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Controversial consumer right fails to pass European scrutiny

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A controversial proposal that would have seen online retailers forced to pay consumers’ costs when they returned goods worth €40 or more has failed to clear the European Parliament.

The proposal was one of a number of suggested amendments to the European Consumer Rights Directive, which is currently going through the European Parliament, that were put forward by MEPs.

But in the face of opposition from retail groups including the UK online retail industry’s trade association, IMRG, the move failed to win support from the European Council.

However new rules on online retail are still expected to be approved by the European Parliament this week. They include a new regulation that will extend consumers’ right to change their mind about a purchase made through distance selling from seven to 14 days, which was also opposed by IMRG. Digital goods such as music and films will not be covered by the rule. If retailers fail to inform the consumer of this right, the consumer’s right to withdraw from the purchase will automatically be extended to a year.

Other changes include the extension of the right to return goods to auction-style sites, but only where the purchase was made from a professional seller. In addition, deliveries must now be made within 30 days of purchase or the buyer will have the right to cancel the purchase. And hidden charges, such as pre-ticked boxes, will also be outlawed, with the buyer required to knowingly accept the total price before making a purchase.

The changes, which are expected to be formally approved by the European Parliament at its plenary vote in June or July, are intended to give consumers the same level of protection however they shop within Europe, and it is hoped they will serve to boost confidence and cross-border trade as a result.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur Andreas Schwab hailed the decision as taking: “a big step closer to a truly common internal market in Europe.”

Gordon Scott, managing director of logistics company Wincanton, said: “Tuesday’s announcement from the European Parliament on the Consumer Rights Directive is good news for UK consumers and good news for retailers.

The Directive had the potential to negate the level playing field that the internet has created for small businesses to compete with the big high street retailers. But, after a prolonged period of uncertainty, it is a relief to know that this potential obstacle has been removed.

“As a partner to many UK retailers, big and small, we know just how important it is that the sector is given the freedom to exploit all the opportunities that multi-channel presents. It represents benefits for both UK consumers and the retail sector and therefore the wider economy as well.”

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