The ECJ has confirmed that consumers should be reimbursed for any initial delivery costs on cancellation of a distance contract.
The case of Handelsgesellschaft Heinrich Heine GmbH v Verbraucherzentrale Nordrhein-Westfalen eV involved a mail order company whose general conditions of sale required consumers to pay a charge for initial delivery of goods, which was not reimbursed in the event of cancellation by a consumer.
Article 6(1) of the Distance Selling Directive 97/7/EC allows consumers 7 days to cancel a distance contract "for any reason", and Article 6(2) obliges suppliers to reimburse sums paid by consumers free of charge in these circumstances, with only the direct cost of returning the goods validly chargeable to consumers. In this case, the ECJ found that although Article 6(2) requires a consumer to pay the costs of returning goods to a supplier on cancellation, the consumer should nevertheless be reimbursed for any initial delivery costs, with the words "sums paid" in Article 6(1) including both the price of goods and all other costs associated with the contract.
The decision follows the Messner case (in which a German law allowing suppliers to charge for the use of goods that are returned under Article 6(1) was found to be incompatible with the Distance Selling Directive), and further upholds the purpose of Article 6: consumers should not be deterred from exercising their right to cancel by the risk of not recovering all their original costs. The decision is also in line with guidance issued by the UK Office of Fair Trading that distance consumers are entitled to a refund of any money they have paid in relation to a contract to which the cancellation provisions apply when cancelled by a consumer.