Brilliant new rights when you shop online

British consumers are about to get a fantastic new weapon against dodgy websites, as the EU has passed a new Directive clamping down on some of the most notorious practices.

In among the rules are a host of really vital things we have been railing against for years. It will, for example, ban the 'pre-ticked box' which has left many people saddled with extras they never wanted, and stop sites charging more for using a credit card than it costs the trader to process the credit card transaction. It means the outlandish credit card charge will become a thing of the past. It's genuinely great news
The headline rights are:

1) No more hidden charges
It will be illegal to set up a "cost trap", designed to trick people into paying for 'free' services, such as horoscopes or recipes. From now on, consumers must explicitly confirm that they understand that they have to pay a price. Frankly the most striking thing about this is that it hasn't already been outlawed.

2) Clarity about prices
Traders have to disclose the total cost of the product or service, as well as any extra fees. Online shoppers will not have to pay charges or other costs if they were not properly informed before they place an order. Again it's a shocker that this sort of thing could ever have been permissible.

3) Banning pre-ticked boxes on websites
When shopping online - for instance buying a plane ticket - you may be offered additional options during the purchase process, such as travel insurance or car rental. These additional services may be offered through so-called 'pre-ticked' boxes. Consumers are currently often forced to untick those boxes if they do not want these extra services. With the new Directive, pre-ticked boxes will be banned across the European Union. This is excellent news, and something that has been winding up consumers for years.

4) 14 Days to change your mind on a purchase
The period under which consumers can withdraw from a sales contract is extended to 14 days (compared to the seven days legally prescribed by EU law today). This means that consumers can return the goods for whatever reason if they change their minds - even when buying from an online auction (as long as it's from a professional seller). This period starts when the consumer receives the goods rather from the point of ordering it. When a seller hasn't clearly informed the customer about this right, the return period will be extended to a year.

5) Better refund rights
Traders must refund consumers for the product within 14 days of them changing their mind. This includes the costs of delivery. In general, the trader will bear the risk for any damage to goods during transportation, until the consumer takes possession of the goods.

6) A common form for changing your mind
Consumers will be provided with a model 'withdrawal' form which you can use to change your mind within the fourteen days.

7) An end to surcharges for credit cards
Traders will not be able to charge consumers more for paying by credit card (or other means of payment) than what it actually costs the trader to offer such means of payment.

8) An end to expensive hotlines
Traders who operate telephone hotlines allowing the consumer to contact them in relation to the contract will not be able charge more than the basic telephone rate for the telephone calls.

9) Clearer information on who pays for returning goods
If traders want the consumer to bear the cost of returning goods after they change their mind, they have to clearly inform consumers about that beforehand, otherwise they have to pay for the return themselves.

10) Better consumer protection in relation to digital products
Information on digital content will also have to be clearer, including about its compatibility with hardware and software and the application of any technical protection measures, for example limiting the right for the consumers to make copies of the content. Consumers will have a right to change their mind on purchases of digital content, such as music of video downloads, but only up until the moment the actual downloading process begins.

So what's the downside?
Within the rules it's hard to pick holes. So the only drawback is that naturally, being the EC, passing this Directive doesn't mean we'll have the protections in the immediate future. It needs to be approved this autumn, and then will be transposed into national laws in individual countries by the end of 2013, so we'll have to wait anything up to two and a half years before they apply.

In the interim, therefore, it still pays to be on your guard when dealing with someone you don't know over the internet.

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