June 13th 2014
Today sees the introduction of the new EU Consumer Rights Directive, which will, amongst other things, give consumers in all 27 EU member states including the UK stronger rights when they shop online.
Shoppers will will have 14 days if they wish to return goods bought 'at a distance' – whether by internet, post or phone – even if they have simply changed their minds. Internet fraudsters who trick people in to paying for goods and services that appear to be offered free of charge will be outlawed. And shoppers will no longer be trapped into buying unwanted travel insurance or car rentals when purchasing a ticket online.
For your information, here are the ten most significant changes that may affect your rights as a consumer:
1. Elimination of hidden charges and costs on the internet. You will be protected against 'cost traps' on the internet, when fraudsters try to trick you into paying for ‘free’ services such as horoscopes or recipes. From today, you must explicitly confirm that you understand you have to pay something.
2. Increased price transparency. Traders have to disclose the total cost of the product or service, as well as any extra fees. You will not have to pay charges or other costs if you were not properly informed
before you placed your order.
3. No more pre-ticked boxes on websites. When shopping online – for instance buying a travel ticket – you may be offered additional options during the purchase process, such as travel insurance or car rental. These additional services may be offered through so-called ‘pre-ticked’ boxes. You are currently often forced to untick those boxes if they do not want these extra services. From today, pre-ticked boxes will be banned across the EU.
4. 14 days to change your mind. The period under which you can withdraw from a sales contract is extended to 14 calendar days (up from the previous seven days). This means that you can return the goods for whatever reason if you change your mind.
Extra protection for lack of information: When a seller has not clearly informed you about the withdrawal right, the return period will be extended to a year.
You will also be protected and enjoy a right of withdrawal for solicited visits, such as when a trader called beforehand and pressed you to agree to a visit. In addition, a distinction no longer needs to be made between solicited and unsolicited visits – preventing traders getting around the rules.
The right of withdrawal is extended to online auctions, such as eBay – though goods bought in auctions can only be returned when bought from a professional seller.
The withdrawal period will start from the moment you receive the goods, rather than at the time of conclusion of the contract, which was previously the case. The rules will apply to internet, phone and mail order sales, as well as to sales outside shops, for example on your doorstep, in the street, at a sales 'party' or during an excursion organised by the trader.
5. Improved refund rights. Traders must refund you for the product within 14 days of the withdrawal – including the costs of delivery. In general, the trader will bear the risk for any damage to goods during transportation, until you take possession of them.
6. New EU-wide model withdrawal form. You will be provided with a model withdrawal form which you can (but you do not have to) use if you change your mind and wish to withdraw from a contract concluded at a distance or at the doorstep. This will make it easier and faster to withdraw, wherever you have concluded a contract in the EU.
7. No more surcharges for the use of credit cards and hotlines. Traders will not be able to charge you more for paying by credit card (or other means of payment) than what it actually costs the them to offer such means of payment. Traders who operate telephone hotlines allowing you to contact them in relation to the contract will not be able charge more than the basic telephone rate for these calls.
8. Clearer information on who pays for returning goods. If traders want you to bear the cost of returning goods after you change their mind, they have to clearly inform you about that beforehand, otherwise they have to pay for the return themselves. Traders must clearly give you at least an estimate of the maximum costs of returning bulky goods purchased by internet or mail order before the purchase, so you can make an informed choice before deciding who to buy from.
9. Better protection in relation to digital products. Information on digital content will also have to be clearer, including aboutits compatibility with hardware and software and the application of any technical protection measures, for example limiting the right for you to make copies of the content. You will be entitled to withdraw from purchases of digital content, such as music or video downloads, but only up to the moment the actual downloading process begins.
10. Common rules for businesses will make it easier for them to trade throughout the EU.
– A single set of core rules for distance contracts (sales by internet, phone, or post) and off-premises contracts (sales away from a company’s premises, such as in the street or the doorstep) in the European Union, creating parity and reducing transaction costs for cross-border traders, especially for sales by internet.
– Standard forms will make life easier for businesses: a form to comply with the information requirements on the right of withdrawal.
– Specific rules will apply to small businesses and tradespeople. There will be no right of withdrawal for urgent repairs and maintenance work. Member states may also decide to exempt traders who are requested by consumers to carry out repair and maintenance work in their home of a value below €200 from some of the information requirements.