Unfair commercial practices
When you buy goods and services in Ireland or in the EU, EU law protects you against unfair commercial practices.
The EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices is the EU law that regulates unfair commercial practices by sellers or suppliers (traders). It applies to all commercial practices that happen before (through advertising or marketing), during and after a transaction has taken place.
The EU Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices became law in Ireland through the Consumer Protection Act 2007. Under the Act, a range of unfair, misleading and aggressive trading practices are banned (prohibited) if they harm or are likely to harm the interests of a consumer.
The protections apply to business-to-consumer transactions. A consumer is a person who buys a product or service for personal use or consumption and a business or trader is a person acting for purposes related to their trade, business or profession. The Act does not apply to business-to-business or consumer-to-consumer transactions.
A commercial practice is considered ‘unfair’ if it meets two conditions:
- It is misleading (giving false information or leaving out important information) or aggressive (putting pressure on you to buy)
- It is likely to distort your buying decision
The key concepts and provisions of the Act are summarised below.
What are the rules on misleading practices?
The Act bans traders from using misleading commercial practices to influence your decision to buy their product or service. A practice is misleading if it:
- Provides false or untruthful information
- Deceives or is likely to deceive you
- Cause you to take a decision that you would not otherwise have taken
The Act sets out requirements for the following:
A commercial practice is misleading if it includes false or inaccurate information about the:
- Existence or nature of a product
- Main characteristics of the product, including its availability at a particular time, place, or at a particular price
- Usage and prior history
- The price of the product or service, how the price was calculated or the existence and nature of a specific price advantage
- The existence, extent or nature of any approval or sponsorship (direct or indirect) of the product by others
- Legal rights of a consumer (including when, how or under what circumstances those rights may be exercised)
Marketing and advertising
A commercial practice involving marketing or advertising is misleading if it causes you to confuse:
- A competitor's product with the trader's product
- A competitor's trade name or trademark, or some other distinguishing feature or mark, with that of the trader
Codes of practice
A commercial practice is misleading if:
- It involves a false claim that the trader abides or is bound by a code of practice
- The trader does not comply with that code of practice
Omission of information
A commercial practice is misleading if the trader leaves out or hides important information that you would need in order to make an informed buying decision.
A commercial practice is misleading if the trader:
- Provides important information in a way that is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely
- Does not identify the commercial intent of the information
What are the rules on aggressive practices?
The Act bans traders from using aggressive commercial practices. A practice is aggressive if harassment, coercion, or undue influence (exploiting a position of power) is used and this is likely to:
- Impair your freedom of choice
- Affect your buying decisions
Aggressive commercial practices include:
- Sales tactics that try to intimidate or coerce you
- The use of threatening or abusive language or behaviour
- Practices that try to take advantage of vulnerable consumers
- Imposing difficult or unreasonable non-contractual barriers when you want to end the contract or switch to another product or trader
- Threats to take legal action when the trader has no basis for such action
What practices are banned?
The Act has a blacklist of commercial practices. These practices are always banned (prohibited) whether or not they would affect a consumer's decision. They include:
- Bait advertising: Advertising products or services at a very low or special prices when the trader knows they cannot provide it or there isn’t enough stock available at that price
- Switch and bait: Promoting one product or service with the intention of selling you something else
- Endorsements and authorisations: False claims that a product or trader has an endorsement or authorisation that does not exist or that the product or trader is not in compliance with
- Closing down or moving: False claims that a trader is about to cease trading or move premises
- Unsupported or untrue cure claims: False claims that the product or service can cure illnesses
- False offers of prizes or gifts: Prize promotions where there is either no prize or you must make a payment in order to claim a prize
- Special rights: Traders cannot claim that they are granting you special rights when these are already rights that you have by law
- Manipulation of children: Advertisements directly aimed at getting children to buy products or persuade adults to buy for them
- Persistent unwanted communications: Traders and marketing companies are not allowed to make persistent and unwanted offers to you by phone, fax, email or any other form of communications
- Seeking payment for unsolicited goods: Sending products that you did not order to your address and then demanding payment
- False use of limited offers: When a trader tells you that a particular offer will only be available for a limited time, when that is not the case, and tries to pressure you into buying
- Hidden advertisements in media: Not making it clear (by using images, words or sound) that a newspaper article, TV programme or radio broadcast has been sponsored by a company as a way to advertise its goods or service
- Pressure selling: Creating an impression that you cannot leave the premises until a contract is formed
- Aggressive doorstep selling: A door-to-door salesperson that comes to your home and ignores your request to leave or not return
Who is responsible for enforcing the rules?
Both the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) and the Central Bank of Ireland (Central Bank) are responsible for enforcing the rules around unfair commercial practices.
- The CCPC has responsibility for enforcing the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act. The Act allows the CCPC to take enforcement action against a trader who fails to comply with consumer law.
- The Central Bank enforces the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act in the financial services sector.
You can find out more about the CCPC, the Central Bank and other consumer protection organisations.
How to make a complaint
If you believe that a trader has used unfair, misleading or aggressive or blacklisted commercial practices, you can report this to the CCPC. If the complaint is about a financial service, you can report it to the Central Bank.
Both the CCPC and the Central Bank can use this information to inform their compliance and enforcement roles. However, they do not intervene in individual complaints.
You have the right to seek redress if you have been treated unfairly. Generally speaking, the right to redress means the right to correct a situation if your consumer rights have been breached. There are different redress options open to you. You can consider taking legal action against the trader. You can find out more information about the small claims procedure and taking a civil case.
You can find out more about enforcement, redress and penalties under the Consumer Protection Act 2007.
You can get advice and further help in our section on how to complain.
You can find out more about the EU Directive on unfair commercial practices on YourEurope.