Millions of UK consumers who download music or buy ebooks can now claim a replacement if the digital content they have bought is faulty.
In an overhaul of consumer law hailed as the biggest for a generation, statutory rights covering cars and white goods are to be extended to apps and music downloads and enshrined in a single piece of legislation.
The new Consumer Rights Act will for the first time give shoppers the clear right to a repair or replacement when web-based products, including downloaded or streamed content such as apps, music, movies and games, fail to work.
The act clarifies rules on refunds, repairs or replacements of faulty goods and includes the creation of a 30-day timeframe for consumers to get a full refund.
UK consumers spend £90bn a month on goods and services, but figures from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills show that last year they grappled with more than 18m problems and were left £4.15bn out of pocket.
The law was previously unclear regarding digital content, having failed to keep up with the growing demand for streamed and downloaded entertainment, which can sometimes be free or part of a package. According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, shoppers last year spent more than £2.8bn on downloaded music, video and games â up 18% on the previous year.
Shoppers buying anything from toasters to cars now have 30 days to reject a faulty item and demand a full refund, clarifying previously vague rules on how long this period should last. After 30 days, retailers have one opportunity to repair or replace a faulty item. If the attempt at a repair or replacement is unsuccessful, the consumer can then claim a refund or a price reduction.
The 30-day rule does not apply to digital purchases, but retailers have one opportunity to repair (for example, through a software patch) or replace any goods, and the consumer can choose which option they prefer. Shoppers would only be entitled to return the faulty digital content for an immediate refund if it was inside a physical item (for example, on a disc or embedded in goods such as a digital camera).
In the case of a game that was free to play but offered in-app purchases, the seller would have to provide a remedy if the purchase didnât appear in the game.
Among other changes are:
â¢ Making it easier for shoppers to challenge hidden fees and charges, preventing companies from enforcing terms if they are deemed to be unfair â even if they are written in plain language.
â¢ In the case of a dispute, certified dispute resolution providers are being set up across different sectors to help as a quicker and cheaper alternative to going through the courts.
The business minister Nick Boles said: âThese changes will also simplify the law for businesses so they can spend less time worrying about unclear and unwieldy regulations.â
Richard Lloyd, executive director of consumer group Which?, said: âConsumer law was crying out to be brought up to date to cope with the requirements and demands of todayâs shoppers. Getting a refund or repair, dealing with issues with faulty digital downloads and understanding contracts should now all be much simpler.â