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New Rights for Europe's Online Shopping Community.

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In the next few weeks it is expected that the EU Council of Ministers will add formal approval to this Directive and the text will be published in the Official Journal. Following publication in the Official Journal Member States will have a 2-year period in which to implement the Directive; meaning at the latest we can expect to see this occur before September 2013, but it could be as soon as early 2012. The Directive will potentially have far reaching consequences for anyone conducting business online, and those that do so should look to ensure that they are aware of the rights and obligations that the new Directives will bring well before they are implemented and adapt their business structures accordingly. The new Directive is a direct response from the EU in recognition to the growing importance of the internet in consumer purchases and the need to improve the protection afforded by current legislation. It will only concern contracts for the sale of goods and services from business to consumer. The consumer protection currently in place for online shoppers is based solely on EU Directives relating to distance selling and doorstep selling, which contain only minimum requirements, and as such Members States have each added their own further requirements and rules leading to an inconsistent and incoherent system of protection across the EU. The new Directive will largely consolidate the various EU directives in place harmonising protection across the EU with the purpose of strengthening consumer rights and encouraging cross-border shopping. The key changes that the Directive will bring into force include: • The Distance Selling Directive (97/7/EC) will be repealed. It is expected that those distance selling provisions will be replaced by those of the new Directive. • Increased clarity on the requirements on sellers to provide information to consumers before a contract is entered into (Articles 5 and 6). This includes the main characteristics of the product, the geographical address and identity of the seller, the price (inclusive of taxes and all additional postal charges). • Goods or services ordered at a distance should be delivered with 30 days after the parties entered into the contract (Article 18); the seller will be responsible for the cost of deterioration or loss of the goods until received by the seller (Article 20). • Pre-populated boxes for additional options beyond the purchase of the goods or services (e.g. premium delivery service, insurance, etc.) will not be permitted (Article 22). • The contract withdrawal period will be extended from 7 to 14 days (Article 9); failure by the seller to inform the consumer of their withdrawal rights could result in the period for withdrawal being extended to 12 months (Article 10). • If a contract is cancelled during the 14-day cancellation period, the seller must provide the consumer with a refund within 14 days of cancellation. If the seller wants the consumer to pay for returning the goods, he is only able to do so if he had clearly informed the consumer of this obligation before the contract was concluded. • Consumers cannot waive their rights under the national implementing legislation (Article 25). • Retailers will now be obliged to make their goods available to all EU member states. These are the main changes that the Directive will bring when implemented, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Anyone who thinks that their business will be affected by the new Directive should ensure that they familiarise themselves with the text and if necessary seek advice as to how to adapt in order to meet their requirements. The EU has stated that it believes that the new Directive will benefit consumers and retailers alike, creating a level playing field and allowing cross-border trading, but there will undoubtedly be some difficulties during the period directly following implementation as people attempt to deal with their new rights and obligations. For additional information please contact Justin Emerson of Gepp & Sons on 01245 228113. The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.