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 Unfair Terms - Regulation by statute - Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999
 
 
 
 
 
Intro
 
In addition to the protection offered by the common law, there exists statutory protection from unfair terms in the form of the Unfair Contracts Terms Act 1977  and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 is a piece of primary legislation whereas the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations is in the form of secondary legislation introduced to implement a European Directive.
 
 
There is some overlap in the protection offered by the two pieces of legislation. There are, however, some important differences:
 
  • UTCCR applies only to consumer contracts, whereas UCTA applies to business to business relationships as well.
  • UTCCR only applies to contracts not individually negotiated. No such restriction applies in UCTA
  • UTCCR applies only to contracts whereas UCTA applies to exclusion of tortious liability also.
  • The definition of consumer differs with an extended meaning given in UCTA whereby a business can be classed as a consumer if it is purchasing goods which are ordinarily supplied to a consumer.
  • UCTA provides specific instances of what may amount to an unfair term. If a term is not within one of the specified categories it is not capable of amounting to an unfair term under the Act. Whereas under the UTCCRs any term is capable of amounting to an unfair term.
  • Under UCTA some terms are automatically treated as unfair. UTCCRs all terms must be shown to be unfair
  • UCTA applies a test of reasonableness in deciding whether terms are unfair.
  • UTCCR has its own test of fairness based on dealing in good faith and balancing the rights and obligations of the parties.
 

 

 
 
Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977

 

The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 applies only to liability arising in the course of a business. It does not therefore provide comprehensive protection against unfair terms. Also it provides for specific instances of unfair terms. In particular, penalty clauses are outside its remit. The Unfair Contract Terms Act provides different levels of protection. Some provisions provide absolute protection whereas some will be subject to a consideration of whether the term was a reasonable one to include. The Unfair Contract Terms Act extends beyond liability arising from contracts and extends to tortious liability arising from negligence or liability arising from the Occupiers Liability Act 1957.
 
 
 
 
The main provisions cover:
 
  • s.2 - Exclusion of liability for negligence
  • s.3 - Exclusion of liability for breach of contract
  • s.4 - Liability to pay an indemnity
  • s.6 - Exclusion of liability in contracts for the sale of goods and hp
  • s.7 - Exclusion of liability in hire contracts
  • s.8 - Exclusion of liability arising from a misrepresentation
  • s.11 - Sets out the reasonableness test
  • Sch 2 - Provides further guidance on application of the reasonableness test where the contract is a non-consumer contract and ss 6 or 7 are under consideration.
 
 
 
 
  • S.2(1) provides that a business can not exclude or restrict liability for death or personal injury arising from negligence. This provision is absolute and not subject to the requirement of reasonableness.
 
  • S.2(2) provides that a business may exclude or restrict liability for other types of loss only if it is reasonable to do so. The question of what is reasonable is decided by applying the reasonableness test set out in s.11.
 
  • S.2(3) provides that where a person is aware of an exclusion clause this is not to be taken as a voluntary acceptance of risk.
 


S.3 applies where one party deals as a consumer or where there exists a standard form contract. The provisions are subject to the reasonableness test in s.11 and provide restrictions on the other party to the contract's ability to:
 
  • Exclude or restrict liability for breach of contract
  • Provide substantially different performance to that reasonably expected 
  • Provide no performance at all
 
 
 
 
  • A person dealing as a consumer can not be made to pay an unreasonable indemnity arising from liability incurred as a result of breach of contract or negligence. - Subject to the reasonableness test under s.11.
 
 
 
 
S.6 is applies to contracts for the sale of goods and contracts of hire purchase. The provisions relate to liability arising under the implied terms under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973. 
 
S.6 provides:
 
  • A party can never exclude liability relating to title - absolute - applies to both consumer and non-consumer sales.
  • In consumer sales a party can never exclude liability relating to description, quality, fitness for purpose or sample - absolute.
  • In non-consumer sales a party can only exclude liability relating to quality, description, fitness for purpose or sample where it is reasonable to do so. Reasonableness is judged under s.11 reasonableness test and the factors set out in Sch 2.
 
 
 
 
 
S.7 applies to contracts of hire and provides:
 
  • In consumer contracts provisions relating to description, sample, quality and fitness for purpose can not be excluded - absolute
  • In non-consumer sales the above provisions can only be excluded in so far as it is reasonable to do so - reasonableness is decided by reference to the reasonableness test under s.11 and the factors set out in sch 2.
  • Provision relating to title under s.2 Supply of Goods and Services Act  1982 can not be excluded - absolute.
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • S.8 amends s.3 of the Misrepresentation Act 1967 and makes provision for exclusion or restriction of liability arising from a misrepresentation, subject to the requirement of the reasonableness test under s.11 UCTA
 
 
 
 
  • The term is required to be a fair and reasonable one to include in the contract.
  • This is judged by all the circumstance which were known, or ought to have been known or in the contemplation of the parties
  • The fairness and reasonableness is decided at the time the contract is entered - not with hindsight knowing of the events which in fact occurred
  • Where the term is restricting rather than excluding liability regard is to be had to the resources of the party seeking to rely on the term and the availability of insurance.
  • The burden is on the party seeking to enforce the term to show that it was fair and reasonable.

Sch 2

Sch 2 provides the factors for the court to consider in applying the reasonableness test when looking at non-consumer sales in relation to s.6 & 7 UCTA. The factors are:
 
  • The strength of the bargaining positions of the parties taking into account alternative suppliers available to the purchaser.
  • Whether the customer received an inducement to accept the term. Eg were they given the opportunity to pay a higher price without the exclusion clause.
  • Whether the customer knew or ought to have known of the term and whether such terms are in general use in a particular trade.
  • Where exclusion relates to non performance of a condition whether it was reasonably practicable to comply with the condition.
  • Whether the goods were made or adapted to the special order of the customer.

 

Some cases which have considered the application of schedule 2:
 
 


Smith v Eric Bush [1990] 1 AC 831       Case summary


Ailsa Craig Fishing v Malvern [1983] 1 WLR 964     Case summary


George Mitchell v Finney Lock Seeds [1983] QB 284                                              Case summary
 
 
  
 
The UTCCR 1999 replace the 1994 Regulations of the same name. They derive from an EU Directive and apply only to consumer contracts (Reg 4).  A term will be regarded as unfair under Reg 5 if:
 
  • It has not been individually negotiated
  • It is contrary to the requirement of good faith
  • It causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations to the detriment of the consumer
  • Sch 2 contains an indicative but not exhaustive list of what may be regarded as unfair
 
Reg 6 the fairness of a term shall be assessed with reference to:
 
  • The nature of the goods and services
  • All circumstances attending to the conclusion of the contract

Where the term is clear the fairness of the term can not relate to

  •  the definition of the subject matter of the contract or
  •  the adequacy of the price or remuneration
 
 
See also:
 
Director General of Fair Trading v First National Bank[2001] UKHL 52     Case summary 
 
Reg 8  If a term is found to be unfair it is not binding on the consumer. The rest of the contract remains valid
 
Further reading:

Law Commission Report -
Unfair Terms in Contracts 2005
 
 
Statutory controls of unfair terms