The Consumer Rights Act (CRA), which becomes law on October 1, consolidates existing legislation but gives consumers new statutory remedies. They include the right to reject sold items within 30 days if they do not match the seller's description.
While public auctions remain largely outside the scope of the CRA, lawyers believe the act's provisions could apply to timed online-only auctions where bidders do not have the opportunity of attending the sale in person.
One lawyer described this provision as "bizarre," adding that "the test for exemption from this act ought to be whether bidders can inspect lots in person prior to the auction".
To help clarify the CRA's implications, auctioneer trade body SoFAA and dealer association BADA are working on revised recommended terms and conditions for issuing to members in the coming days.
Regarding timed online-only auctions, Richard Lewis, chief operating officer of ATG Media, parent company of ATG, said: "Our view, after taking legal advice, is that timed online-only auctions of fine art and antiques will fall outside the CRA rules relating to the sale of goods, provided that the auctioneer clearly positions themselves as the seller's agent and that the seller is a private individual and not a trader."
He added that ATG Media "would encourage auctioneers to seek legal advice to draft their terms to manage any potential risk from the CRA and other related consumer rights legislation".
Milton Silverman, solicitor and ATG legal columnist, said it would be "interesting to speculate whether, if an online-only auctioneer invites bidders to come to a sale if they want to, would this be enough to circumvent the provisions of the act? If such invitations start to appear, you will know why".
One auctioneer, Colin Young of Golding Young & Mawer, described the new act as "yet more ridiculous interference" by law makers. He added that he would not be revising his auction house's terms and conditions or conducting timed auctions as he "did not want to be a test case" under the new legislation.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 consolidates existing laws including the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Supply of Goods and Services Act. It has been hailed as the biggest shake-up in consumer rights law in a generation.