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New Bill Of Rights To Help Protect Consumers Against Rogue Traders

The Government is proposing a new Bill of Rights to help protect consumers against rogue traders.  Jo Swinson, Business Minister, has suggested that the new laws which will be introduced will allow customers to enforce verbal contracts and that recording conversations with traders could help consumers who were in dispute with anyone providing goods or services.  She suggested that if a recording was made of a conversation in which a contractor said that they would do something within a particular period of time, or use particular materials, or perform something in a particular way, that recording would enable consumers to hold them to that.

The new Bill of Rights, when implemented, will give consumers a "no quibble” right to return a faulty item and get a refund within 30 days and will prevent consumers being fobbed off with repeated repairs.  Such measures will undoubtedly be good for consumers but to suggest that recording conversations with traders will make it easier for consumers to enforce their right is almost certainly too simplistic.

In an ideal world all transactions would be recorded in writing and would set out in very clear terms what the trader is going to do, when they are going to do it, the price that has been agreed  and be signed by both parties to record their agreement.  Such written contracts are more common in some areas than others and are more likely to be entered in to where considerable amounts of money are being spent.  In reality, however, if you have a leaking roof, or your boiler breaks down in the middle of winter, it is unlikely that most consumers will want to spend the time entering into a written contract with a trader.  They simply want the work to be done and for the problem to be fixed. 

The idea of recording a conversation with a trader may  seem attractive but unless it is absolutely clear that something has been agreed between the consumer and the trader, in circumstances where the trader knows, or ought to know, all of the circumstances that might affect the work that they are being asked to do,  then it will always be possible for a trader to say that the price, or timescale, which they discussed had to be changed because of particular circumstances which they didn't know and couldn't be expected to have known at the time that they gave the price, or the time estimate.  That situation will be just as true whether a conversation has been recorded or not.  Ultimately, if there is a dispute between a consumer and a trader, both parties have the option to resolve the matter through the Courts.  With the increase in the small claims limit, up to £10,000 from 1st April this year, a considerably larger number of disputes involving considerably larger sums of money are going to find their way into the small claims Court.  However it will still be up to an unhappy consumer to prove that the work was not done to a satisfactory standard, or that the goods supplied were not of a satisfactory quality,  and that they hadn't changed their mind, asked the trader to do something different, or in some way interfered with the work being carried out.  After all in every dispute there are two sides to a story and whether evidence is recorded, or simply recalled, either party can be selective or can put their own interpretation on anything that was said or agreed.

In addition, a Bill of Rights for consumers is still only likely to help consumers who are dealing with essentially honest traders where there may be a genuine dispute.  I am afraid that the rogue traders will still continue to be rogue traders and,  when confronted with an unhappy consumer, will do what they presently do which is to deny all liability, close down one business, open up under another name and refuse to honour any Judgments or Orders of the Court.