Consumer rights in the European Union
The existence of a single European market gives access to a wider range of products and services at competitive prices. Under the European Directive on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees (1999/44/EC), which was passed into law in January 2003 (S.I. 11 of 2003) in Ireland, all consumers purchasing goods in any EU Member State are entitled to a basic set of consumer rights. The existence of a single European market gives access to a wider range of products and services at competitive prices.
National consumer laws in a particular country may provide you with additional rights as a consumer. That is, rights that supplement your rights provided by EU laws. Your basic right as a consumer is to have a product replaced, repaired or to have a refund or reduction in price for any fault in the product that you were not made aware of at the time of purchase. There are however a set of rules governing these rights. These rules are concerned mainly with descriptions and statements made about the product, instructions and guarantees.
Brexit and EU consumer rights
EU consumer law will not apply to and in the UK after it leaves the EU. Current redress mechanisms, as provided for under EU consumer law, will therefore no longer be available. For example, if you are in a dispute with a UK-based trader, you may not be able to avail of the European Consumer Centre network or the European Small Claims Procedure.
However, consumers in Ireland can take individual action through the Irish Courts if they have purchased online from UK traders who do business in the EU.
The main rights that are given to every European consumer under the European Directive on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees (1999/44/EC) are set out below.
- If you purchase goods or services from another EU member state and they were advertised in your country, you are protected under consumer law of your home country.
- If you purchased goods or services from a representative of the business in your home country, national consumer law of your home country protects you.
- If you buy goods or services while you were visiting another EU member state the laws of the country in which you bought the items apply.
Any statement made about consumer goods must be true or the retailer is liable. This includes descriptions made in advertising, marketing, labelling or statements made verbally or in writing by the retailer. If you are shown a sample item, the item you buy must be of exactly the same quality. The product must also be fit for its intended purpose (e.g., if you buy a can opener, it must function as a can opener).
If the installation of a good is included in the purchase price, then the retailer is liable for any mistakes made in the installation. If you are installing a good yourself, any fault in the instructions is the responsibility of the retailer. For example, if you bought a bed that you have to assemble yourself and the instructions are in Chinese, the retailer must provide instructions in English unless he or she made you aware of this at the time of purchase and offered you a discount in price.
A guarantee is an enforceable warranty on the continuing usefulness of a product. You may request a guarantee for the item, at the time of purchase. This guarantee should include the duration of the guarantee, its territorial scope and the name and address of the guarantor. The guarantee should be available in the official languages of the EU. The guarantee cannot undermine the rights provided to you in European Directive on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees or in national legislation.
Common tax rules apply when buying goods and services for your personal use across the EU. Effectively this means the same tax rules apply to your item as those that apply to nationals of the member state where you buy the goods or services. You can bring your purchases home without having to pay additional Value Added Tax (VAT) or excise duties. Exceptions to this rule apply to purchases of motor vehicles and business purchases. Read more about importing a vehicle and Vehicle Registration Tax here.
Purchases from other EU member states can only be inspected at national borders on grounds of public order. Member states have the right to levy excise duties on tobacco products and alcoholic beverages if these products are not intended for personal use. Read more about customs regulations for travellers to Ireland here.
If you are carrying larger quantities of alcohol or tobacco products you may need to prove they are intended for personal use. In the case of online purchases or postal purchases (i.e., distance sales ),VAT is included in the price of the item and the items should be sent directly to you. If you arrange to ship the item yourself from another EU member state you need to contact the Customs Section of the Revenue Commissioners. They can inform you about the relevant levels of VAT that are payable.
If you purchase away from business premises for example, buying goods online you are protected by the European Directive (2011/83/EU) (pdf). You can find out more about your consumer rights when shopping online.
How to complain
When making a complaint about a product, you should firstly contact the retailer and inform them about your complaint. If you do not obtain a suitable remedy from the retailer within a suitable time period, you can take further action.
If your complaint is against a retailer in Ireland, you should complain to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
If you have a complaint arising from a purchase in another member state of the EU apart from your home country it can be difficult to resolve issues that you may have with the seller of the goods or services. Distance, language differences and costs of court cases can prevent you from making consumer complaints. However, supports are available for you if you have a cross border dispute. ECC Ireland will intervene on your behalf with the trader in the other member state in order to find a satisfactory solution. If this is not successful, ECC Ireland will forward your case to its Clearing House section so that the case can be sent to an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) organisation in the other country.
Where to complain