The short answer is, after a “reasonable period of time”. Yes, it’s as fuzzy and hazy and non-specific as that. Perfect for business to be able to manipulate to ensure that they’re never prosecuted by the organisation responsible for doing so, the National Consumer Agency.
Recently, ValueIreland.com received an e-mail from a reader as follows:
I was in Dunnes stores in Briarhill, Galway at the weekend to buy my usual bottle of wine. (04/04/09). Torres white wine. There was a 20% off or back on all wines and champagnes. However on the Torres there was a sign for 20% off, i.e was 13.75 down to 10.79. Now this is the problem, never ever have I paid out 13.75 for this bottle of wine it was always 10.49, and it scanned through the till at 10.49 not the apparent 10.79 that it was meant to be down to. Now I admit it is a good 3 weeks since I had last bought a bottle of this wine but it stuck out in my head because this is the only brad of wine I ever buy
I would like to know how long the wine was selling at 13.75 for and is it against the law to just put the price up in order to claim there is 20% off. I know this is not a huge amount of a difference but if this was happening on all wines I am sure it would add up.
Here was my response, plus some extra information I’ve brought together to illustrate the hoplessness of this whole situation.
The actual agency to follow up with if you want to make a complaint about pricing is the National Consumer Agency.
If you’re familiar with my website comments regarding the NCA, you’ll see however that I wouldn’t hold out much hope if you were to follow up with them.
The law states that goods must have been on sale for a “reasonable period” of time prior to the price reduction.
So, if you could find out what a “reasonable period” might be, then found that the store concerned didn’t have the wine at the higher price for this period of time, then they would have been acting in contravention of the relevant legislation.
The problem is, though, that this “reasonable period” of time has no actual definition, so I would expect it will be nearly impossible to get any satisfaction from the NCA on this.
The relevant legislation regarding sale prices is the 2007 Consumer Protection Act, section 43.6 (a) & (b), which states:
if the commercial practice involves a representation or creates an impression (whether in advertising, marketing or otherwise) that a product was previously offered at a different price or at a particular price, consideration shall be given to whether the product was previously offered openly and in good faith at that price and at the same place for a reasonable period of time before the representation was made
The key text here says “a reasonable period of time” which, as you can probably guess, could mean any period of time depending on who you ask. If you were to ask me, I’d say that such a fuzzy term in the legislation was actually intended to ensure that no business could be prosecuted.
In 2007, the NCA started a consultation on what might be defined as a “reasonable period”. This documentation for this consultation states:
The 28 day rule had been in place for almost 30 years and the requirement that an indication that products were ‘offered openly at the same place within the preceding 3 months for not less than 28 successive days’ has been accepted throughout the sector.
However, I can’t find any follow up to this consultation, so I guess it’s been forgotten about.
In its place, the NCA are now putting together “Draft Guidelines” on price discounts – details available here. This effort backtracks on the 28 day rule (maybe retail pressure groups had success in suppressing the consultation in 2007) and tries to come up with different rules for “reasonable period” depending on the products on sale.
Even if these “draft guidelines” are accepted, it’s worth remembering that they’re just guidelines and therefore would have no legal standing – so the only legislation in place is the original act stating “reasonable period”.
Which brings us back around to the fuzzy legislation that the National Consumer Agency will say that they can’t really follow up on to make prosecutions under the Act, even if they wanted to (which as we know, they don’t really want to anyway as that would mean work).