The European Commission has proposed a single framework Directive drawing together rules on unfair contract terms, distance selling, doorstep selling, and sales and guarantees (press release IP/08/1474). The catalyst for change has been the lack of development of cross-border trade, particularly online.

KEY FEATURES OF THE DIRECTIVE

  • Pre-contractual information

    The draft Directive obliges the trader to provide the consumer with a clear set of information requirements so that he or she can make an informed choice. These requirements include the main characteristics of the product, geographical address and identity of the trader, the price (including taxes) and all additional freight, delivery or postal charges. There are additional information requirements for distance and offpremises contracts.

  • Cooling off periods

    For distance sales including internet sales, mobile phone, catalogue and pressure sales, there will be an EU-wide cooling off period of 14 days, during which the consumer can withdraw from the contract without giving any reason. The Directive also introduces the concept of a standard withdrawal form that can be submitted electronically.

  • Delivery, passing of risk and conformity

    The Directive stipulates 30 days from signing the contract for the trader to deliver the goods. The trader bears the risk of deterioration and loss of the goods until the consumer receives them. For late or non-delivery, the consumer will have a right to a refund no later than seven days from the date of delivery. The trader will be liable to the consumer for lack of conformity that exists at the time the risk passes and becomes apparent within two years.

  • Unfair contract terms

    The Directive introduces a blacklist of unfair contract terms prohibited in all cases, alongside a grey list of contract terms deemed to be unfair if the trader does not prove to the contrary.

COMMENT

The Commission has suggested that it is not yet possible to present a clear timetable for the entry into force of the new Directive, which must now gain the approval of the European Parliament and national governments via the European Council. Nonetheless, its commitment to change is clear and so far there has been nothing to suggest that businesses are overly concerned by the proposals, which in many respects reflect current practice, particularly in the UK. There has been some criticism; however, overall, the outlook for this latest consumer protection “safety net” seems positive.