Consumer rights and responsibilities

The following topics form part of the unit Consumer rights and responsibilities.

Consumer rights and responsibilities

Basic character of contracts and basic principles of negligence Contracts depend on there being a mutual agreement between the parties (which need not be in writing), and something real, tangible and of economic value given by both sides, and the agreement is intended by the parties to be legally binding on them; parties may agree their own terms but some may be imposed on them; there are also rules against making false or misleading statements about the contract.
Negligence occurs when one party owes the other a duty of care, breaches this duty by falling below the appropriate standard and causes foreseeable harm.

Buying goods and buying services Distinction between goods and services; statutory regulation of consumer contracts occurs when the consumer buys from a person selling in the course of a business; statute protects consumers by imposing terms on the sale of goods (in the Sale of Goods Act 1979), and the sale and supply of services (in the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982); Sale of Goods Act 1979 terms include – that the goods must conform to any description applied to them, that the goods must be of satisfactory quality and be fit for any purpose that the consumer stated that they were to be used for; Supply of Goods Act 1982 terms include – that the service must be carried out with care and skill, and in reasonable time, and if no price was agreed then a reasonable price must be charged; the range of remedies available includes the consumer having his purchase money back.

Unfair terms in contracts Consumers are usually the weaker parties in a contract so the courts and Parliament (in part driven by the European Union) have created controls to prevent unscrupulous business people taking advantage of consumers particularly where they try to exempt themselves from liability for breaches of contract or for negligence; court controls – the term must be clearly brought to the consumer’s notice before the contract is made and must not be ambiguous; statutory controls – cannot exclude liability for death or injury caused by seller’s negligence, or for breaches of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 terms – and there should be no unequal terms.

Product liability and product safety Where there was no contract traditionally there was no remedy for the consequences of defective goods; negligence provides a basic remedy, ie a manufacturer owes a duty to consumers and end users of products not to cause them harm; the European Union Product Safety Directive and the Consumer Protection Act 1987 mean a consumer suffering harm can sue anyone in the chain of manufacture and distribution, although certain types of loss are not covered.

© OCR 2011

GCSE Law September 2011