Consumer rights in the EU
The European Single Market, also known as the Internal Market, refers to the European Union (EU) as one territory without any internal borders.
The Single Market has an impact on the everyday lives of consumers in Ireland and in other Member States by providing greater access to goods and services and increased protections under EU consumer law. You can find out more about European laws.
EU consumer laws provide you with the following key rights:
- You have the right to truthful advertising
- You have the right to have faulty goods repaired or replaced
- You have the right to contracts without unfair clauses
- You have the right to return most goods purchased online within 14 days
- You have the right to access goods and services on the same terms as local customers
- You have the right to free assistance from European Consumer Centres for problems with a trader based within the EU/EEA
How does Brexit affect my EU consumer rights?
The UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020. The transition period that was in place ended on 31 December 2020.
As a result of Brexit, there are changes to your consumer rights when buying online from businesses in the UK. You will still have consumer rights but they will be set down in UK law and not EU law. The legal guarantees you have under EU law may no longer apply.
From 1 January 2021, you should be aware of the following changes:
- Additional import charges and Value Added Tax (VAT) apply when you buy from websites in the UK (depending on the value of the items and where the product is manufactured)
- EU consumer protection legislation may no longer apply, instead your consumer rights will be set down in UK law
- It may be more difficult to resolve a dispute with a UK business
You can read more about buying online from the UK after Brexit.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has detailed information about your consumer rights and Brexit.
What are my rights under EU consumer law?
The main EU Directives and Regulations are summarised below.
Sale of Goods and Associated Guarantees
One of the most important pieces of EU consumer legislation is the Directive on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees (1999/44/EC). Under the Directive you have a minimum 2-year legal guarantee against faulty products, or products that do not look or work as advertised. These are known as your statutory rights. The national law in some Member States may allow for longer periods. In Ireland the time limit (also known as the limitation period) is 6 years.
The Directive covers second-hand goods bought from a trader but it does not cover goods bought from a private individual (known as consumer-to-consumer transactions).
New rules for digital content and sale of goods
From 1 January 2022, the Directive on the Sale of Goods and Associated Guarantees will be replaced by:
- The Directive (EU) 2019/770 on contracts for the supply of digital content and services (the Digital Content Directive)
- The EU Directive on contracts for the Sale of Goods 2019/771/EU (the Sale of Goods Directive)
Member States have until 1st July 2021 to introduce the Directives into national law.
Under the new Directives, you will have the same consumer rights for problems or defects with digital content, digital services, or smart products (that is, products with a digital component) as you do with any other product.
Transposition into Irish law
The draft Consumer Rights Bill 2021 proposes to simplify and update consumer protection laws. It will also give effect to two new EU Directives on contracts for the sale of goods and contracts for the supply of digital content and digital services.
The target for the legislation to be enacted is late 2021, following a public consultation process.
Consumer Rights Directive
The Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU (CRD), aims to make sure that consumers have the same minimum level of rights no matter where a trader is based in the EU. The Directive was introduced into Irish law in June 2014.
A distance contract is where you buy a product or service online, over the phone, by mail order, or from a door-to-door salesperson. With this type of contract, you do not enter into the contract in person and you cannot check the products before you buy. Because of this, you have additional protections under the CRD.
As a result of the CRD, you have the following rights:
- You are entitled to extensive information in advance of purchase
- You have a 14-day cooling-off period during which you can change your mind. The cooling-off period applies to distant contracts, including online purchases but not for personalised items, hotel accommodation or car rental.
- You are entitled to refunds within 14 days of cancellation
- You are entitled to have products delivered within 30 days (unless another timeframe has been agreed with the trader)
- You must give your express consent (for example, by ticking a box and opting in) before a trader can apply extra costs
- You cannot be charged surcharges for particular payment types, for example credit cards
Unfair Commercial Practices Directive
Under the EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices 2005/29/EC, sellers must give you enough accurate information to allow you to make an informed decision (that is, a decision based on facts). Sellers must not use unfair, misleading or aggressive trading practices. The Directive came into effect in 2005.
