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Since 2015, as a result of various initiatives, the consumer landscape now looks very different. There has been an overhaul of consumer law enforcement bodies alongside an overhaul of consumer law.

In 2011, the then Coalition Government published a consultation on reforming the consumer landscape. The consultation found that the landscape of bodies responsible for empowering and protecting consumers, including the provision of advice and advocacy was inefficient and confusing, leaving consumers uncertain who to turn to for help and advice when things go wrong. As a result, there was evidence of consumer detriment at national and regional level.

There have been two drivers of legislative change. First, the adoption in October 2011 of the Consumer Rights Directive  (2011/83/EU). A central requirement of the Directive is that consumers be comprehensively informed before any contract is entered into. Most of the requirements of the Directive have now been implemented in the UK through the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013. The second driver was the findings of a series of consultations on consumer laws held in the UK between March and November 2012. Responses highlighted areas of duplication, inconsistency and uncertainty. This led to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which came into force on 1 October 2015.The Act, which represents the biggest overhaul of consumer law for decades, sets out in one place key consumer rights covering contracts for goods, services and digital content and the law relating to unfair terms in consumer contracts and notices.

With impressive speed, the consumer protection regime has been reviewed, dismantled and completely rebuilt. The aim being to empower consumers by creating a simplified and enhanced legal regime that affords greater rights when buying goods, services and digital content. Legislative reforms have been made against a backdrop of structural changes to consumer law enforcement bodies, creating a new consumer landscape for England, Wales and Scotland. For example, the provision of consumer advice and advocacy in the non-regulated sectors has been transferred to Citizens Advice. The success of this new consumer regime will ultimately depend on how well consumers and traders understand their rights and responsibilities.

This Commons briefing paper outlines the important institutional and legislative changes that have recently been made to the UK consumer landscape. It should be noted that detailed consideration of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the EU Consumer Rights Directive is given in briefing papers SN/HA/6588 and SN/HA/6608 respectively.

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