The Directive on Consumer Rights (2011/83/EC) will replace the Directive on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts (97/7/EC) and the Directive to protect consumer in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises (85/577/EEC) as of 13 June 2014.
The purpose of the Directive is to harmonise consumer protection laws across EU Member States and to remove the barriers to the cross-border sale of goods and services erected differing national laws. To achieve this goal, the Directive limits the degree to which Member States may use national legislation to improve or lessen the protection of consumers. It is expected that harmonising consumer protection laws will increase trade between the Member States.
Consumer protection has been a widely discussed area in Finland. The Directive on Consumer Rights will cause substantial changes to the Finnish Consumer Protection Act, some of which benefit the trader to the detriment of the Finnish consumer. The most significant amendments of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act relate to the consumer’s right to return goods purchased in distance or off-premises sales and to the trader’s obligation to provide information to the consumer.
According to the Finnish Consumer Protection Act’s current language, the consumer has a mandatory right to return at no charge products purchased via the Internet or other distance selling methods. In contrast, according to Article 14 of the Directive, the consumer will be liable for the direct cost of returning products unless the trader has agreed to bear them or the trader has failed to inform the consumer that he or she is responsible for the return costs. Hence, in the future the Finnish consumer will no longer have the right to return products for free unless specifically agreed with the trader. Notwithstanding that, it is possible that traders will continue to provide free returns for consumers in Finland.
Moreover, it is noteworthy that the Directive on Consumer Rights imposes an obligation on the consumer to notify the trader when returning a product. At the moment, the Finnish Consumer Protection legislation recognises the mere act of returning goods as a notification of the return. In the future, that will not be sufficient to constitute a notification of return within the meaning of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act. The Directive on Consumer Rights introduces a model withdrawal form for this purpose. However, the consumer’s notification does not need any special form to be valid.
The period during which consumers may withdraw from a sales contract will be extended to 14 calendar days from only 7 calendar days by the Directive on Consumer Rights. However, this will not affect Finnish consumers as the Finnish Consumer Act currently provides the consumer with a withdrawal period of 14 calendar days.
As to the obligations of the trader, the Directive on Consumer Rights imposes an extensive duty on the trader to provide information to the consumer prior to the purchase in distance or off-premises sales. At the moment the Finnish Consumer Protection Act only includes a more general list of details of which the consumer must be notified, including the trader’s name and address. In the future, the trader will have to inform the consumer of, among other things, the total costs of the purchase (including taxes and delivery costs, if possible), digital compatibility of products, as well as the rights and obligations of the consumer.
In addition, the Directive on Consumer Rights has entailed some additional amendments to the provisions of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act concerning the passing of the liability for risk and delay, for example. Moreover, the rules for consumer marketing will also be made more specific.
The Directive on Consumer Rights has been implemented in Finland on schedule. Consequently, the amendments of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act will enter into force as of 13 June 2014.