The new Consumer Rights Bill: what you need to know

Under new rules, claiming a refund or repair will be a lot easier and simpler.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson has unveiled draft changes to the Consumer Rights Bill to make it easier and clearer for both customers and businesses to sort out disputes.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
The existing eight pieces of legislation will be simplified into one bill.

Under the draft plans, it will be easier for customers to claim a refund or repair when buying goods and services and for the first time digital content will be covered.

The changes
If a customer buys a faulty product and it's fixed but then fails again, they will now have the right to either get it repaired one more time, or claim back some money on the item.

This also applies to service contracts, such as when a painter decorates your house or a plumber fixes the tap. If the service is not carried out properly, the customer can demand the work is fixed or ask for a partial refund. With these contracts, if something has been agreed verbally instead of in writing it will also count – however Swinson did advise keeping as much as possible in writing to make any disputes easier to resolve.

There will be a 30-day fixed period introduced when customers can return goods to a shop which are faulty and get a full refund – a change from the current murky definition of a "reasonable period" which typically means 14 days.

Digital content is also covered under the new bill. Swinson said the law is silent in this area at the moment and the proposed plans will allow customers to claim refunds and repairs on faulty downloaded goods.

This covers anything downloaded digitally, such as films, apps and software, and if the programme doesn't work properly it should be replaced or repaired at no expense to the customer.

The new plans, first announced in the Queen's Speech in May, still need to go through parliament so they won't be cemented in law until next year.

Help for businesses
Businesses will benefit from the draft bill because trading standards officers will now need to give "reasonable notice" when carrying out inspections.

The terms and conditions of any kind of business also need to be clearly laid out in a contract, and not buried the small print. This includes the cost and any cancellation terms for contracts, such as when someone signs up to a gym.

More details, along with relevant examples, can be found on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website.

Existing customer protection rights
Along with the changes outlined today, there are other forms of existing legislation which provide some protection.

Section 74 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 gives shoppers protection if they use a credit card to buy products which cost between £100 and £30,000. This also includes partial purchases on a card, such as a £1 deposit on a credit card and £99 paid in cash.

You can find out more about this in our article The benefits of using a credit card.

There's also the Sale of Goods Act, which covers new and second-hand goods. This act can be used to get a repair or replacement if you buy something which isn't up to scratch or breaks down in the first six months. For more information see The Sale of Goods Act: your consumer rights.

Then there are the Distance Selling Rules which apply to items bought online. These give you a seven-day cooling off period if you buy something and change your mind, meaning you should be able to cancel an order and receive a full refund.

For a full list of your rights check out our piece Your rights if you change your mind.

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The new Consumer Rights Bill: what you need to know

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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