Published 14 November 2013 | Standard notes SN06588
In the UK, consumer law has developed piecemeal over the last thirty years. It is the Government’s view that consumer law is now unnecessarily complex, ambiguous in places and has not kept up with technological developments. There are also overlaps and inconsistencies between EU and pre-existing UK legislation. As a result, consumers and businesses find it difficult to understand their legal rights and obligations. This potentially undermines competitiveness and growth in the economy as a whole.
The Government published its consumer strategy in April 2011, ‘Better Choices: Better Deals – Consumers Powering Growth’. The aim is to create a simple, modern framework of consumer law across all sectors. To this end, a series of consultation documents were published in autumn 2012. The draft Consumer Rights Bill (CRB) was published on 12 June 2013. If implemented, it will represent the biggest overhaul of consumer law for decades.
The draft CRB sets out a framework that consolidates in one place key consumer rights covering contracts for goods, services, digital content and the law relating to unfair terms in consumer contracts. In addition, the Bill consolidates enforcers’ powers to investigate potential breaches of consumer law, clarifies that certain enforcers (such as Trading Standards officers) can operate over local authority boundaries, and gives enforcers greater flexibility in the action they can take when dealing with breaches of consumer law. The Bill also introduces easier routes for consumers and (SMEs) to challenge anti-competitive behaviour through the Competition Appeal Tribunal (‘CAT’). Parliament will consider this draft Bill as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny process.
Alongside these developments, a new EU Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU) must be implemented in the UK by December 2013. Draft regulations to implement the Directive were published on 6 August 2013; the draft Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013. On the same day, draft regulations to reform the law on misleading and aggressive practices by traders were also published; the draft Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading (Amendment) Regulations 2013.
The purpose of this note is to look in detail at the draft CRB. In the process it provides an outline of the existing consumer law regime and why it is thought to be unfit for purpose. A separate Library standard note (SN/HA/6608) considers in detail the EU Consumer Rights Directive.