Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
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Consumers given new weapon in fight against rogue traders

Consumers will have greater powers to challenge unscrupulous rogue traders and get their money back under new rights which come into force yesterday (1 October 2014).

Consumers who are bullied or misled into buying services or goods they neither need nor want, will now have a period of up to 90 days to take legal action, under changes delivered by Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson.

Examples could include those who are harassed into home improvements by a door-to-door salesman when they really don’t need it or somebody who is misled into purchasing a mobile phone by false promises on download speeds and network coverage.

This could also extend to when a young person is stopped in the street and misled into parting with hundreds of pounds by promises of a modelling career, or to an elderly person being bullied into paying thousands of pounds for goods they really can’t afford.

The reforms will especially benefit the elderly and vulnerable with National Audit Office figures showing that those over the age of 55 lose an average of nearly £1,100 when they are victims of rogue traders. Crime reporting agency Action Fraud estimates that consumers suffer detriment of at least £6.6 billion every year due to unfair trading.

Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson said:

The vast majority of businesses treat consumers fairly and provide a great service. However, a few bad apples have damaged the reputation of good business, broken the law and treated customers as a cash cow.

This is why we are providing consumers with new powers to challenge rogue businesses and giving people the confidence to take action when they have been bullied or misled.

If anyone thinks they’ve been bullied or misled into buying something the best thing to do is try and sort the issue out directly with the company and if that doesn’t work then contact Citizens Advice on 08444 111 444. They are an excellent source of advice and guidance.

The new rights will introduce:

  • a new 90 day period for victims to get out of a contract. Beyond this period consumers will still be able to get a discount on the price paid, as much as 100% depending on the actions of the trader. At present there is no right to a discount. Consumers can currently seek damages in the civil courts but it is extremely complex
  • a right to damages for any additional losses or stress suffered as a result of the actions of the trader
  • a brand new right to take personal action through the civil court for misleading or aggressive demands for payment, for example aggressive or misleading debt collection. At present there is no legislative right for consumers to do this

An example of a case where the new rights could be used is where an elderly person with mobility issues is approached by a company offering to make adaptions to their bathroom.

A company salesman uses high pressure selling techniques to convince the consumer that they need more than just a new shower, and offer other products including a new toilet and sink. The consumer signs up for a loan agreement but is not given a proper explanation about what it involves.

Work on the bathroom is carried out and is completed to a very poor standard and the consumer is left facing a huge debt totalling thousands of pounds.

As of yesterday (1 October 2014), the consumer in this case will be able to exercise their right to get out of the agreement they have been pressured into signing up to. They will be able to claim for compensation for the stress caused by being misled about the quality of the work.

The new rights form part of the government’s radical overhaul of the UK’s consumer landscape to make sure consumer law is easier for consumers to understand. It includes a new Consumer Rights Bill to streamline key consumer rights covering contracts for goods, services, digital content and the law relating to unfair terms in consumer contracts in one place. The bill is currently going through Parliament.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of national charity Citizens Advice said:

Dishonest and aggressive salespeople are ripping off innocent consumers. In the last year alone, the Citizens Advice consumer service helped with 85,000 problems caused by misleading claims and shoddy sales practices. It’s good for consumers that, under the new protections, people in these circumstances will now be able to cancel contracts or get money back.

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the guidance on the new rights and how they will work can be found at Misleading and aggressive selling: new rights for consumers
  2. Definitions:
    • a misleading commercial practice is one which contains false information, or is likely to deceive the average consumer in its overall presentation
    • an aggressive commercial practice is one which significantly impairs the consumer’s freedom of choice through the use of harassment, coercion or undue influence
  3. Top tips for consumers:
    • share information with family members or if this is not possible a neighbour or friend who you can trust for advice
    • get information and advice from Citizens Advice on 08444 111 444 or Age UK 0800 169 6565
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