When you buy online, you have the right to the same protections under consumer law as buying in a shop.
When you buy products or services online you are entering into a contract called a distance contract. 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 EU law.
The Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU (CRD), gives you extra rights when you enter into a distance contract with sellers based in Ireland and other EU countries. These rights do not apply to consumer-to-consumer deals (that is where you buy from a private individual) or if you buy from a trader based outside the EU.
If you are buying online from a UK trader, your consumer rights stay the same during the transition period. When the transition period ends, you may not automatically have the same consumer rights when you buy from a UK seller - see ‘Brexit – buying online from a UK business’ below.
Shopping online and COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how we shop and how retailers operate. More and more people are shopping online during the COVID-19 pandemic. This document explains your consumer rights when you shop online from a trader based in Ireland or elsewthere in the EU.
Check you are buying from a legitimate business
When you’re shopping online it is always important to do your research and pay securely. If you are worried about whether you are buying from an authentic website, research the company to make sure it’s a legitimate business. You should check:
- Contact details such as phone number, email, and physical address. Beware of websites that only have a contact form and no other contact information.
- Online reviews, to find out about other people’s experiences. Don’t just use one source of reviews as these could be fake. Check reviews on social media channels or independent online resources like Trustpilot.
- Terms and conditions, so you know exactly what you are agreeing to.
- The website is secure by looking for a closed security padlock symbol in the browser window bar (where the website address is located). Click on it to check for an encryption certificate. The website address should begin with ‘https://’ - the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’.
- For spelling or grammatical mistakes which are a sign of scam.
You can find out more advice about scams and fraud.
Your right to information before you buy
Before you buy something, you gather information on the options and prices available. Under consumer law, it is an offence for any seller to make a false or misleading claim about goods, service and prices that would distort your buying decision.
Under the CRD you are entitled to certain information before you make an online purchase.
|Before you buy||You must receive clear information including:
For digital content, such as downloadable films and books or computer programs, games or apps, you have the right to clear information about:
|At checkout||The seller must give you the following information:
The above information must be provided, at the very latest, by the time you get to the payments page and place the order.
|After buying||You must receive written confirmation of your transaction, on paper based or in a durable format such as email.|
You want to cancel an order
Under the CRD, you have 14 calendar days to change your mind without having to give a reason. This right to cancel is also known as the ‘cooling-off period’.
Your right to cancel begins from the moment you place the order. However, your ‘cooling-off period’ will depend on the type of purchase you made, as follows:
- Products (goods): Starts the moment you receive the product. You have 14 days to tell the trader you want to cancel and then a further 14 days to return the products. You may have to pay for the cost of returning the products.
- Services: Starts the moment you sign up to the contract for services and ends 14 days after you sign the contract. You have a further 14 days to return any equipment (for example, modem or TV box) that came as part of the service.
- Digital content: Starts the moment you sign up to the contract and ends 14 days after you sign up. This right automatically ends if you begin downloading or streaming the content.
How to cancel - Before the cooling-off period ends, you should let the seller know in writing that you want to cancel. You can do this by email or post, or by using the cancellation form provided by the seller.
Exclusions - The cooling-off period does not apply to certain purchases. Examples are personalised products or leisure services such as hotel bookings, car rental or concert tickets.
Your Europe has more information about your right to cancel and return.
Right to a refund within 14 days of cancellation
You must be refunded within 14 days of cancellation, including standard delivery costs. A seller may not process the refund until they have proof that items have been sent back.
You should note that during the COVID-19 emergency period, many retailers extended their return policies. Some are allowing you to return items after shops reopen or giving you more time to return by post. You should check the individual retailers' policy before you place your order.
Delayed or non-delivery
The CRD sets out the following rules for delayed or non-delivery:
- You must receive your products within 30 days of buying them (unless you agreed to a different timeframe for delivery)
- If the products are not delivered within the time agreed, you can ask the seller to deliver the items again by an agreed date
- If the seller fails to deliver within this additional period, you can cancel the contract and get a refund of all the money you paid without delay
- If, at the time of buying the goods, you told the seller that delivery by a certain date was essential (for example, for an event) and the seller agreed, you can cancel the contract and get a refund if they fail to deliver as promised
- You can also cancel the contract and get a refund if the seller has stated that they cannot or will not deliver the goods
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting on many businesses ability to meet agreed delivery timescales. You may experience delays or even non-delivery. You can read more in our document about shipping and delivery.
