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Happy World Consumer Rights Day!

Happy World Consumer Rights Day!

Today is World Consumer Rights Day. This year’s theme is “Antibiotics Off the Menu”, and campaigners around the world will be protesting against the use of antibiotics in rearing animals whose meat is used in fast food production.  The reason?  Consumption of meat raised in this way can result in antibiotic resistance in human consumers, with the potential for illnesses which would otherwise be curable with the use of antibiotics, becoming untreatable.

Food-transmitted antibiotic resistance is just one of the hot topics we’ve seen in the consumer rights sector this year.  Over the past six months, new legislation has been introduced in relation to consumer rights and consumer access to dispute resolution procedures.  The overall aim has been to provide consumers with an efficient and accessible way of enforcing their rights.

October saw the implementation of the Consumer Rights Act (“CRA”), which sought to consolidate the plethora of consumer rights legislation in the UK.  In addition, the CRA provided some additional rights and remedies for consumers.  Among other things, the Act sees the introduction of additional rights for consumers in relation to unfair contract terms, the supply of goods and services, and – for the first time – digital content. 

Consumer-facing businesses should ensure that they have updated their policies and trained staff on the new suite of rights to avoid trouble at the tills.  Even one instance of a failure to uphold a consumer’s statutory rights could prove a reputational nightmare for a brand.

Alongside the new rights,  new rules are now in place which govern how to deal with consumer disputes.  The Directive on Consumer Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”), ensures that consumers have access to ADR methods when resolving their contractual disputes with traders, and are therefore not required to go through the courts if a dispute with a trader should arise. 

If a dispute cannot be resolved between a trader and a consumer, that business is under a duty to provide the consumer with details of an appropriate ADR provider to whom they can refer the dispute.  It’s important to note that the onus is on the business to direct the consumer to an appropriate ADR body as required, and to minimise the inconvenience to the consumer.  The trader must also inform the consumer if they intend to refer the dispute to an ADR provider.

The legislation came into force in July 2015 and companies had until 1 October 2015 to comply.  Now, consumer-facing business will be expected to be up to date with the requirements.

Last month, the European Commission launched a new optional online platform to help consumers and traders solve disputes over a purchase made online.   The Online Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) platform offers EU consumers and traders an online facility to settle their disputes for both domestic and cross-border purchases made online. 

The ODR platform is governed by the aptly-named Regulation on ODR, under which any business wishing to conduct transactions online is required to:

  • Display a link to the ODR platform on its website;
  • Include a link to the ODR platform in any offer made to consumers by email; and
  • Make reference to the availability of the ODR platform in the general terms and conditions of any online contracts.

Overall, the requirements placed upon traders do not appear to be particularly onerous, and the use of ADR procedures, coupled with the accessibility provided by the ODR platform, may provide an efficient process for dealing with low-value claims. 

There has been much food for thought for consumer-facing businesses in the past six months. Stay up to date through staff training, website updates, checking your terms and conditions and reviewing your consumer communications. Has your business done all it should to comply? 

Pauline McCulloch
Senior Solicitor