Graham Watson MEP

Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar

A local champion with an international reputation

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Consumer Rights

One of the biggest advantages of Britain being an active member of the European Union is the rights citizens have when travelling, trading, purchasing or selling their products within the EU. Because the UK is a full member of the EU, we are not only able to sell our products onto the single market, but can also play a major role in shaping the legislation on product safety and the regulation of industries.

Sir Graham assists hundreds of constituents every year who have had problems with the purchasing of services, products or property from somewhere within the European Union. Whilst the EU has little competency over property issues, which are largely legal in their nature, Graham has successfully helped many constituents with explaining their rights as a consumer in the purchase of products and services.

Below are the areas where the EU plays a key role in consumer rights

Product Safety

- If a dangerous product is found within the EU market, the RAPEX system immediately alerts national authorities of the threat, who then pass the warning onto the media and retailers to take the product off the shelves and remove them from the market.
- Through EU free trade deals with major manufacturers such as China and Indonesia, more is being done to make governments aware of product safety and ensuring that all products arriving within the EU market are safe.
- There are powers to prohibit the import of products which contain certain chemicals or materials which could be harmful. This ensures products such as children's toys do not make it to consumers.

Product Guarantees

- Under directive 1999/44/EC, a two year guarantee applies to the sale of all consumer goods everywhere in the EU. However, due to the way this directive was incorporated into UK law by Parliament, there are some issues which are a grey area which means that you may not be entitled to a full refund or exchange.
- The grey area is normally surrounding the period of return by the retailer, normally one year compared to the manufacturer's guarantee of two years.
- In general, so long as the product is returned within two months of the fault occurring, and the fault has not been created through breakage or misuse you should be entitled to some form of refund or exchange under the EU directive.

Financial Services and Consumer Credit

- Under EU law, there is now a 'cooling off' period for consumers to withdraw with no obligation from insurance or pension policies within the first 14 to 30 days depending on the type of policy.
- EU law has also been enacted to provide consumers with some minimum rights over consumer credit (eg cars, furniture, holidays etc). These include the right to early repayment and the amount of information you are entitled to receive.

Price Transparency

- All purchases, regardless of the EU country, is all inclusive. This means that you do not have to repay VAT or add import duties when you return to the UK. Whereas purchases from outside the EU are subject to these charges. This includes all purchases over the phone, the internet or by post as well as shops and dealerships.
- All goods, including loose items such as vegetables or petrol, must have their unit price displayed (eg price per kilo or litre). This ensures consumers can get the best value for money on products they purchase.

Unfair Contract terms

- It is EU law that has helped strengthen the law on aggressive sales practices, misleading advertising and aggressive practices by tradesmen.

Package Holidays

- As a citizen of the European Union, you are entitled to certain rights when you purchase a package holiday from any EU based company.
- Any company is obliged to provide accurate information on your accommodation, prices, transfers and insurance requirements. If your holiday was not what was offered in the brochure, you are entitled to compensation.
- If the tour operator goes bankrupt or is taken into administration, it must have the mechanisms in place to bring you home.

Timeshares

- As with pensions or insurance policies, anyone who signs a timeshare deal has, under EU law, a 'cooling off' period of 10 days to withdraw from the agreement. During this time, it is illegal for a company to ask for money from you.
- In order to guarantee EU timeshare rights, the agreement must be at least three years and entitle you to a minimum stay of one week each year.
- As with the signing of any legal agreement, it is recommended that you gather as much information as possible and, if necessary, seek legal advice before signing, particularly when dealing with issues such as maintenance costs and the level of ownership of the property and land.

Air Travel

- Under EU regulation EC/261/2004, passengers travelling within the European Union are entitled to certain rights if your flight is delayed, cancelled or overbooked.
- Depending on the level of delay to the flight, you may be entitled to refreshments or accommodation at a nearby hotel. If the flight is severely delayed you will also be entitled to access to a phone or computer to communicate with.
- If a flight is cancelled, you are immediately entitled to either a full refund for free transfer onto another flight to the same destination.
- You can also claim compensation for lost luggage on a flight by an EU based airline, anywhere in the world.
- To avoid a costly and lengthy court case, every Member State of the European Union has set up an independent national body to deal with passenger grievances. Visit www.europedirect.europa.eu for more information.

Food Safety

- European regulations on food safety are some of the most robust in the world. A 'farm to fork' approach of monitoring, tracing and strict hygiene standards are in place at every level of food production.
- From better animal welfare conditions to the analysing by the European Food Safety Authority ensures that safety is the top priority of food manufacturers and producers.
- EU food labelling laws have been established to provide a standard set of labelling to make it easier for consumers to know a products origin, sell by and consume by dates, methods used in its preparation and the types of food stuffs which are contained within the product (eg caffeine, nuts and GM based products.)

What to do if you have a problem

The online based problem solving network SOLVIT is a useful tool if you have a cross border consumer problem. In addition to issues over the purchase of goods and services, SOLVIT also offers advice over resident permits and car registration.

Please visit www.ec.europa.eu/solvit/site/index_en.htm for more information.