A commercial practice is considered ‘unfair’ if it:
- Is misleading, giving false information or leaving out important information
- Is aggressive, putting pressure on you to buy
There are also a number of commercial practices that are always considered unfair. You can find out more in our document about unfair commercial practices.
Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Directive
If you enter into a contract with a seller you are protected under the EU Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts 93/13/EEC. The Directive states that the standard terms in a contract between you and the seller have to be fair and in plain, understandable language.
If there are any doubts about a contract term, the term should be interpreted in your favour. Contract terms are unfair if they create a significant imbalance between your rights and obligations as a consumer and the rights and obligations of the seller or service supplier. In other words, a term can be unfair if it puts you at a disadvantage.
Find out more about unfair contract terms.
Indication of Pricing, Payment Services and VAT Directives
You have specific rights on pricing, on payment services and on paying VAT within the EU.
Clear information on pricing
There are rules stating that the selling price and the price per unit of measurement (unit price) must be clearly shown for all products. You should clearly see the selling price and be able to compare prices. The rules are under the EU Directive on consumer protection in the indication of prices of products offered to consumers 98/6/EC.
Payment services protection
There are common EU rules to protect you when using electronic payment methods. The rules are in Directive 2007/64/EC on payment services in the internal market (also known as PSD 1). Payment service providers had to give you information about your rights and obligations when using electronic payment methods. In January 2018, PSD 1 was replaced by EU Directive on payment services in the internal market 2015/2366 (or PSD 2). PSD 2 introduced extra protections around online and mobile payments and stronger security requirements.
The European Commission has more information about PSD 2.
Value Added Tax (VAT)
There are specific rules around VAT that applies when you buy something in another EU country or outside the EU.
You buy something in another EU country: you should only pay VAT once, in the country where you make the purchase. These rules are in the Euopean Directive on the common system of value added tax2006/112/EC (VAT). You can bring your purchase home without having to make a customs declaration and pay additional VAT or excise duties. There are some exceptions - find out more about customs regulations for travellers to Ireland.
You buy a product online from another EU country: most major online retailers delivering within the EU will apply the VAT of destination rule. If the company you buy from sells goods over a certain value to your country, they have to apply VAT in the country where the goods are delivered – VAT of destination. The maximum amount for these cross-border sales is set by each EU country at either €35,000 or €100,000.
You buy services online from another EU country: you pay the VAT of the country where the trader is based. However, if the purchase is for telecommunications, broadcasting or electronic services VAT is charged in the country where you live under the EU Regulation on the place of supply of services1042/2013/EU.
You buy something from traders based outside the EU (that is, from a third-country): you may have to pay extra for VAT, customs and excise duty. The additional charges you pay depends on the value and origin of the products you bought. You can read more about taxes and other charges that apply when buying online from the UK after Brexit.
You can find more information on pricing.
Services Directive and geo-blocking
When you want to buy a service, you cannot be treated differently on the basis of nationality or place of residence under Article 20 of the Services Directive. In December 2018, this right was further strengthened by the Geo-blocking Regulation. There are some exceptions where the trader can provide a justified reason to treat you differently.
The Geo-blocking Regulation (EU Regulation 2018/302) has applied across the EU since December 2018 and aims to stop the practices of geo-blocking and geo-discrimination (that is, geographically based restrictions).
As a result of the Geo-blocking Regulation businesses within the EU can no longer do the following:
- Restrict your access to a website that was intended for consumers within a particular geographic area
- Force you to buy from a particular website intended for that country or group of countries alone
- Limit you to a particular website, even if you initially consent to being redirected to that website
- Automatically redirect you to another website set up for that location
- Treat payment methods differently based on your location
‘Geo-discrimination’ can also happen off-line. For example, if you are physically present in a trader’s premises and are prevented from buying a product or offered different conditions, such as a higher price, due to your nationality or place of residence.
The European Commission has more information about geo-blocking.
