Stop Now Orders

Author:Miss Pauline Munro
Profession:Pinsent Masons
 
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Pauline Munro considers the legislation enacted last year to protect

consumer interests

As a number of well-known retailers have discovered to their cost

recently, the government is stepping up enforcement of regulations to

protect the interests of consumers. "Stop Now Orders", which were

introduced a year ago, allow British consumer protection bodies to

pursue rogue traders operating both in the UK and from abroad by taking

out court injunctions to prevent traders from breaking the law. Breach

of a Stop Now Order could lead to fines and/or imprisonment for contempt

of court.

The Stop Now Orders Regulations introduce a sharper, swifter and more

efficient mechanism for the OFT and other consumer protection bodies to

enforce existing law. Amongst others, the Regulations cover laws made

under EC directives on unfair contract terms, consumer credit,

misleading and comparative advertising, sale of goods and guarantees,

television broadcasting activities and the advertising of medicinal

products for human use. Orders can be used against any trader in the UK

or, under corresponding provisions, any trader in any Member State of

the European Union.

The OFT has been swift to put the new powers into practice. In November

2001, branches of four major furniture retailers agreed to change

adverts for interest free credit after the OFT wrote to them under the

Stop Now Powers. All four were advertising interest free options or 0%

finance deals for their products. However, if a lump sum was not paid

off in full at the end of the one year interest free period, interest

was charged for the whole of the loan. The OFT took the view that the

adverts broke the law by using the words "interest free" when the

agreement was not genuinely interest free.

More recently the OFT has issued proceedings for Stop Now Order in the

Manchester County Court against two companies and a number of

individuals seeking Stop Now Orders after successive complaints about

these companies supplying shoddy goods.

In addition to speeding up the process of taking action against

businesses which breach consumer protection legislation, the Stop Now

Powers extend enforcement powers to a much wider range of bodies than

before. The enforcement bodies, in addition to the OFT, that are now

empowered to act (known as "UK Public Qualified Entities") include the

Information Commissioner, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Gas and

Electric Markets Authority, the Director General of Telecommunications,

...

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