Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977
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|Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977|
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Statute book chapter:||1977 c. 50|
|Territorial extent:||England and Wales; Scotland; Northern Ireland|
|Date of Royal Assent:||1977|
|Status: Substantially amended|
|Official text of the statute as amended and in force today within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database|
The Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 is a British Act of Parliament (1977, c 50) which regulates contracts by restricting the operation and legality of some contract terms. It extends to nearly all forms of contract and one of its most important functions is limiting the applicability of disclaimers of liability. The terms extend to both actual contract terms and notice that are seen to constitute a contractual obligation.
The Act renders terms excluding or limiting liability ineffective or subject to reasonableness, depending on the nature of the obligation purported to be excluded and whether the party purporting to exclude or limit business liability, acting against a consumer.
It is normally used in conjunction with the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (Statutory Instrument 1999 No. 2083), as well as the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.
The Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission have recommended that the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 should be replaced by a more unified and coherent regime.
Terms rendered ineffective
Manufacturers' guarantee. s5(1), loss arising from (a) defective goods or (b) negligence of distributor; cannot be excluded where goods are "of a type ordinarily supplied for private use or consumption.
- s6(1), implied terms as to title (Sale of Goods Act 1979 s12) cannot be excluded.
- s6(2), implied terms as to description, quality or sample (Sale of Goods Act 1979 ss13-15) cannot be excluded against a consumer.
They are also governed (since 2007) by the Occupiers Liability Act 1984.
Terms subject to reasonableness
Contractual Liability. s3, This applies against a party that drafted a standard form contract where the other party is a consumer. Exclusion of breach of the same contract (s3(2)(a)) or performance of which is substantially or totally different of that which is reasonably expected of him (s(3)(b)).
Definition of consumer and business
Business. s 1(3), The Act only applies to "liability for breach of obligations or duties arising (a) from things done or to be done by a person in the course of a business (whether his own business or another's); or (b) from the occupation of premises used for business purposes of the occupier". s14, Includes any government department.
Consumer. s 12, A party deals as a consumer if
- s12(1)(a), He is not in the course of a business and does not hold himself to do so.
- s12(1)(b), the other party is in the course of a business.
- s12(1)(c), In Sale of Goods contract, the goods are of a type "ordinarily supplied for private use or consumption" (s12(1A), this subsection does not apply to individuals)
- s12(2), A party is not a consumer if dealing at an auction where he has the opportunity to attend in person or is not a natural person buying auction.
- s12(3), Burden is upon the party purported to be acting in the course of a business to show that either he is not in the course of a business or that the other party is otherwise not a consumer
Definition of reasonableness
Section 11 provides some guidance but most development has been in common law
Schedule 2 gives guidelines specifically to ss 6(3), 7(3), 7(4).
- Stewart Gill Ltd v Horatio Myer & Co Ltd provides that reasonableness is assessed at the time of contract; and that the burden of proof is upon the party purporting to have excluded liability.
- Levison v Patent Steam Carpet Cleaning Co Ltd provides that clarity and preciseness will raise the reasonableness of a term; and vice versa. See also Stag Line Ltd v Tyne Ship Repair Group Ltd as to small print (literally; size-wise).
- Smith v Eric S Bush. Lord Griffith provides 4 points that may be considered... (see application in St Albans City and District Council v International Computers Ltd.).
- Equality of Bargaining Powers.
- How practical was it to obtain independent legal advice regarding the term?
- How difficult is the task being for which liability is being excluded?
- What are the practical consequences of ruling that a term is unreasonable?
- Standard form contract
- Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999
- Electronic Commerce Regulations 2002
- Office of Fair Trading v Abbey National and Others (2008) - Bank charges test case
- Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd v Messer UK Ltd  EWCA Civ 548
- ^ as amended by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts (Amendment) Regulations 2001 (Statutory Instrument 2001 No. 1186) which merely further defined a 'Financial Service Authority'
- ^ The Law Commission, 'Unfair Terms in Contracts' (LC292, 2005) []
- ^ As amended by the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002
- ^ Holding himself is important as an otherwise consumer may attempt to act in the guise of a business for tax benefits or to shop at wholesale stores
- ^  2 All ER 257
- ^  3 WLR 90
- ^  2 Lloyd's Rep 211
- ^  1 AC 831
- ^ (1996) The Times 14th August