New EU rules that aim to provide more protection for shoppers, particularly when buying online, have moved a step closer.

The new EU Consumer Rights Directive has been formally adopted this month, following a vote backing the proposals in June (see the Shoppers to be protected MSE news story).

Key Points

  • EU consumer rights rules adopted but...
  • ... Government has two years to implement
  • Aim to better protect shoppers, particularly online

However, changes may not be seen in the UK yet, as governments have two years to implement the regulations at national level.

A key part of these rules includes eliminating card surcharges, where consumers have to pay an excessive fee when using a payment card.

The Office of Fair Trading is currently examining this practice, often adopted by budget airlines, and any changes it recommends could come into force before the EU directive does.

It wants clearer fees and a ban on debit card surcharges.

What are the new EU rules?

The new rules that aim to protect consumers are:

  • Elimination of card surcharges. Traders will not be able to charge consumers more for paying by credit or debit card (or other means of payment) than what it costs them to offer that payment method.

  • A ban on pre-ticked boxes on websites. When shopping online, for instance buying a plane ticket, consumers may be offered additional options during the purchase process, such as travel insurance or car rental. These additional services are often offered through pre-ticked boxes, which consumers are forced to un-tick if they don't want.

  • Increased price transparency. Online traders will 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 placed an order.

  • 14 days to return items. Consumers will legally be able to return goods if they change their mind up to 14 days from receiving them, up from the current seven days. This applies to internet, phone and mail order sales, as well as to sales outside shops, for example, on the doorstep. Consumers can also expect a full refund, including delivery costs, within 14 days of returning the item.

EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding says: "The new EU Consumer Rights Directive will strengthen consumer rights by outlawing internet fraudsters who trick people into paying for horoscopes or recipes that appear to be offered for free.

"Shoppers will no longer be trapped into buying unwanted travel insurance or car rentals when purchasing a ticket online. And everyone will have 14 days if they wish to return goods bought at a distance, whether by internet, post or phone."