Consumers will see big changes if rights Bill passes

There are virtually no laws governing the gift voucher system at the moment

While it is early days and the consumer rights Bill unveiled by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton  has a long road to travel before it becomes law, it is a promising move in the right direction. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

While it is early days and the consumer rights Bill unveiled by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton has a long road to travel before it becomes law, it is a promising move in the right direction. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Irish consumers have not been particularly well-served by recent governments. While the political classes may not have been complicit in breeding the culture of rip-offs, shoddy service and wanton disrespect for consumers that is all too evident now, they have rarely intervened or fought on behalf of the beleaguered buyer.

Until perhaps now. While it is early days and the consumer rights Bill unveiled by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton today has a long road to travel before it becomes law in the middle of next year – if indeed it does become law with an election looming large – it is a promising move in the right direction.

The legislation, which now enters a consultative process lasting until the end of August, is ambitious and should, if enacted as envisaged, make rights clearer to both consumers and businesses by replacing the confusing primary, secondary and European laws.

It will bring Irish consumer law into the 21st century by addressing some of the more patently unfair practices that businesses have been allowed get away with for generations.

Ridiculous terms

We’re not talking about small sums of money here. The voucher business has grown to be worth more than €300 million in Ireland each year but many vouchers have expiry dates of just six months or less after purchase.

This goes a long way towards explaining why as many as 20 per cent of vouchers are never redeemed. Similarly, consumers do not have the right to get change when they use a gift voucher, unless its terms specifically state it will be given. And some companies prohibit the use of two vouchers in a single purchase.

Under the new rules, expiry dates will be banned and while there is no mention of other changes, the consultative process could see other stringent rules imposed on retailers who sell them.

Consumers who acquire goods as gifts will be given the same rights as those who bought the goods for themselves – a move that makes so much sense it’s a wonder it wasn’t thought of sooner.

There is more to the Bill than gifts and vouchers. The Consumer Protection Bill will address areas where consumer rights are, today, virtually non-existent. At present anyone who buys a DVD has the right to expect it to be as advertised and fit for purpose. If it is not, then they have the right to repair, replacement or refund. However a person who pays to stream or download the same film has no such rights. The introduction of a standard 30-day period during which consumers will be able to return faulty goods and get a full refund is also welcome.

As it stands, retailers can sell a product that proves to be faulty the moment a buyer leaves the shop and then insist on a repair rather than a refund. Allowing for a refund for 30 days will help put manners on many retailers.