Buying Goods and Services
The European Single Market gives consumers access to a wide range of products and services at competitive prices while European consumer rights legislation ensures protection for consumers when buying goods and services across Europe.
EU Consumer Rights
Under the Sale of Goods and Associated Guarantees Directive 99/44/EC , consumer goods must be ‘in conformity with the contract of sale, i.e. they should:
- Comply with the description given by the seller and possess the qualities of the product which the seller has held out to the consumer as a sample or model.
- Be fit for the purpose for which goods of the same type are normally used. The goods should also be fit for any particular purpose for which the consumer requires them and which was made known to the seller at the time of conclusion to the contract, and accepted by the seller.
- Show the quality and performance which are normal in goods of the same type and which the consumer can reasonably expect.
Learn more about products conformity in the European Union here.
EU Consumer Redress Options
The Directive provides for the protection of consumers in their dealings with the final seller, no matter where the goods are purchased within the EU/EEA. In particular, in the event of ‘lack of conformity’ consumers are entitled to require the seller to:
- Repair or replace the goods, in either case free of charge (e.g. shipping costs), or
- Apply a reduction in the price or rescind the contract (refund), if repairs or replacement are impossible or disproportionate, or cannot be completed within a reasonable time or without significant inconvenience to the consumer. The consumer is not entitled to have the contract rescinded if the lack of conformity is minor, e.g. scratch on the outer plastic cover of a CD case.
These remedies are enforceable against the seller where the lack of conformity exists at the time of delivery of goods, or if the said lack of conformity becomes apparent at a later stage, up to two years from the time of delivery. In Ireland, the actual limitation period to take legal action in such cases is six years.
For example, if you buy a laptop which turns out to have less memory than what was described, the problem may not be immediately obvious to you, but you may still be able to seek remedies from the seller within the applicable time limit.
If the lack of conformity becomes apparent within six months of delivery, it is presumed to have existed at the time of delivery and, accordingly, the seller will be required in such cases to prove otherwise or provide the remedies set out in the Directive.
However, if the problem results from damage and/or misuse by the consumer, the seller may refuse to offer any of the above mentioned remedies.
Product Guarantees and Warranties
A guarantee or warranty is an undertaking by a seller or producer to the consumer to reimburse the price paid, or to replace, repair, or proceed – during the period specified – in the manner set out in the relevant guarantee statement or advertising. These undertakings, even if provided in a voluntary basis, are legally binding on the offerer/guarantor under the applicable terms and conditions. In any case, guarantees/warranties are in addition to, and not a substitution for, your statutory consumer rights against the seller. Accordingly, if a seller offers you a car or computer at a lower price, on a ‘no guarantee’ basis, this only means that you don’t have this additional level of protection; your statutory rights as a consumer are unaffected and cannot be waived by way of contract or agreement between the parties.
If you are considering an extended guarantee/warranty/cover, or intend to make a claim pursuant to same, do check the applicable terms and conditions to find out exactly what is covered, i.e. all parts or just specific parts are covered. The guarantee must state its content in simple and understandable terms and indicate the conditions for claiming under it, e.g. how long it lasts and where it applies, and the name and address of the guarantor. At the consumer’s request, the guarantee shall be made available in writing or another durable medium.
Read more on guarantee / warranty here.
Under the Services Directive 2006/123/EC, recipients of services shall not be subjected to discriminatory conditions based either on their nationality or place of residence unless an objective justification can be provided.
Under Section 39 of the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980, the supplier of a service is required to have the necessary skill to render the service, and to supply the service with due skill, care and diligence. Where materials are used, they will be sound and reasonably fit for the purpose for which they are required.
Learn more on the Services Directive here.
A British consumer purchased a laptop on-line from an Irish trader. The product started suffering from random shut-downs 18 months after purchase. The consumer contacted the trader, but was advised that the warranty had expired and the repair could not be carried out free of charge. The consumer obtained an independent report, stating the fault was down to general hardware failure or manufacturer defect, and sought the assistance of ECC UK. The consumer’s complaint was then brought to the attention of ECC Ireland, who contacted the trader to inform him of his legal obligations to the consumer. The trader agreed to repair the laptop free of charge.
An Irish consumer purchased two memory sticks online from a UK-based trader. When the goods arrived, the consumer tested them both and found that they had only 8GB of storage as opposed to the 32GB advertised. The consumer returned the memory sticks as instructed by the trader for a full refund. The trader confirmed receipt of the goods but had yet to issue a refund. After a few weeks the consumer sought the assistance from ECC Ireland. The details of the complaint were passed on to our UK office which contacted the trader on the consumer’s behalf. As a result of this contact the consumer received a full refund.
A Spanish consumer ordered an MP3 player and a laptop from an Irish trader. One week after receiving the products the MP3 player ceased to work. The product was returned to the trader for repair. The trader charged the consumer for a new MP3 player, claiming that the original product could not be repaired because it had been in contact with water. The consumer was not consulted about the charge and disputed the trader’s assessment of the cause of damage to the product. The consumer contacted the trader asking for proof that the malfunction was not due to a product defect and requested reimbursement of the cost of the replacement MP3 player. Following contact from ECC Ireland the trader reimbursed the consumer.
Read the essential guide to consumer rights in the EU
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