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What Businesses Need To Know About Consumer Rights



There is a common saying that goes, ‘The customer is always right.’ Of course, in many cases, this isn't true. Whilst the customer is not always right, the customer does have rights, and businesses must recognise and understand these. 


In the UK, customer rights are governed by the Consumer Rights Act, legislation that consolidates various consumer protection regulations and sets out the rights of consumers when purchasing goods and services from businesses. All businesses, small or large, need to be aware of these when selling goods or services to the general public. The regulations are in place to protect the customer but also to impose fair trading and ensure that businesses are also protecting themselves from claims against them.


Let’s explore some key things businesses need to know about consumer rights:


Right To Goods/Services Of Satisfactory Quality

Under the Consumer Rights Act, products and services must reach the quality standards as described by the business. This means that product descriptions and claims - whether made in adverts, online descriptions, packaging, etc - must match the product or service that is delivered.


In services, it's important to be transparent about the real benefits the service may provide and not make false claims. For product retailers, providing accurate descriptions of the working and visual condition and robustness of items is part of your responsibility as a business. When products are delivered to the consumer they also need to arrive in the expected condition. If goods do not meet these standards, consumers have the right to a repair, replacement, or refund.


Advertising and marketing regulations dictate that practices should be truthful, not misleading and must comply with Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.


Rights To Information Requirements

Businesses are required to provide consumers with certain information before a purchase, these include:


  • Details about the goods or services

  • The total price

  • Any applicable taxes

  • Delivery costs

  • Cancellation rights

This information must be accessible, clear and easy-to-understand.


Cooling Off Periods

For goods and services sold to the general public you must offer a cooling-off period (subject to a few exceptions).


Cooling-off periods should be a minimum of 14 days and take place after the sale but applies only so long as a service hasn’t been enacted; or a product used; and sometimes for certain sectors (such as catering services, event ticket purchases and holiday accommodation - but there is a reasonableness test that is applied here - ask me for more details). For instance, if a consumer buys an online course, they may have a cooling off period but that would be automatically ended if the course were to be downloaded. Equally any bespoke, made to order, items cannot be cancelled once ordered. Otherwise, consumers may be able to operate a use and return system that would be unfair to businesses.


Consumers buying goods have the right to return these without explanation within the 14-day period. They don’t have to be incorrectly sold, faulty or fail to meet consumer needs. Customers may simply change their minds. Of course, this ceases to apply if items can be proven to have been used or if services have been delivered. Also, please note that this cooling off period does not apply to sales made by private individuals - so it is only businesses that need to provide this cooling off period.


Right to Return

If goods or services are faulty or not as described, consumers have the right to a repair, replacement, or refund, depending on the circumstances. This right applies regardless of whether the goods were purchased online, in-store, or through other means. 


The right to return is usually valid for 30 days. This is different to a cooling-off period because, if rejecting goods or services after the cooling-off period, an acceptable reason must be given. For instance, if a product breaks after a month when it is expected to have a longer life guarantee, then a customer will retain the right to a refund.


Businesses should also consider their reputation when deciding upon and delivering their returns policy. Even if you suspect the customer is being unreasonable or dishonest, it may be worth swallowing the cost of a refund or replacement rather than risk damage to your reputation. Negative online reviews, in particular, can be harmful to businesses so you may consider this in your decision, even if your customer doesn’t legally have a right to a refund.

You can find out more about return and refund rights on Gov.uk.


Right To Fair Contract Terms


Terms of sale, or terms and conditions should be visible and accessible for those buying services or goods on your website. They must also be clear and avoid any legal jargon as this makes it easier to resolve disputes.


Furthermore, businesses should ensure that their contract terms are fair and transparent. Everything included must be in line with the Consumer Rights Act. Unfair contract terms will not be legally binding and may be challenged by consumers.


As a commercial lawyer, I can draft bespoke, robust terms of business, or terms and conditions, to protect your company and build consumer confidence. Please get in touch to find out more.


Consumer Rights To Data Protection

All businesses must comply with data protection laws, currently UK GDPR (March 2024). This is a series of regulations that specify the data companies can collect as well as how it is used and stored. It also stipulates the consumer's rights in terms of permissions, privacy and access to information regarding their data.


Online retailers usually require a number of personal details, including contact details and payment information, to enable consumer transactions online. Therefore, online retailers need to be especially aware of data protection regulations, have processes and procedures in place and display and adhere to a privacy policy. 


Every UK website must have a privacy policy. Though templates can be used the policy must accurately explain how data is collected, used and stored in your business. If you require a privacy policy for your website, please get in touch.


Why Do Business Retailers Need To Know About Consumer Rights?

Businesses operating in the UK need to be aware of consumer rights to ensure compliance with the law and maintain positive relationships with their customers. Aside from the inconvenience and expense of managing complaints, companies that break consumer law can also be fined by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).


By understanding and adhering to consumer rights principles, businesses can build trust with their customers and minimise the risk of legal disputes. Furthermore, following best practice is a sure way for businesses to demonstrate a commitment to ethical standards.


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