Regulatory Outlook

Consumer law | UK Regulatory Outlook June 2024

Published on 26th Jun 2024

UK general election 2024: what we know so far on how consumer law might be affected | DSIT publishes guidance to regulator about fees under OSA | CMA launches market investigation into the UK vet sector

UK general election 2024: what we know so far on how consumer law might be affected

The two main political parties (Conservative and Labour) competing to win in the general election on 4 July 2024 have published their manifestos.

Neither manifesto mentions the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Act 2023 (DMCCA), which became law under the current Conservative government on 24 May 2024, but which will only come into effect once secondary legislation is passed.

If the Conservative Party wins power on 4 July, we can presume that it would bring forward the necessary secondary legislation. As for Labour, it did not substantially oppose the consumer provisions in the Act as it progressed through Parliament. It tried to include provisions to protect consumers in relation to the resale of events tickets, but decided not to prevent the bill from becoming law by pursuing the issue. However, in its election manifesto, Labour says that it would "put fans back at the heart of events by introducing new consumer protections on ticket resales", but without specifying how it would achieve this.

We can therefore expect the new legislation to come into effect at some point, whichever party wins power, but it is not at all clear when this would happen. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently consulting on the competition aspects of the DMCCA (see the Competition section for further details) and should also be consulting on guidance in relation to its new consumer enforcement powers in due course. During its passage through Parliament, the Conservative government also said that there would be further consultation on renewal cooling-off periods under subscription contracts.

Other policies affecting consumers are mostly contained in the parties' plans in respect of the Online Safety Act 2023 (OSA).

The Conservative Party says that it would "expect to build on the existing responsibilities set out for social media companies under the [OSA]". The Labour Party also plans to "build on the [OSA]", but it also says that it would "bring[…] forward provisions as quickly as possible, and explore further measures to keep everyone safe online, particularly when using social media". That said, the indications are that it would focus more on the implementation of the OSA by Ofcom as the new online safety regulator. To assist with this, Labour says that it would create a new Regulatory Innovation Office (or regulator of the regulators), focusing on the tech regulators, to help them update regulation, speed up approval timelines and coordinate issues where there is crossover among the different regulatory areas.

The Conservative manifesto also:

  • outlines plans to consult on introducing further parental controls over access to social media and on developing age verification technology;
  • commits to putting the current guidance on banning mobile phones in schools on a statutory footing; and
  • commits to resurrecting the parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, which did not make it through the "wash-up" period to create new criminal offences for the creation of non-consensual sexualised deepfakes and revenge porn.

In its manifesto, Labour says that it would:

  • work with technology companies to tackle online fraud, strengthen rules to prevent the online sale of knives and update the rules around countering extremism, including online;
  • re-introduce criminal offences for the creation of non-consensual sexualised deepfakes (without mentioning revenge porn); and
  • give women the right to know the identity of online stalkers.

Away from the OSA, the Conservative Party's manifesto states that a Conservative government would cut the cost of net zero for consumers "by taking a more pragmatic approach", guaranteeing no new green levies while accelerating the rollout of renewables. It would also "maintain the highest standards of consumer protection" in the financial services sector and, to take advantage of the UK's "Brexit freedoms", deliver regulatory reform across the board while ensuring that regulators "deliver the best outcomes for … consumers …".

As for the Labour Party, its manifesto states that, in addition to introducing consumer protections on ticket resales, it would "ensure economic regulation … works for consumers" and bring in tougher regulation for the energy industry "that puts consumers first".

DSIT publishes guidance to regulator about fees under OSA

Just before Parliament was dissolved, the UK's Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) published guidance to Ofcom on determining the fees that will be payable by regulated services under the OSA.

As it currently stands, the UK's new online safety regime is to be funded by fees paid by regulated service providers whose qualifying worldwide revenue meets or exceeds a certain revenue threshold and who are not otherwise exempt. Under the OSA, the government will retain oversight of the regulatory costs of the regime by setting Ofcom's total budget cap. The aim is to put in place a robust and fit for purpose fee regime which is expected to be in place by 2026-2027. Until then, the government is funding Ofcom's initial costs. Additional fees will then be charged over an initial set period of consecutive years to recoup the set-up costs.

DSIT has now published guidance to Ofcom on the principles to be included in the regulator's Statement of Charging Principles (SOCP) which constitutes the first step in the set-up process. Ofcom plans to publish its SOCP in 2025.

In the guidance, the government has identified three overarching principles that Ofcom must consider when developing its SOCP:

  • proportionality: fees must be applied in a proportionate way, considering revenue and other relevant factors, as well as recognising the potential burden on providers;
  • transparency: it must be clear what fees are being charged and why providers are paying them; and
  • stability: the principles setting the fees must be clear and consistent.

CMA launches market investigation into the UK vet sector

After consulting on a proposal to make a market investigation reference into UK veterinary services for household pets, which followed a review into the sector (see this Regulatory Outlook for background), the CMA has published the consultation responses alongside its decision to make a market investigation reference.

A market investigation will enable the CMA to further investigate its concerns and assess in detail whether certain features of the market are having an adverse effect on competition and therefore on consumers. A market investigation will also allow the CMA to address the issues with appropriate remedies, which could include making the provision of certain information to consumers obligatory, imposing maximum prescription fees, and ordering the sale or disposal of a business or assets. The CMA could also make recommendations to the government, for example, suggesting changes to the regulatory framework.

The CMA has also published guidance for consumers on choosing a vet practice and the appropriate treatment for their pets.

The statutory timetable for a market investigation is 18 months, meaning that the CMA would be required to deliver its final report, including any proposed remedies, by 22 November 2025.

See Competition and Products section for more information.


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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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