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Dublin, 11th June 2014 – A new Directive on consumer rights will come into effect from this Friday, providing greater protection for consumers shopping online throughout the EU.

Directive 2011/83/EC on Consumer Rights will apply to contracts entered into on or after June 13th 2014. It replaces a 1997 directive on distance contracts, which entered into force before the wide-scale advent of the internet and ensuing growth in online shopping.

With sophisticated smartphones providing ever greater access to the internet, it has never been easier for consumers to avail of online deals. Indeed, it is estimated that Irish consumers alone will spend up to €12.7 billion online by 2020.

The new Consumer Rights Directive takes these developments into account and, reflecting the EU’s commitment to strengthening digital rights, extends certain protections to digital purchases for the first time.

The main changes put in place by the Directive are as follows:

  • Better cancellation rights: The Directive provides for an extension of the “cooling-off” period. Under existing legislation, consumers had at least seven days from the date on which they received an online order to cancel the contract and receive a refund without having to give a reason. The new legislation extends this period to 14 days.

 

  • Right of withdrawal for digital purchases: Consumers who purchase music, films, and books in digital format can avail of the cooling-off period for the first time. However, this will only extend up to the moment the consumer consents to the actual downloading process beginning. Consumers must also be advised in advance as to the compatibility of digital content and any technical restrictions (such as a limit on the consumer’s right to copy the content).

 

  • Right to quicker refunds: As it stands, a trader must refund a consumer who cancels an online order within 30 days. Under the new Directive, the consumer must be refunded within 14 days from the date on which they inform the trader of their cancellation.

 

  • Ban on hidden fees and charges: Traders will be obliged to disclose the total cost of a good or service, including any extra fees, before the consumer places an order. Online shoppers will not have to pay charges or additional costs if they were not properly informed about these in advance.

 

  • Ban on surcharges: Traders will not be permitted to charge card fees that exceed the actual cost of processing a debit or credit card payment. In addition, where the trader operates a hotline, it will no longer be permissible to charge more than the basic telephone rate for calls.

 

  • Clearer information on the cost of returning unwanted goods: Where consumers avail of the cooling-off period, they must cover the cost of returning the unwanted items. Under the new Directive, traders must clearly inform consumers of this beforehand; otherwise they will have to cover the return costs themselves. If the items are bulky or difficult to transport, the trader must also provide an estimate of return costs in advance so that the consumer can make an informed decision.

 

  • Ban on pre-ticked boxes: The new Directive bans pre-ticked boxes across the EU. Where consumers wish to avail of additional services offered by a trader (such as insurance or car hire), they must explicitly opt in by selecting the appropriate box. Traders will no longer be permitted to tick these boxes in advance. This aims to ensure that consumers do not unwittingly pay for services that they do not need.

 

The Consumer Rights Directive, along with existing legislation on unfair terms in consumer contracts and consumer goods, aims to ensure a greater degree of protection for consumers in the digital age.

The Commission will submit a report on the application of the Directive to the European Council and Parliament before 13th December 2016, with particular focus on its effectiveness in relation to digital rights.

 

For more information, please contact Grace Duffy on (01) 8797 641 or at gduffy@eccireland.ie.

ECC Ireland can also be found on Twitter @eccireland.

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