Will retailers take any notice?
It's long overdue but finally the Government is going to do something about overhauling consumer stautory law. Well, it says it is and with the current economic climate it couldn't come at a better time. That said I can forsee some troubles ahead.
Having written the magazine's Consumeractive consumer rights section for the last 11 plus years, and currently studying a BA Hons law degree, I am pretty au fait with consumer statutory law.
But even I baulk sometimes when flipping between various pieces of legislation and amendments. Trust me; try reading some of these statutes.
Legalise is always difficult to decipher but the real problem is so much is left unsaid and has not given a clear interpretation. I am not a lawyer and never plan to be, despite the studying. So this means that I often try to get clarification from a practising lawyer; even if I am certain about a point of law.
Of course I find that some of the lawyers I contact are themselves unsure how to interpret sections of consumer law. The current debate we are having is what constitutes a fair examination of goods bought online and when does this become use, meaning the customer can't legally return it under the Distance Selling Regulations.
So clarifying certain issues for journalists like me, and yes solicitors providing the proposals go according to plan, is very welcome.
But the main problem I believe that people are going to find if the proposed changes make it into law, will still be with the retailers.
So many do not bother to educate their staff in the basics of current consumer law as it stands; most of which, despite the number of laws, is pretty self explanatory, such as the right to reject inherently faulty goods for a full refund.
OK. I grant you, the phrase "a reasonable time" makes my heart sink and is wide open to interpretation. But basic attempts have been made to give an idea of how long this may be; even the Law Commissions have said around four weeks for most products.
And don't get me going about the persistent failure to refund original postage costs when someone buys goods online, or over the phone. Just what part of the "customer must be given a full refund which includes original postage" can't they understand?
So yes I think it's a very good thing that the myriad Acts and regulations will be consolidated, even though it will mean a lot more work for me relearning new rights. This is providing the protection isn't dumbed down that is. And I won't hold my breath that it will make much difference to the way some retailers treat their customers.
Mind you, it will end one huge headache that I have put up with for the last two years thanks to some journalists totally failing to understand how EU directives work their way into UK law.
Yes hopefully the changes will finally bury that pesky ongoing query about why I never mention that "little known EU Directive", that allows people to stomp into a shop within two years and demand a full refund for allegedly inherently faulty goods; and which I apparently have no knowledge about.
Bye bye the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers regulations 2002, aka the UK implementation of the EU Sale of Consumer Goods and Guarantees Directive 1999/44/EC and bye bye having to reiterate the explanation
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