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Consumer Protection Laws on Online and Telephone Purchases Strengthened

The Spanish Cabinet has in the past week agreed on new legislation to be presented to Parliament for it’s approval that will strengthen consumer rights relating to contracts for the purchase of goods and services that are concluded at distance. A contract is said to be concluded at distance if the transaction takes place  either over the phone or by internet, or is said to have been concluded outside of the commercial enterprise’s establishment.

The law will implement European Regulation 2011/83/EU which takes note of the increase in purchases being made by consumers over the internet and consequently the need to protect the rights of consumers in this regard.

The Spanish government noted that in Spain alone, in 2012, there were 350,000 complaints made by Consumers Associations on behalf of individual consumers regarding utilities such as telecommunication, energy, water and insurance products.

Implementation of the new legislation will eliminate anomalies in European legislation regulating consumer rights and will improve legal certainty for both consumers and the businesses that sell to them.

Principal Changes

  • To avoid hidden charges, the company selling to the consumer must display the final price before the transaction is concluded. Should the consumer not receive the final price from the beginning of the transaction, they may recover any difference.
  • The commercial entity may not make additional charges for the use of specific methods of payment – such as credit cards – over and above the actual cost to the commercial entity of using such methods of payment.
  • The period during which a consumer may decide to return the product and thus terminate the contract is extended to 14 days from 7 days. If this right to return is not made clear to the consumer by the company during the sales process, the period is extended to 12 months from the date of purchase.
  • If a company provides a telephone number to facilitate communication with consumers it cannot result in charges over and above the standard tariff.
  • Where a sales call is made by  a commercial entity to a consumer, the nature of the call as well as the identity of the caller  must be made clear at the beginning of the call.
  • A sale by telephone will only every be concluded once the consumer’s agreement is verified in writing either in writing, by fax, email or SMS text.
  • Where a purchase is made in the course of a promotional excursion or event, it shall be considered to have taken place outside of the commercial enterprise’s establishment, and therefore subject to the enhanced protection afforded to consumers under the new legislation.
  • Anyone selling a product or service via internet or telephone must advise the purchaser as to the existence of any legal guarantee relating to any goods so acquired.

The reforms, while broadly welcomed, have also been criticised by the OCU consumers association that points to the lack of sanctions available to penalise companies who do not comply with the new legislation. The new legislation will now be debated in Parliament before final approval and entry into law.

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