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Posted 30th August 2019
By Martina Nee - Press & Communications

 

Irish consumers love to shop and they are becoming increasingly more confident when buying cross-border. With so much uncertainty at the moment over what form Brexit will take and the deadline of 31st October drawing ever closer, we thought it would be a good idea to go over some ground rules to help you with your shopping decisions when purchasing from a UK trader between now and then.

The consumer success story of the month features a consumer who sought ECC Ireland’s help to get a refund of just over €380 for a faulty washing machine. For the consumer query we look at visa applications – when you mistakenly think you’ve purchased from an official website and it ends up costing you far more than expected.

Download a PDF version here or continue reading below!

 

Brexit

 

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Tips when buying from a UK trader between now and Brexit

There are a lot of things to keep in mind and watch out for when shopping online at any time and from any trader. However, the prospect of Brexit may make things a little bit more complicated and so there are some extra precautions you should take when buying from a trader based in the UK, just in case.

The main thing to remember is that your rights under EU consumer legislation remain the same right up until the day that the UK leaves the EU, if Brexit does happen. If it does go ahead (in whatever form) this does not mean that your rights suddenly disappear overnight; EU consumer legislation has been transposed into the national legislation of Member States, including the UK, and so you should be able to rely on those rights even if there is a problem with your purchase after Brexit. However, in some cases, consumers may experience difficulties availing of those rights and seeking redress. Therefore, as the 31st October deadline approaches you need to take steps to ensure that you know your rights and what to watch out for.

 

Returns and cancellations

First of all, when you buy online from a trader based in the EU you have the right to change your mind, for most online purchases (exceptions do apply); this is also known as the 14-day cooling off period. You have 14 calendar days, from the day you receive the good(s) to tell the trader that you wish to avail of this right and get a full refund. Then you have to return the good(s) to the trader no later than 14 days from the date that you informed the trader of your decision to cancel the contract.

When you use the right to cancel, you are in principle required to cover the direct cost of returning the good(s), unless otherwise agreed, or if the trader failed to inform you that you must bear this cost. It is a legal requirement for traders to provide this information so it’s important to look for it in the terms and conditions. If in doubt and, especially for purchases coming up closer to the Brexit deadline, you may consider checking with the trader before placing an order. The trader’s willingness to respond and put your mind at rest (by confirming the returns policy) may be a good indication of their level of customer service.

Traders are also legally required to inform consumers when they will not benefit from the cooling off period (remember the exemptions above), so do check the terms and conditions to see if your purchase is covered or not, and check with the trader if need be, to avoid disappointment.

 

Faulty goods and warranties/guarantees

You might buy a product before Brexit which then turns out to be faulty later on – maybe within 6 months, a year or more. Although you should be able to rely on the same rights because UK consumer legislation is currently in line with EU legislation, it is still advisable to double check with the trader (in writing), if not obvious from the terms and conditions, if their complaint procedure provides for dispute resolutiong through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) entities recognised in the UK, which would be open to Irish consumers.

Some products, especially electronic or white goods, also come with a seller or manufacturer guarantee/warranty, which is in addition to your statutory right to a repair or replacement when the good(s) is not in conformity (e.g. faulty). If you are given this then you should also check if the guarantee/warranty will apply to customers in Ireland, for how long, and what’s covered.

shopping Brexit

Northern Ireland shopping trip

With current uncertainty about Brexit affecting the value of Sterling to Euro, to the point where it reached a ten year low recently, you may be very tempted to go on a shopping trip to Northern Ireland. When you’re shopping in person from a bricks and mortar shop then Brexit should have no effect on the returns policy, if you change your mind, as this is up to the trader who is free to set their own policy, as long as it doesn’t go against your statutory rights (e.g. right to repair/replacement). So, it’s extremely important to ask what the returns policy is. However, when you do return the good and get the refund you should bear in mind that it will be paid back in Sterling and this could have a different value in Euro on the day.

You should also consider the logistics of returning that product, particularly if it is bulky, and if there will be extra costs. You also need to know what after sales service (if any) will be available to customers in the Republic after Brexit if the item turns out to be faulty (e.g. will you have to bring the good(s) back yourself for repair/replacement or will someone be sent to collect/fix it?). Also, it is not clear yet if there will be a hard border between the Republic and the North, which would put an end to decades of seamless travel between the two sides, and might reintroduce customs checks.

