The practice of incorrect or misleading descriptions, statements, marketing and pricing was made unlawful under the both the Consumer Protection Act and the Trade Descriptions Act. This legislation has now been replaced in large part by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The regulations outlaw three specific practices:
- Misleading actions.
- Misleading omissions
- Aggressive sales tactics.
1. Misleading Action
If false or inaccurate information has been used in relation to a product or a service, and this information has induced you into a purchase you would not have otherwise made, you can claim that the action was misleading. It also covers assertions made about the company selling to you. If, for example, the company makes untrue claims to have certain qualifications, or that they are members of an approved trade organisation, this is a misleading action. This is also the case if they claim to adhere to a code of practice which they then do not follow.
2. Misleading Omissions
The problem may be not what is stated but what is not. Therefore if information is omitted or hidden, presented in an unclear, unintelligible or ambiguous way, or given too late to the consumer, then it can be found to be misleading and in breach of the regulations.
Companies are required by law to include certain information about themselves , about performance of their contractual obligations, or in relation to consumer rights where there is a cooling off period. If they do not, then this is also misleading.
Incorrect or misleading pricing information is a common cause for complaint and is covered in these regulations.
Firstly, you should be clear that shops are not legally obliged to sell you their products and reserve the right not to do so if they wish. This means that if you pick up something which is wrongly priced, you do not have a right to buy it at that price. Having said this however, it is still unlawful for shops and suppliers to display an item at a price which is different to the price requested at the point of sale. Exceptions to this are obvious mistakes where, for example, a TV is priced at £8.99 instead of £899.00. An action is also misleading if it includes the manner in which the price is calculated and whether the item is being marketed as ‘discount’ or ‘for a limited time only’ – when in fact it is not.
Where the price given does not include taxes, delivery charges or any additional surcharges such as handling or admin fees, this is considered to be a misleading omission.
3. Aggressive Sales Tactics
When buying an electrical product we are frequently confronted with the option to buy additional insurance policies in the form of extended warranties. Sales staff can get generous commission for convincing us to part with more cash through the sale of these policies and this has led to aggressive sales tactics. The regulations aim to stamp out such practices if they are considered to impair your freedom of choice or limit your ability to make an informed decision. This includes harassment, coercion, persistence, threatening or abusive language, exploitation of misfortune or specific circumstances. It also includes retailers’ standing in the way of your contractual or consumer right to terminate a contract or switch to another product. However you must also prove that the way you were treated led you to make a purchase decision you would not otherwise have made.
Taking action against retailers
The regulations referred to here are within the scope of criminal law. What this means for the consumer is that you cannot take direct action against retailers if you find them to be in breach of any of the above. Instead, you would need to report the matter to the enforcement authorities (Trading Standards), who will investigate, and perhaps even prosecute. A prosecution would not be carried out on the consumer’s behalf but on the state’s behalf, and so you will not yield any personal benefit from this process (unless perhaps a feeling of satisfaction!).This is not to say that you cannot threaten to inform the authorities if they do not resolve the situation to your satisfaction within a reasonable time period.