Motorists could have better protection from cowboy traders under new laws set to come into force next spring.
The Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) has begun implementing the Europe-wide Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), and aims to have the directive in place by April 2008.
While some consumer protection from rulings on existing laws will be lost, the DTI believes the UCPD will bring far greater benefits to consumers overall. The Office of Fair Trading is also hopeful that it will provide greater support to consumers, even if there might be some teething problems during its introduction.
Consumer minister Ian McCartney said: 'Consumers have a right to be sold things honestly and fairly. This new protection will make life a lot tougher for the rogues and easier for legitimate businesses to operate.'
Consumer law experts are particularly keen on a clause that imposes a 'general duty' on business not to trade unfairly. While cases will have to be tested in court to establish the limits and extent of the clause, any ruling in any European country can be taken as a precedent for the UK.
Companies will also be governed by a general clause that prohibits misleading actions, omissions and aggressive practices.
Overall, the UCPD replaces 22 existing laws in the UK, including trade descriptions legislation, but consumers will continue to benefit from protection offered by the Sale of Goods Act and Distance Selling Regulations.
The Sale of Goods Act allows consumers to reject goods or services that aren't of a satisfactory quality, while Distance Selling Regulations give those that have bought online or over the telephone greater rights to cancel their contracts.
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