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Focus on Regulation

UK unveils reforms to give consumers a better deal

The UK government has published a Green Paper on Modernising Consumer Markets (the “Green Paper”).

The Green Paper addresses the need to review the UK’s regulatory regime in light of the changing nature of consumer markets and practices to ensure that consumers are able to benefit from the development of new technologies and get the best deal possible.

The government’s proposals are in line with the European Commission’s “New Deal for Consumers” which aims to empower consumers, promote fairness and build trust across the single market (for more on this, see our blog post here).

The Green Paper sets out three principles for responding to the challenges and opportunities of modern consumer markets: (i) encouraging competition which drives innovation; (ii) ensuring new technology and business models benefit consumers; and (iii) improving redress for aggrieved consumers.

In keeping with these principles, the Green Paper includes a wide range of proposals for developing a modern regulatory framework, including:

  • Simplified and shorter terms and conditions to encourage consumers to read and understand the contracts and privacy notices they agree to. In parallel, the Competition and Markets Authority is working to monitor and minimise use of unfair terms by businesses;
  • Cracking down on subscription traps that result in consumers inadvertently paying for unwanted services;
  • Ensuring digital innovation works in favour of consumers by reviewing data portability and access in regulated markets (making it easier for consumers to switch between services), consulting on personalised pricing and providing greater clarity around data use;
  • Holding suppliers to account by creating “performance scorecards” and digital comparison tools to make it easier for consumers to choose between suppliers;
  • Protecting the vulnerable by developing guidance and principles for dealing with customers who need greater protection;
  • Improving redress for aggrieved consumers by improving awareness and take-up of the of Alternative Dispute Resolution model which is seen as a better and more cost effective way for consumers to enforce their rights;
  • Strengthening national enforcement of consumer rights, whilst maintaining strong levels of protection at a local level; and
  • Promoting competition by carrying out a statutory review of the competition regime to ensure it benefits consumers and is equipped to tackle anti-competitive behaviour and manage emerging challenges.

While only at the consultation stage so far, the broad nature of the proposals means the outcomes are likely to be far-reaching and will impact most consumer-facing businesses and give greater powers to regulators and consumers alike.

Businesses are invited to respond to the consultation which will remain open until 4 July 2018. The Green Paper, along with instructions on how to respond to the consultation, is available here.