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Guest comment: Why we're putting consumer rights all in one place

Jo Swinson
Consumer Affairs Minister
12 June 2013

As the draft Consumer Rights Bill is published today (see the Consumers set for stronger rights under new law MSE News story for the full details), Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson explains why it's so important people know what to expect when they buy things, and what they're entitled to if those standards aren't met.

We've all seen it a thousand times: "This does not affect your statutory rights." But what exactly are your statutory rights?

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As the Consumer Affairs Minister, I've discovered this is a question that can fox even the country's top legal experts.

So when you feel you've been ripped off after buying something, unless you're Martin Lewis, or a really avid reader of MoneySavingExpert.com, it can be all too easy to be fobbed off with less than you're entitled to once you raise a complaint.

It might not be that a shop assistant or trader is purposely trying to fob you off – the law can be just as hard for them to understand at the moment as it is for the consumer.

This is why I'm excited to be publishing a draft Consumer Rights Bill. The idea of this is to put all the key rights in one place; what standards you should expect when you buy things, and what you're entitled to if those standards aren't met, and set it out really clearly so consumers and traders will understand consumer rights so much better.

Consumers spent 59 million hours trying to sort out problems in 2012. I was shocked when I heard this. Did you also know that the legal definition of goods includes "chattels"? Me neither. That definition was drafted in 1893. This bill will introduce a new definition that goods are tangible, moveable items.

Easier to understand rights

Despite UK consumers spending more than £1 billion on downloaded films, music and games in 2012, your rights to get the digital content you pay for are not clearly set out in law at all.

The Consumer Rights Bill will make these rights easier to understand in the digital age. There's no reason why just because it's digital you should be exposed to putting up with poor content any more than you would expect to have to swallow the costs for shoddy goods or sloppy services.

The other core rights consumers will receive under the draft bill include:

  • A right to clear and honest information before you buy.
  • A right to get what you pay for.
  • A right that goods and digital content are fit for purpose and services are provided with reasonable care and skill.
  • A right that faults in what you buy will be put right free of charge, or a refund or replacement provided.

I want people to have greater confidence when spending, to try out new suppliers, new products and services, and know that if something turns out to be not quite as expected, you have the tools to go back to the trader and get things put right.

With this bill, I really hope we can shave a lot of those wasted 59 million hours off.

See the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills' website for more information about the draft proposals.

Views do not necessarily reflect those of MoneySavingExpert.com.

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