Rogue traders on the run as new consumer protection legislation introduced

Consumer protection law has been shaken-up this month as new regulations have been introduced to combat rogue traders and unfair practices.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007, (or CPRs as they have been abbreviated to), introduced from 26th May 2008, specifically bans 31 practices which have been deemed to be unfair to the consumer. 
The Regulations have also amalgamated a lot of the consumer harms under previous legislation, such as Trade Descriptions Act 1968, as well as keeping pace with new scams which are continuously being evolved and developed by scamsters and rogue sellers.

Alistair Thomson, Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards said: “The introduction of CPR’s will mean sweeping changes in the manner in which consumer complaints about businesses/sellers are addressed by trading standards not only in the Highlands but across the whole of the UK.

“Issues which were difficult to investigate and take action on in the past, are now caught within the remit of this legislation. For instance, practices such as ‘aggressive selling’ by businesses or salespersons can come under scrutiny of enforcement officers, as one of the 31 banned practices. Also rogue doorstep traders who harass consumers in their homes into buying shoddy goods or services can also be dealt with by this legislation, more effectively.” 

Highland Trading Standards wish to encourage local consumers to contact the Service, through their partner, Consumer Direct Scotland, or directly if they feel they have been harassed, misled or duped when into entering a contract. 
Alistair added:  “We have highlighted a few case studies for consumers to absorb and would hope that consumers are encouraged to come forward if any of these reflect their own experiences”. 

If you feel you have been misled or duped into buying unwanted goods or services or you have been the victim of doorstep crime, contact:
Highland Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness in writing or in person at these offices or telephone:
Consumer Direct Scotland on 08454 04 05 06 for further advice/ information.

Case Study One – Doorstep Sellers
Mrs M, a retired teacher, aged 68 years received an uninvited caller to her home. Mrs M was persuaded to pay over a deposit of £100 deposit for repairs to be carried out on her roof with full payment being £800 made once the job was completed.  In order to get rid of this caller, Mrs M agreed to this work being done ………she now regrets her decision ……...

“I just could not get rid of him.  He was nice at first and so I foolishly allowed him into my home to talk over the work and get an estimate of the cost.  He said he was a member of a building federation, but later I found out that was just a lie.  I realised my mistake early on and decided to ask him to leave, but he refused to go.  Eventually he wore me out and I agreed to have the work done just to get him out the door.  He wanted all the money up front, around £800 in cash but I said all I had in the house was £100.   I handed over this money and he promised me a receipt when he called round the next day. He never came back and I have lost my £100, but I guess it could have been worse.  Now I am frightened every time I hear my doorbell ring, in case he has come back for the rest of his money………..

Under The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2007, it is a banned practice, when visiting a consumer’s home, to ignore the consumers request to leave the premises or not to return (except when the trader has a legal right to enforce a contractual obligation).   The new regulations also prohibit practices of bullying, and aggressive behaviour, as well as false claims of memberships to trade associations.   Mrs M should also have received her contract in writing along with her cancellation rights.  She was entitled to cancel her contract and receive her deposit back.   The doorstep seller has breached consumer protection legislation.
Mrs M has been a victim of doorstep crime and she should contact her local trading standards office, immediately as well as speak to her local police about her personal safety. 

Case Study Two – Prize draw scams
Sally receives a telephone call at home.  She is told that she has won £1000 by the representative.   Sally is told to send a processing fee of £8.99, which she can do through her debit card over the phone today.  She will then receive her winnings by cheque within the next 14 working days.  The representative is very insistent.  Sally is hesitant at first but then imagines what she could spend the money on.   She decides it is worth the risk and does not want to lose her chance of winning as the offer is only valid for today. Sally hears nothing back……..until three weeks later she receives a letter telling her she has is one of the lucky winners and she has received a prize of a ballpoint pen as runner-up in the competition.   Sally wants to warn other consumers …….
“I feel such a fool.  But thought wouldn’t it be great to win £1000.  I got carried away and started planning how I would spend the money. Maybe buy some new clothes or book a holiday away somewhere.   I realise now that I should just put the phone down in the future.  I just hope other people are not conned by these scams”……..

Sally should contact trading standards.  She has been a victim of a crime. Under the new regulations a trader is prohibited from creating a false impression that a consumer has already won, will win, or will on doing a particular act win, a prize or other equivalent benefit, when:
• There is no prize or other equivalent benefit
• Or claiming the prize is subject to the consumer paying money or incurring a cost.

Case Study Three – Holiday Club Presentations
Mary and Neil are now retired and would dearly love to have a holiday abroad, but can’t afford it.  By chance one day they receive a post card through their door which says they have won a week’s holiday in Tenerife.   Neither Mary nor Neil can remember entering a competition to win a holiday, but think there luck has changed and both decide to go along to the presentation at a local hotel.

Soon after arriving at the hotel however, they realise its just one big con.  Before they can claim their holiday they have to listen to long presentation.  They are then taken aside by a sales representative, who tries to sell them a holiday club membership for £600.   The representative states that this is part of the deal for receiving the ‘free holiday’ and they cannot leave unless they sign a contract with them there and then.   Neil thinks he can cancel the contract later if they change their mind so signs the agreement.  Neil and Mary just want to leave and go home.   The sales representative does not give them a copy of the contract but asks for a processing fee for their ‘free holiday’ of £19.99.  Neil writes out a cheque for this amount and collects his holiday voucher……….later when he gets home he changes his mind……..and tries to cancel his contract………..
“It was only when we got home and discussed it we realised we could not afford £600.  I got the telephone number of the company and gave them a ring.  Eventually I got through to their sales team and was told that I could not cancel and that I would have to pay the full amount of £600 within 14 days of receiving the contract.   I was so upset when I came off the phone.  I had been putting money by for a new television and now we could not afford it anymore.”

Mary and Neil should report this matter to their trading standards service.  Under the new regulations it is prohibited to create the impression that a consumer cannot leave the premises until a contract is formed. 
Also the promotion stated that the holiday was ‘free’ when it was not.   Neil and Mary were asked to sign a contract worth £600 and to pay £19.99 processing fee in order to get their ‘free prize draw holiday’. 
The new regulations ban traders from describing a product as ‘gratis’, ‘free’, ‘without charge’ or similar if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable costs of responding to the commercial practice and collecting or paying for delivery of any goods.

Consumers who feel that they may have been misled or duped into buying unwanted goods or services or have been the victim of doorstep crime, should contact:
Highland Trading Standards, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness in writing or in person at these offices or telephone:
Consumer Direct Scotland on 08454 04 05 06 for further advice/ information.
/See Editors Notes below:

11 Jun 2008