Consumer Law – Laws designed to ensure that businesses make products that are safe and good quality, and that they deal with customers honestly and fairly
The easiest way to remember the meaning of the term consumer law is to focus on each word:
Consumer = a person who uses a product or service.
Law = rules defining correct procedure or behaviour.
Consumer law = rules defining the correct procedure of business when providing goods and services to those who use them.
Consumer law protects consumers from unfair and deceptive practices in the marketplace. It covers a wide range of topics, including product safety, warranties, advertising and credit.
The vast majority of developed nations have passed consumer laws. These require products to be fit for purpose, of satisfactory quality, and match the description given when sold. If a product doesn’t meet these standards, the purchaser may be entitled to a refund, repair, or replacement. Breaking any consumer laws could see a business reported to a trading standards authority as it is a criminal offence. If found guilty, punishments such as fines or even imprisonment can be enforced.
A specific example of a consumer law is the UK consumer rights act of 2015. The key provisions of which are:
- Goods must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and match the description given when sold.
- Services must be provided with reasonable care and skill.
- Businesses must not make misleading or deceptive claims about their products or services.
- Consumers have the right to a refund, repair or replacement if the goods or services are not up to standards.
- Consumers have the right to cancel contracts for goods or services within 14 days of purchase without a reason.
Some examples of cases where consumers have used their rights against businesses are:
- In 2018, a consumer in the UK filed a complaint with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) against payday lenders, alleging that the companies were charging excessive rates and fees. The CMA ruled in favour of the consumer and ordered the payday lenders to change their practices.
- A group of consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against Apple, alleging that the company has misled them about the battery life of their iPhones. The lawsuit claimed that Apple had intentionally slowed down older iPhones in order to force consumers to buy new ones. Apple eventually agreed to pay $500 million to settle the lawsuit. This wouldn’t have been possible without consumer laws.
- In 2017, a group of consumers filed a class-action lawsuit against Volkswagen, alleging that the company had cheated on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles and that they were therefore mis-sold the cars. The lawsuit claimed that Volkswagen had knowingly sold vehicles that did not meet emissions standards, which had a negative impact on the environment and public health. Volkswagen eventually agreed to pay $15 billion to settle the lawsuit.