Today (1st October 2015 if you’re reading this in the future!) new consumer rights laws came into force, which includes the right for consumers to demand a refund for the products bought within a period of up to 30 days. Now I’m all for consumer protection, but where is the protection to businesses from the customers who are clearly out to grab a freebie?

The new laws

According to the BBC, these are the main points of the revised and updated laws:

  • must be of satisfactory quality, based on what a reasonable person would expect, taking into account the price
  • must be fit for purpose. If the consumer has a particular purpose in mind, he or she should make that clear
  • must meet the expectations of the consumer

For me, these three bullet points are very dangerous to businesses. I’ll explain why.

Firstly, all three points are ambiguous. There is no defined parameters for each of these points. The term “satisfactory quality” is surely down to an individual’s interpretation? Whilst a company may believe the item sold, our in our industry’s case, installed, the customer may not believe it is. Then starts a dispute.

The “fit for purpose” point is also a very grey area. I am sure many of us are very professional and make sure that we ask all the questions we can to understand fully what the home owner wants from their new windows and doors. But there will always be that possible scenario where the home owner fails to tell us something important, and the questions we ask might not uncover that. Who would lie at fault? The customer will argue that this isn’t what they asked for, or expected, or wanted. The company will argue that they can only go on the information provided by the customer. Then starts a dispute.

The third point is the most wide open one. The “expectations of the consumer” is so wide, so open to interpretation that the reality is the home owner now has a very easy and powerful excuse to withhold payment while reasons are thought up as to why the windows and doors installed did not meet their expectations.

I am all for consumer protection. There are some dodgy businesses out there. But there has been a very unbalanced rise in the amount of protection consumers get, with very little for business.

Crafty customers

Lets all be very honest with ourselves for a moment. There are some consumers out there who are out to get what they can. They like to take their pound of flesh from a business. They like to get a freebie as often as possible. Abuse of businesses is not uncommon. There are some terrible consumers out there. So whilst we’re talking about the rights of the customer, should we not also be talking about the rights and protection for business as well?

I have long felt that businesses have become a punching bag for consumers, an attitude promoted by certain television programmes and out of date stereotypes. I personally would like to see introduction of laws which come down hard on consumers which deliberately deceive and take advantage of businesses. As part of these new laws is the ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution), a service which aims to resolve disputes. But as with other similar services, I suspect they will be more inclined to favour the consumer rather than the business, which will not help businesses who are genuinely not at fault.

These laws are a good thing for consumers, and those looking to take advantage of them for their own gain, and a bad day for genuinely professional and honest businesses.

Find out more about the new consumer rights laws

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