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Enterprise Act 2002

Section 212: Community Infringements

481.Subsections (1) and (2) of section 212 provide a definition of a Community infringement that is in accordance with Article 1(2) of the Injunctions Directive. The definition refers to ‘acts or omissions’ that contravene provisions of listed directives as transposed by an EEA State. The concept of an omission is implicit in the Injunctions Directive because for some of the individual directives a contravention will arise (and in some cases will only arise) because of an omission. Schedule 13 lists the individual directives, or parts of individual directives, to which the Injunctions Directive, and therefore the definition of a Community infringement, applies (section 212(4)).

482.Section 212(3) provides the Secretary of State with an order-making power to specify, for the purpose of the definition of a Community infringement, the UK laws that give effect to the listed directives or that provide ‘additional permitted protections’.

483.‘Additional permitted protections’ are provisions that have been adopted or retained by an EEA State pursuant to the so-called ‘minimum clause’ contained in most of the directives (section 212(2)). These clauses enable EEA States to adopt or retain provisions that provide greater protection for consumers, on matters within the scope of the directive concerned, provided the protection does not breach the rules in the EU Treaty on, for example, the free movement of goods. A simple example would be where a directive provides for a cooling-off period, say seven days, during which a consumer may cancel the contract without penalty but an EEA State’s law provides a longer period, say ten days. In contrast, a measure that provides a type of protection that is outside the scope of a listed directive is not an ‘additional permitted protection’ because it cannot be said to rely on the minimum clause in the directive: the provision would not be within the scope of the directive and the infringement would not therefore fall within the Injunctions Directive. For example, the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which implements the Consumer Credit Directive, also regulates consumer hire agreements which are not dealt with in the directive at all. Breaches of the provisions on consumer hire will not therefore be Community infringements. But it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between national measures that rely on a minimum clause in a directive and measures that are not within the scope of a directive.

484.The power in section 212(3) will be used to specify the legislation that gives effect in UK law to the listed directives. This will be helpful to enforcers and the courts in dealing with cases.

485.For a Community infringement to have occurred it is not sufficient that there has been an act or omission contrary to one of the listed directives (including additional permitted protections in the EEA State concerned). The act must also ‘harm the collective interests of consumers’. The Injunctions Directive does not define the ‘collective interests of consumers’. But the term (already used in the SNORs) is used in the Act in defining Community infringements so as to be sure that the UK continues to fully implement the requirements of the Injunctions Directive. For consistency, the same test has been applied for domestic infringements.

486.For both Community and domestic infringements, the Department does not consider that harming the collective interests of consumers means that a large number of consumers must already have been harmed. The Department believes it simply means that a continuation or repetition of an act or omission specified as a Community or domestic infringement could harm the collective interests of consumers, since the interests of future customers of the trader are actually or will potentially be affected. For example, if a trader has not complied with the requirement to inform consumers of their rights to cancel under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 when they purchase by mail order, the Department would expect the court to find it would be harmful to the collective interests of consumers for the trader to repeat the omission.

487.Similarly, the Department considers that the “harm to the collective interests of consumers” test would be satisfied where an unlawful practice is employed in relation only to goods or services purchased by a very small minority of the community (eg expensive luxury goods) and the general mass of consumers are therefore unaffected.

488.The Department considers that the phrase ‘collective interests of consumers’ in the Injunctions Directive (and in the Act) is intended to produce the consequence that the procedure is not available to provide redress for individual consumers who may have been harmed by an infringement.

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