Information is available from the Trading Standards Institute to help consumers. Please note the county council is not responsible for this information.
Unfair trading practices
In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales
You have the right to expect that traders that advertise, sell and supply products are honest and treat you fairly. In most cases this is what happens because traders recognise that trading fairly generates customer loyalty and ultimately creates a better business.
However, there are some traders who will intentionally mislead you, leave out or hide important information, engage in aggressive commercial practices or otherwise trade in a way that is unfair to you.
This guide gives you information on the law, how unfair commercial practices are dealt with and signposts you to detailed guidance on your legal right to redress if things go wrong.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give clear guidelines to traders as to what is meant by unfair trading and spells out the consequences for traders that are in breach of the Regulations. They also explain your routes to redress when you have been misled by a trader's actions or are the victim of an aggressive commercial practice.
Which products does the law cover?
The definition of a product under the Regulations is wide-ranging and covers:
- digital content (downloads, apps, etc)
- immoveable property (houses or land)
- rights or obligations
There are certain products that are excluded from the part of the Regulations that deals with your right to redress; see the 'Misleading & aggressive practices: your right to redress' guide for more information.
What does the law ban?
There is a general ban, or prohibition, on commercial practices that are unfair.
What does 'commercial practice' mean? A commercial practice is anything done by a trader to promote, sell or supply a product at any point before, during or after you make a purchase (if any). It is considered an 'unfair commercial practice' if the following apply:
- a trader is not professionally diligent, which means they do not meet the standard of skill and care in keeping with honest practices and general principles of good faith within their business sector
- it alters, or is likely to alter, a decision you make about the product
As well as a general ban, the Regulations also ban commercial practices that are misleading due to a trader's action or omission or because they are aggressive and cause you to take a different decision about a product.
There is a list of 31 commercial practices that are considered unfair in all circumstances and are banned outright.
You have the right to expect that a trader gives you clear and accurate information, which allows you to make an informed decision about a product; however, some traders do not play by the rules. A commercial practice becomes a misleading action when a trader gives you false information or presents it in such a way that it deceives you, or is likely to deceive you (even if it is factually correct) and you then take a decision about the product that you would not otherwise have done.
Misleading actions include:
- marketing a product in such a way that it creates confusion with a competitor's products, trade marks, trade names and any other distinguishing marks and influences your decision you take about the product - for example, the brand name chosen by a trader for a style of trainers may closely resemble that used by a competitor to such an extent that you may be confused and buy the wrong pair
- failure by a trader to comply with a firm commitment contained within a code of practice; a code that they said they would comply with. For example, a trader does not issue certificates of compliance when the code of practice makes it a requirement to do so
- giving false information about the main characteristics of a product. These characteristics include availability, origin, benefits and risks of the product, composition, method and date of manufacture, specification and quantity
- a trader that gives false information about their business, including their identity, qualifications, status, approval and assets
- providing false information about the nature of the sales process - for example, a home improvement salesperson who claims they have authorisation to confirm contract prices before a survey has been carried out, when this is not the case
- false information about the price - for example, stating that the product was priced 50% higher last month, when this is not true
- misleading you about your legal rights - for example, telling you that you only have seven days to return a faulty product for a refund or claiming the product is 'sold as seen'
Information that a trader doesn't provide is as important as what they do provide when you are taking a decision about a product. Just like the effect a missing jigsaw piece has on the entire puzzle, a missing piece of important information about a product can alter your decision to buy. Would you buy a car if a trader told you up-front that the 'one owner from new' was a hire company?
A commercial practice becomes a misleading omission when:
- a trader leaves out or hides important information (the Regulations call it 'material' information) - for example, not telling you that the car you are viewing was previously written off
- the important information is provided in such a way that it is unclear, vague or impossible to understand - for example, when a salesperson deliberately hides the real meaning behind 'technical' language
- the important information is not given to you at the correct time, perhaps after you have made an important decision - for example, the product you have bought cannot be used without buying an expensive accessory
- a trader fails to inform you of their commercial intent - for example, what appears to be an article in an online magazine is in fact an advertisement
The overall picture matters when deciding if a trader has misled you by omission. Limitations (including time and space) set by the method used by a trader to communicate the information to you may affect how much information a trader can give you about a product. They must, however, take measures to make information available to you by other means. For example, a radio advertisement may give details of a website where you can find more information about a product.
There are special rules that apply when a trader invites you to make a purchase. The main characteristics of the product, the trader's name and address, the price and details of any charges, arrangements for payment and delivery, and the existence of any cancellation rights must be given to you.
Aggressive commercial practices
Some traders will not take no for an answer and use high pressure selling techniques to make a sale. Under the Regulations, aggressive commercial practices are banned, but what is considered 'aggressive'?
