Law Commissions launch consultation on reform of consumer protection laws

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission have today launched a joint consultation on proposals to protect consumers from “unfair terms hidden in small print.”

The law in this area was last substantively updated in 1999, when the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations were passed. These regulations implemented a European directive on consumer protection.

Any business the trades with consumers should take an interest in the consultation, as the recommendations made by the Commissions will impact on the terms that businesses can include in their consumer contracts (and the way that they publicise their goods and services), and the rights and remedies of consumers in relation to terms that are unfair.

The proposed reforms
The 1999 regulations include exemptions from the right to challenge unfair terms in relation to price and subject matter (what you are buying). Notably, the Commission is proposing that the pricing and subject matter may only be exempt from challenge “only if they are transparent and prominent in the original contract.”

The proposals are intended to address misleading pricing on websites and the fact that many consumers simply don’t read terms and conditions that are longer than a Shakespearean play.

Part of this is ensuring that the price provided up front is clear, and that further charges are not hidden in the small print.

The Commissions are also looking for confirmation that the recommendations in their last review of this area of the law (in 2005) remain valid.

BIS proposals
The consultation also coincides in with plans announced by BIS last week to strengthen and clarify consumer rights.

You can access the consultation papers on the Law Commission website.

The consultation closes on 25 October 2012.

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