Credit card surcharges & premium-rate phone lines set to go in consumer rights revolution

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People who buy from door-to-door salesmen will be given the right to cancel any purchases within 14 days – doubling the current cooling-off period.

Under the plans airlines and other retailers that hit customers with credit card charges after they have filled in pages of information online will be banned from doing so.

Any online retailer who charges customers a credit card charge after they have filled in their details will be banned from doing so in new plans for a shake up in consumer rights

In addition, anyone who calls a firm to discuss an existing order must be allowed to use a basic-rate phone line. The move will put an end to the practice of companies charging premium prices for complaint hotlines and ripping them off twice over.

Retailers will be also be barred from trying to trick customers into buying extras such as travel insurance when they shop online. Websites will be prevented from automatically ticking boxes for such items, meaning customers will have to opt-in for the charges.

Retailers will also be expected to deliver items within 30 days.

The proposals are contained in a Consumer Rights Directive that will introduce the same rules across the European Union. Consumer affairs minister Norman Lamb will announce a public consultation on Monday to establish how it will be implemented in the UK. A separate consultation on credit card surcharges was launched earlier in the year, and is expected to report back soon.

‘Many people will have been ripped off at some point by hidden online charges while booking a holiday, premium-rate helplines when returning a purchase, or extra credit card fees if you don’t use your debit card,’ Mr Lamb said. ‘The Consumer Rights Directive will put an end to certain bad business practices and help consumers make well-informed decisions when buying products or services.

‘It will also boost business confidence, setting out clearer rules and responsibilities and cutting red tape.’
The plans also contain protection for small businesses. In future, customers who want to return a product would be expected to return it within 14 days and traders will be obliged to issue a refund only once this has been done.

Currently, online and telesales companies are required to refund customers who withdraw from a contract within 30 days, even if the faulty or unwanted product has not yet got back to them.

The new rules are designed to help smaller retailers such as eBay sellers whose cash flow suffers badly in these situations.

Rules dictating who pays the cost of returning items will also be made clearer; retailers will no longer be liable to refund the extra costs if a customer requests express delivery. Changes to rules on premium-rate phone lines will force a huge shift in behaviour for high street firms and even the Government. Many use 084 and 087 numbers, which presently include a ‘service charge’ that rewards the company being called.

Five-minute calls to 084 numbers cost up to 63p for landline callers, £2.05 from mobiles and £1.40 for those using public telephones, with organisations that invite the public to call such lines include Sky, British Airways and HM Revenue and Customs.


Paul Jones

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine, and head of Capital Business Media's automotive division working for clients such as Aston Martin and Infiniti.

Editor of Business Matters, the UKs largest business magazine, and head of Capital Business Media's automotive division working for clients such as Aston Martin and Infiniti.