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Broad welcome for the Consumer Rights Bill, set to update the law in the light of online retailing

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Commentators have broadly welcomed the new consumer rights bill proposed in today’s Queen’s Speech, which is set to update customer rights in the light of online retailing.

The Consumer Bill of Rights, outlined in today’s speech, is intended to set out a clear code of shopping rights and simple, standard, remedies when things go wrong. The government today announced a consultation on the proposal, which aims to bring consumer law, much of which dates back 30 years, up to date in the light of online shopping and sales of digital goods over the internet.

The new bill, first opened for consultation last July, will, the Government said in an appendix to the Queen’s Speech, “Give consumers greater confidence when buying products, knowing their rights if things go wrong, switching suppliers or making purchases by telephone or internet,” and, “update the law to take account of purchases of digital content.”

It is expected to include the UK implementation of the EU Consumer Rights Directive, set to come into force in June 2014.

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium director-general, said: “UK retailers are global leaders online but coping with consumer rights rules that are different in every EU country is a barrier to growth. The single consumer rights regime for online trade across national borders, which this legislation brings in, will get us closer to a single digital market for the whole EU.

“That’ll make doing business simpler for UK retailers and open up new and growing markets, while customers across the continent will benefit from the extra competition, which encourages innovation and helps bring prices down.”

Stuart Padgham, partner and retail specialist at national law firm Thomas Eggar LLP, said the review was the biggest since the 1970s.

“The Consumer Rights Directive, which is expected to be implemented via the new Consumer Rights Bill, will mainly affect online sales,” he said. “Therefore, businesses with an online sales presence will need to ensure that both their legal terms and conditions and their overall sales process are aligned with the new requirements. To the extent that this requires changes to websites or changes in business processes (for example, in terms of handling cancellations), then businesses need to start their planning in good time in order to meet the June 13 2014 deadline.

“Whilst the codification of the UK’s consumers’ law isn’t expected to lead to material changes in the rights of actual consumers, the manner in which they are expressed and the way in which they can be enforced will change. Businesses need to ensure that their terms and conditions are in line with the new requirements and also that their key staff are aware of, and understand the changes, so that they can be in a position to deal effectively with consumers.

“Finally, the expected new regime for digital downloads is to be welcomed in concept – the courts have struggled for too long in trying to analyse them in traditional ‘is it goods or is it services’ terms and, perhaps, this is the start of a move to giving digital content its own separate treatment in other legal areas too.”

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