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New digital consumer bill of rights in Queen's Speech

Digital consumers will have new rights under the draft Consumer Rights Bill, revealed in the Queen’s Speech on 8 May. The draft bill will update consumer protection laws to include digital purchases, such as e-books and apps, and simplify consumer rights by consolidating them into one place – they are currently split between eight separate pieces of legislation. As well as digital content, the draft bill will also cover goods, services and unfair contract terms.

Ministers believe simplifying and reforming the consumer rights legislation will save the UK economy around £4bn over 10 years. While consumer and business groups have both welcomed the bill, some download retailers have concerns about new consumer rights to return faulty digital content under the draft bill. (Trading Standards will be granted new powers to compel businesses to pay compensation when consumer law is breached for digital goods.)

It can, for instance, be difficult to prove whether the problem lies with the digital product or the device/broadband connection. Digital download retailer, GetGames also points out in an article in mcvuk.com that bugs are an expected part of any game and seeks clarification as to whether a patch/update constitutes a replacement.

That said, the draft Bill does address areas where the law has not kept up with technology and the new legislation for digital downloads is definitely welcome.

The Bill will also implement the Consumer Rights Directive into UK law. The Directive sets out a single consumer rights regime for online trade throughout the EU making it easier for businesses to trade in different countries.

It’s a move that is welcomed by British retailers. “UK retailers are global leaders online but coping with consumer rights rules that are different in every EU country is a barrier to growth,” said British Retail Consortium director-general Helen Dickinson.

“The single consumer rights regime for online trade across national borders, which this legislation brings in, will get us closer to a single digital market.”

Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, also welcomed the Bill but warned that it was only a “first step” towards a fair deal for consumers. “The new legislation has to deliver clear, standardised rights for business and consumers alike, alongside full access to compensation for customers who are mistreated. If the legislation falls short on either of these tests then consumers will remain vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses.”

It is hoped that the new Bill will give consumers greater confidence when buying products and services as the rules will be simpler, provide clearer remedies with regards to digital content, introduce new protections for both consumers and businesses, and reduce the burdens for business as disputes should be fewer and less costly as rights and remedies will be clearer.

The DMA will review the draft Bill when it is published and keep members informed.

Janine Paterson, Solicitor, Direct Marketing Association

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