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Each year, March sees two notable consumer events in the form of World Consumer Rights Day and European Consumer Day. Both of these events aim to raise awareness of key consumer issues, with World Consumer Rights Day adopting a more general approach than its European counterpart. This month’s eBulletin looks at the 2015 themes for both events. We also provide an update on the proposed abolition of roaming charges in the EU and highlight the findings of a new ECC-Net report on commercial warranties across Europe.

Our query of the month comes from a consumer looking to rely on the right of withdrawal for a digital purchase. This month’s success story involves a consumer who was overcharged when changing a flight reservation with a third-party website.

If you are experiencing problems with a purchase from another European country, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or click here. For information on your consumer rights in Europe, please see the “Popular Consumer Topics” section of our website.

Grace Duffy
Press and Communications Officer

 

European Consumer Day

European Consumer Day is an initiative of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and this year took place on March 16th. The theme for the event was new trends in consumption, with the EESC positing that the age of mindless consumption had given way to an increasing social and environmental awareness amongst consumers. The day was marked with a programme of events in Brussels which sought to consider whether responsible consumption had become the new normal in Europe, and what challenges it might pose for consumers. More information on the event can be accessed here.

 

World Consumer Rights Day

World Consumer Rights Day is organised by Consumers International. It is marked on March 15th each year and seeks to promote solidarity in the international consumer movement by highlighting the basic rights of all consumers. This year’s event focused on the theme of healthy diets, calling for a global convention to protect and promote healthy eating and combat the dangers of obesity. For more information, see the Consumers International website.

 

Abolition of roaming charges delayed

Just over a year ago, on April 2nd 2014, the European Parliament voted to abolish roaming charges across the EU. It was intended that the fees would be abolished as of December 2015, but the move experienced delays when national governments could not agree on the exact text of the legislation. In early March 2015, the European Council released a statement indicating that roaming charges would not be abolished by the end of 2015 but would remain in some form until around 2018.

It proposed that, as an interim measure, a system be put in place whereby consumers would be able to make a certain number of calls, send a certain number of texts, and use a certain amount of data without being charged more than what they would pay at home. The exact limits of this system have yet to be established. The proposal to abolish roaming charges has, in the interim, been sent back to the Parliament for further discussion. The Commission will be asked to provide an update in 2018. New laws may also be proposed at that point if necessary, with a view to phasing out roaming charges altogether.

 

ECC-Net report on commercial warranties

The European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) recently published its joint report on commercial warranties across Europe. The report highlights the confusion that often arises between consumer statutory rights and seller or manufacturer’s warranties and notes that information on both is often unclear. The researchers studied 342 product offers in preparing the report and found that of these, 71% did not provide sufficient information on consumer statutory rights. 32% of warranties studied were offered against payment (i.e. for an additional cost) but 40% did not provide clear information on who was actually providing the warranty. For more information on the report, see our recent press release. The report also provides a checklist for consumers with further advice on what to watch out for when considering purchasing a warranty.

 

Consumer Query of the Month

I bought an online game hosted by a company based in Luxembourg and paid using PayPal. The next day, I decided I didn’t like the game and contacted the company to seek a refund. The company said they could only credit my account on the game website. When I queried this, they said they were not obliged to refund my PayPal account because I had “consented” to the loss of the right of withdrawal when I started playing the game. Is this true?

Under EU Directive 2011/83, a consumer may withdraw from a distance contract without having to give a reason and obtain a refund, subject to the cost of returning the item to the seller. The Directive extends this right of withdrawal to digital purchases, that is, purchases which are not supplied on a tangible medium (such as ebooks, music files, and in this case an online game). With digital purchases however, consumers may only withdraw from the contract up until the moment performance of the contract begins. The trader is obliged to clearly indicate that by downloading or accessing the digital content, the consumer will lose his/her right of withdrawal. The consumer must then give her/her express content to continue and clearly acknowledge that (s)he is aware they will lose the right of withdrawal.

Please note that it is not sufficient for the trader to post a general notice about the loss of the right of withdrawal. Guidance on the Directive issued by the Commission suggests that a positive action on the part of the consumer (e.g. ticking a box) is required before it can be stated that he has understood the right to withdrawal will be relinquished.

In these circumstances, it would be necessary to determine whether the trader sought such express consent from you at the time the game was downloaded or accessed for the first time. If you have any evidence – e.g. screenshots – to indicate what information was provided at that time, these may be useful in determining whether the trader sought the necessary consent and acknowledgement from you. If you do not have any such evidence or cannot recall whether the information was provided, you may be able to recreate the booking on the trader’s website and take screenshots of the process.

If it can be determined that the trader did not provide this information and seek your consent to the loss of the right of withdrawal, you may be able to seek a refund. Under Article 14(4) of the aforementioned Directive, the consumer shall “bear no cost” for digital content supplied within the 14-day cooling-off period where the consumer has not given his/her express consent and acknowledgement that the right of withdrawal will be lost. In such circumstances, the consumer may be reimbursed for any amounts already paid or, if (s)he has not yet paid, relieved of the obligation to do so.

 

Success Story

ECC Ireland was contacted by an Irish consumer who had booked flights to Dubai using a third-party booking website based in the Netherlands. After confirming his booking, the consumer noticed that cheaper flights were available on the website, so he asked if he might be able to rebook them. The website advised that he could cancel his original booking and book the flights again at the lower price. They indicated that there would be a fee of €150 in order to do so. The consumer accepted this and cancelled his original booking. When he booked again, the flights worked out at approximately €249 cheaper per ticket. However, he later noticed that he had been charged a further €500 by the website. When he contacted them, he was informed that the airline had imposed this fee due to his cancelling the original booking. The consumer contacted the airline and was advised that no such fee had been charged. He contacted the website again, but they failed to respond or explain the additional charge. The consumer sought assistance from ECC Ireland and the matter was shared with our sister office in the Netherlands. Following the intervention of our Dutch colleagues, the consumer was refunded €500.

 

If you want more information on this or any other cross-border consumer issue, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or go to www.eccireland.ie.