Legal protections for consumers have developed over the past 45 years in piecemeal fashion with the result that these statutory rights are located in a variety of statutory sources; both national and European. Additionally, many of these sources deal not only with consumer protection but also certain protections and rights in relation to business to business contracts. As a consequence of this complexity many argued that the existing consumer protection legislation was, to a degree, self-defeating with ordinary everyday consumers being unable to penetrate the labyrinthine landscape the consumer protection law.
In order to address this criticism Parliament recently passed the Consumer Right Act 2015 which attempts to simplify consumer protection legislation. It does this by re-codifying the existing consumer protection law into one statute and repealing all other legislative provisions (so far as they relate to consumer contracts). Whilst all existing legislation will remain relevant and continue to apply so far as it relates to commercial contracts, consumers will have one single piece of legislation that sets out all of their statutory rights. As well as reorganising existing legislation, the 2015 Act also seeks to extend various rights currently afforded to consumers.
The 2015 Act is divided into 3 parts: the first part recodifies and expands on existing protections for consumers relating to contracts for the sale and supply of goods and services, including digital content; part 2 overhauls legislation concerning unfair terms in consumer contracts; and part 3 deals with various other miscellaneous consumer protections relating to competition, duties of letting agents and secondary ticketing agreements. This article is limited to considering the key provisions of Part 1the 2015 Act. Parts 2 and 3 will be considered in subsequent articles.
Chapter 2: Sale of Goods
Chapter 2 of the 2015 Act (sections 3 to 32) provide specific rights in relation to the sale and purchase of goods (including the goods supplied under any hire or hire purchase agreement). Many of the key provisions replicate those already in existence in the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (sections 12 to 15) in particular, sections 9 to 18 provide that the goods need to be as described, of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match any sample or model previously provided and that the seller has the right to supply the goods. The 2015 Act also provides that where any goods are to be installed as part of the contract, any defect in the installation will be categorised as a defect with the goods themselves (section 16).
In the event of a breach of a consumer’s rights, various remedies are provided for within the 2015 Act, including:
- The right to reject the goods within 30 days of purchase (section 20 to 22);
- The right to seek the repair or replacement of the goods (with an extension to the right to reject in the event that the repaired / replacement goods still do not comply with the 2015 Act) (section 22 to 23); and
- The right to a price reduction or rejection where the goods have not been or are incapable of being repaired or replaced (section 24).
Chapter 3: Digital Content
Chapter 3 specifically concerns the supply of digital content (whether or not the digital content is supplied in conjunction with any tangible goods and whether it was paid for or free). Similar provisions exist in relation to digital content as exist for tangible goods, i.e. the content must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose (section 34 to 38). However other provisions exist which are specific to digital content, in particular, section 39 provides that a contract for the provision of digital content will include (where necessary) an implied term that the processing facility needed to access the content must be available for a reasonable time (subject to the express terms of the contract). Also section 40 deals with the situation where the trader can modify the digital content after it has been supplied. In such circumstances, the provisions concerning quality, fitness for purpose and description will apply to the modified content as they did to the original.
As with the sale of goods, in the event of a breach of the 2015 Act, the consumer will have the right to reject the content (section 45), seek the repair or replacement of the digital content (section 43) or to seek a price reduction (section 44). Further relief is available in the event that the digital content supplied causes damage or loss to a consumer’s device or other digital content (section 46).
Finally, it should be noted that if the digital content is provided along with tangible goods, then the provisions relating to tangible goods (i.e. those provisions in chapter 2 discussed above) will need to be complied with and will be found to have been breached where the digital content is defective even if there is no problem with the tangible goods (section 16).
Chapter 4: Supply of Service
Again, the 2015 Act seeks to recodify existing legislation in relation to consumer contracts for the supply of services. Under the 2015 Act such contracts will be subject to implied terms that the services will be performed with reasonable care and skill (section 49) and within a reasonable time (section 52) and absent any express agreement as to price, a reasonable price will be payable for the services (section 51).
In the event of a failure to comply with the 2015 Act the consumer has the right to request the repeat performance of the service (section 55) or to seek a price reduction of up to 100% of the price paid / payable by the consumer (section 56).
It is envisaged that the majority of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 will come into force on 1 October 2015.