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 trader and a consumer where they are not in each other's physical presence.
When you enter into a distance contract with a trader you have the right to expect the same consumer protection as you would have if you bought the goods in a local shop. The goods should be of merchantable quality, fit for the purpose intended and as described. Because you are entering into a distance contract you have additional protection under EU law.
The European Directive on consumer rights (Directive 2011/83/EU) (known as the Consumer Rights Directive) aims to ensure that consumers can expect the same minimum level of protection no matter where a trader is based in the European Union (EU). The Directive was incorporated into Irish law by the European Union (Consumer Information, Cancellation and Other Rights) Regulations 2013 (SI 484/2013) with effect from 13 June 2014.
Remember, you are protected whether you purchase the goods in Ireland or another member state. 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.
The Danish European Consumer Centre has developed a website - theshoppingassistant.com - to help consumers determine whether a website is reliable when shopping online.
Under the Consumer Rights Directive:
The Directive does not apply to certain types of contracts, including:
Before you are bound by a distance contract the trader must make certain information available to you including:
The information on digital content, such as downloadable films and books, must be clear as to the compatibility of the digital content with different hardware and software. It must also include any technical protection measures, for example, the number of copies that can be made.
If a right to cancel exists, the trader must make available to you the standard cancellation form (including cancellation rights and instructions) as set out in the Directive.
Where a distance contract is concluded through a trading website, the website must indicate clearly, and at the latest at the beginning of the ordering process, whether any delivery restrictions apply and which means of payment are accepted.
Where a distance contract is concluded by electronic means the trader must ensure that, when placing an order, you explicitly acknowledge that the order implies an obligation to pay. If this entails activating a button or something similar, the trader must ensure that the button is labelled with the words ‘order with obligation to pay’ or similar, indicating that the order entails an obligation to pay the trader. If this requirement is not complied with, you are not bound by the contract.
The use of default options, for example, pre-ticked boxes, which you are required to change in order to avoid paying for some additional service or item is not allowed. You must actively select such options otherwise you do not have to pay. If there is a dispute, the trader is required to prove that he sought your express consent to the additional payment.
A trader cannot charge you more for using a particular means of payment, such as a credit card, than the cost to the trader for using that means of payment. If there is a dispute, the trader is required to prove they are compliant with the Directive.
Similarly, if a trader operates a telephone helpline, the trader cannot charge you more than the basic telephone rate for calls to it.
The trader must provide confirmation of the concluded contract to you in a durable format, such as a letter or email. It should include the information mentioned above, if not already supplied in a durable format. It should be provided within a reasonable time after the contract was concluded, and at the latest:
You are entitled to a cooling-off period of 14 days, which begins on the day that you receive the goods. In the case of a service, the cooling-off period begins on the day the contract for distance selling was concluded.
In the case of digital content, the cooling-off period expires when the downloading or streaming starts.
During the cooling-off period, you can cancel a distance contract without giving a reason and without incurring charges or penalties, other than possible charges incurred in returning the goods.
If a trader fails to provide you with information on the right to cancel, the cooling-off period is extended to 12 months from the date it would have expired if the information had been provided. If the trader provides the information within this 12-month period, the cooling-off period expires within 14 days of the consumer receiving it.
To cancel the contract, you must inform the trader of the decision to cancel using either the prescribed cancellation form, or some other method, before the cooling-off period expires. There is no requirement to give a reason for cancelling. If there is a dispute, it is up to you to prove the cancellation was carried out correctly.
You must send the goods back within 14 days of informing the trader of the cancellation. You have to pay for the cost of returning the goods unless you were not informed before ordering that you would have to bear the cost.
Upon cancellation, the trader is obliged to repay all payments you made, including delivery charges, within 14 days. If you choose a more expensive type of delivery than the trader’s cheapest standard delivery, you are only entitled to be refunded the cost of the cheaper delivery type. The trader can withhold repayment until the goods are returned or you supply evidence that you have sent the goods back.
Once the contract is cancelled, any credit agreements entered into at the time of the contract are cancelled as well.
Cancellation will not be accepted in certain cases including where:
If you buy goods online or by mail from another EU Member State you may pay VAT at the rate that applies in Ireland. However, if the supplier that you are buying the goods from has not exceeded the Distance Sales Threshold in Ireland then you will pay VAT at the rate appropriate to that product in the Member State of purchase. You will usually be informed of the amount of VAT payable at checkout.
Goods ordered from outside the EU that cost more than €22 may be liable for VAT. If they cost more than €150 they may also be liable for customs duty.
Excise duty and VAT are chargeable on excisable products such as alcohol and alcoholic beverages, tobacco and tobacco products and mineral oils forwarded from other member states of the EU.
You can find more information on Revenue’s website.
If you return the goods you purchased, you may be able to reclaim the taxes and duties charged providing you have the required paperwork. Contact your local Revenue office for more information.
If your credit card has been used fraudulently, you can cancel any payments made under a distance contract and you are entitled to the return of those payments immediately. Payments can be cancelled by contacting the bank or building society where you hold your credit card. You should always keep the telephone number in a safe place in case you need it.
If you discover (or even suspect) that your card has been used in a fraudulent manner, then you should contact the relevant financial institution straight away.
If your card has been used fraudulently, your liability cannot exceed €150 under EU Recommendation 97/489/EC. However, in Ireland, in practice the liability is generally lower.
It is illegal for a trader to demand payment for unsolicited services. Book clubs are a very good example of inertia selling and the most common kind. If a trader sends you an item that you did not order and does not provide for return post, it cannot then try to invoice you for the product or initiate debt collection proceedings against you.
However, if you are contracted to a trader and receive unwanted books or CDs, you should check your contract as it may contain a term that commits you to receiving 4 or 5 items a year. If this is the case, the trader's actions cannot be considered inertia selling. It is therefore very important for you to read the contract carefully before committing yourself to it.
You cannot waive the rights conferred on you by the Consumer Rights Directive.
When making a complaint, you should firstly contact the trader and inform them of your complaint. If you are not satisfied with the response, you may be able to get help with your complaint.
If your complaint is against a trader here in Ireland, then you should complain to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), which has responsibility for enforcing the Regulations. The CCPC can appoint officers to search, inspect and remove documents from the premises of offending traders.
If a trader fails to comply with legal obligations, then the distance contract will be rendered unenforceable. The supplier is then exposed to the risk of criminal prosecution and fines of up to €60,000 or up to 18 months in prison, or to both.
If the trader is in another EU member state, you can contact the European Consumer Centre Ireland (ECC Ireland) which is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), It will contact the trader and try to resolve your dispute. If this is not successful, ECC Ireland will forward your case to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) organisation in the other country. ADR should only be used as a last resort. You can get further information on ADR in the EU by contacting ECC Ireland.
The online dispute resolution (ODR) Regulation (SI 500/2015) came into effect on 9 January 2016. A new online ODR platform developed and operated by the European Commission acts as a single point of contact for consumers and traders, within the EU, who seek to resolve disputes arising from online shopping.
If the trader is based outside the EU, you can direct your complaint 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.
ECC Ireland has published a leaflet on online shopping (pdf).
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission website contains information on buying online.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.