 

Complaints and redress

When it comes to making complaints and availing of redress option time is most definitely of the essence. It is advisible to put in your complaint with a UK trader as soon as you can, preferably before 31st October if possible. However, if the problem occurs after Brexit then you can either try to avail of the same rights you had when you bought the product or rights enshrined in UK legislation, which for the time being at least are very similar to EU consumer legislation. In any case, get that complaint put in writing ASAP outlining the problem and how you wish it to be resolved.

If you don’t get a reply, or the reply is unsatisfactory then other redress options may be considered:

  • Chargeback – This is probably the best option open to you, if of course you paid using a secure method of payment such as a credit/debit card. Contact your bank or credit card provider to see if your particular issue (e.g. non delivery) is covered by chargeback. PayPal also has a payment protection scheme.
  • European Small Claims Procedure (ESCP) – Where chargeback is not an option, you could consider making a cross-border claim (up to €5,000) via the ESCP. This procedure, which is inexpensive and doesn’t require you to employ a solicitor, is available where a consumer and a trader are based in different EU countries (cross-border). However, in the event of Brexit, this option will no longer be available for claims against UK traders. Therefore, it’s advisable to start a claim before the withdrawal date so that it increases the chance of a judgement, in your favour, being enforced post-Brexit.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – ADR bodies that operate in the UK currently comply with the requirements of the EU ADR Directive and are likely to continue after Brexit. However, it is still not certain if consumers in other EU countries will be able to submit complaints about UK traders using these bodies.
  • European Consumer Centre – You can of course contact ECC Ireland to get information about your rights and what options may/may not be available to you. This includes assessment of whether it’s actually possible for us to liaise with the trader on your behalf – if there is a hard Brexit, the UK ECC will cease to be a member of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) and so this could have an impact on complaints about UK traders. So, again, the sooner you get your complaint to us the better.

 

For more information:

 

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Consumer success story of the month:

An Irish consumer purchased a washing machine from a trader based in the UK, but it turned out to be defective. A replacement was provided by the trader, but this also turned out to be faulty. The consumer decided to end the contract and request a refund. The trader agreed to provide the refund once the machine was collected. However, despite numerous attempts by the consumer to contact the trader to arrange collection this was not forthcoming. The consumer sought the assistance of ECC Ireland who brought the matter to the attention of UK ECC. The trader was contacted, and the matter was eventually resolved – the machine was collected, and the consumer received a full refund of €381.98.

 

Consumer query of the month:

Q: I needed to purchase ESTA visas for the US and clicked onto what I thought was an official Government website; it was the first result to come up when I did the internet search and turned out to be visa application website based in Spain. I thought it would cost me only 14 USD per visa, but I ended up being charged 356 USD instead for four visas. When I was making the payment, the final amount was not displayed. Even the email confirming that payment had been received did not have the amount. I emailed to cancel but got a reply that I would only be refunded 100 USD. What can I do?

A: There are many websites that facilitate the purchase of visas; however, sites that are not affiliated with official bodies typically charge service or management fees and so consumers end up paying more than the actual cost of the visa. So, for this reason, we recommended using official channels to avoid disappointment.

Having visited the website you used to pay for your visas, there are terms and conditions that refer to a management fee of 75 USD per visa on top of the official fee of 14 USD. In addition to this, the total price is displayed on the payment page, albeit in very small font. Therefore, it may be difficult to dispute the charge.

However, when putting in your written complaint to the trader you could mention the fact that although information concerning the price was displayed and factually correct, it was provided in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous and untimely manner, causing you to enter into a transaction that you would not have taken otherwise. There is EU legislation in place protecting consumers in these cases, namely the Directive 2005/29 on unfair commercial practices, and Directive 2011/83 on consumer rights. The latter also places obligations on traders in relation to cancellation of the contract. If you wish to pursue the matter further you may go through the booking process again (without paying this time, though) and take screenshots at each stage, so that you can show that the relevant information (e.g. price; cancellation arrangements) was not provided in a clear and prominent manner before completing the transaction.

 

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If you want more information about this or any other cross-border consumer issue, please go to www.eccireland.ie. You can also follow us on Twitter.

 

The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.

© 2019 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland), CLG incorporated in Ireland, No. 367035, Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708. Located at MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7.

This article was funded by the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).

The content of this article represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency (CHAFEA) or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.