as “Goods” is defined as “any tangible moveable items, but that includes water, gas and electricity if and only if they are put up for supply in a limited volume or set quantity”.
In addition, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 also made additions to the grey list,a list of unfair contract terms, which include: allowing disproportionate charges or consumer’s payment for services that have not been provided if the consumer ends the contract; allowing the trader to decide the characteristics of the subject matter of the contract after the consumer is bound; and/or allowing the trader to set the price after the consumer is bound, where no price or method of determining the price was set when the consumer was bound. The Telegraph reported on these additions to the grey list stating “the addition aims to ensure that tradesmen fitting kitchens and bathrooms or other work deliver the service and quality they promised”. The overall implication of the additions to the grey list is further protection for vulnerable consumers who could so eaily be taken advantage of.
Overall, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 has added an extra layer of protection for consumers with the additions to the grey list and a new definition of digital content. Furthermore, the Act itself is written in plain English, meaning the law is now clearer, easier to understand, and more accessbile to consumers, who can purchase with confidence, and businesses, which can sell with clarity. The Government reported that the Act is the biggest overhaul of consumer law for a generation and it would seem hard to disagree.