In the guide

The law states that businesses should treat consumers fairly

There is legislation that covers commercial practices between traders and consumers connected with the promotion, sale or supply of goods and services to consumers. This law sets out rules about trading fairly, and affects most areas of business-to-consumer trading. So, after reading this guide you should move on to the In-depth Guide 'Consumer protection from unfair trading'.

Trading fairly

The law sets out a range of commercial practices that are unfair (that is, illegal) if they cause a customer to make a different decision from the one he would normally have made:

  • you must not mislead customers: this includes both acting and failing to act
  • you must not act aggressively: this includes coercion or undue influence

One example of a general unfair practice is that you must not display signs - such as 'NO REFUNDS' or 'SOLD AS SEEN' - that would appear to take away a consumer's statutory rights. A customer is entitled to redress in the event of faulty or misdescribed goods, subject to the conditions set out in the 'Goods' and 'Digital' Quick Guides.

There are also specific practices that are always unfair regardless of the customer's decision (see 'What must I never do?' below).

Back to top

How should I describe products?

You should always be sure that any descriptions of your products are accurate ('products' is defined very broadly and includes goods, services, digital content, rights, and obligations).

The law states that your descriptions should not give false information, nor should they deceive - or be likely to deceive - a consumer, which then makes him act in a different way. For example, a consumer might buy an item that he would not have if the description hadn't been misleading.

Back to top

What do I have to tell the consumer?

Consumers need certain information before they can make an informed decision whether to make a purchase or employ a service. You must inform customers of all the relevant information they need to make this decision.

This means that you may have to disclose negative information too - for example, where a car trader is selling a car he knows was an insurance write-off. This information may cause your customer to make a different decision.

You must also be careful that as well as not mentioning such information, you must not hide it away or provide it in a manner that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely.

Back to top

When is something an aggressive practice?

The law prohibits aggressive commercial practices that intimidate or exploit consumers.

A commercial practice is aggressive if it:

  • significantly impairs (or is likely to significantly impair) ...
  • the average consumer's freedom of choice or conduct ...
  • in relation to goods or services through ...
  • the use of harassment, coercion or undue influence
Back to top

What must I never do?

The law specifies 31 banned practices that are considered unfair in all circumstances. These practices include false claims of membership of trade associations, running pyramid schemes or bogus prize draws, and aggressive sales techniques.

Back to top

Effect on consumer contracts

In addition to rights concerning refunds, repairs and replacements for faulty goods and services, the law also gives consumers the right to unwind a contract, claim a discount or claim damages from you if you mislead a consumer or engage in an aggressive trading practice that persuades him to go ahead with the contract or make a payment to you.

For more detailed information please see the In-depth Guides below. Once you've finished, make sure you look at the full range of Quick Guides to see whether there are any other areas of law that affect your business.

Before you start
Make sure you choose your location using the drop-down list at the top of the page. The In-depth Guides provide country-specific information as some laws are different in England, Scotland and Wales, and some are enforced differently
Back to top

In-depth guidance

This is a general guide and you may well need to know more; take a look below where we've listed our In-depth Guides on specific topics related to good practice

General

Accurately describing products

The law prohibits the giving of false or misleading information to consumers, but what does this mean?

Consumer protection from unfair trading

When dealing with consumers you must ensure that you act fairly; you must provide accurate information and avoid business practices that are unfair, misleading or aggressive

Membership logos & claims of approval

Ensure you are entitled to use a membership or 'approved by' logo before doing so

Online reviews & endorsements

Websites that publish reviews must ensure they provide the full picture to consumers

Returns policies

Find out when your customer is entitled to a refund, replacement or repair

Alternative dispute resolution

The options for businesses, and the information requirements, for resolving disputes out of court

Business-to-business marketing

Understand what the law requires of you when doing business with other businesses

Feedback

Consumer enquiries from England, Scotland and Wales are handled by the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who can be contacted by telephone on 03454 04 05 06. Consumer enquiries in Northern Ireland are handled by ConsumerLine who can be contacted by telephone on 0300 1236262. Call charges may vary.

Business enquiries are dealt with by your local council. Use the Chartered Trading Standards Institute's postcode finder to locate your local trading standards team.