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New EU Consumer Rights Directive receives final approval

Consumers across the EU will have uniform rights to withdraw from online and distance purchases under new consumer rights laws that will come into force in 2013.11 Oct 2011

The EU's Council of Ministers voted to adopt the Consumer Rights Directive on Monday following previous approval given by the European Parliament. Both bodies must approve new EU directives proposed by the European Commission before they can come into force.

The Directive will come into force when it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union and member states will have two years from that date to implement the measures into national law.

Under the Directive all EU consumers will generally be able to return goods bought online within a fortnight of receiving them in order to receive a full refund. Current laws give consumers the right to return distance-sold goods within seven days. Customer-specified or personalised products are among the goods exempt from being returned under the new provisions.

"The consumer shall have a period of 14 days to withdraw from a distance or off-premises contract, without giving any reason, and without incurring any costs other than [some supplementary delivery costs and the cost of returning the goods ... 'unless the trader has agreed to bear them or the trader failed to inform the consumer that the consumer has to bear them']," the approved Directive (93-page / 301KB PDF) said.

"The right of withdrawal should neither apply to goods made to the consumer's specifications or which are clearly personalised such as tailor-made curtains, nor to the supply of fuel, for example, which is a good, by nature inseparably mixed with other items after delivery," it said.

Off-premises contracts are defined as sales transactions entered into at locations which are not the businesses' premises, such as online sales, catalogue sales or door to door sales.

The traders will have to issue online consumers with a 'model withdrawal form' that could be used to return the goods, along with a number of other details before a contract will be deemed binding, the Directive said. Other information traders must provide consumers with include details of "the main characteristics" of the goods and services being sold, contact information such as name and geographical address of the business and the total price of what is being sold, including extra fees and charges.

If there is any extra payment required for a transaction to be completed traders must "seek the express consent of the consumer" before any sale should occur, the Directive said. Consumers will be entitled to a refund of any extra payment if the trader has not received their "express consent" to the charge.

"If the trader has not obtained the consumer's express consent but has inferred it by using default options which the consumer is required to reject in order to avoid the additional payment, the consumer shall be entitled to reimbursement of this payment," the Directive said.

Under the new laws traders will generally be expected to deliver goods to consumers within 30 days of an order being placed. Consumers would be entitled to terminate the contract and receive a refund if the business does not deliver the goods during "an additional period of time appropriate to the circumstances", the Directive said.

The Directive also prohibits traders from introducing surcharges for payment methods, such as for using credit or debit cards, above what it costs them to deliver the means of payment. Traders will also not be able to charge consumers extra for communicating with them via telephone following the conclusion of a contract. In those circumstances the consumer should only have to pay "the basic rate", the Directive said.

In the UK the Government recently announced that the Consumer Rights Directive requirements would be transposed into a new catch-all piece of consumer rights legislation it proposes to introduce.

Last month the Government announced plans to merge all existing UK consumer protection laws and regulations, together with the requirements of the finalised Consumer Rights Directive, into a single new 'Consumer Bill of Rights'. There are 12 existing laws and regulations relating to consumer protection in the UK which the Government said is "complex and confusing" and bad for both consumers and business.

UK consumers are currently protected by laws such as the Distance Selling Regulations and the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs).

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