Consumer rights enter the digital age: millions of UK's consumers set to benefit from new EU rules
Fed up getting stuck with extra charges when you buy online? Can't make head or tail of a trader's cancellation form? Changed your mind about a purchase but been told you can't cancel? Didn't realise that your computer software wouldn't be able to cope with your downloaded music video?
These problems should all now be consigned to history, now that consumers across the UK have been given improved consumer rights thanks to EU legislation which came into force a few days ago.
The new EU Consumer Rights Directive strengthens consumers' rights wherever and whenever consumers shop in Europe – online or on the high street, in their own country or elsewhere in the EU. There are 10 main changes in the new EU rules, which will benefit millions of consumers across the UK.
Andy Allen, the UK European Consumer Centre Director, said: "The new EU Consumer Rights Directive, which has applied across Europe since 13 June 2014, strengthens consumer rights by giving consumers the same rights across the EU. It means simpler, more predictable rules for traders, who now have more incentives to expand their business across borders.
"The new rules take consumer rights into the digital age; putting consumers well and truly in the driving seat when making digital purchases. Anyone buying digital content will be able to get clearer information, including about details on which software and hardware the content works with. Consumers will be able to pull out of purchases of digital content up to the point where downloading or streaming of the content begins. Online shoppers will not have to pay for any charges which they are not clearly informed about before they make a purchase."
Most contracts made and negotiated between traders and consumers are covered by the new Consumer Rights Directive: so it applies not only to online purchases, but to other 'distance contracts' such as those made by phone or post, or in fact contracts made at the doorstep, in the consumer's home or at their place of work.
Under the new EU rules (see the factsheet on the new rules), EU consumers can now rely on (see annex for more information):
- Enhanced price transparency;
- The end of unjustified surcharges for the use of credit cards and hotlines;
- A ban on pre-ticked boxes on websites when agreeing to extra payments (such as for gift-wrapping or insurance). A pre-ticked box that the consumer has to untick would not comply;
- An extension of the period to change their minds from seven days to a uniform 14 calendar days across the EU;
- Stronger refund rights, within 14 days of the consumer's cancellation of a purchase (including delivery costs);
- Any extra contracts such as warranties or finance are automatically cancelled;
- All online order buttons must now be labelled with "obligation to pay" or similar unambiguous words;
- Rules banning online traps, like offers on the internet that advertise something as free when in reality it is not (for example horoscopes, recipes or beauty products);
- Better protection in relation to digital content, especially regarding information on the software and hardware the products work with.
Andy added: "Europe is putting an end to consumer rip-offs online. Every consumer in the European Union can claim his or her rights under the Consumer Rights Directive, meaning no more extra charges for consumers paying with their credit card online and no more traders telling consumers that they can't return goods they bought online.
UK consumers can use the advice and support of the UK European Consumer Centre if they have a dispute with a trader based in an EU country outside the UK – 08456 04 05 03 between 10am and 3pm or http://www.ukecc.net/
Notes to Editors
The European Commission put forward the proposal for a new set of consumer rights in October 2008. The final agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the Consumer Rights Directive was brokered by EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in June 2011, and the legislation was formally adopted on 10 October 2011). Governments had two years to implement the rules at national level by 13 December 2013, with a deadline for the rules to actually enter into force by 13 June 2014.
Annex: 10 main changes in the new EU consumer rules
1) The rules will eliminate hidden charges and costs on the internet
Consumers will be protected against "cost traps" on the internet. These include cases in which fraudsters try to trick people into paying for "free" services, such as horoscopes or recipes. From now on, consumers must explicitly confirm that they understand that they have to pay.
2) Increased price transparency
Traders have to disclose the total cost of the product or service, as well as any extra fees. Online shoppers will not have to pay charges or other costs if they were not properly informed before they place an order.
3) Banning pre-ticked boxes on websites for extra payments
When shopping online – for example when buying a plane ticket – you may be offered extra options during the purchase process, such as travel insurance or car rental. These extra services may be offered through so-called pre-ticked boxes. Consumers were previously often forced to untick those boxes if they did not want these extra services. With the new Directive, pre-ticked boxes which incur extra payments are banned across the European Union.
