The Consumer Protection Act 2007 came into effect in Ireland on 1 May 2007. The Act provided for the establishment of the National Consumer Agency. Under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority were replaced by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The Commission took over the functions of the two agencies.
The 2007 Act also put the EU Directive on unfair commercial practices into national law and it made various changes to our consumer laws. It also repealed certain older consumer laws, some of which dated from the 19th century.
The Consumer Protection Act 2007 is quite complex and includes some detailed definitions. The following is a summary of its main provisions:
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) was established on 31 October 2014 and took over the functions and powers of the National Consumer Agency. It has a general function of promoting consumer welfare and is responsible for investigating, enforcing and encouraging compliance with consumer law. It has a website for consumers. It also has a guide to the Consumer Protection Act 2007 (pdf) which can be downloaded from its website.
There is more information on what the Commission does on its website.
The EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (Directive 2005/28/EC of 11 May 2005) (pdf) deals with unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices, (it does not apply to dealings between businesses). The Consumer Protection Act 2007 provides for its implementation in Ireland.
The Act provides that a range of unfair, misleading and aggressive trading practices are banned if they would be likely to cause appreciable impairment of the average consumer's ability to make an informed choice in relation to the product concerned and would cause the average consumer to make a decision about a transaction that they would not otherwise make. Practices are banned, therefore, if they meet two conditions:
The Act also provides that certain practices are always banned - these do not have to meet the second condition. There is more information on unfair commercial practices here.
The Consumer Protection Act 2007 gives the Minister the power to make Regulations requiring that the prices of certain products be displayed in a specific manner. For example, they could provide that prices of certain products must be displayed inclusive of charges, fees and taxes.
The Prices Acts 1958-1972 gave the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation a range of powers to set maximum prices. The Act repeals all of these powers except the power to control prices in emergency situations. It provides that the power to control prices in emergency situations must be exercised by the government and not the Minister.
The Pyramid Selling Act 1980 was repealed by the Consumer Protection Act 2007 and replaced by new provisions. These provisions ban participation in pyramid schemes and inducing others to participate. They also ban the establishment, operation or promotion of these schemes and increase the penalties for breaking the law. The new penalties for offences relating to pyramid schemes involve a fine of up to €150,000 and a prison term of up to five years.
The Consumer Protection Act 2007 provides for the recognition of codes of practice drawn up by traders or groups of traders and for the CCPC to approve such codes. It also provides that the CCPC may issue guidelines to traders about consumer protection and welfare, commercial practices, quality assurance schemes and codes of practice.
The Act gives power to the Minister to introduce statutory guidelines for local authorities in regard to the issuing of casual trading licences. Non-statutory guidelines were issued to local authorities in July 2005 and again in July 2006 with a view to their being implemented on a voluntary basis. If this does not prove satisfactory, the Minister can introduce statutory guidelines.
The Consumer Protection Act 2007 provides for enforcement mechanisms to be available to the CCPC.
If the CCPC considers that there is a case for looking for an injunction or a prohibition order against a trader, it may (as a first step) accept a written undertaking from the trader containing whatever terms and conditions the CCPC thinks are appropriate. If the trader fails to comply with the undertaking, then the CCPC may look for a prohibition order.
The CCPC may serve a compliance notice on a trader whom it considers to have engaged in a prohibited activity. The trader has 14 days in which to appeal the notice. If the trader fails to comply, the CCPC may take criminal proceedings.
The CCPC has the power to impose on-the-spot penalties for offences relating to the display of prices.
It is also required to keep a Consumer Protection List and to publish this list at any time and in any form it considers appropriate. This is a list of traders convicted of criminal offences, subject to court orders, bound by an undertaking, served with a compliance notice, or subject to a fixed payment notice.
The CCPC may apply to the courts for an order requiring a trader who has been convicted of a number of specified offences to publish, at his or her expense, a corrective statement in respect of the facts relating to the offence.
The Central Bank of Ireland has a role in enforcing the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 in the financial services area. The CCPC and the Central Bank are required to have a co-operation agreement setting out their respective roles.
The Act provides protection for people who report breaches of the legislation to the CCPC.
Anyone, including the CCPC, may apply to the Circuit Court or the High Court for an order prohibiting any practice (with some small exceptions) which is unlawful under the Consumer Protection Act 2007. If an individual takes such an action, notice must be given to the trader and to the CCPC. It is not necessary to show loss or damage as a result of the trader's actions.
If a trader is convicted of an offence under the Act, it is open to the court to require the trader to pay damages to a consumer who has suffered loss as a result of the trader's actions. Such a compensation order may be instead of, or in addition to, any fine or penalty the court imposes on the trader.
Consumers who are aggrieved by a prohibited act or practice may sue the trader for damages.
The Act provides for a range of penalties for the various offences. The maximum fine for a first offence is €3,000 for summary convictions and €60,000 for convictions on indictment. There are higher fines for repeat offenders.
Further information on unfair commercial practices is available under an EU initiative at http://www.isitfair.eu/
Further information on the Consumer Protection Act is available from the following:
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.