A commercial practice is aggressive if the following occur:
- a trader uses harassment, coercion (includes physical force) or undue influence (applies pressure by exploiting a position of power to limit your ability to make an informed decision) to significantly affect, or is likely to significantly affect, your freedom of choice
- it causes, or is likely to cause, you to take a different decision about a product
There are a range of factors that are considered when deciding whether a trader has used harassment, coercion or undue influence:
- when, where and how the event occurred
- use of threatening or abusive language or behaviour
- exploiting you or your circumstances in a way that affected your judgement and decision
- threatening any action that cannot legally be taken and preventing you from exercising your contractual rights - for example, preventing you from cancelling a contract
An example of an aggressive commercial practice would be a visit from a salesperson to your home that lasted an unreasonable length of time, perhaps hours, and made you feel vulnerable and under pressure. The salesperson may tell you they will not leave your home until you sign a contract. They might lose their temper. All these tactics are designed to pressure you into going ahead with the deal.
Commercial practices that are banned outright
The Regulations include a list of commercial practices that are considered so unfair that they are banned in all circumstances (the commercial practice does not have to affect your decision regarding the product).
Schedule 1 to the Regulations sets out the banned practices in more detail. They are summarised below:
Code of conduct and authorisation:
- falsely claiming to be signed up to a code of conduct
- displaying a trust mark or quality mark without authorisation
- falsely claiming that a code of conduct has approval from a public body or other organisation - for example, a trader falsely claiming their code is 'trading standards approved'
- claiming that a trader or a product has been approved, endorsed or authorised when they have not - for example, a trader falsely claims they are members of, and certified by, a trade association
Product availability and advertising:
- bait advertising - for example, a trader advertises expensive wine at a very cheap price but only intends to make a few bottles available to entice you into the store
- bait and switch - for example, a trader offers a skin care product for sale at a certain price, without any intention of supplying it, because their real intention is to switch the sale to another product
- stating that there is a time limit on the availability of a product to get you to make a quick decision - for example, the 'special promotional price' ends in 12 hours
- using editorial content in the media to promote a product where the promotion has been paid for by a trader without making it clear - for example, dressing up an advertisement as a magazine article without clearly stating that it is a promotion on behalf of a trader
- using a statement in an advertisement designed to persuade children to buy or to get children to persuade their parents or other adults to buy
Pyramid schemes and prize draws:
- pyramid schemes. These are schemes that claim to reward you for recruiting others into the scheme. They are then encouraged to recruit others and so the chain goes on. Invariably the one who makes the money is the fraudster at the top of the chain whilst those further down lose their money
- claiming to offer a competition or prize promotion without awarding the prize
- creating a false impression that you have won or will win a prize if you carry out a certain act, when there is no prize available or you must pay to claim it
- demanding payment for, or the return of, products you did not ask for - for example, sending you a pen and stationery in the post without you having ordered them, and then asking for payment
Misleading claims about the law / identity:
- claiming that a product can legally be sold when it cannot - for example, a trader may claim they own the product and can sell it on, when this is not true
- presenting your legal rights as a feature of a trader's offer - for example, a trader claiming in a store promotion that they are the only business in town which offers a refund on faulty goods
- a trader falsely claiming they are a consumer to avoid their legal obligations to you
High pressure selling / claims:
- making a false claim about risks to personal security if you do not purchase the product - for example, claiming you are vulnerable to being burgled if you do not buy an expensive security system
- creating an impression that you cannot leave the premises until a contract is agreed
- during a personal visit to your home, ignoring your request to leave and not return
- persistent and unwanted contact - for example, by phone or email
- unreasonable demands for you to produce irrelevant documents in relation to a claim you may wish to make on an insurance policy and failing to respond to you with the intention of putting you off claiming your rights
- informing you that the trader's job is under threat if you do not buy a product
- providing an after-sales service in a different language to the one used in pre-contract communications without disclosing it to you
- giving a false impression that an after-sales service is available in a different state of the European Economic Area to the one where the product is sold
- promoting a product in such a way as to resemble a product made by certain manufacturer to intentionally mislead you
- claiming that a trader is about to cease trading or move premises when they are not
- claiming that a product can help you win a game of chance, such as buying a product to win a prize
- falsely claiming that the product can cure health ailments
- passing on incorrect information on market conditions to persuade you to purchase a product on less than favourable terms
- describing a product as 'free' when it isn't
- uping an invoice or similar document to give you the impression that a product has been ordered and payment is required when this is not the case
What happens if a trader engages in an unfair commercial practice?
A trader who engages in an unfair commercial practice as set out in the Regulations commits a criminal offence.
If you believe a trader has misled you or behaved aggressively, report it to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.
Do I have any rights?
If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because they used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. See 'Misleading & aggressive practices: your right to redress' for more information.
These rights are in addition to the rights and remedies you have under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 when you make a contract with a trader for the supply of goods, services and digital content.
The guides 'Sale & supply of goods: your consumer rights', 'Supply of digital content: your consumer rights' and 'Supply of services: your consumer rights' give more information on your rights and remedies.
The guides 'Sale & supply of goods what to do if things go wrong', 'Supply of digital content - what to do if things go wrong' and 'Supply of services - what to do if thing go wrong' give you a clear direction to follow when you want to complain.
Last reviewed / updated: February 2018
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.
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The county council is not responsible for this information.