With Christmas looming people are more wary than ever of making savings where they can. Consequently more people are shopping online than ever before and here we look at the pros and cons of doing so.
Shopping from home is also known as ‘distance selling’ and includes purchases made by e-mail, fax, telephone, internet shopping and mail order. Distance selling involves communication between a supplier and a consumer where they are not in each other’s physical presence.
The European Directive on Distance Selling and the EC (Protection of Consumers in respect of contracts made by means of distance communication) Regulations 2001 aim to ensure that consumers can expect the same minimum level of protection no matter where a supplier is based in the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland.
Under the EU Law Suppliers are obliged to carry out the contract within 30 days of when the order was placed unless they have agreed otherwise with the consumer. If the supplier is unable to uphold its end of the contract, it must inform the consumer who is then entitled to a refund within 30 days. Where the goods sought by the consumer are unavailable, equivalent goods may be provided. This can only be done where the consumer has consented to this arrangement before the contract is made and the consumer is informed that if he or she decides to withdraw from the contract, then no cost of returning the equivalent goods can be deducted by the supplier.
It is to be noted that the majority of the Regulations do not apply to food and drink delivered to the consumer at his or her home or his or her place of work by regular roundsmen (for example, milkmen). However, once-off transactions are covered.
Remember, you will still be protected by general consumer legislation whether you purchase the goods in Ireland or another Member State, if, for example, you buy goods in the UK, you will have the protection of the Distance Selling Regulations and the UK Sales of Goods Act 1979.
If you buy from a website or a catalogue based outside the EU any problems that arise may be more difficult to solve – so check the terms and conditions. Any international complaints can be directed to Econsumer.gov after you have tried to solve the problem directly with the seller. Econsumer.gov also tries to protect consumers from internet scams. Advice can also be sought from the European Consumer Centre Dublin, a member of the European Consumer Centre Network.
Distance contracts are not enforceable unless prior to making the contract, the supplier provides this information and states clearly that the purpose of the proposed contract is commercial. The supplier must provide the consumer with written confirmation of this information.
The supplier must provide written confirmation of the contract to the consumer before or at the time the good or service is delivered. Included in this written confirmation should be:
- A postal address to which complaints can be sent
- How the contract can be cancelled
- The conditions for terminating the contract if it is of unlimited duration or longer than one year
- Information on the aftersales services and guarantees that apply. If the contract is with an Irish company, this information will be set down in the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980. If the contract is with a company outside Ireland then, in general, the rules that apply are usually subject to legislation in that country, which should be laid down in the contract.
Consumers are entitled to a cooling-off period of 7 days, which begins on the day that they receive the product. In the case of a service, the cooling-off period begins on the day the contract for distance selling was concluded or the day written confirmation of the contract was received. During the cooling-off period, the consumer can cancel distance contracts without giving a reason and without incurring charges or penalties other than possible charges incurred in returning the goods. If a supplier fails to provide written confirmation, the cooling off period is extended to three months from the date the goods were received or the contract for the provision of services was completed.
Upon cancellation, the distance seller is obliged to reimburse the consumer within 30 days. Once the contract is cancelled, any credit agreements entered into at the time of the contract will be cancelled as well.
At Hassett Considine Solicitors we provide advices to clients who encounter difficulties when shopping on line. Please contact Daragh Hassett of this office for a consultation on the numbers stated below. We would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers and clients a happy and holy Christmas.