Further to the blogs posted last year covering the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which came into force on 1 October last year, the Government is looking again at Consumer legislation. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills launched a ‘Call for Evidence’ (effectively a consultation document) in March. Its purpose is to seek a better understanding of how Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) can be made more user-friendly and how consumers might be encouraged to engage more effectively with T&Cs.
The Government noted that a Which? survey from September last year, found that some businesses’ T&Cs were over 38,000 words – “longer than Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet’”!
The Call for Evidence asks for specific views on the value of:
the price and subject matter terms being prominent and transparent so that it is easier to make comparisons between the T&Cs offered by different suppliers;
putting key facts together bold and up front (e.g. on two pages);
making T&Cs more navigable, by grouping certain terms under clear headings;
encouraging business to enable and support consumers to actively engage with T&Cs;
increasing incentive for businesses to comply with rules on unfair terms by granting enforcers powers to impose fines.
The Call for Evidence points out that the legislation has been given a refresh by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, but the effectiveness of the available enforcement tools is a concern. Enforcement action is limited in scope and does not contain sufficiently strong deterrence. There may, therefore, be a lack of incentive for businesses to stop using unfair terms or practices even when they are likely to be found to be unfair by a court.
The consultation closed on 25th April and the Government are looking to make recommendations in Spring 2016.
As is often the case, legislation is not much use if the enforcement is ineffective. Compared to business transactions, consumer transactions are often low value and the time, trouble and expense to pursue a grievance can be off-putting. Maybe fines are the answer? The vast majority of businesses are genuine and compliant so should not be concerned.
This should not be relied upon for legal advice. If you would like any further information or advice please email firstname.lastname@example.org.