Businesses are reminded that the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) came into force on 26 May 2008.
The CPRs apply to all businesses that trade directly with consumers and prohibit a wide range of unfair practices. They specifically ban outright 31 types of unfair sales and marketing practices, including bogus ‘closing down’ sales, prize draw scams, aggressive doorstep selling, falsely claiming membership of a trade organisation, faking goods, using ‘advertorial’ which is not identified as such and many sharp practices in advertising, such as luring customers with a non-existent product or falsely claiming that a product will only be available for a limited time. They will also, for the first time, establish a catch-all duty not to trade unfairly, closing loopholes that rogue traders have previously been able to exploit. Essentially, for a practice to be prohibited it must be of an unacceptable standard as well as there being an effect (or the likelihood of such) on the economic behaviour of the typical consumer – for example leading the typical consumer to buy a product that they would not otherwise have bought.
The legislation significantly increases the powers available to the authorities to crack down on offenders. Enforcement agency officers will be allowed to enter business premises without having to obtain a warrant and to seize goods and documents. In addition, an authorised officer will have the right to break open containers of any type (e.g. a locked filing cabinet) to examine goods or documents where there is a reasonable suspicion that a breach of the CPRs has been committed.
Breaches of the law can lead to substantial fines and/or imprisonment.