Imagine you were playing a game, where someone said a word or phrase and you had to say the first word or phrase that came into your head. If the other person said “consumer detriment”, would you say
a) what? or,
b) the true economic impact of poor consumer service or,
c) something else?.
Every year, millions of UK consumers suffer from some form of consumer detriment, be it a delayed delivery, substandard service or the purchase of a faulty item and such experiences are a familiar feature of our everyday lives. However quantifying the scale and impact of these experiences on UK consumers in a systematic way is a complex task. A report from Citizens Advice estimated that over 18 million people were affected by consumer detriment in 2015 at a cost “upwards of £22.9 billion” so it deserves to be treated seriously.
Buying goods which turn out to be faulty, not switching to a cheaper provider of goods and services or receiving sub-standard service are also examples of what can result in consumer detriment. It is important to try and understand it so that the law can provide support to consumers who need it most.
In 2014, research published by the UK government showed that most consumers in the UK (over eight out of ten) generally felt confident and knowledgeable when choosing and buying goods and services. They were also confident that they would be dealt with fairly by suppliers. They were however less positive about how well protected they felt by consumer law and supported by consumer advice and enforcement agencies.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduced measures designed to simplify the law and to empower consumers. On the 1st October 2015 new consumer rights became law. These cover:
i) what should happen when goods and/or digital content are faulty;
ii) how services should be provided with reasonable skill and care (as well as matching up to what had been agreed between the provider and the consumer) and what should happen when they are not;
iii) unfair terms in a contract;
iv) what happens when a business is acting in a way which isn’t competitive;
v) written notice for routine inspections by public enforcers, such as Trading Standards;
vi) greater flexibility for public enforcers to respond to breaches of consumer law, such as seeking redress for consumers who have suffered harm.
While most of these changes were important updates to existing legislation, two new areas of law were also introduced. The Act gave consumers a clear right to have faulty digital content, (such as online film and games, music downloads and e-books) repaired or replaced. Clear new rules were also introduced setting out what should happen if a service is not provided with reasonable care and skill or as agreed. For example, the business providing the service must bring it into line with what was agreed with the customer or, if this is not practical, must give some money back.
At the time the Citizens Advice report was published, the top seven product categories most commonly affected by consumer issues were:
- TV, phone and internet
- Train services
- Energy companies
- Electrical appliances
- Bus services
The impact of consumer detriment can only be reduced if consumers make use of their rights. If you feel you might have cause for complaint about goods or services you have bought (however doubtful you might be) you can get advice from the Citizens Advice consumer help line on 03454 04 05 06.
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