New Year- New Law
This Article is a more detialed version of the article produced for the December 2015 issue of Fine Magazine
At the start of the new year we need to take a look back to the dog days of the last to see some changes in Consumer Protection Legislation that underpin a less well publicised new requirement introduced from 9 January 2016.
The 1 October 2015 brought in, under the new Consumer Rights Act a number of extensions and clarifications to the rights of consumers when dealing with goods and service providers- SME’s need to know the extent of these changes- and understand some new concepts, in order to comply with the other new law introduced on 9 January 2016.
The 2 Important changes on 1 October 2015:
1. The New Consumer Rights Act updated and extended existing rights and provided 2 important “new” rights:
2. A Requirement for all businesses which are unable to resolve a dispute with a consumer to point that consumer to a provider of alternative dispute resolution services.
The Rights Extensions & Clarifications are significant-
1. The rights to a full refund within “a reasonable period of time” for Faulty c=goods is now guaranteed in the first 30 days.
2. Goods that are found faulty between 30 days and six months have to be repaired or replaced by the Store- not the manufacturer- so retailers will need to check there contracts with wholesalers and suppliers to ensure they are updated.
3. After 6 months consumers will need to show that a product was faulty from the start but products must last a reasonable period of time.
4. Customers only need to accept one repair or replacement and accepting one doesn’t invalidate the right to a refund.
5. Different rules apply for goods and services.
A Failure to comply with the new rights can result in prosecution so it is important to make sure staff are adequately trained. The Citizen’s Advice Bureaux who provide information aimed at consumers have some useful printable charts with summaries of the new legislation that might be useful for staff.
What is all this about Alternative Dispute Resolution?
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is any means of resolving a dispute between parties without having to go to court- it can include Mediation- where a neutral person helps the parties to reach a settlement through negotiation, Arbitration- where a person employed by the parties makes a decision much like a judge would and expert determination- where an expert makes a decision- like under a party wall act dispute . There are also combination processes allowing for mediation and arbitration to be fused to avoid the problems with being unable to guarantee settlement in mediation.
What do I have to do?
under Regulation 19(1) a trader who is required by law or its trade association rules or the terms of a contract to use ADR services, must make the name and address of the relevant ADR entity available on its website and in its general terms and conditions of sales or service contracts between the trader and consumer.
So I can avoid it?
Well- sort of- Regulation 19(2) provides that any trader who has received a complaint form a consumer relating to a sale or service contract and who has been unable to resolve the complaint with them by using its own internal complaints handling procedure, must inform the consumer, on a durable medium, that it cannot settle the complaint, provide the name and website address of a competent ADR provider which would be able to deal with the complaint should the consumer wish to use alternative dispute resolution and also state whether the trader is obliged or prepared to submit to an alternative dispute resolution procedure operated by that ADR entity.
But would you want to?
ADR is often a really good alternative to court- it can be much quicker and cheaper and it is easier for businesses to keep the agreement confidential which is very important for trade reputations. A trader who chooses court rather than ADR also risk the court making a damaging costs finding against them if the court feels they have been unreasonable.
So what’s happened from 9 January 2016
As if small businesses didn’t have enough to worry about the new year brings another new requirement for SME’s offering their goods, services and digital content in “cross Border” trade throughout Europe. From January 2016 all businesses engaged in such trade will need to comply with the Online Dispute Resolution Directive.
ODR is simply ADR online and the European innovation is really little more than a clearing house that allows consumers to make a complaint on one website and have the complaint filtered through to whatever national agency deals with ADR in the businesses home country. The website is effectively a portal in all major European languages allowing a single point of contact for the consumer.
All businesses who sell goods or services online or provide a way for businesses to trade online, will have to provide a link to the ODR site on their website and say whether they are obliged to use ADR by trade association law or terms of business.
Will people use it?
Certainly some people will- normally no case can be brought about a faulty good or service after 6 years from the date sold or provided- for complaints failing within the ODR remit that time is extended to 6years and 8 weeks- meaning that some consumers will only be able to use the ODR procedure.