Irish consumers to get 14 days to withdraw from internet purchases

18 Oct 2011

Tough new consumer laws are on the way that are aimed at protecting consumers from shoddy sales practices and include a new rule that increases the time period from seven to 14 days in which consumers can withdraw from a contract.

The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD, outlined improvements in the rules governing distance and off-premises selling which impact e-commerce and a number of other changes, including a ban on additional charges, excessive payment fees and curbs on small print.

He said the new rules prepare the consumer for 21st-century sales practices.

“Transactions involving a consumer on the one hand and a business on the other are inherently unbalanced, and Government has an obligation to regulate where the consumer needs protection,” Bruton said.

The overhaul followed a report by the Sales Law Review Group.

“As this report has found, much of the law in this area dates from the late 19th century and is totally inappropriate for the era of the smartphone and the large supermarket.

“That is why I have asked my department to radically overhaul the four Acts and the five pieces of secondary legislation relating to consumer transactions. By consolidating and reforming the plethora of laws in the area to bring about a comprehensive Consumer Rights Act we will create a structure that will be appropriate for the 21st-century consumer market, will be simpler to understand, will create clearer rules for businesses, and will bring about substantial improvements for consumers.

Protecting consumers: from the smartphone to the large supermarket

The new laws in the area are expected to include:

·        A ban on excessive payment fees – it will not be permissible for a seller to charge payment fees greater than the cost of processing the payment

·        A ban on additional charges on consumers by means of ‘pre-ticked boxes’ – additional charges will only be permitted where express consent is given

·        Curbs on “small print”, possibly by requiring minimum font sizes and mandatory font colour, such as black

·        A requirement that receipts be issued in consumer transactions

·        A rule that consumers would have the right to reject faulty goods within 30 days, replacing the complex and uncertain rules that currently apply

·        A rule that goods must be of satisfactory quality

·        Significant pro-consumer improvements in laws relating to services, including a rule that sellers cannot exclude certain terms in consumer contracts and strengthened guarantees as to the quality of a service provided to a consumer

·        Improvements in the rules governing distance and off-premises selling. These will apply most notably to internet purchases, and will include an increase from seven to 14 days in the time period in which consumers can withdraw from a contract

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years