Managing consumer disputes

29th November 2023

During the festive period, consumers are often out in force – whether online or in person – hunting for those important gifts for family and friends. It is important for businesses to be aware of the protections afforded to consumers pursuant to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (“the CRA”) in order to avoid time-consuming and costly consumer disputes.

The first step in managing disputes with consumers is attempting to avoid them by understanding the rights and obligations relevant to your specific business. Once known, you can ensure that your terms and conditions comprehensively cover the relevant topics in a clear and concise manner – compliant with the CRA 2015 – ensuring that a copy is provided to the consumer at the outset and is easily visible in stores and online. This will afford some protection as your terms and conditions will have been incorporated into the contract with the consumer, thereby ensuring that both parties are aware of their respective rights.

By way of summary, the CRA includes the following pertinent obligations, although these are not exhaustive:

  1. Goods – including digital content and goods – are to be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality
  2. Where goods are sold by way of sample or a model seen or examined, the goods supplied must match those viewed by the consumer
  3. Services are to be performed with reasonable care and skill, charged at a reasonable price and completed within a reasonable period of time
  4. Information provided about the services or trader is binding.

If a dispute is raised by a consumer, there are certain rights which are available under the CRA, including:

  1. A right to reject the goods supplied, full or partial, or short term right to reject and final right of rejection
  2. Right to a repair or replacement or price reduction. In relation to services, a right to a repeat performance.

A consumer can exercise a short-term right to reject, unless the goods are expected to perish after a shorter period, within 30 days beginning with the first day following ownership transfer – hire of goods or hire-purchase agreements – the goods being delivered and where the goods are installed, if relevant.

Where a repair or replacement is requested by a consumer, the period for a short-term rejection is paused until such an action is complete. If a consumer requests a repair or replacement, you are required to do as requested within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to the consumer.

You are also required to bear any necessary costs incurred in repairing or replacing the goods. Where a consumer has a right to a price reduction and final right of rejection, a consumer may only exercise one, not both.

There are certain ways in which you can limit your liability by ensuring that your terms and conditions provide clear information relating to the above requirements. These include, for example, providing definitions in relation to the purpose of certain goods or a reasonable price and time period in respect to services being provided and confirming the remedies and timeframes available to a consumer.

By tailoring your terms and conditions in this manner, you will exhibit some control over your exposure to complaints or litigation, which can be time consuming and costly. You could also have the added benefit of budgeting for potential “worst case scenarios” or limiting reputational damage in avoiding lengthy disputes or expensive court action.