ONE quick way to have the shine taken off your foreign summer holiday is to find on your return that you’ve been ripped off or goods you bought while away are faulty.
But all isn’t lost – Highland Council’s trading standards department has issued some timely advice on consumer rights for problems with purchases overseas, whether it’s a wonky watch, clapped-out camera, dodgy designer gear or dubious diamonds.
A spokesman said the law can be confusing as your rights as a consumer depend on where and how you bought the goods. If you bought goods whilst on holiday, then laws of that country will apply, but you may have additional rights if you bought goods using your credit card.
If you used the internet to buy goods from a trader based in another country then the laws of this country may apply. Either way, it can be difficult to make a claim.
When the trader is based overseas, trading standards urges you consider the following steps:
Try approaching the trader directly – an email complaint or telephone call may be enough to resolve the issue.
If this does not work, then consider sending a letter (with proof of delivery) to the trader setting out what the problem is and proposing a way to solve the problem. You can specify a time limit for a response but it should be reasonable depending on the time taken to deliver to the overseas destination. You may not be able to confirm that the letter has been received in some countries – check with the postal carrier before sending.
If a credit card was used to buy the goods or service and the amount in dispute is over £100, then contact your credit card provider. Under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 you can hold the credit card provider equally liable with the trader for a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This could include supplying faulty goods, non-delivery of goods or making false claims about goods. This protection extends to traders overseas and items bought when abroad.
If you are unhappy with the credit card provider’s response then you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If you use a debit card to buy goods or if you use a credit card and the price of the goods is less than £100, your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply but you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader’s bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract – goods are not delivered, are faulty or the trader has ceased trading for example – you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet and overseas transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.
In the event of a dispute, if you used a debit card or a credit card to service an online payment method (such as PayPal), it is unlikely that you will be able to use either the Consumer Credit Act 1974 or the chargeback scheme to claim from your card provider. However, PayPal has its own dispute resolution process which may assist you in getting your problem resolved.
If you follow the steps outlined and your dispute remains unresolved, there are other organisations which may be able to help. Some may not be able to offer you direct assistance in obtaining a remedy, but may just take the information for intelligence purposes in order to assist consumers as a whole.
Ultimately if you are still unable to resolve your complaint then you may need to consider legal action.
The UK European
Consumer Centre (ECC)
If you are resident in the UK and have a problem with a trader in any of the following countries then you can seek advice and support from the UK European Consumer Centre (ECC): Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
The UK ECC is part of the European Consumer Centre network and it can advise and assist in cross-border disputes, which involve a trader in another European Union member state. The UK ECC can also provide advice on alternative dispute resolution schemes and the European Small Claims Court procedure.
You can phone the UK ECC (relating to the purchase of goods only) on 08456 04 05 03, or email email@example.com
If you need advice or general information on consumer laws and rights when buying a service in another EU member state or need contact details for organisations that can help in a cross-border EU dispute, then the European Consumer Centre for Services (ECCS) can assist. You can phone and email the ECCS on 08456 08 94 94, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Both the UK ECC and the ECCS are run by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and consumers can also write to both organisations at 1 Sylvan Court, Sylvan Way, Southfields Business Park, Basildon, Essex, SS15 6TH.
United States and Canada
If you know the trader’s address, then you may wish to complain to the trader’s local Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBBs aim to make the marketplace fair and effective. Some BBBs offer intervention but most of them publish "reliability reports" on traders in their area. If you just want to notify the US government without seeking advice, to report a scam for example, then you can use the Federal Trade Commission’s online reporting assistant through www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/
To complain about a trader in the United States, go to the Better Business Bureau website at www.bbb.org/us/ and likewise to complain about a trader in Canada go to the Better Business Bureau Canada website at www.bbb.org/canada/
There is no central government agency/service that deals with consumer information/rights in Australia. Each territory within Australia has its own particular service. Therefore, before you complain it is best to find out where the trader or seller is based. A list of the relevant government websites is available from your local trading standards office.
Other countries may have a department which deals with consumer rights. Key words to look for are "consumer protection" or "trading". These departments may be part of a larger department dealing with competition issues, food safety, health or welfare. You may be able to obtain information on the right department to complain to from the UK based embassy for the relevant country.