LETTING & ESTATE AGENT

Almost half of Britons in dark about consumer rights

Almost half of Britons in dark about consumer rights

New research shows that Britons are ill-equipped and poorly-informed when it comes to knowing their consumer rights.

While 4% claim to have a strong grasp, almost half (47%) admit to being in the dark, leaving them at risk of losing out. As a result, uSwitch.com is urging the Government to not just simplify and modernise consumer law, but to now ensure that consumers are educated about their rights too:

* Almost three in ten consumers (29%) have lost time or money through not understanding their consumer rights;
* 41% think consumer rights are complicated, full of loopholes and ambiguities (39%) and peppered with legal jargon (24%);
* Almost half (47%) think that more needs to be done to ensure consumers understand what they are entitled to;
* Consumers learn about their rights through the media (52%), trial and error (33%) and from other people (31%) - just 13% learn from their parents and 5% through school;
* New Consumer Rights Bill will improve and update consumer law, but won't tackle the biggest issue which is lack of knowledge and understanding.

Government plans to overhaul consumer law may fall flat if action isn't taken to ensure that consumers understand their rights too, according to new research from uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. The study shows that lack of knowledge is rife and, as a result, many consumers are losing out.

Despite the fact that most people become consumers at an early age, just 4% claim to have a strong grasp of their consumer rights.

Worryingly, almost half (47%) admit to being in the dark, while almost three in ten consumers (29%) have lost time or money through not understanding their rights.

Although consumer law is meant to help consumers, many see it as a bit of a minefield. Over four in ten (41%) say that consumer rights as they currently stand are complicated, 39% say they are full of loopholes and ambiguities, while 24% say they are full of jargon.

As a result, while almost half of consumers (47%) think that more needs to be done to ensure that people understand their consumer rights, less than two in ten (16%) have used official sources to educate themselves. In fact, little over one in ten (12%) have read up on their rights so that they fully understand what they are entitled to.

Instead, the majority learn what they can through the media (52%), trial and error (33%) or by picking up information from other people (31%)[4]. Worryingly, most seem to receive little or no formal instruction about this important aspect of law. Just over one in ten (13%) learn about consumer rights from their parents, while just 5% were taught about it at school.

And while the Government's draft Consumer Rights Bill looks set to bring consumer law up-to-date and make it less complex, it still appears as though it will be left to consumers themselves to ensure they have an adequate grasp of it. The danger is that, by not tackling consumer education, the Government is likely to fall short of giving consumers the support they really need.

However, despite this omission, the Government's intentions to overhaul consumer law are still welcome. Almost three quarters of consumers (72%) think that plans to extend consumer rights to cover digital content are helpful, while over half (54%) think that plans to simplify the network of organisations providing advice and guidance to consumers will make it easier to know where to go for advice and support.

Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at uSwitch.com, said: "We are said to be a ‘consumer society', but the reality is that very few of us really know what our rights are. And with consumers spending many thousands of pounds over a lifetime, this lack of knowledge and understanding is not only a huge disadvantage, but could be financially damaging too.

"The Government's plans to simplify consumer law and to bring it up-to-date are a step in the right direction. However, better protection will only work if consumers actually know about it and understand it too. The Government is in danger of missing the bigger opportunity here, which is to ensure that all consumers are educated about their rights and are made fully aware of what they are entitled to. This will not only help them save time and money, but more confident consumers should be able to make better purchasing decisions, which will ultimately help boost competition too."

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George Bailey