Many companies use underhand tactics to get a sale, from special offers that don’t exist to closing down sales that run for months and months.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations provides consumer protection from unfair or misleading trading practices, misleading omissions and aggressive sales tactics. As of 1 October 2014 new amendments have been made to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations which give you new rights to redress if you’ve been the victim of misleading actions or aggressive selling.
Basic Rules Consumer Protection Rules
There are three main sections in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. These are as follows:
- The general ban on unfair commercial practices
- Misleading and aggressive practices which are assessed in light of the effect they have, or are likely to have, on the average consumer
- The Black List which contains the list of those practices which are unfair and thus banned
Companies are not allowed to use misleading or underhand tactics to get you to part with your cash. Misleading actions can include advertising goods that don’t exist, or offering just a few items at the advertised price with no hope of meeting large demand.
If a trader has signed up to a code of practice, then if it fails to follow this code, it could be a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
For example, if a garage has signed up to the Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair, failing to follow it could constitute a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
Traders are also banned from lying about goods or passing them off as another product to give them credibility.
For example ‘we only fit genuine, branded parts’, when in reality they are fitting non-branded parts to your car.
Sometimes it’s not what’s actually said that’s the problem. Sometimes its what’s been left out that’s the issue. For example in the case of timeshare, a sales person may omit that maintenance fees will rise at more than the rate of inflation.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations offer protection against traders who are economical with the truth, or miss out key information that you might need to make an informed decision.
Traders must make sure the information is provided in a timely manner – and not so late that it’s of no use to you.
It’s considered misleading if a trader does any of the following:
- omits material information that the average consumer needs, according to the context, to make an informed transactional decision
- hides or provide material information in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner
- fails to identify the commercial intent of the commercial practice if not already apparent from the context
And information must also be displayed clearly – obscure presentation is tantamount to an omission.
Sales tactics can greatly influence a consumer’s decision. Traders who fail to take no for an answer, refuse to leave until a contract is signed or use threatening behaviour will be committing an offence.
A practice is considered aggressive if the average consumer’s freedom of choice or conduct is significantly impaired.
The legislation contains a list of criteria to help determine whether a commercial practice uses harassment, coercion, including physical force, or undue influence.
Undue influence is categorised by something that applies pressure ‘even without using or threatening to use physical force, in a way which significantly limits the consumer’s ability to make an informed decision.’
If a trader is accused of misleading consumers or acting aggressively, it’s not enough to simply demonstrate the activity.
It also has to be shown that the practice influenced the consumer’s decision.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the consumer has to have entered into a contract, just that their actions were influenced in some way.
It could be enough that the consumer phoned the trader or decided to go into their shop.