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Some good but some pointless changes proposed – New Consumer Protection Legislation (1 of 5)

Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has proposed new consumer protection legislation changes (logo)Back in May 2015, some extensive changes to consumer protection rights legislation were announced by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton, TD. Given the usual legislative delays plus the interjection of an election, the proposals haven’t progressed into law yet, but should they be, there are some interesting implications for consumers – some positive, some negative and some downright meaningless.

Some of these proposed changes have received more media coverage than others – particularly those instituting some rules for the issuing of vouchers and gift cards – including some significant coverage over the Christmas period.  For the record, I’ve frequently written here on the evil that is buying vouchers as gifts, or at all – see here my listing of reasons not to buy vouchers for any reason, so if these proposals didn’t ban vouchers completely, I’m probably not inclined to be interested.

But I’ll come back to vouchers later. In the coming days, I’ll publish my thoughts on a few sections of the proposed legislation, including a post highlighting what I think is a major gap that I think could, or should, have been addressed, but wasn’t.

Obviously, the potential for a change in government (particularly now that it’s not even definite that Fine Gael will continue to be the main players in the relevant Department) could mean that these proposals might not go through in their current form. Though, it’s worth noting that the 2011 change in government didn’t impact on the Fianna Fail plans to merge the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency into the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, even though such a proposal was never previously on the cards for Fine Gael or Labour.

What might change?

In summary, the changes proposed in this legislation are as follows:

  • Expiry dates on gift vouchers and gift cards will be banned
  • Consumers who receive products or services as a gift will be entitled to the same rights as if they bought the product or service themselves
  • Consumers will get a standard 30-day period during which they will have the right to return a faulty product and get a full refund, without going through the repair / replace shenanigans
  • Consumers downloading or streamlining digital content will now receive statutory rights, similar to what they receive when buying physical items
  • Consumers purchasing services will have their rights strengthened, such as now receiving the right to a repair or a refund for crappy service
  • Consumers of certain services (healthcare, social services, gambling) will now be entitled to additional information regarding transactions they undertake – e.g. GP pricelists.

Summary Conclusions

In short, it’s my opinion that the gift vouchers changes are merely there for their headline grabbing appeal. It’s one of those consumer laws being brought in to protect people who can’t be bothered looking after themselves.

I don’t know enough to comment on how necessary the additional statutory rights for online downloads were, but I do think the changes with regards to strengthening consumer rights when purchasing services is to be welcomed, though is likely to prove very problematic for consumers to actually benefit from those particular changes. The key sticking point here is likely to be how a substandard service is defined / identified / proven.

Importantly, while the automatic 30-day refund period for faulty products could probably have the biggest impact on making consumers purchasing experiences significantly better, it is also likely to be opposed most rigorously by retailers who hide behind the existing repair / replace options within consumer legislation to ensure they never have to return money to consumers for crappy products.

Finally, I do see one glaring gap right now in the information rights proposals for the new legislation. I can’t argue with proposals such as requiring GPs to hang price lists on the wall. Though, in the interests of consumers looking after themselves – have we lost the ability to ask up front what the charges would be?

First up then, in my next blog post I’ll look more at the 30 day refund rule, the “consumer rights by proxy” for recipients of gifts, and the voucher / gift card changes.

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