National Consumer Week is an annual campaign which aims to raise people's awareness of specific consumer issues, and provide support and advice for those who need it. So it seems like a good moment to take a look at some recent consumer law developments in the UK and beyond.
The Chartered Institute of Trading Standards has issued guidance for start-up businesses. Its purpose is to enable sellers to establish their legal obligations and to provide new businesses with an introduction to the UK’s consumer and trading laws. It provides a useful reminder of the key laws that apply, as well as the differences depending on whether someone is buying (or selling) as consumer or trader, and includes helpful flowcharts to establish a party's status. Although the guidance is aimed at new small businesses, its model terms of business may be useful for any size or age of business.
As well as the guidance, the CTSI has urged a rethink on the timetable for the Retained EU Law Bill (see our post here). It says that it has serious concerns about the scale of change and the potential that vital protections for both consumers and business could be lost; and that legislative change on this scale cannot and should not be rushed. Finally, it points out that businesses need stability, not more uncertainty, which hurried legislative changes are likely to bring. According to the CTSI, the sunset provisions should be extended to the end of 2026. This would certainly provide more time for reflection and thought-out policy making.
The CMA has published new and updated guidance setting out its expectations for social media platforms, influencers and brands with regards to incentivised (paid-for) endorsements. See here.
And finally, the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee has issued a report about post-Brexit competition law. What has this to do with consumer law? Well, the Committee points out that the 2022 Queen's Speech announced a Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill with the aims of promoting competition, strengthening consumer rights and protecting households and businesses. The Draft Bill is expected to increase the CMA's consumer enforcement powers to tackle consumer detriment and to strengthen the CMA's ability to fine businesses that abuse their market position, by reducing the minimum turnover threshold for immunity from financial penalties from £50 million to £20 million and imposing penalties of up to 10% of global and annual turnover where consumer protection laws are broken. These proposals have been somewhat controversial in some quarters (the CMA and the courts don't always agree on the interpretation of consumer law), but the Committee welcomes them. It points out that there is as yet no sign of the Draft Bill and calls for it to be published without delay.
Although this article is mainly about UK consumer law issues, it is worth remembering that the EU has been busy too, and our readers in the Republic of Ireland will be interested in the fact that the Consumer Rights Act 2022 has recently been passed. It constitutes a comprehensive overhaul of Irish consumer law, consolidating and modernising existing consumer law and giving consumers new protections in relation to digital content as well as digital and non-digital services. Watch this space for more details.
The Government must ensure that vital consumer protections are not lost inadvertently through a desire to rush things through. This is particularly pertinent right now, given consumers are facing record levels of detriment and that is set to get worse as our economic challenges continue.