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Hate hidden fees and extra charges? They will be a thing of the past.

New legislation that boosts consumer rights comes into effect.

Image: online shopping via Shutterstock

NEW LEGISLATION AIMED at protecting consumer rights comes into effect today.

It forms part of a board range of reforms implemented by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, to update laws to reflect new trends in retail

Under the European Union (Consumer Information, Cancellation and Other Rights) Regulations 2013, hidden fees and charged will be banned, as well as “pre-ticked boxes” whereby customers are automatically opted-in to certain services.

Minister Richard Bruton said that the “rapid growth of online trading poses particular challenges”.

“It is important that our laws evolve quickly to provide proper protections for consumers in these arenas,” he said.

The Minister added that Irish customers already spend as much as €4 billion each year online.

The government outlines the main changes as follows:

Cancellation rights: The Directive provides for an extension of the “cooling-off” period. Under existing legislation, consumers had at least seven days from the date on which they received an online order to cancel the contract and receive a refund without having to give a reason. The new legislation extends this period to 14 days.

Right of withdrawal for digital purchases: Consumers who purchase music, films, and books in digital format can avail of the cooling-off period for the first time. However, this will only extend up to the moment the consumer consents to the actual downloading process beginning. Consumers must also be advised in advance as to the compatibility of digital content and any technical restrictions (such as a limit on the consumer’s right to copy the content).

Ban on hidden fees and charges: Traders will be obliged to disclose the total cost of a good or service, including any extra fees, before the consumer places an order. Online shoppers will not have to pay charges or additional costs if they were not properly informed about these in advance.

Ban on surcharges: Traders will not be permitted to charge card fees that exceed the actual cost of processing a debit or credit card payment. In addition, where the trader operates a hotline, it will no longer be permissible to charge more than the basic telephone rate for calls.

Clearer information on the cost of returning unwanted goods: Where consumers avail of the cooling-off period, they must cover the cost of returning the unwanted items. Under the new Directive, traders must clearly inform consumers of this beforehand; otherwise they will have to cover the return costs themselves. If the items are bulky or difficult to transport, the trader must also provide an estimate of return costs in advance so that the consumer can make an informed decision.

Ban on pre-ticked boxes: The new Directive bans pre-ticked boxes across the EU. Where consumers wish to avail of additional services offered by a trader (such as insurance or car hire), they must explicitly opt in by selecting the appropriate box. Traders will no longer be permitted to tick these boxes in advance. This aims to ensure that consumers do not unwittingly pay for services that they do not need.

Read: Consumer agency wants to make contracts fairer >

More: ‘A powerful watchdog with real teeth’ – Ireland to get a new consumer body >