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Whose side are you on, Minister?

DianneHayter.jpgDianne Hayter on righting legislative wrongs within the Consumer Rights Bill

The government’s bill on Consumer Rights has some serous shortcoming, which we are currently seeking to rectify in Committee in order to protect consumers against rogue traders. We have tried to make it mandatory for retailers to tell shoppers their rights, get repairs made to faulty goods within a fortnight, ensure the full price of goods (including delivery or later costs) are in the advertised price, and make sure that when a consumer has a complaint, their full rights to a repair, replacement or refund are made crystal clear. The government has resisted all of these calls, often citing the pleas of (or burdens on) business, and you have to wonder whose side they are on.

The Bill itself is something of a wasted opportunity. The changes we want – to help educate consumers and establish their rights in law – have not been included. And other, new remedies are needed too. For example, if the installation of a new fridge, washing machine or kitchen in someone’s house was so badly carried out that it posed a risk to the occupant, they should be entitled to a refund without having to allow the same useless individuals back into their home, thereby risking a second bodge.

There are also a number of other major areas where the government is refusing our amendments.

First, where an electrical good has been found to be not just faulty but dangerous (having caused fires or fumes), manufacturers and retailers would be under an obligation to take serious steps to contact all who had purchased such goods – for recall and replacement. Too many instances exist of lives lost from faulty goods where the problem had already been identified but the product left in people’s homes.

The second area is a ‘let out’ for faulty goods where there is an active second-hand market, otherwise subject to a full refund within six months. This is designed to cover cars, where the value falls within minutes of being driven off the forecourt and a fault might emerge months later (by which time the owner could have had many happy miles of driving). While this may be true in some cases, someone who has paid to be the first owner of a new car should not automatically lose the right to a full refund for a fault, simply because they could sell it on. We’ll be seeking to remove this ‘let out’ which would, as it stands, cover many products and not just cars.

By far the biggest gap in the Bill is the failure to mention ‘redress’, especially when the UK government has to introduce a system for redress schemes by mid-2015 under an EU Directive. Ministers have this week rebuffed our calls for action, and as such we plan to press the issue to a vote when the Bill comes onto the floor of the House at Report stage.

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Consumer Affairs Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 16th October 2014

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