Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regs 2008

I've given up my attempt to independently summarise the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 ("CPRs" in the trade), and am simply going to refer you to what the OFT and BERR seem to make of them.

Oh, alright then. To summarise briefly:
  • Regulation 3 bans unfair commercial practices - basically anything unacceptable from an objective professional standpoint which is (or is likely to) change an economic decision of the "average" consumer. In other words, because of the practice the consumer buys (or sells) what they would not otherwise have bought (or sold), or fails to cancel a transaction that they would otherwise have cancelled.
  • Regulations 5-7 prohibit commercial practices which are misleading (whether by action or omission) or aggressive, and which cause or are likely to cause the average consumer to take a different decision.
  • There are 31 practices that are prohibited in all circumstances - regardless of whether or not they actually affect a consumer.
  • Oh, and this is all backed by criminal and civil enforcement powers and remedies.
Of course, this is fantastic example of EU overkill. There is simply no major consumer problem in the UK that deserves a whole swathe of new regulation which is harmonised with Greece.

Okay, so there are still dodgy traders, but we have TV shows that doorstep those guys for fun.

But some lawyers are getting pretty worked up about these regulations from a compliance standpoint (did I mention the criminal and civil enforcement provisions?). But this misses the wood for the trees. Any consumer-facing business that is reliant on these sorts of practices for its bread and butter has heavy cultural issues to contend with, and these issues could go right to the top of the tree. Cultural change is tough, and it isn't driven from the compliance coal face alone.

Which is why I enjoy advising Web 2.0 businesses - as they are predicated not only on treating consumers fairly, but enabling consumers to ensure that they are treated fairly.

Interesting issues for some eBay power sellers, though, and I guess there may be some old sharks who'll find themselves with a fine or making licence plates.

Lest we forget, there are also changes to the comparative and misleading advertising regulations. Basically, the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 ("BPMMRs"):
  • prohibit advertising which misleads traders (Reg 3);
  • sets out the conditions under which comparative advertising is permitted (Reg 4) - including the condition that the ad must not be misleading either under Reg 3 or the CPRs (see above);
  • requires traders and bodies responsible for codes of conduct or monitoring compliance with such codes not to promote misleading advertising and comparative advertising which is not permitted (Reg 5).
And, unlike the rather limp Advertising Standards Association advertising codes, these puppies have teeth - criminal and civil enforcement remedies and nasty accompanying powers.

West End ad agencies will never be the same again.
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