Despite the COVID-19 crisis, consumer law still applies in full
Consumer law requires businesses to provide adequate and accurate information so that consumers can make informed decisions
Businesses must tell their customers at the earliest opportunity if only certain payment methods are acceptable
CCPC is willing to take enforcement action if the rule about giving sufficient information to consumers is breached
The CCPC reminds everyone that despite the current crisis, consumer protection law still applies. This is a valuable restatement by the CCPC of the legal position. While competition law and consumer law both still apply in full, many competition agencies internationally have indicated that there may be less enforcement of competition law in certain circumstances related to the COVID-19 crisis. But the same does not apply to consumer law. Indeed, agencies in various jurisdictions (particularly in the USA but also in the EU and Ireland) are even more active at protecting consumers during a crisis such as the present one.
The CCPC said that various businesses (including restaurants and fast food outlets) could have changed, or could be considering changing, how they take payments from consumers (e.g., greater use of contactless or card payments to the exclusion of cash).
The alert reminds businesses that consumer law requires businesses to provide adequate and accurate information so that the average consumer can make informed choices and decisions. So if a business requires a particular payment method – whether that is cash or card only – then the business must tell its customers at the earliest opportunity. This is particularly the case where consumers wish to order goods either online or over the phone.
The CCPC is very clear about the requirement to tell consumers early about any particular payment method being required and adds a "kicker" – comply or risk enforcement action by the CCPC:
"In the current circumstances informing consumers early in the ordering process provides them with the information required by law so that they can choose whether they are happy with the payment method which is offered. This is especially important in the case of cash only payment methods where a consumer needs to decide if they are willing to use an ATM or handle cash. In addition to ensuring that no disappointment or misunderstanding occurs at the point of sale, this also ensures that businesses do not run the risk of enforcement action by the CCPC."