New Deal for Consumers
A new EU Directive on better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection (2019/2161/EU) was adopted in 2019. Member States have until 28 November 2021 to introduce the Directive into national law. The Directive is under the New deal for Consumers legislative package. The new rules will:
Modernise rules for digital developments, covering the following areas:
- Transparency on online marketplaces (around sellers that are private individuals and not a trader)
- Same consumer rights for “free” digital services
- The criteria used to rank offers on an online marketplace or price comparison sites (how offers appear in top results)
- Transparency about consumer reviews
- Personalised pricing
- Ban on reselling event tickets bought through bots
- Ensuring genuine price reduction claims
Strengthen tools to enforce consumer rights, including:
- Compensation for victims of unfair commercial practices
- More effective penalties for cross-border breaches of consumer rules
- Tackling dual quality of consumer products
- Better protection against unfair practices in doorstep selling
- Allow for representative actions (for example, class action) where there are many consumers who are victims of the same breach of consumer rights
The European Commission has a factsheet explaining the New Deal for Consumers.
Other consumer rights
Consumers are also protected when travelling within the EU. This includes:
|Passenger rights for air, rail, sea and road travel||
Air travel -
Bus or coach - Regulation (EU) No. 181/2011
Your Europe has more information about passenger rights.
Find out more information about travel.
|Package travel||When you book a package holiday, or a linked travel
arrangement (two or more travel services you buy from different
traders in separate contracts, but the services are linked) you have
rights if things go wrong under Directive
Find out more about package holidays.
|Cross-border portability of online content||When you travel to another EU country you have the right to use your
paid-for online content services (for example, Netflix or Spotify) in
the same way as you would in your home country under the Regulation
(EU) 2017/1128 on cross-border portability of online content
Your Europe has more information about accessing online content abroad.
|Roaming charges on mobile phones||Under the ‘roam like at home’ Regulation, you don’t have to pay additional charges to use your mobile phone when travelling to another EU country. This means that your calls and texts you make are charged the same as when you’re at home. Use of data when abroad is subject to the ‘fair use policy’ applied by mobile operators.|
How to complain about an EU based trader
If you have a problem with a trader that is based in another EU country your first step should be to contact them (in writing, if possible) to try to sort out the problem directly.
If you do not receive a response or you are not happy with the response you have the following dispute resolution options:
Informal dispute resolution
European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland provides free advice about EU consumer rights and further assistance to resolve a cross-border dispute with a trader.
It is also the national contact point for the:
- Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) platform
- Geo-blocking Regulation (providing assistance to consumers)
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) or Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) (for online purchases) involve procedures such as mediation, conciliation, or arbitration. Out-of-court procudures are provided by:
- Public ombudsmen
- Complaints boards
- Private entities.
You can find more information about ADR and ODR on Your Europe.
Formal legal action
The European Small Claims Procedure (ESCP) allows you to make a claim against a person, organisation or business based in another EU country for a maximum of €5,000.
You can find out more about European Small Claims Procedure.
Who enforces EU consumer law?
The following organisations monitor and enforce compliance with EU consumer law:
|The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC)||•Disputes between consumers and Irish based traders
•Queries in relation to organisations that have been approved to provide Alternative Dispute Resolution
•Cooperation with other enforcement bodies throughout the EU through the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Framework.
|Commission for Aviation Regulation (CAR)||Flight delay, cancellation or denied boarding, where the disrupted
flight was due to depart Ireland, or the flight was arriving into
Ireland from outside the EU and was operated by an EU-based carrier.
Other complaints should be directed to the relevant national enforcement body.
|FIN-NET||Complaints about a financial service providers within the EU, for example, a dispute about a cross-border payment. The body responsible for FIN-NET procedure in Ireland is the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman.|
|SOLVIT||Complaints about a national public administration body that you believe has not properly applied EU law.|
|European Commission||Complaints against a Member State about any measure (law, regulation or administration), absence of a measure or practice by a Member State which goes against EU law.|
Your Europe provides a free online advice service about your EU rights.