27 March 2020

What are my consumer rights during the Covid-19 crisis?

With stores across the country closed, what happens if you want to return an item you’ve bought? And what happens if you think you’ve been taken advantage of because of the crisis?

Essentially, your consumer rights are exactly the same as in normal times.

Let’s take a look at what they are.

Right to a refund or return

With stores across the country closed due to the pandemic, many UK retailers have temporarily extended their returns policies to allow consumers additional time to return unwanted goods. It is likely that many businesses will begin to receive queries from consumers about extending their returns policy if they have not already done so. However, there is no express legal obligation on them to do so.

Both consumers and businesses should be aware of consumers’ rights when requesting a refund or return. These rights differ depending on whether goods are purchased in-store or online and whether they are purchasing goods or services.

Businesses are not legally required to have a returns policy, but they must adhere to it if they do have one. They should also make sure their returns policy does not conflict with consumers’ rights.

The right to challenge unfair contract terms

According to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, a contract term is “unfair” if it “causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer”.

In certain circumstances, unfair clauses in contracts might be ones where you are required to pay arbitrary or non-refundable advance payments, or where cancellation charges will be made.

If you are a consumer, you can challenge unfair contract terms in court.

Where a business relies on unfair terms, the Competition and Markets Authority and Trading Standards may also take enforcement action against that business.

Exploitative sales and pricing practices

The Competition and Markets Authority’s statement published on 5 March 2020 warns traders not to exploit the Coronavirus situation to take advantage of consumers, whether by charging excessive prices or making misleading claims about the efficacy of protective equipment. This obligation also applies to members of the public who resell goods through online marketplaces.

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About the Author
Robert Capper, Partner, Head of Commercial Team

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