Why is this important?
Misleading actions - unfair commercial practices
If a trader does something to mislead you into buying something that you may not have bought if you had been given all the information, this is an unfair commercial practice and is against the law. Misleading actions are covered by Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (2008).
This page explains what misleading actions are and how to spot if a trader has done this.
For the regulations to be unfair, they have to apply to the average consumer. You are considered to be an average consumer if you are reasonably:
- observant. You notice what goes on around you
- circumspect. You are reasonably cautious.
It also has to be clear that a misleading action would be likely to make you buy something that you wouldn't necessarily have bought if you had been given the true facts.
If you think a trader has done something to mislead you, you can report the problem to Trading Standards, who may decide to take action against the trader.
What is a misleading action?
A misleading action is something a trader does to deceive you into making a different decision to the one you might have made if you had been given the true facts. They may do this either by giving you false information or by presenting something to you in a way that is not factually correct. You don't have to have lost any money to take action against a trader who's misled you.
The regulations identify three types of misleading actions:
- giving misleading information
- creating confusion with a competitor's products
- failing to stick to firm commitments made in a code of conduct.
Giving misleading information
For information to be misleading, it needs to be deceiving or untrue. You may be given misleading information about:
- the way goods or services are advertised
- the way the sale is carried out
- the way prices are calculated or compared
- what the trader promises to provide (the extent of the trader's commitments)
- the actual need for a service, part, replacement or repair
- after-sales help
- what the product is supposed to do (the characteristics of the product)
- the delivery of the product
- whether the product is fit for purpose
- what you can expect when you use the product or service
- what your consumer rights are
- what risks you might face when you use the product or service
- the identity or qualifications of the trader.
A trader falsely tells you that your washing machine can't be repaired and you will need a new one.
A trader tries to sell you a computer. You are falsely told that the computer comes with specific software already installed. In fact, you have to buy the software separately and install it yourself. The trader has provided false information about the main characteristics of the product. If you had known you would have to buy and install the software separately, you would have probably decided to buy a different computer.
Creating confusion with a competitors' products
If a trader tries to sell a product in a way that makes you mistake it for a competitor's product and you buy it thinking that you're buying the competitor's product rather than the trader's product, this is likely to be a misleading action. These regulations cover products such as fake goods.
A trader names or brands a handbag so that it looks almost exactly the same as a competitor's handbag. The bags look so similar that it would be very difficult for the average person to tell them apart. This is a deliberate action to make it more likely that you could choose the trader's handbag when you wouldn't otherwise have done so, and is a misleading action.
Failing to stick to firm commitments made in a code of conduct
Codes of conduct are formal ways in which traders have agreed to behave towards their customers. Codes of conduct are often set by professional bodies who have worked out what the agreed standards should be for the type of business the trader is involved in. Alternatively, the trader may have set their own standards.
They may cover things such as the level of service a customer can expect, how to deal with complaints, or the duty to deal openly and honestly with customers.
A trader is beaching the regulations if they don't honour the commitments that they have agreed to in the codes of conduct.
Reporting the problem
If you think something a trader has done is a misleading, you can report them to Trading Standards.