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Retailers want to retain consumers’ right to reject faulty goods, say law commissions

Out-Law News | 15 May 2009 | 9:23 am | 2 min. read

Businesses as well as consumers have backed the UK Government's attempts to retain shoppers' right to return faulty goods for an immediate refund. A consultation has found that retailers as well as shoppers back the stance.

The European Commission is planning a Directive on consumer rights which could undermine some of the rights that UK consumers now have. The proposed Directive would replace UK consumers' 'right to reject' with a right to have goods replaced or repaired.

The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission were asked by the Government to consult with the public and with business on whether the Government should fight to retain the right to reject.

They have now published the results of the consultation, and said that there was overwhelming support for retaining the right to reject.

"Our consultation shows widespread support for retaining the right to reject, among both consumer and business groups," said the report on the consultation. "A large majority of consultees agreed with our provisional proposal that the right to reject should be retained as  a short-term remedy of first instance."

"The right the reject was thought to be simple and well-understood, providing an effective tool which prevents consumers from becoming locked into a cycle of failed repairs. Consultees argued that it bolsters consumer confidence and encourages higher standards," it said.

Since the consultation began in November of last year the European Commissioner for consumer affairs Meglena Kuneva has said that it was not her intention that the right to reject be undermined, the law commissions said.

They said that the European Commission's main objection to the UK right had been the uncertainty over how long the right lasted. The law says that consumers must return goods "within a reasonable time". The consultation found that the public and businesses also found that vagueness frustrating.

"The main reported problem with the right to reject is uncertainty over how long it lasts. In the Consultation Paper, we provisionally proposed setting a period of 30 days in which consumers should normally exercise the right to reject," said the Commissions' report. "We proposed a limited amount of flexibility to extend or reduce this period in some circumstances."

"Strong arguments were put in favour of our proposal for a 30-day normal period, although several respondents argued that the period was too short," they said. "Whilst most respondents agreed that the period should be extended or reduced in some circumstances, there was less consensus about what those circumstances should be."

The respondents to the consultation largely backed a reformed right to reject, the Law Commissions found. "Almost all respondents … agreed that the loss of the right to reject would be likely to undermine consumer confidence," they said.

David Hertzell, the Commissioner leading the project for the Law Commission of England and Wales, said: “when we asked consumers what they thought, 79% were aware of the right to reject; 94% said it was important to them; and 89% said it should be retained, even though the other remedies of repair or replacement were available".

The Law Commission will make recommendations based on the consultation responses and will give them to Government next year, it said.