Consumer rights facts, not fiction – the top five untruths consumers are told when they have a problem
Posted 27th September 2019 By Martina Nee - Press & Communications
When you’re buying goods or services from the local shop on the high street or online from a trader based elsewhere in the European Union you can benefit from a number of consumer rights if things go wrong. Unfortunately, many consumers encounter difficulties when trying to avail of those rights. In some cases, consumers may be given inaccurate or confusing information about their redress entitlements from a trader after lodging a complaint.
That is not to say that all of these traders are trying to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes on purpose. It can sometimes be a genuine mistake or a misunderstanding of their obligations under consumer rights legislation. This month we look at the top untruths consumers are told when reporting a problem.
The consumer success story of the month features an Irish consumer who sought ECC Ireland’s help when a item she ordered online was lost after being put in a bin and the seller refused to accept responsibility. The consumer query looks at your rights when a warranty doesn’t apply to Ireland and the trader refuses to pay for repair.
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Traders have certain obligations under national and EU consumer legislation. This includes ensuring consumers are provided with information about their rights, for example, by providing details about consumers’ cancellation rights. However, sometimes the wrong information is provided on a website or may be given by an individual member of staff who is perhaps not fully aware of consumers’ rights.
Although it is certainly incumbant on traders to ensure that consumers are provided with accurate information both online and offline, consumers should also swot up on their rights so that they are empowered to dispute false information and pursue a complaint.
We’ve put together the top five untruths consumers have reported to us, and clarified what you’re actually entitled to:
1. ‘Your warranty is out of date so you’re not entitled to a repair or replacement’
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion out there about guarantees/warranties, and it’s not just consumers who are confused, a lot of traders (or staff) are too. So, lets just clear it up here and now shall we!
The main thing to remember is that any guarantee/warranty provided by the seller/manufacturer is in addition to your statutory rights, not instead of them. So, just because a guarantee/warranty might have an expiration date (for example, 12 months) it doesn’t mean that as soon as that’s out-of-date you suddenly don’t have rights.
Under EU consumer legislation you are entitled to first request a repair or replacement when a good is not in conformity (i.e. faulty, not as described, not fit for purpose) with the contract. If that is not possible or cannot be completed without significant inconvenience for you, then you can ask for a refund. These remedies are enforceable against the seller for, at least, up to two years EU-wide and in Ireland the limitation period is six years. However, if a fault occurs after six months from delivery, the consumer will bear the burden of demonstrating that the product is inherently faulty.
You can find out more about buying goods and services.
2. ‘The 14-day cooling off period starts from the day of purchase’
You have strong rights when buying online from a trader based in the EU, in particular, you have the right to change your mind (for most online purchases – exceptions apply) without having to give a reason. However, there seems to be some confusion out there in relation to when this right of withdrawal, otherwise known as the 14-day cooling off period, actually begins.
We’ve seen terms and conditions with incorrect information, and heard reports from consumers who have been turned away by a trader falsely claiming they exercised this right too late. If you’re told that you can only avail of this right 14 days from the day of purchase, this is not correct.
Under EU legislation, you have 14 days FROM THE DAY OF DELIVERY of the product (i.e. when you, or a person nominated by you, gains possession of the item) to inform the trader that you wish to withdraw from the contract. Then, you have 14 days to return the item to the trader and get a refund of all sums paid.
There is sometimes confusion over returns and delivery costs – while the trader should refund the original standard delivery cost (i.e. what you paid to receive the goods once you did not opt for expediated delivery at additional cost) there is no obligation to provide you with free returns when you simply change your mind. You should therefore check the terms and conditions to see if you will have to bear the cost of returning the item.
Find out more about shopping online.
3. ‘We don’t have to sell to you because you’re in Ireland’
This may be a complicated one but it certainly shouldn’t be a point blank ‘we don’t sell to you’ and that’s it. The Services Directive explicitly prohibits discrimination based on the grounds of nationality or place of residence of service recipients unless justified by objective criteria.
In December 2018, consumers rights were further strengthened by the implementation of the Geoblocking Regulation. The Regulation aims to give all EU consumers equal rights to access a trader’s goods or services, under the same conditions, no matter where in the EU they are resident. This means that a trader cannot refuse to sell to you, or treat you differently to local customers, simply because you’re resident in Ireland.
However, the trader is not obliged to deliver the item to you – it may only deliver to certain Member States. In this situation, you are entitled to continue with the purchase and collect the item from the trader’s premises, where the trader offers this service to local customers, or have the item delivered to an address where the trader does offer delivery. The main point to remember is that you should be treated the same as a local customer.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has a handy geo-blocking guide.
4. ‘You must buy our excess insurance cover to rent the car’
This little gem comes up again and again when consumers report car rental complaints. Unfortunately, some consumers have not read the terms and conditions sufficiently, or even at all, before they arrive at the rental desk and so are unprepared and baffled when the car rental rep informs them that the vehicle cannot be taken unless their additional insurance is purchased. Although there have been reports of aggressive or sharp practices used by some car rental companies to pressurise consumers into buying extra insurance, it is important to remember that this is OPTIONAL and you cannot be compelled to purchase additional insurance once you comply with other terms and conditions of the rental.
