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Online ticket selling websites more compliant with consumer laws following crackdown, European Commission reports

A coordinated EU-wide crackdown on unlawful internet selling practices has led to a safer market for e-shoppers, the European Commission has said.03 Oct 2011

A 'sweep' by national consumer protection authorities of 414 websites that sold tickets for sporting and cultural events unveiled evidence of some unlawful practices, but the vast majority of those sites now adhere to EU consumer laws, the Commission said. The 'sweep' was conducted across all 27 EU member states as well as in Norway and Iceland, it said.

"Of the 414 websites originally checked, 88% now comply with EU-wide consumer rules, compared with only 40% in 2010," the Commission said in a statement

The consumer watchdogs found that some websites contained "missing, incomplete or misleading information about the price [of tickets]", such as hidden taxes or handling charges, but 94% of the checked sites "now display clear, and accurate information about the total cost (including delivery charges and all other extra costs), compared with 55% in 2010," the Commission said.

The authorities also uncovered evidence of companies using unfair terms and conditions and missing, incomplete or misleading information about the trader, but almost all of the 414 websites reviewed now "display fair terms and conditions" and "provide the required trader details such as the name, address and e-mail" on the site, the Commission said.

The Commission said most of the websites where faults had been found had voluntarily corrected problems, but in some cases the national regulators had imposed penalties.

"This is a major achievement for EU consumers: the enforcement 'sweeps' are delivering results, targeting problematic sectors, and cleaning up the market, so that pricing is clear and information is truthful," John Dalli, EU Health and Consumer Commissioner, said.

"People are using the internet more and more to check their entertainment options and to compare prices and offers – they must be able to do so without falling victim to scams," Dalli said.

Plans to harmonise consumer protection laws across the EU are expected to receive final approval and come into force from 2013. The plans are set out in the proposed Consumer Rights Directive, which has received the backing of the European Parliament, but the Directive also requires support from EU ministers before it can be introduced.

Among the proposed changes is a requirement for businesses to allow online shoppers a fortnight from receiving goods to claim a refund on their purchases. There is no right to return customer-specified or personalised products under the provisions of the proposed new laws. Current UK law says that distance-sold goods can be returned within seven days.

Purchasers that receive deliveries of multiple orders or parts of goods at different times will have 14 days to claim a refund from the time of the last delivery, a draft of the new consumer laws approved by the Parliament said. The proposed Directive also states that online traders must give buyers information on the total price of goods including extra fees.

Last month the UK 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).

Under the CPRs a practice is unfair if it fails to meet the standard of "professional diligence", which is the standard of skill and care that would reasonably be expected of a trader in its field of activity, and it materially impairs an average consumer's ability to make an informed decision, causing him to make a decision he would not otherwise have made.

The Distance Selling Regulations give shoppers specific legal protections and different cancellation rights from those buying in a shop.

Businesses are generally required to supply goods within 30 days or pay a refund, but the regulations state that in most circumstances online purchasers have the right to cancel an order they made within seven days of the goods being delivered and receive full refunds. Online customers are also entitled to a full refund for goods or services not provided by the date agreed with a business.

The consumer protection laws are enforced by the OFT and Trading Standards under powers given to the authorities under the UK's Enterprise Act. The organisations can enforce the regulations through the civil and criminal courts.