The UK’s Consumer Minister Jo Swinson has suggested changes to consumer rights in the UK that could make them easier to understand, as well as making it easier to claim a refund for digital goods. It might also help chip away at the 59 million hours UK consumers spend each year trying to fix goods and services problems.

One of the key proposals Swinson put forward on Wednesday in the Draft Consumer Rights Bill would see the streamlining of eight overlapping individual pieces of legislation into one consumer Bill in a bid to make it easier for people to do things like claiming refunds or negotiating replacement goods. It also includes a set 30 day time period for when consumers can return faulty goods for a refund. Under current regulations, consumers can return faulty goods under the Sale of Goods Act but must do so within a ‘reasonable time’ which can vary depending on the product and how obvious the fault was.

“For too long the rules that apply when buying goods and services have been murky for both consumers and businesses.” Swinson said in a statement. “The situation is even worse in relation to digital content.”

Under the new bill consumers would have the right to claim a partial refund of a product after one failed repair or one faulty repair attempt, could demand that substandard services are redone (or get a discount/refund) and get a replacement of faulty digital content such as film and music downloads, online games and e-books.

For example, specifically in relation to digital content, if you play a free online game but spend quite a lot of money on in-app purchases and a subsequent update to the game makes it unplayable or fail to work properly then you would be entitled to a replacement. If that option was not available, “it is possible then you would be entitled to some money back”, Swinson proposed.

It’s not just digital services or goods it would apply to though, it would also cover everything from getting builders in to revamp a room in your house to buying a new desk.

It’s also not just consumers that will benefit from the new proposals and greater clarity, Swinson said.

“This will also benefit businesses as they are going to spend less time working out their legal obligations when they get complaints from customers,” she added.

The Bill was drawn up following a consultation on consumer rights and enforcement in the summer and autumn of 2012.

Update June 13:

We had a few extra questions about these proposed regulations so got in touch with a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) office who said that the next stage for the Bill is “pre-legislative scrutiny” but that its introduction “will depend on when [the Bill] gets a parliamentary slot and how long it takes to complete the parliamentary process”. 

We were also curious as to what would happen in the case of, say, streaming video services or a company that hosts an MMO game deciding to retire it and shut down the servers.

“The Bill covers all digital content, however it is delivered, whether downloaded or streamed, or sold in physical form such as on a disc. If the digital content is not of satisfactory quality, the consumer would be entitled to a remedy – in the case of a streamed film this would probably be a repeat of the streaming in the first instance, and if the film is still not of satisfactory quality then a price reduction of an appropriate amount,” the spokesman said. “One of the factors that count towards satisfactory quality is the durability of the digital content, which refers to the reasonable expectations of the ‘lifetime’ of the content. We have also introduced provisions that digital content such as MMOs or software on the cloud which is supported by third-party servers, would have to be provided for a reasonable period.”

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