Consumer Redress for Misleading and Aggressive Practices

12 April 2011

Clamping down on scams and rip-offs

Consumers should have a clear and easy route to redress if they fall victim to misleading and aggressive trading practices. That is what the Law Commission wants to see and, in a consultation launched today, the Commission is asking for feedback on ideas on how the law can be changed to achieve it.

Scams and rip-offs are common. Many of the victims are among the most vulnerable in society, with housebound and older people facing a particular threat from high-pressure, doorstep selling. But, under the existing laws that govern misleading and aggressive practices, it is difficult, if not impossible, to get your money back.

Research conducted by Consumer Focus suggests that two-thirds of us have been targeted by unscrupulous traders. We have been duped or pressured into buying a product we don’t want, that doesn’t meet our needs or isn’t what we were told it was. Or we have received aggressive demands for money, maybe for parking offences we haven’t committed or debts we have never owed.

If a trader misrepresents a product or service, it may be possible for consumers to get their money back. But the law is far from clear – there are over seven possible routes to redress – and consumers face particular difficulties if the misrepresentation doesn’t amount to a breach of contract.

It can be even harder for consumers to seek redress if traders have used high-pressure selling tactics or other aggressive practices. The aggressive debt collector or the doorstep salesman who ignores a request to leave may be breaking the law but it is still unclear whether consumers would have any rights to compensation.

David Hertzell, the Law Commissioner leading on this project for England and Wales, said: “When we buy goods that are faulty, we know we can get our money back. But when we’re misled about a product or fall victim to high-pressured sales tactics or aggressive demands for money, it’s very unclear what remedies are available to us.

“The Law Commission believes consumers should have a clear right to redress for misleading and aggressive commercial practices. Simplifying the law will give more confidence to consumers and help drive rogue traders out of the market place, where currently they damage the reputation and livelihood of good, honest businesses.”

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “These proposals are valuable and will help to fill gaps in consumer protection law, where bad practice and downright rip-offs so often slip through the net.

“Problems caused by misleading or aggressive selling practices are common; Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales dealt with thousands of enquiries about scams and unfair practices last year. Vulnerable consumers, such as elderly and disabled people, are particularly at risk. When you are short of cash, as many CAB clients are, rights to redress when traders act unfairly are a must.”

The consultation is open until 12 July 2011. The Commission’s provisional suggestions are outlined in the consultation paper, “Consumer Redress for Misleading and Aggressive Practices”, which is available on the Commission’s website, www.lawcom.gov.uk

Notes for Editors

  1. The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.
  2. This is a joint project with the Scottish Law Commission.
  3. For more details on this project, visit the project page for “Consumer Redress for Misleading and Aggressive Practices” on www.lawcom.gov.uk

For all press queries please contact:
Phil Hodgson, Head of Communications 020 3334 0230
Dan Leighton 020 3334 0231
Terry Cronin 020 3334 0255
Email: communications@lawcommission.gsi.gov.uk