Consumer protection is high on the agenda at both UK and European level. Below are some of the regulatory developments to watch, taken from Osborne Clarke’s UK Regulatory Timeline, which also covers upcoming developments across a wide range of other sectors and regulatory regimes. Please click here for the full Timeline.
Q2 2016: consumer Terms and Conditions
On 1 March 2016 the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills issued a call for evidence seeking a better understanding of how terms and conditions in consumer contracts could be made more user-friendly.
BIS is also investigating whether the range of enforcement powers currently available to ensure compliance with consumer protection laws is sufficient. In particular, it is seeking views on new powers to impose civil monetary penalties or fines on noncompliant businesses.
The consultation closed on 25 April 2016. The government has committed to making its recommendations in Q2 2016.
Q2/Q3 2016: e-commerce sector inquiry
The European Commission’s sector inquiry into the e-commerce sector has been on-going since May 2015. The aim of the inquiry is to gather information on private barriers (particularly contractual) to online trade across national borders, and to assess these barriers in the context of EU antitrust rules.
We anticipate that the Commission will publish its preliminary report for consultation in mid-2016 and its final report in the first quarter of 2017.
2016/2017: Digital Single Market
On 9 December 2015, the European Commission released the first legislative proposals under its Digital Single Market strategy. The Commission published draft Directives on:
- contracts for the online and other distance sales of goods; and
- contracts for the supply of digital content.
The proposals aim to tackle what the Commission perceives as the main obstacles to cross-border e-commerce in the EU: fragmentation of laws across the EU, and a lack of trust by consumers when purchasing online from other countries. These initiatives are priorities for the Commission and we are expecting draft texts to be prepared during 2016, although none of the changes are likely to take effect until 2017 at the earliest.
Following its consultation on the cost of cross-border parcel delivery, the Commission has also announced its intention to propose measures targeting cross-border parcel delivery prices in the spring of 2016. For more information and analysis, see our dedicated Digital Single Market hub.
Q2 2017: Fitness Check of consumer protection laws
The Commission has started work on its “Fitness Check” of six key consumer protection Directives that affect the retail sector – including the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, Sales and Guarantees Directive and Unfair Contract Terms Directive.
Although the Consumer Rights Directive is not part of the Fitness Check, the Commission is also required to prepare a report on it during 2016, which will feed into the same process.
The Fitness Check is part of the Commission’s “REFIT” programme, which is aimed at making EU law simpler and reducing regulatory costs. The Fitness Check will be carried out throughout 2016, with the Commission’s report expected in the second quarter of 2017.