Consumer Rights Act – Unfair Contract Terms

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 introduces new rights for consumers and our previous articles have dealt with how the Act affects sale of goods, services and digital products.

Kawarau Bridge - Bungee dipping photo

You can’t escape your responsibilities by writing them away in a contract

The Act also re-states and expands the existing law concerning unfair terms in consumer contracts.

The basic requirements are that contract terms must be fair.

The law says that a term is unfair if “contrary to the requirements of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties’ rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer.

This fairness test applies not only to terms in the contract but also to consumer notices – e.g. notices in car parks, as well as notices appearing online on a website.

All written terms in a consumer contract or in a consumer notice must be transparent – i.e. expressed in plain and intelligible language.

Any term in a consumer contract or a consumer notice attempting to limit or exclude the trader’s liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence is unlawful and not enforceable. (So a bungee jumping company can’t get you to sign away your rights – if the bungee fails, that will still be their fault.)

Similarly any term attempting to limit or exclude the various terms implied by the Act (satisfactory quality etc.) are unfair and unenforceable.

What Is ‘Unfair’?

Schedule 2 of the Act contains 20 examples of terms that may be regarded as unfair. These include:

  • Disproportionately high charges when a consumer decides not to carry on with a contract or with services which have not been supplied
  • Terms that allow the trader to decide the subject matter after the consumer is bound by the contract
  • A term allowing the trader to fix the price after the consumer is already bound by the contract
  • A term designed to limit the trader’s liability in the event of death or personal injury of the consumer that results from some act or omission of the trader
  • A term designed to exclude or limit the consumer’s rights if the trader does not perform his obligations adequately
  • A term that allows the trader to bring the contract to an end without reasonable notice unless there are serious grounds for doing so
  • A term which has the effect of binding the consumer to terms which he has had no real opportunity of becoming acquainted with before the conclusion of the contract.

Fairness Exemption

the fairness test in consumer rights

Notices to the public such as clamping warnings are also subject to the ‘fairness test’

The test of fairness will not apply to a term in a contract that specifies the subject matter of the contract, nor will the price be subjected to a fairness test. But for the exemption to apply, the subject matter and the price must be prominent and transparent – i.e. in plain English and intelligible.

What You Need To Do

All businesses need to review their contract terms at this stage to see that they do not fall foul of the Consumer Rights Act and the updated Unfair Terms requirements incorporated in it. Although much of the existing legislation is retained, there are new provisions as well.

Resources

This entry was posted in Guidance Articles, Running an SME, UK Law and tagged , , , by Giles. Bookmark the permalink.

About Giles

Giles is the founder and managing director of ContractStore. It was his idea to set up a company selling documents online and he has played a major part in the company's development. He is an English solicitor, with over thirty years' experience of drafting and negotiating commercial and construction contracts in the UK and overseas. Giles has long been convinced that there is a quicker and simpler approach to the delivery and supply of most contracts, and he is an active proponent of the use of plain English in legal documents. He specialises in the drafting of construction and engineering contracts and as well as contributing contracts to the ContractStore website, he is co-author of the JCT Constructing Excellence Contract and of 'Exporting Made Easy' with Simon Bedford.

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