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Major change to the Consumer Rights Act

It’s goodbye to some old friends

• Sale of Goods Act 1979
• Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977
• Unfair Terms Regulations 1999
• Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982
• Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumer Regulations 2002

The effect of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, largely in force since 1 October 2015 is to largely replace all of these in consumer/trader transactions.

A consumer is an individual “acting for purposes wholly or mainly outside that individual’s trade, business, craft or profession”. This is a wider definition of consumer than the previous one, and businesses should be aware that the definition may include individuals who enter into a contract for a mixture of business and personal reasons. The term trader means “a person acting for purposes relating to that person’s trade, business, craft or profession”.

Consumers now have a tiered system of remedies if goods are not to a satisfactory quality, not t for purpose or not as described at the time of delivery:

(a) short term right to reject within the first 30 days (and get a full refund);

(b) right to free repair or free replacement – this applies both during and after the first 30 days; and

(c) the final right to reject or the right to a price reduction after the first 30 days if the repair or replacement proves ineffective or unavailable.

Note that the short-term right to reject arises without the need for the consumer to first accept the repair or replacement. Thus, during the first 30 days a consumer can reject without giving the retailer the opportunity to repair. On the other hand if the consumer opts for free repair or replacement within that 30 day period the early rejection period stops running until the repair or replacement is provided. The consumer then has the remainder of the 30 day period or 7 days (whichever is longer) to exercise their short term right to reject if the goods are still not satisfactory, fit for purpose etc.

After the 30 day short term period, the right to a reduction in price, or the final right to reject, arises only after the trader has had one opportunity to repair or replace – note that the trader cannot insist on repeated attempts at repair or replacement.

The burden of proving the goods are non-conforming lies with the consumer when seeking to exercise the short term right to reject. After that, if the issue with the goods occurs within six months after delivery it is presumed that the goods were inadequate and the trader must show otherwise. After six months the onus is reversed and falls on the consumer.

As far as “unfair terms” are concerned the new law applies to both negotiated and non-negotiated consumer contracts. The concept of “fairness” remains largely unchanged, although it now expressly applies to exclusion clauses and other provisions that try to limit the trader’s obligations.

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