UK consumer protection legislation is robust, giving them substantial rights and imposing significant obligations on traders. Indeed, in some cases the actions of a vendor may be sufficient to constitute an ‘unfair commercial practice’ (UCP). UK law prohibits UCPs and, in many cases, they represent a breach of the criminal law under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.
What is a UCP?
A UCP is any commercial act, omission or course of conduct, representation or communication which:
- does not meet the usual standards of professional diligence (which means it is not in good faith and in accordance with honest market practice); and
- does or is likely to distort materially the economic behaviour of an average consumer (which means it causes the consumer to behave in a way they would not if they were properly informed. This usually means that the customer is persuaded by the presence of the UCP to buy something they otherwise would not).
A term which is misleading (by inclusion or omission) may be unfair – for example by the inclusion of false or deceptive information.
In certain cases, unfair contract terms can be UCPs. Unfair contract terms are always unenforceable.
Where UCPs are carried out knowingly or recklessly and distort or are likely to distort consumer behaviour or involve misleading acts or omissions, this is a breach of the law which may lead on conviction to a fine of up to £5,000 and/or a sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment.
It should be noted that the Act applies only to contracts with consumers - its remit does not extend into commercial contracts and attempts to 'stretch' the legislation inot the commercial arena have failed.