New consumer rights Bill welcomed

​Consumer groups have broadly welcomed a draft Bill to simplify customers' rights in a move to promote competition and growth.

Ministers believe reforming legislation will save the economy around £4 billion over 10 years in more effective protection and better understanding of consumer rights.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
The Bill would consolidate consumer rights, currently split between eight pieces of legislation, into one place. It will cover goods, services, digital content and unfair contract terms and consolidate over 60 pieces of legislation on trading standards' powers to investigate beaches of consumer law into one piece of legislation.

Ministers believe businesses will benefit from faster resolution of complaints as they would spend less time and money dealing with them.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "This is a welcome step towards ensuring that we have consumer laws fit for the 21st century. This Bill is about making it easier for people to understand their rights and giving consumers power to challenge bad practice. It should also mean that both consumers and regulators have the tools they need to challenge unscrupulous businesses that breach the law.

"There are many welcome proposals in this Bill, including extending the power of collective redress in competition cases and reforming the law on unfair terms and conditions. We urge the Government to go further and to extend civil remedy powers to allow private enforcement bodies, like Which?, to take action against rogue companies and force them to put things right for consumers."

British Retail Consortium director general Helen Dickinson said: "We'll need to see the detail when it's published but we've supported this Bill throughout its development because it should reduce disputes by providing more certainty over rights for the customers who benefit from them and the businesses who deliver them.

"As part of competing for business, retailers often offer customers much more than minimum legal consumer rights. That won't change, but, based on our discussion with the Government, we believe this legislation will modernise sale of goods law in several important areas including time limits for returns and rights over buying digital content.

"Allowing collective redress on consumer protection issues where cases are brought by public enforcement bodies and have to be proved in court is the right approach.

"Allowing private actions would risk marginal or speculative cases creating big costs even where no wrongdoing was found. It's a shame the Bill is likely to allow such private actions on competition issues."

10 consumer rights you should know
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New consumer rights Bill welcomed

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.

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