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Government launches consumer rights consultation

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The Government has launched consultation on planned changes to consumer rights that will make a difference to the way people shop online.

Shoppers and retailers have until November 1 to give their views on the proposed changes in the Consumer Rights Directive, which was adopted by the European Commission last year and was this week opened for consultation in the UK by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

If the directive becomes law in its current form, there will be a number of significant changes affecting online and multichannel retailers.

Shoppers, for example, will have 14 days from the receipt of goods bought at a distance, whether online or over the phone, to change their minds and return them in exchange for a refund that will include the cost of delivery. If retailers do not clearly inform customers about the right to withdraw from the contract, the return period will be extended to a year. Retailers will also bear the risk of damage to goods that takes place before delivery.

A move towards increased price transparency will mean that traders must disclose the total cost of products and services, including extra fees, and will not be able to charge more for paying by credit card than they themselves pay for the service. Premium rates will be banned on telephone hotlines.

Information about returns must be clear before purchase, including the estimated maximum cost of returning bulky goods such as sofas so that consumers can bear that in mind when deciding to buy.

And there will also be a requirement to show clear information when buying digital products, including compatibility with hardware and software and any measures that limit consumers’ right to copy it.

Announcing the UK consultation, consumer affairs minister Norman Lamb said: “This is an area where Europe can make a big impact on our day to day lives. Many people will have been ripped off at some point by hidden online charges while booking a holiday, premium rate helplines when returning a purchase or disproportionate and often unexpected charges for paying with credit or debit cards.

“The Consumer Rights Directive will put an end to certain bad business practices and help consumers make well-informed decisions when buying products or services. It will also boost business confidence, setting out clearer rules and responsibilities and cutting red tape by reducing compliance costs.”

When the directive was adopted by the EU, Viviane Reding, EU justice commissioner, said the directive was good news for Europe’s 500m consumers. “Shoppers will no longer be trapped into buying unwanted travel insurance or car rentals when purchasing a ticket online,” she said. “And everyone will have 14 days if they wish to return goods bought at a distance, whether by internet, post or phone.”

The new directive is expected to become law in the UK before the end of 2013.

To take part in the consultation click here.

For more detail on the 10 most important proposed changes as they will affect consumers, retailers and others, click here.

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