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author/source: Geoff Caesar



In England and Wales the sale of goods, services and digital content by a business to consumers is heavily regulated.

What is a consumer?

This term has different meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

Common definitions include the following:

Under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 (UCTA) and the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (SGA), the term is defined in the context of dealing as a consumer and in the context of a consumer sale. Here the definition comprises the following elements:

  • not making a contract in the course of a business;
  • the other party making a contract in the course of a business; and
  • goods being supplied of a type ordinarily supplied for private use or consumption.

Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, a consumer is a natural person who, in entering into a contract to which the regulations apply, is acting for purposes that are outside his business. Therefore, if goods are supplied only for the buyer’s business purposes, the buyer is not a consumer. A company cannot be a consumer.

When considering this term in a financial services context, the FCA Handbook definition will apply.

Issues to consider in connection with the sale of goods, services and digital content to consumers

There are a wide range of issues to consider in connection with consumer contracts, many of which are unique to a business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship and would either not exist in a business-to-business (B2B) environment or would be subject to different or reduced legislation. The following is an example of some of the issues which are specific to the B2C context:

  • Certain terms are not allowed in consumer contracts.
  • Certain terms are implied by law into consumer contracts and cannot be excluded. These include:
    • goods to be of satisfactory quality;
    • goods to be fit for particular purpose;
    • goods to be as described;
    • other pre-contract information included in contract;
    • goods to match a sample;
    • goods to match a model seen or examined;
    • installation as part of conformity of the goods with the contract;
    • goods not conforming to contract if digital content does not conform;
    • trader to have right to supply the goods;
    • terms relating to delivery of goods;
    • terms relating to the passing of risk.
  • Consumer contracts must be written in plain English.
  • Effective incorporation of terms.
  • Acceptance of contract terms.
  • Auto-renewal.
  • Cancellation rights (the law varies depending on where and how the consumer enters into the contract, for whether on the supplier's premises, at home with a sales person or online).

In addition to the above there are a host of other matters to be aware of in a B2C environment, such as product liability and safety and advertising law and regulation. There are also laws specific to the provision of:

  • certain types of products, such as alcohol, firearms and tobacco; and
  • certain types of services, such as financial, legal and medical services.

If you choose to run a promotion which involves the possibility of winning something then it will be necessary to comply with betting and gaming law.

Alinea Law documents relating to consumers

In addition to general terms and conditions for the supply of goods, services and digital downloads and other documents covering a range of commercial relationships with consumers, the following documents are available to Alinea Law Members for use in a consumer context:

Alinea Membership

Based at The Royal Exchange in the City of London, Alinea provides access to thousands of template legal documents and legal support and advice to our community of entrepreneurs, investors and creatives. We host regular events for Members, such as fundraising pitches for entrepreneurs and art exhibitions and are on hand to address any queries of a legal or business nature that our members may have. If you are not already a member of Alinea you can join us now for an accessible monthly fee and start reaping the rewards of membership immediately.