Consumer Protection Act
In order to safeguard consumers, The Consumer Protection Act was introduced to provide rights when purchasing a product or service. This legislation outlines the obligations that businesses have such as labelling correctly to avoid misrepresenting products or to provide health and safety information.
Consumer law incorporates a number of different issues including fraud, product liability, unfair business practice and many more. As well as being compliant with UK law, businesses are also obliged to comply with European legislation which relates to consumer protection.
In 1987 the Consumer Protection Act was introduced which instigated a period of reform for consumer law. The first part of this legislation incorporated law from the European Community and this established clear guidelines for product liability which forms a significant part of the legislation. The second part of the Act defined government powers to effectively regulate consumer product safety using what is known as a statutory instrument. The third part outlined that it is a criminal offence to provide an indication of pricing that is misleading to the consumer.
Under Section 2 of the Consumer Protection Act product liability outlines requirements relating to civil liability and tort as a direct result of damage which has been caused by a defective product. The liability for the defective product will include;
- Manufacturers who produce branded products
- Businesses which import products into the European Union for retail purposes
The terms of liability are very strict and there is no requirement for the consumer to demonstrate the fault or negligence of the manufacturer. Liability cannot be incorporated into standard exclusion clauses. Damage can include personal injury or even death or damage to property such as land provided that the property is intended for personal use, it is used by the individual making the claim and damages being sought are in excess of £275.00. Any damage to the product itself cannot be included in the claim as well as other forms of financial loss.
Before you can decide whether to make a claim under product liability you first need to understand what is meant by the term ‘product’. A product can be any item produced and sold by a business and this includes electrical items too as well as products which have been aggregated into another product through component parts or raw materials. However, the producer of the aggregate materials is not liable. Information and instructions are not classed as ‘products’ but the printed instructions and software relevant to product safety can be classed as a product.
The original Consumer Protection Act did not cover agricultural produce or game but this was later changed in 1999 to address an EU Directive.
Section 3 of the legislation relates to defects. A defect can be described when the safety of a product does not meet the expectations of the consumer. The expectations of a product can relate to;
- The way in which the product has been marketed
- Use of trademarks in relation to the product
- Instructions provided with the product along with warnings
- Reasonable use of the product
Although older products may not be as safe as newer products, this does not mean that they are defective.
Claims under the Consumer Protection Act become time barred after three years from the date of the damage occurring or when the consumer became aware of the damage. Claims cannot be made more than 10 years after the product was released into general circulation.
The defendants need to demonstrate that the technical and scientific information available at the time the product was manufactured was not advanced enough to discover the defect.
Defences for defective products can include;
- The defect is a result of complying with a product development requirement in law
- Defendants did not supply the product (theft or counterfeit)
- The defendant did not supply the product during the routine course of business
- The defect did not exist when the product was released into general circulation
- If a supplier of a component in the defective item state that the defect was a design fault in the finished product that was defective
The Consumer Protection Act was also implemented to regulate products and define specific regulations that products have to comply with. The General Product Safety Regulations 2005 outlines important safety legislation that businesses need to comply with when developing products for consumers. In 2008, the Secretary of State introduced the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform which stipulated that;
- Goods for consumers must be safe
- Unsafe products which would be unsafe in the hands of certain individuals are not available for them
- Appropriate information should be supplied with the product
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform did not apply to;
- Crops or other aspects of the land
- Water, food and fertilisers
- Controlled drugs or medicinal products
Breach of Regulations
Manufacturers and those responsible for developing products are against the law to ensure that they adhere to the relevant legislation and regulations. Any breach of these regulations is against the law and is a punishable offence resulting in up to six months in prison or a significant fine.
Where products are found to be unsafe, an enforcement authority can apply to the Magistrates Court to obtain a Forfeiture Order to seize any unsafe products when there has been a breach of regulations, an appeal has been made against a suspension order or a complaint has been submitted to the Magistrates.
Misleading Pricing Information
The Consumer Protection Act also incorporates the way in which businesses can price products and services. The legislation makes it a crime to provide false or misleading pricing information.
Misleading information can relate to;
- A product
- Services such as credit, foreign currency, utilities and parking charges
- Where a business or individual is found guilty of providing misleading pricing information they can face a prison sentence and/or unlimited fine.
- Prices can be misleading where;
- The price is less than what it is
- The price does not depend on facts or circumstances
- Prices cover matters where an additional charge is made
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations defines three main sections;
- A ban on unfair commercial practices
- A ban on aggressive or misleading practice which is assessed in terms of the effect that they have or could potentially have on the consumer
- A blacklist of commercial practices which are always unfair and which should be banned
Under the regulations it is an offence for a business to use misleading information or act in an underhand manner to get you to enter into a purchase. Misleading actions can range from advertising a product or service that doesn’t exist through to offering a few items of the advertised price without any hope of meeting large demand for the product. Traders cannot make misleading comparisons or provide false information about the features of a product or service.
On occasions an omission may be in breach of the law. Regulations offer protection against businesses who are not completely truthful or who omit important information that a consumer may need to make an informed decision. Businesses may commit an offence if they;
- Fail to include information that the average consumer would need to make an informed decision about the transaction
- Conceals or fails to disclose material or provides material which is confusing or ambiguous
- Information must be clearly displayed and be an accurate reflection of the product or service.
The Consumer Protection Act is very complex and business owners must ensure that they are fully aware of the regulations before they begin manufacturing or selling a product or service.
Consumers can also purchase a product or service knowing that it is covered by these regulations so if something does go wrong they have some redress against the company they made the purchase from.
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