The Collission Damage Waiver (CDW) excess is the amount that you remain liable for should something happen to the vehicle during the rental period. The optional insurance offered at the desk can reduce this, sometimes to as low as zero. This insurance is also available from third-party suppliers (for example, brokers), often at significantly lower cost than at the rental desk. Consumers frequently report that this insurance is not recognised by the car rental provider and they feel compelled to purchase further (duplicate) insurance which they do not require in order to rent the vehicle booked. While the car rental company is not obliged to recognise this third-party insurance product, you remain entitled to leave a desposit equal to the CDW excess and are not required to purchase any additional insurance at the rental desk should you not wish to do so. The deposit is generally in the form of an amount withheld on a credit card in the name of the lead driver so make sure you have the funds, and correct card, to cover this.
Remember, don’t let yourself be pressurised into buying additional insurance at the rental desk if you do not want or require it. Leave the required deposit and make sure to read over the rental agreement before signing to ensure that it doesn’t include additional insurance or other unauthorised extra charges.
For more car rental advice check out the following:
- ECC Ireland’s car rental tips.
- ‘The ultimate cheat sheet for booking car rental online before jetting off’, ECC Ireland blog post, 26th March 2018.
- ‘What to do to avoid, or dispute, charges for alleged car rental damage’, ECC Ireland blog post, 26th June 2019.
5. ‘We’re not responsible for losing your item. Talk to the courier’
There are a lot of benefits to shopping online but there are also a few negatives – one of the biggest being your item going missing during delivery. To rub salt into the wound there have been instances where consumers are confused about who to complain to as neither the trader nor the delivery company accepts responsibility. It can go back and forth with the consumer often left feeling fobbed off and at a loss as to how they can avail of their rights.
For this situation Article 20 of the Consumer Rights Directive provides helpful clarity. If the trader offered a particular courier/delivery service (as is generally the case in ecommerce contracts) and this was not organised by you, then it is the trader who has responsibility for the goods until they are physically in your possession. However, if you organised your own courier/delivery service, or nominated someone else to receive the goods (e.g. a neighbour) then the trader’s responsibility ends the moment the goods are passed over to this third-party.
Alternatively, if you use a home delivery or proxy address service, for example Parcel Motel, then the trader’s liability ends once the goods are passed on to these services. It is important to check the terms of conditions of these third-party services as there is often liability restrictions which may not be sufficient to cover valuable items.
Once you’ve figured out who is responsible then lodge your complaint (either with the trader or the third-party). If you encounter further problems then you can complain to ECC Ireland (for cross-border) or, if you used a secure method of payment such as a credit/debit card or PayPal, avail of chargeback.
For more information check out the following:
- ECC Ireland’s page on shopping online rights.
- ‘Nightmare before Christmas – Online shopping delivery issues and your consumer rights’, ECC Ireland blog post.
- ‘What are you entitled to if a delivery company loses your stuff?’, TheJournal.ie, 24th September 2017.
Consumer success story of the month:
An Irish consumer bought a pet towel from a trader in The Netherlands for €40.50. However, she did not receive it and later found out that the courier company had left the item in a bin outside her house and this was taken away by waste collection. When the consumer contacted the trader for a replacement or refund, she was told that it was it wasn’t their responsibility and to contact the courier company. However, the courier company told her to contact the seller.
With no one accepting responsibility the consumer contacted ECC Ireland who sought the assistance of ECC Netherlands. The seller was reminded that as the delivery service was not organised by the consumer – it was offered and organised by him – then he has responsibility for the item until it is in the possession of the consumer and should provide remedies under the Consumer Rights Directive. The seller eventually agreed to provide the consumer with a replacement.
Consumer query of the month:
Q: I bought a car from a UK dealer and it came with a one-year manufacturer warranty. The pump failed shortly after purchase and I was advised to bring the car to a local dealer here in Ireland. I was quoted a price of €450. I paid for this and sent the receipt to the UK dealer expecting a reimbursement. However, they said that the warranty did not extend to Ireland and that they did not have to pay for repairs. What can I do?
A: There’s two issues here. Firstly, there are some seller/manufacturer warranties which may come with geographical restrictions (e.g. that it only applies in the UK) and this is allowed. If a good purchased abroad comes with a seller/manufacturer warranty, it is very important for consumers to check if it applies within Ireland and what it actually covers. However, just because you can’t avail of a warranty doesn’t mean that you don’t have any rights – if feasible, you could travel to the UK to avail of the warranty or, perhaps more helpfully you can still potentially rely on your statutory rights as set out in consumer legislation. Remember, as highlighted above, any rights you have under warranty are in addition to, and not in substitution for, any rights you may have under consumer legislation.
When a product is faulty, you have certain rights under the Sale of Goods and Associated Guarantees Directive. You have the right to request that the seller (e.g. the car dealer) brings the car back into conformity by providing either a repair or replacement free of charge or if that is not possible, disproportionate, or cannot be completed without significant inconvenience, you can request a refund. It is always advisable to contact the seller to make arrangements as to how the item will be repaired or replaced.
You should now put your complaint in writing stating that a guarantee/warranty is in addition to your statutory rights not instead of them and that remedies under the Directive (as above) are enforceable against the seller. You should also provide copies of relevant documentation such as evidence of purchase, previous correspondence (particularly where you were informed to go to a local dealer), and the receipt for the repairs, and make it clear that you want reimbursement of the €450.
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.