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Consumers set for stronger rights under new law

Consumers are to get stronger rights to refunds, repairs or replacements when buying goods and services under the Government's draft Consumer Rights Bill, which was published today.

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The proposals will see eight pieces of legislation merged into one, and will introduce a number of new rights.

The idea is to put all the key rights in one place and set it out clearly so both consumers and traders know what standards to expect when they buy items, and what they're entitled to if those standards aren't met.

According to the Government, consumers currently spend more than 59 million hours a year dealing with goods and services problems. Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson has written a guest comment for MoneySavingExpert.com about why the bill is so important.

Key proposals that will benefit consumers include:

Consumer rights
Issue Current rules Proposals
Faulty goods – refunds Consumers are entitled to a full refund if they haven't reasonably been deemed to have accepted the goods. Definitions of this depend on circumstances. Consumers will have a set 30-day period to return faulty goods and get a full refund.
Faulty goods – repairs/replacements Consumers are entitled to a repair or replacement within the first six months if the retailer can't prove the item was fit for purpose when it was sold. But the law is unclear about how many repairs/replacements you have to accept. Consumers are entitled to a repair or replacement within the first six months if the retailer can't prove the item was fit for purpose when it was sold. But you'll be able to insist on a refund after one failed repair or one faulty replacement.
Cancelling goods/services bought online/on the doorstep Consumers have seven working days to cancel the order, regardless of the reason. Consumers will have 14 working days to cancel the order, regardless of the reason.
Substandard services There's no law which entitles consumers to get a service re-done or which enables them to get a refund. (i) Consumers can demand that a job is re-done, or get a full or partial refund.
Non-physical faulty digital goods (ii) Current rules don't clarify whether consumers are entitled to a refund. Consumers will be entitled to ask for a replacement, or a full or partial refund.
(i) Apart from where a service provider installs goods – where special rules apply, or where it's been laid out in a contract. (ii) Film and music downloads, apps, e-books and software.

Swinson says: "We want to make sure consumers are confident about their rights in everyday situations, be it their washing machine breaking down or an online game they purchased always crashing.

"This will also benefit businesses as they are going to spend less time working out their legal obligations when they get complaints from customers."

'Welcome first step'

But in reality, it may still be difficult to enforce these rights without going to court, although the Government adds Trading Standards will have new powers to ask a court to demand compensation is paid to consumers where the law is breached.

Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com creator, says: "The changes to consumer legislation are welcome. Yet they're worthless unless people can enforce them. Currently if a shop refuses your rights, your only option is to take it to court. 

"Yet the cost, the hassle and the fear factor is too high for most, especially on most items, which cost under £100. So the most important change we need is a simple and cheap system to enforce clear cut rights. 

"I await the Government's full Bill to see if it's brave enough to meet that challenge."

This news story has been written before the Bill's release, so we will update it later today if anything else comes up.

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