Enforcement of consumer protection laws

A high-level look at the enforcement of consumer protection laws in the UK and the role of the European Commission.

03 August 2018

The UK consumer protection landscape remains complex and varied despite recent efforts to consolidate and streamline the various pieces of legislation that apply. With this complexity comes a varied framework for the enforcement of consumer protection laws and, depending on which rules have been breached, UK businesses may find themselves open to actions from the UK courts, the Competition and Markets Authority or Trading Standards.

Broader enforcement: the role of the European Commission

In an increasingly global and digital economy, the European Commission (EC) has shown that it may also step in to tackle cross-border issues by coordinating, at an EU level, national authorities responsible for enforcing consumer law. The EC sees this coordinated action as key to protecting consumers in the digital single market.

This was shown in the recent publication of a Common position of national authorities within the CPC Network concerning the commercial practices and the terms of service of Airbnb Ireland (PDF) by the EC relating to what it says is Airbnb Ireland’s failure to comply with the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Unfair Contract Terms Directive and the Regulation on Consumer Online Dispute Resolution.

The decision contains some helpful reminders in relation to dealings with consumers and the overarching obligations to present clear and complete information at all time. Notably, it contains information in relation to compliance with the Regulation on Consumer Online Dispute Resolution, which the EC has previously shown is still not widely complied with.

However, it is the central coordination of the EC providing an additional layer of assistance to national authorities with the enforcement of consumer protection laws that is most interesting, and provides a timely reminder to businesses that breaches of consumer protection laws are taken seriously.

The future of the European Commission’s role and Brexit

While of course after the end of any Brexit transition period the EC will no longer have jurisdiction to co-ordinate action with the UK authorities, given that UK consumer protection laws are not expected to change materially going forward, this may not signal the end of the influence of the EC in enforcement action.

Firstly, the UK authorities responsible for enforcing UK consumer law may still look to the EC’s activities in this area to inform its own activities. Secondly, UK businesses that continue to deal with consumers based in the EU following the end of any Brexit transition period should remain mindful of the additional layer of assistance that the EC can provide to national authorities with the enforcement of consumer protection laws.

How can Burges Salmon help?

For further information, please contact Ian Tucker or Tim Deacon from our dispute resolution and commercial teams.

Key contact

Ian Tucker

Ian Tucker Partner

  • Dispute Resolution
  • Transport
  • Procurement and State Aid

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