The Consumer Contract Regulations 2013—three months on

Doesn't time fly?

It has been three months since the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (CCRs) came into force and I'm still struggling to remember the order of all of the words in the brackets.

A shocking revelation I know.

So what impact have the relatively new CCRs had in practice?

We interviewed Jennifer Barnett, senior solicitor at Iceland Foods Limited, recently. She discusses the new regulations in the context of her company’s own working practices.

Three months on since they came into force, what are your observations in relation to the CCRs?

While the CCRs have generated a great deal of column inches, from a practical perspective, they have resulted in limited work for us. It’s involved tweaking our online terms and conditions, and some amendments to our customer online journey.

The effect has not been as onerous as we first expected.

Are there any grey areas?

The CCRs seem to be fairly clear for sales contracts (which are the type that Iceland enters into), although I understand there are more grey areas when it comes to service contracts.

Saying that, we would welcome some clarification around what it means to be ‘sealed’. There is an exception to the right to cancel for sealed products which are not suitable for return once unsealed for health or hygiene reasons.

Thus far, have the new rules proved to be practical and successful in achieving their aim?

The CCRs are obviously designed to give consumers more rights where they purchase goods online or over the telephone. Iceland’s online business is a real success story, and we are keen to encourage trust in online sales and the customer service behind them.

I think it’s a little early to see if the rules have been successful.

What has changed for you since the new rules came into force on 13 June 2014?

In relation to cancellation rights, the majority of what Iceland sells falls within the ‘perishable’ exception and thus while Iceland do sell products which carry the right to cancel (and as such have extended cancellation rights under the CCRs), the impact of the changes on cancellation rights have been minimal, especially as the cancellation period has in effect only changed by five days.

Generally, we already offers rights to customers which exceeded the statutory requirements as standard and so although we have had to make some changes to our terms and conditions and customer journey processes, our internal policies and customer care standards have remained largely unchanged.

We welcome the introduction of a requirement to return cancelled goods (or at least evidence that such goods have been sent) prior to the obligation to reimburse the customer arising. This seems to be a sensible and much-needed protection for traders where a customer chooses to cancel their goods.

Do you have any best practice tips for in-house lawyers?

Know your facts before worrying the rest of the business. The CCRs are a case in point, as they attracted a great deal of attention, but the effect for a business like Iceland was limited.

Also, consider your customers—when changing the customer journey, are you making things simpler for customers? They are busy people and there is lots of competition out there. The business won’t thank you if you drive customers away!

What are the trends in this area? And do you have any predictions for future developments?

It is difficult to comment on trends yet, but it will be interesting to see how much enforcement takes place, and how vigorously this is pursued. We are also watching the progress of the Consumer Rights Bill with interest. In particular, it appears that certain parts of various other pieces of legislation (such as the Sales of Goods Act 1979) will remain in force and we are keen to see how the Bill will achieve its aims to consolidate consumer legislation in the UK.

Thanks Jennifer!

Since we interviewed her, the government has announced that it intends the Consumer Rights Bill to come into force on 1 October 2015 subject to Parliament’s approval. For more details, click here.

So what do you think? Are the CCRs a good thing? Or are they just more annoying bureaucracy? Do let us have your thoughts below.

Jennifer Barnett qualified as a solicitor in 2006, having worked as a computer programmer. She worked in private practice for a number of years before joining Iceland Foods Limited. Jennifer’s areas of expertise include commercial contracts (with a particular interest in IT contracts), regulatory compliance, marketing and brand exploitation. Interviewed by Kate Beaumont.

The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.

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