As a retailer, it’s worth understanding changes to legislation, says Sarah Riding

A radical change to consumer legislation came into force on 13 June 2014 and there’s another coming in on 1 October of this year. Both are the result of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. Since it’s introduction last year, more information must be provided to consumers prior to a purchase, and the level of detail required depends on the method of purchase.

For instore purchases, consumers must have access to the complaints handling policy and any aftercare or guarantee information. If consumers have the right to cancel, they must be provided with a cancellation form. Where goods and services are being sold online, a retailer must identify if they are acting on behalf of another trader and provide their contact details in addition to their own.

Cancellation rights have been strengthened, and the ‘cooling off’ period for consumers is now 14 calendar days after receipt of the goods. It is also important for retailers to be aware that following the introduction of the regulations, if a consumer exercises their statutory right to a refund, then it is the responsibility of the business to refund the price paid and the cost of the standard delivery charges. Refunds must be made to the consumer within 14 days of receipt of the returned goods, or receipt of evidence that the goods have been sent back.

Inertia selling is also covered in the legislation; consumers are protected from unsolicited sales or additional charges, which have not been agreed in advance. Employees and workers rank their entitlement to annual leave as one of the most important benefits that they receive. Employees are entitled to 5.6 weeks’ annual leave per year, which amounts to 28 days per year for those who work five days a week.

A part time worker’s allowance is reduced pro rata. Public holidays can count towards the worker’s entitlement to annual leave. An employer is free to offer more than statutory holiday; the extra holiday will be considered ‘contractual holiday entitlement’. There is no statutory right to bank or public holidays. However, if the contract says that staff are entitled to ‘28 days’ holiday plus bank or public holidays’ then employees are contractually entitled to take bank or public holidays off.

Part time workers who have a contractual right to bank or public holidays have a right to a prorated equivalent of their full time colleagues. It doesn’t matter that the part time worker does not normally work on the day on which the bank/public holiday falls. Moving on, current legislation including the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 will be replaced by the Consumer Rights Act on 1 October.

This clarifies the standards that a consumer can expect when making a purchase and the actions available if the standards are not met. Changes include accurate descriptions, so goods and services must meet the descriptions given by the trader before they are sold, and must be fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality, while services must be provided with reasonable care and skill. Consumers will have 30 days to reject faulty or substandard goods and to receive a full refund.

This removes the ambiguity that exists in the current legislation. Another important change relates to whether a consumer agrees to accept a repair or replacement. Under the Act, a business has only one attempt to get it right. It also clarifies of which contract terms can be challenged in a court so that it can decide whether or not they are fair. 

Sarah Riding is a partner and commercial law specialist at national law firm Irwin Mitchell.

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