News item

Patchy consumer rights awareness means thousands still losing out

New government research shows UK consumers feel confident and knowledgeable when choosing and buying goods and services.

UK consumers feel confident and knowledgeable when choosing and buying goods and services, new government research published today (13 June 2014) shows, as new rights come into effect.

However, the research found that consumers could be losing out by not making claims to which they are entitled.

Black and minority ethnic (BME) consumers in particular were found to know the least about their rights and are less likely to speak to a consumer organisation such as Citizens Advice or Which? if they encounter a problem.

The research today coincides with new laws that come into force which mean that consumers will have more time - 14 days, previously 7 - to return an item bought online, by phone or at home, and will no longer be obliged to pay above the basic call rate when telephoning a trader about something they have bought.

Consumer Minister Jenny Willott said:

What we want to see are empowered, savvy shoppers who know their rights, look around for the best deals and drive competition. This research shows consumers are generally pretty good at this and know the law. But we do recognise it could still be easier to navigate, which is why we are simplifying the law through the Consumer Rights Bill.

The reality is that people face many daily issues when exercising their consumer rights that could help them get a better deal, whether they have a faulty fridge or internet service. When something goes wrong you should speak to the business in the first place as this can be the quickest and easiest way to get it fixed. However, if this doesn’t work there are a whole host of consumer bodies, such as Citizens Advice, who can give advice and get you your money’s worth.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

People should not be losing hundreds or thousands of pounds because firms flout the rules. Consumer confidence is an important part of a continuing economic recovery. It’s really important that consumer protections are working effectively to make sure shoppers feel confident buying the goods and services they need, and that firms behaving badly aren’t getting a competitive advantage over traders who are doing the right thing.

Each year we help with one million consumer problems. Whether it is a dodgy motor or botched building works, our specialist consumer advisers are here to help. Consumers can also get advice from us before they buy; that way they understand their rights and protections before they start shopping. It’s important shoppers have information easily available about their rights so they can challenge firms not abiding by the law.

Consumers get more rights under the Consumer Directive and Citizens Advice has all of the information about the changes at

Over 4,000 UK consumers took part in the government commissioned survey which examined levels of consumer knowledge, how many faced problems and how they dealt with them.

Key survey findings include:

  • The vast majority of UK consumers (92%) feel confident and knowledgeable (87%) when choosing and buying goods and services which is significantly higher than the European averages (72% and 63% respectively)
  • more than 9 out of 10 consumers agree that they are confident and savvy customers (92%) and carefully weigh up the features and price to make an informed decision (93%).
  • most consumers know they have the right to return a product bought by phone, post or over the internet 4 days after it is delivered (70%). However 2 thirds do not know they have the right to have a fridge that breaks down after 18 months repaired or replaced for free if they do not have an extended guarantee (67%)
  • over half (55%) of consumers have considered switching 1 or more suppliers across the services surveyed – this includes 27% of energy customers and 27% of car insurance customers
  • two thirds of all consumers (35%) have actually switched supplier for 1 or more of these services in the last 12 months
  • BME consumers are significantly less likely to consider switching utility provider (45%) compared to (58%) of other consumers. Only 3 in 4 of BMEs (74%) said they would use a consumer organisation if they had a problem that they were unable to resolve
  • amongst those consumers who are least empowered under a third feel very or quite positive about their confidence and knowledge when buying goods and services compared with over 9 in 10 of the most empowered group

The government recognises that while there are strong measures in place to protect consumers these need to be reviewed to ensure they remain clear and relevant. Changes that come into effect as result of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 include:

  • businesses needing to make sure that consumers are given all the information they need in a clear way, whether buying in a shop, online or at home. Everyone with cancellation rights under the regulations should be given a cancellation form with their confirmation
  • an extension to the amount of time a consumer has to change their minds about an item purchased online, by phone or at home, from 7 to 14 days
  • no phone charges in excess of the basic rate when you ring a seller about an existing contract

The changes are part of a wider, fundamental reform of consumer law, including the draft Consumer Rights Bill, which aims to make consumers better informed and better protected when they’re buying.

Graham Wynn Assistant Director British Retail Consortium and Chairman, Eurocommerce IMCO Comittee said:

We worked hard with BIS, the Commission and European Parliament to ensure it will work for consumers and businesses.

We welcome the survey which shows so many people are satisfied when they shop and will work hard to make sure all consumers receive their rights.

Notes to editors: 

1. Over January and February 2014 TNS-BMRB surveyed over 4,000 consumers from across the UK. The aim was to examine levels of consumer knowledge and capability, the link between empowerment and detriment, and develop a detailed understanding of the problems faced by consumers over the past 12 months.

2. It is estimated that a total of 18.7 million problems have been experienced with goods and services purchased in the last 12 months. This is higher than in 2012 (15.7 million).

3. The Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) was passed by the EU in October 2011. The CRD is being implemented in all EU member states, to come into force on 13 June 2014. The legislation aims to clarify information rights and cancellation rights, and to prohibit some hidden cost practices when consumers buy goods and services.

4. Consumers can get further help through Citizens Advice – see further contact details at ‘Adviceguide’. From Friday 13 June 2014, people can contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.

5. Only a few contracts are excluded from the scope of the regulations. The main ones are financial services, package travel and gambling. More detail can be found at ‘Providing better information and protection for consumers’.

6. Advice for business is also available from Trading Standards Institute Advice for Business or contact your local trading standards. Additionally there is free help and advice available through the Business Support Helplines.

DATE: 13 June 2014