The EU and consumer rights in Europe
7 ways the EU improved consumer rights
1. The European Single Market
Also known as the Internal Market, it seeks to guarantee the ‘four freedoms’ – the free movement of goods, capital, services, and labour within the EU. The market applies to the EU’s 28 Member States and has been extended, with exceptions, to Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway through the Agreement on the European Economic Area and to Switzerland through bilateral treaties. This is what makes it possible for you to live and work abroad in the EU, have more choice when buying goods and availing of services, avoid paying for customs duties on a purchase from an EU trader, and many other benefits.
2. Air passenger rights
The EU thought it vital to provide passengers with strong rights when their flight is delayed, cancelled or they are denied boarding. When this happens then Regulation (EC) 261/2004 is your best friend. Check out our pages on air travel rights to find out more. There’s also a lot of handy air passenger rights information on Your Europe website.
3. Remedies for faulty products
Even when purchased goods come with a manufacturer’s or seller’s guarantee/warranty, consumers also have a ‘legal guarantee’ to certain remedies for a period of two years EU-wide thanks to EU consumer legislation. The Sale of Goods and Associated Guarantees Directive 99/44/EC – transposed into Irish law in January 2003 – provides statutory rights in the case of goods that are not in conformity with the contract of sale, e.g. it turns out to be faulty, and the seller should provide certain remedies such as repair or replacement. Even when there is an extra manufacturer’s guarantee/warranty (remember this is an added extra), the Directive is enforceable against the seller as they are the ones who sold you the product.
Check out our page on buying goods and services in the EU for more information as well as the ‘Statutory rights versus guarantee/warranty’ infographic.
4. Online shopping protection
The Consumer Rights Directive, which was transposed into Irish law in June 2014, aims to ensure that consumers can expect the same minimum level of protection no matter where the trader is based in the EU. It includes the right to change your mind (right to withdraw) where you have a ‘cooling-off’ period of 14 calandar days to change your mind and return the purchase without having to give a reason. When you buy something in a store down the road you have the chance to see the good, examine it and/or try it on but when you shop online you can’t do this and so the ‘cooling-off’ period was brought in to remedy that. The Directive also give you lots of other rights too such as the right to clear information, the express right to refund for delayed or non-delivery, and the right to redress in case of faulty goods.
Check out our page on shopping online rights for more information.
5. Roaming charges in the EU
On 15th June 2017, the ‘roam like at home’ regulations came into effect allowing consumers to pay domestic prices for making calls, texts, and using data while roaming in the EU/EEA. Back in the day, consumers would be subjected to what was termed ‘shock bills’. Yep, we were all terrified if someone dared to call when you were lounging at the pool because you’d probably end up paying big for it. And let’s not even get started about downloads! It’s been a step-by-step approach starting with the EU Roaming Regulation of 2007. Then in April 2014 the European Parliament voted to abolish roaming charges across the EU. After a few delays it was finally brought in last year.
If you’re still confused about how ‘roam like at home’ works then our page on mobile roaming may help.
6. Portability of online content
New portability rules that came into effect on 1st April this year give consumers full access to their online subscription content. Following on from the ‘roam like at home’ regulations, the new rules are part of the work by the European Commission to break down barriers in the Digital Single Market. They cover content services that are already available online in a consumer’s home country and that has already been paid for, via a subscription or through individual purchases, or that a consumer is using free of charge, if the service provider chooses to be covered by the new rules.
7. End of geo-blocking
What is geo-blocking, you ask? Well, examples include: when you’re shopping online on a trader’s website, but it redirects you to the Irish version of the website; or when you gain access to the foreign version of the website but then you’re prevented from finalising the purchase or it doesn’t accept debit/credit cards issued in your country; the trader denies delivery or shipment abroad; or you are given different prices and conditions because of your nationality, country of residence or location. The regulation was adopted in February 2018 and will apply from 3 December 2018. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this will benefit consumers, especially as it will happen just in time for the Christmas/January sales shopping rush.
There’s just so many benefits to EU membership that it would be impossible to list them all. Here’s a quick list with more information:
- In April this year, the European Commission announced its New Deal for Consumers proposal. It aims to make it easier for qualified entities to launch representative actions on behalf of consumers, introduce stronger sanctioning powers for Member States’ consumer authorities, extend consumers’ protection when they are on online, and clarify how EU law prohibits duel quality practices that mislead consumers.
- As of 25th May 2018, EU General Data Protection Regulation will harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, protect and empower all EU citizens;
- The new package travel directive, once transposed into national legislations, will give a clear protection to 120 million consumers who book other forms of combined travel;
- EU rules on unfair commercial practices enable national enforcers to curb a broad range of unfair business practices;
- Thanks to the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) Directives consumers have easier access to other forms of out-of-court resolution of consumer disputes. This includes the online ODR platform.
- Simplified judicial procedures for cross-border consumer matters such as the European Small Claims Procedure;
- The Rapid Alert System, the CE Marking and EU-wide safety directives for product safety;
Last but not least, another benefit of EU membership for citizens is having access to free information and expert advice for cross-border consumer disputes via the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net). There is one centre in each of the Member States plus Norway and Iceland. For more information about the work of ECC Ireland and ECC-Net:Return to top