Recent developments at domestic and European level in the area of consumer law aim to overhaul the current framework, to strengthen consumer rights and to provide a more user-friendly system for consumers.

Irish Developments

At domestic level, the Sales Law Review Group (SLRG) recommended in their Report which was issued today, that a new Irish Consumer Contract Rights Act be enacted to incorporate the main statutory provisions applicable to consumer contracts, including the provisions of the new Consumer Rights Directive (see below for details), the Directive on Consumer Sales and Guarantees, the Directive on Unfair Contract Terms, and relevant provisions of the Sale of Goods Acts 1893 and 1980 and other enactments. Provisions relating to other non-core aspects of consumer contracts of sale should be dealt with, together with all of the provisions applicable to commercial contracts, in a new Sale and Supply of Goods and Supply of Services Act.

The SLRG also recommended the following:

  • 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 7 to 14 days in the time period in which consumers can withdraw from a contract  

European Developments

At European level the European Directive on Consumer Rights was published on 10 October. Publication of the new Directive follows a review of current Directives on consumer law, with a view to simplifying and updating the rules set out in those Directives, removing inconsistencies and closing gaps in the framework.

Following the review it was decided to replace Directive 97/7/EC on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts and Directive 85/577/EEC on the protection of consumers in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises, with a new Directive. The resulting new Directive provides standard rules for the common aspects of distance and off-premises contracts.

The Commission has produced a helpful guide to the major changes in the Directive which is summarised below.

10 most important changes for consumers in the new Directive*:

  1. The Directive will eliminate hidden charges and costs on the Internet
  2. Increased price transparency
  3. Banning pre-ticked boxes on websites
  4. 14 Days to change your mind on a purchase
  5. Better refund rights
  6. Introduction of an EU-wide model withdrawal form
  7. Eliminating surcharges for the use of credit cards and hotlines
  8. Clearer information on who pays for returning goods
  9. Better consumer protection in relation to digital products
  10. Common rules for businesses will make it easier for them to trade all over Europe.  

How will the new Directive fit in with current consumer law Directives?

The Directive on Consumer Rights will replace the current Directive 97/7/EC on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts and the current Directive 85/577/EEC on the protection of consumers in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises.

Directive 1999/44/EC on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees as well as Directive 93/13/EEC on unfair terms in consumer contracts will be amended but will remain in force.

Timetable for the entry into law of new Directive

  • Publication of the new Directive in the EU's Official Journal (approximately by the end of 2011)
  • Implementation of the new rules into domestic law before the end of 2013  

*source: Press Release of the European Commission in connection with publication of new Consumer Rights Directive, 10 October 2011