4) 14 days to change your mind on a purchase
The period under which consumers can withdraw from a sales contract is extended to 14 calendar days (compared to the seven days beforehand). This means that consumers can return the goods for whatever reason if they change their minds.
- Extra protection for lack of information: When a seller has not clearly informed the customer about the withdrawal right, the return period will be extended to a year
- The right of withdrawal is extended to online auctions – though goods bought in auctions can only be returned when bought from businesses
- The withdrawal period will start from the moment the consumer receives the goods, rather than when the contract is concluded, which was the case before. The rules apply to internet, phone and mail order sales, as well as to sales outside shops, for example on the consumer's doorstep, in the street, at a party at home or during an excursion organised by the trader
5) Stronger refund rights
Traders must refund consumers for the product within 14 days of the withdrawal. This includes the costs of delivery. In general, the trader will bear the risk for any damage to goods during transportation, until the consumer takes possession of the goods.
6) Introduction of an EU-wide model withdrawal form
Consumers will be provided with a model withdrawal form which they can (but are not obliged to) use if they change their minds and wish to withdraw from a contract concluded at a distance or at the doorstep. This will make it easier and faster to withdraw, wherever consumers have concluded a contract in the EU.
7) Eliminating surcharges for the use of credit cards and hotlines
Traders can not charge consumers more for paying by credit card (or other means of payment) than what it actually costs the trader to offer such means of payment. Traders who operate telephone hotlines allowing the consumer to contact them in relation to the contract can not charge more than the basic telephone rate for the telephone calls.
8) Clearer information on who pays for returning goods
If traders want the consumer to bear the cost of returning goods after they change their mind, they have to clearly inform consumers about that beforehand, otherwise they have to pay for the return themselves. Traders must clearly give at least an estimate of the maximum costs of returning bulky goods bought by internet or mail order, such as a sofa, before the purchase, so consumers can make an informed choice before deciding from whom to buy.
9) Strengthened consumer protection in relation to digital products
Information on digital content has to be clearer, including details about its compatibility with hardware and software and the application of any technical protection measures, for example limiting the right for the consumers to make copies of the content.
Consumers have a right to withdraw from purchases of digital content, such as music or video downloads, but only up until the moment the actual downloading process begins.
10) Common rules for businesses make it easier for them to trade all over Europe
- A single set of core rules for distance contracts (sales by phone, post or internet) and off-premises contracts (sales away from a company’s premises, such as in the street or the doorstep) in the European Union, creating a level playing field and reducing transaction costs for cross-border traders, especially for sales by internet.
- Standard forms will make life easier for businesses: a form to comply with the information requirements on the right of withdrawal;
- Specific rules will apply to small businesses and craftsmen, such as plumbers. There will be no right of withdrawal for urgent repairs and maintenance work.
For more information
Consumer rights campaign video
European Commission – Consumer Rights Directive:
For further information please contact UK European Consumer Centre’s press office on 08456 08 96 06.
Changes to Consumer Contracts Regulations from June 2014:
UK European Consumer Centre consumer complaint line – 08456 04 05 03
The UK European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net). There are 30 centres covering Europe, plus Iceland and Norway. The aim of the network is to provide advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK. The Network will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.
UK ECC can provide advice in the following main areas: buying goods and services, online shopping, internet auctions, holidays, timeshare and holiday clubs, air travel.
UK ECC is co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and the European Commission.
The UK ECC service is delivered by the Trading Standards Institute http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/
Media queries should sent to email@example.com or by phone on 08456 08 96 06.
- The UK ECC provides advice and support to consumers who have a dispute with a trader based in a European country outside the UK and will assist consumers in the attempt to resolve the complaint.
- Consumers can make contact with the UK European Consumer Centre via the website – www.ukecc.net – or by phone on 08456 04 05 03 weekdays between 10am and 3pm.
- If in doubt before you buy, contact our sister organisation – the European Consumer Centre for Services – for pre-purchasing advice: www.ukecc-services.net
DATE: 18 June 2014