The OFT has many different powers that enable it to carry out its aim of making markets work better for consumers. This section explains some of the most important of those powers and gives a guide to businesses on how they can comply with particular legislation. Further information on legislation can be found by using the links at the bottom of this page.
The OFT's enforcement role is changing!
From 2 April 2013, under changes to the consumer protection regime introduced by Government, there will be a greater role for the local authority Trading Standards Services in the enforcement of consumer protection law at national level. The OFT will retain all of its current consumer enforcement powers but will tend to use them where breaches of consumer protection law point to systemic failures in a market. This means cases will more often be taken against a number of firms in a market, rather than cases against individual firms, unless changing the behaviour of one firm would set a precedent or have other market-wide implications.
The OFT will also retain the lead role for the enforcement of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 although the Trading Standards Services will have equal enforcement powers.
In the first instance consumers are encouraged to contact Citizens Advice regarding any problems they may have in buying goods or services.
The OFT is required to look at the rules of bodies seeking or holding rights of audience in the courts or the right to conduct litigation, and to advise the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Scotland as to the effect of such rules on competition. Read more about the Courts and Legal Services Act on legislation.gov.uk.
In the United Kingdom, the Competition Act 1998 is designed to make sure that businesses compete on a level footing. It does so by prohibiting certain types of anti-competitive behaviour (the Chapter I and Chapter II prohibitions). The OFT has strong powers to investigate businesses suspected of breaching the Act and to impose tough penalties on those that do. Read more about the Competition Act.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 requires most businesses that offer goods or services on credit or lend money to consumers to be licensed by the OFT. Trading without a licence is a criminal offence and can result in a fine and/or imprisonment.
The Act also requires certain credit and hire agreements to be set out in a particular way and to contain certain information. Read more about the Consumer Credit Act.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations implement the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) in the UK. Read more about Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
These laws are aimed at businesses that sell goods or services to consumers by: the internet, digital television, mail order, including catalogue shopping, phone or fax.
These regulations are enforced by the Office of Fair Trading, local authority trading standards departments in England, Scotland and Wales and the Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment in Northern Ireland.
These bodies are under a duty to consider any complaint received and have powers to apply to the courts for an injunction against any person who is considered responsible for a breach of the regulations. Read more about Distance Selling Regulations.
The Enterprise Act 2002 has wide-ranging implications for businesses and consumers.
The Act makes a number of important reforms, which are designed to crack down on abuses that harm customers and fair-trading businesses alike and thus encourage productivity and enterprise.
It gives the OFT and other bodies responsible for consumer law enforcement stronger powers to seek court orders against businesses who breach certain consumer protection laws. Read more about the Enterprise Act.
The Estate Agents Act 1979 regulates the work of estate agents. Its purpose is to make sure that they act in the best interests of their clients, and that both buyers and sellers are treated honestly, fairly and promptly. Read more about the Estate Agents Act.
The OFT is responsible under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which regulates financial services and markets, for keeping under review the rules and practices of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), recognised investment exchanges and recognised clearing houses. Read more about the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
The Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended by the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002) gives consumers rights when they buy goods from a business.
Under these Acts, the OFT applies a competition test when local transport authorities form quality partnerships, make ticketing schemes, or offer services to tender.
The test is whether one of the schemes or tenders would have a significantly adverse effect on competition. Read more about Transport Acts.
These regulations protect consumers against unfair standard terms in contracts they make with traders. The OFT, together with certain other bodies, can take legal action to prevent the use of such terms. Read more about Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.
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