New law means EU websites now have to sell to UK customers
UK shoppers can no longer be blocked from retailers' websites in other EU countries and will be entitled to the same discounts as locals, after a new regulation came into force this week.
The EU regulation aims to end unjustified 'geo-blocking' – a term for when online sellers deny consumers access to a website based on their location, or re-route them to a local store with different prices.
But this doesn't mean the trader has to set the same prices across all of its websites, or convert them for customers – instead, all of its websites must be accessible to all EU customers.
The regulation also means that if you're travelling in the EU and buy tickets in person, such as to a concert, theme park or sports event, you'll usually be entitled to pay the same price as a local – so if there's a discount for under-25s and you're under 25, you would be eligible.
The new rules are being enforced by each of the EU member states, and so the Competition and Markets Authority is responsible in the UK for now.
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What does the regulation mean?
An EU Commission survey found that only 37% of websites allowed customers from other EU countries to reach the final step before confirming their order.
EU regulation 2018/302 will now stop geo-blocking in three scenarios:
- When you buy goods without delivery. If you, as a UK customer, were to buy something on an Italian website, you'd be entitled to buy it at the same price as an Italian customer, and wouldn't be redirected back to a UK version of the site without your consent.
The Italian site wouldn't have to deliver the goods to your UK address, but you could arrange delivery yourself, or collect the item.
- When you buy a digital service. If you, as a UK customer, wanted to buy a hosting service from a Spanish company to allow your website to be accessible online, you will now have access to the service without having to pay additional fees.
Again, the Spanish company wouldn't be able to redirect you back to a UK version of its site without your consent.
- When you buy a service in a specific location, such as a concert ticket. If you, as a UK customer, attempt to buy a ticket to a theme park, concert or other event in France, you'll be entitled to the same discounts – such as a family discount – that would be offered to a French customer.
There can be some exceptions to the law, where an EU or national legal requirement obliges the trader to block access to the goods or services. For example, there may be a ban on selling alcohol to non-residents.
The regulation also means a trader can't discriminate over payment methods. While traders are still free to choose which payment methods they accept, they cannot refuse a payment on the grounds of where the customer is based.
For example, if a trader accepts a brand of payment card issued in Germany, it cannot refuse the same brand issued in the UK.
What will happen once we leave the EU?
The regulation is written into UK law, so should continue to be enforced after we leave the European Union on the 29 March
However, if we leave the European Union with 'no deal', the law could cease to have any effect.
What does the European Commission say?
Although the rule only came into force this week, it was actually passed earlier this year by the European Commission – the arm of the EU responsible for proposing legislation.
At the time, the commission's statement said: "The European Parliament voted to end unjustified discrimination when people shop online in the European Union. Banning unjustified geo-blocking is great news for consumers in Europe.
"Thanks to the European Parliament, another building block of the digital single market has been put in place delivering concrete benefits to citizens and businesses. It is a great step forward for e-commerce in Europe. We are encouraged that all EU institutions share a common vision on what the future of the digital single market will look like."
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