Last updateThu, 26 Feb 2015 2pm


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Consumer law to be simplified

The Government is planning fundamental changes to UK consumer law.

The proposals, which aim to benefit consumers, reduce burdens for business and help enforcers, were set out in a speech on consumer protection by UK Business Secretary John Hutton.

Developed over decades and comprising more than 100 different pieces of legislation, the UK's current system offers high standards of protection for consumers.

Hutton said, however, that its complexity makes it hard to understand and costs business an estimated £1.25 billion every year.

"For example, we currently have specific rules for filling up coal bunkers and selling bird seed, imitation baby dummies and clothes with hood cords. It is clear that we must act to streamline these myriad rules to help consumers know and exercise their rights, cut red tape and target enforcement to weed out rogue traders," Hutton added.

The Government now wants business and consumer groups to come forward with evidence that could inform the root and branch review of consumer law.

It is seeking feedback on a number of ideas and questions including simplifying the law by replacing the 100-plus consumer laws with more flexible general rules to help reduce the burden on business.

Hutton said he also wants to look into other significant cost reductions for business, ways to help consumers better understand their rights and to encourage swift and effective dispute resolution between business and consumers.

A small number of core consumer rights may be brought together into a single Act of Parliament.

Changes required to keep pace with technological developments like the internet will be contemplated, as are changes to help enforcement bodies target their resources on rogue traders or those that deliberately flout the law, and ensure that honest businesses do not carry unnecessary costs.

To help support the review the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has also commissioned IPSOS MORI to produce a unique Consumer Survey.

The survey will look in depth at the perceptions of consumers across a range of different markets - focusing on confidence, transparency, complaints and vulnerable consumers.

Hutton added, the survey, the first of its kind in the UK, will shine a light on unfair or anti-competitive behaviour and root out problem sectors or industries.

"It will help consumers to make informed choices driving up standards and celebrating success. Sectors that are working well and treating their customers with respect deserve recognition but those who are not should be taken to task," he concluded.

The European Commission is also reviewing eight of its Directives that impact on consumer legislation at the moment.

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