Consumer protection is the practice of safeguarding buyers of goods and services, and the public, against unfair practices in the marketplace. Consumer protection measures are often established by law.

As a consumer of goods and services in the UK you are protected by a set of laws that aim to ensure fair trading. But because of the many varied ways of purchasing goods and services including the internet, market trading, discount warehouses and car boot sales, you may not be certain of your rights.

Consumer protection law ensures you have reasonable redress to genuine grievances, but it equally protects lawfully trading retailers and suppliers. Whilst there are specific solutions for pre-defined circumstances, much of the consumer protection law is simply a set of guidelines to follow to ensure a satisfactory resolution of any disputes.

A new bill (Act of Parliament), The Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force on 1st October 2015.

The act replaced three big pieces of consumer legislation - the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act, and contains a clear list of rights for consumers, along with new measures to protect them.

Other key laws are listed below (click on the link for more information):

  • Misrepresentation Act 1967
    This protects consumers from false or fraudulent claims that induce you entering into a contract.
  • Consumer Credit Act 1974
    This regulates credit card purchases but also gives you protection when you enter into a loan or hire agreement.
  • Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974
    If you buy goods or services on your credit card, you have extra protection if things go wrong compared with paying by cash or cheque.
  • The Weights and Measures Act 1985 
    This is the main legislation covering weights and measures controls in the UK including the quantity and units of measurement that may be sold and the regulation of measuring equipment used for trade.
  • Consumer Protection Act 1987
    This covers product liability and remedies for damage or injury caused by unsafe goods etc and safety regulations for various goods such as electrical products and fire safety for children's clothing.
  • Package Travel Regulations 1992
    By law you have the right to expect the package holiday that you booked and paid for. So the holiday description must be accurate otherwise you have refund and compensation rights.

Collectively these laws detail the responsibilities of retailers as well as the rights of consumers.

The Consumer Rights Act

All goods you purchase must be:

  • of satisfactory quality - last for the time you would expect and be free of any defects
  • fit for purpose – fit for the use described and any specific use you made clear to the trader
  • as described – match the description on packaging or what the trader told you

If your goods fail to meet any of the above criteria then you could have a claim under the Sale of Goods Act with the retailer (the company that sold you the product) not the manufacturer.

There are clear guidelines covering goods offered as "Sale Items":

  • Both the original price and the sale price must be clearly displayed.
  • In the absence of any other explanation of the offer terms, the item must have been on sale at the higher price for a minimum of 28 consecutive days, in that store, immediately prior to the offer.
  • In the absence of any other explanation of the rules of the offer, or if the item is going out of date, the item shouldn't be on offer for longer than being sold at the higher price.

If you purchase goods on hire purchase (HP) then the hire purchase company is responsible for the quality of the goods supplied.

How can you tell that the scales your butcher uses to weigh the Sunday joint are accurate, or that the barman is giving you a fair measure? An explanation of the system which ensures that goods sold to you as a consumer are weighed or measured accurately, is available from GOV.UK.

A series easy to follow step-by-step guides and sample letters to assist you to claim or complain are available from Which? Consumer Rights.

A guide, "Consumer Rights: Know Your Statutory Rights" is available from MyLegaladvisor.co.uk.

Advice on how to deal with specific problems with Goods and Services is available at the following MyAdviceGateway pages:

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