The Consumer Rights Directive was the second in a package of four laws designed to update, modernise, and fix the imbalances in our national consumer rights legislation. The third law, the Consumer Protection Amendment Regulations 2014, comes into effect on 1 October.
As with the Consumer Rights Directive, the Consumer Protection Amendment Regulations is not a web site law. It applies to all transactions, online and off, whoever they are between, and however they are made.
What does it do?
Essentially the Consumer Protection Amendment Regulations give consumers rights and remedies if they have been on the receiving end of misleading, deceptive, or aggressive sales practices. Up until now, if a business treated a consumer unfairly in certain ways, their first route of recourse was appealing to the company that had screwed them over in the first place. When that failed, the consumer could appeal to their local Trading Standards.
From 1 October businesses acting in bad faith can be pursued through the justice system. In other words, the Amendment Regulations upgrade deceptive business practices from a matter for consumer advocates to a matter for civil courts.
Misleading sales practices have always been addressed in existing laws, like the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, but those laws lacked teeth. The Amendment Regulations grant the public the consumer rights as well as the legal powers they need to really hit back at dodgy and deceptive businesses.
The regulations give consumers the right to:
-Withdraw from a contract, and get a full refund, within 90 days, if the company’s deception can be proven;
-Retain the contract but receive a discount reflecting the impact and damage of the deception;
-In extreme cases, claim damages for substantial losses or harm suffered as a result of the deception.
Any worries about this law causing spurious or vexatious court cases are balanced out by the high burden of proof required to bring a civil case.
How do the Consumer Protection Amendment Regulations affect web sites?
If the Consumer Rights Directive was about lazy and ambiguous practices, like deceptive UX, which tarnish the relationship between a seller and a consumer, the Consumer Protection Amendment Regulations are about sellers whose whole business is built on half-truths or deception. The former law addressed the symptoms of bad e-commerce practice; the latter law addresses the causes.
You will only need to make changes on your web site to comply with the Consumer Protection Amendment Regulations if your business is doing anything on your web site and/or social media which could be interpreted as misleading, aggressive, or deceptive.
It might be having an unreasonable returns policy, being deceptive about a contract’s commitments, or making patently untrue claims about your product.
If you have to sit down and think “that thing we’re doing? You know that thing? Is that going to be okay?” it probably isn’t.
The truth of that matter is that companies which are being misleading, aggressive, or deceptive know perfectly well what they are, what they are doing, and how they are behaving.
Web designers and developers will only need to worry about compliance if they work for, or have a client, who might fall into that category.
You could, of course, save yourself the trouble by finding a better employer, or dumping the client.
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About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.