What consequences will the Consumer Rights Bill (if adopted) have on universities and students?

In legal jargon, students are treated as consumers and universities as service providers. So what impact will consumer law changes have on…

In the legal jargon, students are treated as consumers and universities as service providers. With the changes in consumer law coming on the horizon, it is interesting to examine what will be the impacts on students and universities.

The current laws on consumer rights are extensive, technical and are found in a variety of statutes and case law.

The reform aims at simplifying the law by gathering it in one Act. The reform will also modernise the law by incorporating sections on digital content.

As the relationship between students and universities is a contractual one, the forthcoming legislation gives students substantial consumer rights when dealing with higher education institutions.

If the Bill is brought into force, the changes will be as follows:

Regarding the supply of services, the Bill states that the consumer must pay a reasonable price for the services provided. One possible consequence is tuition fees. As tuitions fees for home and EU students are capped, this is unlikely to raise issues. However, in relation to international students, there is no cap and this may lead to potential claims.

Second, information provided about a university or a course will be binding. This means that if a student relies on an oral or written statement to choose a particular university or course, this statement will be binding and form part of the student contract. With the current legislation, universities can already be sued for misrepresentation. With the enactment of the Bill, students will also be able to bring a claim for breach of contract against universities.

Third, where the university provides digital content, for example for its online material, the Bill states that such content shall be of satisfactorily quality and fit for purpose. 

Furthermore, the Bill provides remedies for consumers – the right to repeat performance, or if repeat performance is not possible or not complied with in a reasonable time, the right to a price reduction. 

Lastly, the Bill had its Third Reading at the House of Lords on 8 December 2014 and has been returned to the House of Common with amendments. The amendments will be considered on the floor of the Commons on date yet to be announced.

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