From special offers that don't exist to closing down sales that run for months and months, some companies use underhand tactics to get a sale.
But the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) provides consumer protection from unfair or misleading trading practices. The regulations also ban misleading omissions and aggressive sales tactics, such as doorstep selling.
Basic rules of the Consumer Protection Regulations
There are three main sections in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations. These are as follows:
- The general ban on unfair commercial practices
- Misleading and aggressive practices which are assessed in light of the effect they have, or are likely to have, on the average consumer
- The Black List which contains the list of those practices which are unfair and thus banned
Companies are not allowed to use misleading or underhand tactics to get you to part with your cash.
Misleading actions include advertising goods that don't exist, or offering just a few items at the advertised price with no hope of meeting large demand.
If a trader has signed up to a code of practice, then if it fails to follow this code, it could be a breach of the CPRs.
For example, if a garage has signed up to the Motor Industry Code of Practice for Service and Repair, failing to follow it could constitute a breach of the CPRs.
Traders are also banned from lying about goods or passing them off as another product to give them credibility.
For example 'we only fit genuine, branded parts', when in reality they are fitting non-branded parts to your car.
Sometimes it's not what's actually said that's the problem. Sometimes its what's been left out that's the issue.
The CPRs offers consumer protection against traders who are economical with the truth, or miss out key information that you might need to make an informed decision, will be caught out too.
Traders must make sure the information is provided in a timely manner - and not so late that it's of no use to you.
It's considered misleading if a trader does any of the following:
- Omits material information that the average consumer needs, according to the context, to take an informed transactional decision
- Hides or provide material information in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner
- Fails to identify the commercial intent of the commercial practice if not already apparent from the context
And information must also be displayed clearly - obscure presentation is tantamount to an omission.
Sales tactics can greatly influence a consumer's decision. Traders who fail to take no for an answer, refuse to leave until a contract is signed or use threatening behaviour will be committing an offence.
A practice is considered aggressive if the average consumer’s freedom of choice or conduct is significantly impaired.
The legislation contains a list of criteria to help determine whether a commercial practice uses harassment, coercion, including physical force, or undue influence.
Undue influence is categorised by something that applies pressure 'even without using or threatening to use physical force, in a way which significantly limits the consumer’s ability to make an informed decision.'
The CPRs in practice
If a trader is accused of misleading consumers or acting aggressively, it's not enough to simply demonstrate the activity.
It also has to be shown that the practice influenced the consumer's decision.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the consumer has to have entered into a contract, just that their actions were influenced in some way.
It could be enough that the consumer phoned the trader or decided to go into their shop.
In addition to tackling misleading and aggressive behaviour, the CPRs outlaw 31 specific practices such as claiming something is free when it's not and persistent cold-calling.
With these 31 practices it's enough simply to demonstrate wrongdoing, and there is no need to show that it influenced the consumer's decision in any way.
The banned practices under the CPR’s are to ensure that traders, marketing professionals and customers are clear about what is prohibited and help provide consumer protection.
The list of banned practices include the following:
- Bait advertising Luring the consumer with attractive advertising around special prices when the trader knows that he cannot offer that product, or only has a few in stock at that price.
- Bait and switch Promoting one product with the intention of selling you something else
- Limited offers Falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time, or that it will only be available on particular terms for a very limited time, in order to elicit an immediate decision and deprive consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice.
- False free offers Describing a product as free or without charge if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the offer and collecting or paying for delivery of the item.
- Pressure selling Creating the impression that the consumer cannot leave the premises until a contract is formed.
- Aggressive doorstep selling Conducting personal visits to the consumer's home ignoring the consumer's request to leave or not to return.
Cross border trading
The CPRs also aim to clarify consumers’ rights and simplify the process of cross-border trade.
The regulations give you the same protection against unfair practices and rogue traders whether you're buying from your corner shop or purchasing from a website based in Spain.
This also means that businesses can advertise and market to all 480 million consumers in the EU, in the same way as to their domestic customers.
The principle aim is to boost consumer confidence and give business a uniform and transparent EU wide set of rules.