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Chancellor Philip Hammond announces Government plans for consumer protection

Published on 20 March 2017

What is on the Government’s agenda for consumer protection?

The Development

In his Spring Budget on 8 March 2017, Philip Hammond announced that the Government is planning to tackle unfair treatment of consumers by businesses, and will shortly be bringing forward a green paper covering the protection of consumer interests. Mr Hammond confirmed that areas that the Government plans to look into ahead of the green paper include protecting consumers from unexpected fees or unfair clauses, simplifying terms and conditions, and giving consumer bodies greater enforcement powers.

In an accompanying press release, the Government confirmed that it will be investigating ways to protect consumers from unnecessary costs and inefficiencies, including:

• tackling “subscription traps” by preventing consumers being charged unexpectedly when a subscription is renewed or a free trial ends
• making terms and conditions simpler and clearer including in digital contracts (for example, when you sign up to a social network)
• fining companies that mislead or mistreat consumers by offering “fake deals” and misleading discounts.

Why is this important?

Less than two years after the implementation of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, consumer protection is high up on the Government’s agenda again. The full extent of the Government’s plans are not yet clear, but a pre-budget briefing published in the Telegraph suggested that the planned new legislation will “be aimed primarily at mobile phone providers, online shops, banks and other financial institutions, but all consumer-facing companies could be affected.”

Any practical tips?

Get ahead of the game. All of the regulators (be they the ICO, the CMA and now the Government) seem to be pushing in the same direction, namely the simplification of consumer terms (whether in sales terms and conditions or in privacy policies). Providers of subscription products need to be particularly careful, both in terms of how they run these in practice and in any accompanying marketing communications. Automatic renewals after free or discounted trials are likely to come under particular fire if they mislead in any way.