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Plans to give online shoppers extra safeguards

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European MPs have given their backing to measures which will afford online shoppers additional protection.

As part of the final version of the EU’s Consumer Rights’ Directive, the purpose of which is to modernise and harmonise shopper safeguards across Europe, member state governments have been allowed a two-year period in which to implement the new regulations.

The changes have been made because many of the rules affecting consumer protection on an EU-wide basis were formulated before the internet became a popular method of shopping for items outside of the boundaries of individual nation states.

But with many consumers now looking for goods online across Europe, the EU has moved to introduce a broader portfolio of protection laws.

Under the new rules, consumers will be given a 14-day cooling-off period for online purchases. In the UK at the moment, people only have seven working days in which to return items bought on the internet that they do not want to retain.

Online businesses will be able to pass on only the actual cost of the fees incurred in paying by credit or debit card rather than adding any surcharges.

And there will be a stop to customer-service phonelines charged at a premium rate.

Andreas Schwab, the EU parliamentary chief negotiator, said: “We wanted to regulate mainly off-premises and distance contracts, such as online trading, as this is where the most cross-border sales take place.

“We have reached a well-balanced deal which meets both calls from consumers and business interests.”


The Forum of Private Business (FPB) welcomed the fact that the Directive does not include two pieces of legislation that could have had an adverse impact on smaller online traders.


One original regulation would have obliged web-based independent traders to sell their products to almost every country in Europe.

Another proposal would have forced businesses to pay the postage on any goods worth more than £35 when returned by the consumer, meaning British web traders could have faced extortionate bills to return goods from far-flung parts of the EU.

There was widespread opposition to the ideas among web-based retailers, many of whom were concerned that they would have experienced problems processing payments and complying with additional local regulations in other European countries.

What’s more, the FPB argued, many independent online retailers only have the infrastructure to sell to the domestic market and some are only licensed to sell their products to customers in certain nations.

Phil McCabe of the FPB said: “These proposals were baffling and clearly ill-thought out from the start. When combined together, they would have had a devastating effect on small web-based retailers and it’s hard to see how they could possibly have benefitted genuine consumers.

“Thankfully, the legislators saw sense and we believe that the Directive is now largely unproblematic for ecommerce traders. However, it does extend the period within which consumers can return goods, without giving any reason, to 14 days – we think this is unnecessary and open to abuse.”

Monique Goyens, director general of the European Consumers’ Organisation, commented: “When first presented, this law was entirely geared to reducing obstacles for businesses and would have deprived European consumers from many precious national rights.

“This law is a tough compromise and we regret that some national rules will be overruled, but on the whole there will be progress for consumers. Consumers will benefit from more information and transparency, in particular when buying online.”