Following the adoption of new Consumer Rights Directive by Brussels at the end of 2011, the British Government is preparing for a major overhaul of the country’s consumer rights regime. Countries have been given until late 2013 to implement the new European Union guidelines on how best to protect their citizens. Michiel Willems spoke to Norman Lamb MP, the British Minister for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, and Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North Norfolk, about what the new consumer rights regime in Britain will look like.
MW: The European Union has ordered Britain to establish a new consumer rights regime in the UK. What are your plans and how will consumers’ rights be protected online?
Lamb: The EU’s Consumer Rights Directive will be implemented as part of a broader package of reforms designed to clarify and simplify the consumer rights regime as a whole. The EU rules will protect consumers online in numerous ways. For example, the withdrawal period –within which consumers can change their mind about an online purchase– will be extended from seven to fourteen days, any obligations to pay will be made clear and explicit and there will be a ban on pre-ticked boxes and disproportionate surcharges for using specific payment methods like credit cards.
MW: What about contractual information, the fine print?
L: Premium rate telephone lines for consumer follow-up calls will be prohibited and there will be clearer and more up-to-date pre-contractual information requirements, ensuring that consumers know exactly what they are buying and who they are buying it from.
MW: Will there be any changes for customers with faulty goods?
L: In addition to the changes imposed by Brussels, new amendments to the laws regarding faulty goods will also increase protection for consumers. The short-term time period for returning faulty goods will be clarified and, after that, the number of failed repairs or replacements that consumers have to put up with before receiving a refund will be limited. This will make the whole redress process clearer and easier for consumers to understand for when faulty goods are bought –in any context, including online.
MW: How will the law change to accommodate buying digital content online?
L: The law will also be updated to protect consumers purchasing digital content online. Consumer rights regarding digital content, including music downloads and video streaming, are currently highly uncertain. The changes will clarify how the law applies to digital content, providing a clear set of standards for quality and workable remedies, enabling consumers to get appropriate redress.
MW: While reducing red tape, how will you ensure that consumer rights are respected and guaranteed?
L: We need a really robust framework of consumer rights if we are to achieve the consumer confidence required to support strong economic growth. That is why maintaining a high level of consumer protection is at the heart of our Government’s plans, so that the right laws are in place to tackle rogue practices. But confusing consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities can cause expensive and unnecessary disputes, which is why we also need to cut business costs by tackling the complex state of our current law.
MW: Thank you for your time.