Under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980 all products must meet certain conditions of quality, performance and durability. This means that when you buy something it has to be:
- Of satisfactory (merchantable) quality - this means of reasonable and acceptable standard, taking into account other factors such as durability and price
- Fit for the purpose you bought it for – they should work and do what they are reasonably expected to do
- As described - they must match any description given in an advert or other information provided by the seller at the time of sale
The same rules apply for products or services you bought online.
Under consumer law you are entitled to certain remedies when something you buy is not of merchantable quality, fit for purchase or as described. A remedy can be in the form of a repairs, replacements and refunds.
If the fault appears within the first 6 months, it is assumed that the problem existed when you received the goods and it’s up to the seller to prove otherwise. If the fault appears after the first 6 months, you may be asked to prove that the problem existed when you received it.
Other consumer rights when shopping online
EU law provides you with the following extra protections when shopping online:
- Right to equal access to websites throughout the EU
- Protection against certain practices that are always banned within the EU
Equal access to websites throughout the EU
Under rules on Geo-blocking, you have the right to equal access to the digital market throughout the EU regardless of where you are living. The Geo-blocking Regulation (EU Regulation 2018/302) (pdf) has applied across the EU since December 2018 and aims to stop the practices of geo-blocking and geo-discrimination.
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 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 higher price, because of your nationality or place of residence.
The European Commission has more information about geo-blocking.
Other banned practices under CRD
The CRD bans a number of practices across the EU, including:
|Ban on pre-ticked boxes||EU traders are banned from using pre-ticked boxes on websites to charge extra for services (such as priority boarding on planes)|
|Ban on surcharges||Traders are not allowed to charge more for particular payment types, for example credit card payments, than it costs them to provide such payment option|
|Ban on hidden fees and charges||You do not have to pay for any delivery costs or other charges which you were not told about in advance|
|Passing of risk||The trader is responsible for any damage to or loss of your goods from the time they are dispatched until you (or a third-party chosen by you) receive them|
Tax payable on products bought online
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 should be told how much VAT you have to pay at checkout.
If you buy a product from a seller based outside the EU, you may have to pay extra for VAT (products over €22) and customs duty (products over €150). You may also have to pay VAT and excise duty for certain types of products such as alcohol and tobacco.
Brexit and buying online from a UK business
The UK left the European Union on 31 January 2020. The British government has negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the EU and this came into effect on 1 February 2020. The UK is now in a transition period while the UK and EU negotiate additional arrangements.
During the transition period
During the transition period, all EU regulations will continue to apply to the UK. The transition period will last until 31 December 2020. Your consumer rights remain the same if you are buying from UK traders during the transition period.
After the transition period ends
After the transition period ends, you may not automatically have the same consumer rights. It is not yet clear what consumer rights you will have when you buy from a UK seller. Unless there is an agreement between the EU and the UK which retains the same rights, you will have to be especially careful when buying from a UK seller. It will be particularly important to carefully check the terms and conditions on the seller’s website.
From 1 January 2021, depending on what is agreed, you may or may not be able to use the 14-day cancellation period for most online orders, even if the order is made before 31 December 2020. Similarly, you may not be able to complain through ECC Ireland or use the European Small Claims procedure. You may have to pay certain taxes and duties if you are buying from UK traders. You may have to pay customs duty, excise duty and VAT.
You can find detailed information about your consumer rights and Brexit and how online shopping may be affected after the transition period ends.
If things go wrong
Shopping online is convenient, but it can be harder to sort out problems. If things do go wrong, you should contact the seller (in written format if possible) explaining what the issue is and how you would like it to be corrected.
If you are not satisfied with the seller’s response
If the problem is not resolved with the seller within a reasonable period of time or is not completely resolved to your satisfaction you can:
- Contact your card provider (where you paid by credit card or debit card) and ask them to reverse the transaction. This is known as chargeback. Some other payment methods also provide protection schemes (for example, PayPal buyer protection). The CCPC has more information on chargeback.
- Use out-of-court procedures such as the European Consumer Centres Network (for cross-border disputes only) and Online Dispute Resolution (for national and cross-border online disputes)
- Take a claim against the seller using the small claims procedure. For cross-border disputes within the EU, you can use the European small claims procedure.
Find out more about making a complaint.
If you need more help
If you cannot resolve the problem yourself, you can contact the following consumer bodies for advice and support:
- Dispute with an Irish-based trader: Contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC)
- Dispute with a trader based in another EU country: Contact the European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland
Find out more about consumer protection organisations.
When you’re shopping online it is always important to do your research and pay securely. You can find out more advice about scams and fraud.