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New consumer laws with implications for online retailers come into force next month

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New consumer laws affecting businesses that sell both online and offline come into force next month, giving shoppers longer to return goods and the right to get a replacement when digital downloads don’t work.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 comes into force on October 1, and means businesses need to update their returns and complaints policies, check their terms and conditions comply with the new legislation and ensure staff understand the changes through training, says the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

Business Minister Nick Boles said: “I know that UK businesses care deeply about treating their customers well, because frankly, it makes business sense. That’s why we’re simplifying the law to make it easier for hardworking businesses to understand their responsibilities to customers and allowing consumers to shop with confidence.”

Key changes include a longer period for returns – consumers will have 30 days to return faulty goods and get a full refund. Consumers will also be able to get a repair or a replacement when digital content such as online films, games, music downloads and e-books are faulty.

Other changes include the right of consumers to challenge terms and conditions that are unfair or hidden in the small print, to demand substandard services are redone or to get a price reduction, and changes that make it easier for consumers and small businesses to get compensation when a business acts in an uncompetitive manner.

Businesses, meanwhile, will get written notice for routine inspections by public enforcers, such as Trading Standards.

From October, certified third party mediators, called Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) providers, will be available to all businesses to help when a dispute cannot be settled directly with the consumer. Previously the system, which promises a quicker and cheaper approach to disputes than court action, was only available within certain sectors. The system offers a quicker and cheaper way of resolving disputes than going through the courts. Once the internal complaint process is exhausted, businesses must give the consumer details of a certified ADR provider and tell the consumer if they are willing to use them. However, businesses do not have to use ADR unless they operate in a sector where existing legislation makes it mandatory such as financial services.

Free and easy to understand information is available online to help businesses get ready for the changes, including via the Business Companion website. Businesses can also speak directly to an advisor about the changes via the Business Support Helpline.

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