Thursday 29 September 2016

Richard Bruton: Laws will give consumers a better deal when shopping for goods and services

Richard Bruton

Published 28/12/2015 | 02:30

A ban on expiry dates for gift cards and vouchers is among a range of new consumer protection measures expected to be agreed by the Government in the coming weeks. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
A ban on expiry dates for gift cards and vouchers is among a range of new consumer protection measures expected to be agreed by the Government in the coming weeks. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Some people will be waking up in these post-Christmas days and looking to give back faulty Christmas gifts.

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Many others will have received gift vouchers and be wondering what their rights are - and many others again will be buying goods and services in the sales over the next few weeks.

All the indications are that this Christmas has been an extremely busy one for shops and businesses, which is very welcome. However, it also means the issue of consumer protection becomes even more important, as increased numbers of retail transactions can mean increased opportunities for consumers' rights to be breached.

Consumers, of course, already have a significant body of rights, and being aware of those rights can be a great help.

For example, an article cannot be described as 'on sale' unless it was openly at the original price for a reasonable period, and a dispute in respect of a value less than €2,000 can be taken to the Small Claims Court.

Contracts for goods/services bought online can also be cancelled within 14 days

Over the past four years, we have added to this with new measures including the establishing of a powerful consumer regulator called the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, created by merging two other agencies.

We have also banned pre-ticked boxes, designed to trap people into buying things they didn't necessarily want, and outlawed unjustified payment charges for credit card transactions.

Most retailers are very helpful towards and supportive of their customers. Thankfully, disputes remain the exception rather than the rule.

However, I believe there can be a basic power imbalance between a consumer - who might make only a small number of purchases every year - and the retailer. Therefore it is of vital importance to have good laws in place and a strong regulator to enforce them where they are breached.

Part of this is ensuring that we update these laws on a regular basis in response to changing consumer patterns and new problems that emerge.

One such problem is that of expiry dates on gift vouchers. These can mean that a person can give such a voucher as a gift to a loved one, but find that that person gets no benefit at all if they don't use it within a certain period of time. This can be hugely annoying and deeply unfair.

That is why over the past year or so we have looked again at the issue of consumer rights, and I will be seeking Cabinet approval next month for new laws to bring in new protections for consumers, including:

• A ban on expiry dates for gift cards and vouchers;

• If you receive a gift, you will have exactly the same consumer rights as if you had bought the product yourself;

• New rights for consumers who purchase services, including a right for the first time to have a substandard service remedied or refunded;

• Extended information requirements;

• Comprehensive consumer rights for people who download or stream digital content online for the first time;

• A standard new rule that you can return faulty goods within 30 days and get a full refund.

If we are back in Government next year, I believe by the time people go Christmas shopping in 2016, these new laws will be in place, expiry dates for gift vouchers will be illegal, and Irish consumers will be much better protected.

Irish Independent

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