Healy O'Connor

Reform of Consumer Law

The Government has pledged to address the “inherently unbalanced” relationship between consumers and businesses through a “major overhaul” of legislation to be rolled out next year, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton has announced.

Among the key elements of the overhaul of consumer law will be a prohibition on sellers charging payment fees greater than the cost of processing payments which should see sometimes exorbitant credit card fees fall and a ban on imposing additional charges on consumers by means of pre-ticked boxes. Such charges will only be allowed where consent is given.

There will also be curbs on “small print”, possibly through the introduction of minimum font sizes and mandatory font colour such as black will also become a legal requirement of businesses selling to the general public.

As part of the legislative changes a comprehensive Consumer Rights Act will be introduced next year, Mr Bruton said. He was speaking at the launch of a report of the Sales Law Review Group, which was established by his department to make recommendations on the reform of consumer law.

He said he intended to to implement some of these provisions, in particular the measures in respect of excessive payment fees and pre-ticked boxes, by statute ahead of the framing of more comprehensive legislation.

“Transactions involving a consumer on the one hand and a business on the other are inherently unbalanced, and government has an obligation to regulate where the consumer needs protection,” Mr Bruton said.

“As this report has found, much of the law in this area dates from the late 19th century and is totally inappropriate for the era of the smartphone and the large supermarket.

“That is why I have asked my Department to radically overhaul the four Acts and the five pieces of secondary legislation relating to consumer transactions. By consolidating and reforming the plethora of laws in the area to bring about a comprehensive Consumer Rights Act we will create a structure that will be appropriate for the 21st-century consumer market, will be simpler to understand, will create clearer rules for businesses, and will bring about substantial improvements for consumers.”

Other new laws to be introduced are expected to include:

  • A requirement that receipts be issued in consumer transactions
  • A rule that consumers would have the right to reject faulty goods within 30 days, replacing the complex and uncertain rules that currently apply
  • A rule that goods must be of satisfactory quality
  • Significant pro-consumer improvements in laws relating to services, including a rule that sellers cannot exclude certain terms in consumer contracts and strengthened guarantees as to the quality of a service provided to a consumer
  • Improvements in the rules governing distance and off-premises selling. These will apply most notably to internet purchases, and will include an increase from 7 to 14 days in the time period in which consumers can withdraw from a contract

The Consumers’ Association of Ireland welcomed the proposals to bring consumer law “up to date and fit for purpose”. Its chief executive Dermott Jewell said it would see “the scales rebalanced to the benefit and protection of the consumer” and he expressed the hope “that the measures are legislated for with the urgency they deserve in a retail environment that is changing constantly and not necessarily to the benefit of the purchasing consumer.

(The Irish Times, 18th October 2011)

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