A revolution in mobile consumer law

A revolution in mobile consumer law

A revolution is taking place; the winds of change are sweeping through. As the web industry has matured, expectations have risen - and in particular, a consumer's expectations.

Only a few years ago, there appeared to be a significant tolerance amongst consumers for issues and defects relating to web-based services, whether they were delivered by fixed line or by wireless technology. The "beta version" was all the rage: many companies used that label as a shield to protect themselves from any liability for errors, or downtime, or defective performance. And to a large extent, it worked; consumers seemed to appreciate the bargain was that they got access to a new whizzy service quickly and (usually) for free; on the flip-side, they couldn't reasonably expect a traditional level of legal protection if something went wrong with the service.

Times are changing, and quickly. Many companies in the mobile industry, particularly in relation to the mobile web, are starting to find that as the industry matures, and is increasingly monetised, so the consumer expectations naturally increase.

This revolution is also being seen from a formal legal perspective. Various changes coming into force in the next few months will represent the most significant changes in consumer law in the UK for decades. Some key changes for the mobile industry, coming in on 13 June, will include:

- longer cooling-off period: consumers will benefit from an extended 14 day minimum cooling off period in relation to distance and off-premises contracts for goods. For example, if you sell a mobile device via a website, you'll now need to offer a money-back option for at least 14 days (the current requirement is 7 days)

- more speedy refund process: businesses now have just 14 days to process consumer refunds for faulty goods, down from the current 30 day period

- ban on pre-ticked boxes in relation to internet sales: this will be particularly relevant in relation to payment obligations, or options to take additional services such as insurance

- requirement to offer a basic geographic or mobile number for consumer helpline issues, not a premium rate number. Some of these services generate significant revenue for the service providers concerned, and the commercial model will need to change.

There are many other changes also being brought in. Looking after your customers is clearly paramount to any business, but for those businesses who deal with consumers the job is going to get a bit harder.

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