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Unfair contract terms

Contract terms define the rights and duties of the parties who are bound by them. Standard contract terms facilitate commercial transactions and can also work to the advantage of consumers. In consumer contracts, sellers and suppliers possess a considerable advantage by defining the terms in advance that are not individually negotiated.

The Unfair Contract Terms Directive (1993/13/EEC) therefore introduces a notion of "good faith" in order to prevent significant imbalances in the rights and obligations of consumers on the one hand and sellers and suppliers on the other hand. This general requirement is supplemented by a list of examples of terms that may be regarded as unfair. Terms that are found unfair under the Directive are not binding for consumers. The Directive also requires contract terms to be drafted in plain and intelligible language and states that ambiguities will be interpreted in favour of consumers. Member States must make sure that effective means exist under national law to enforce these rights and that such terms are no longer used by businesses.

The Unfair Contract Terms Directive is one of 8 directives currently being analysed in the context of the Review of the consumer acquis.

EC Consumer Law Compendium: a Comparative Analysis and a database of the EU Consumer Law Acquis.

Report ES DA DE EL FR IT NL PT FI SV pdf from the Commission on the implementation of Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts, 27 April 2000

Proceedings of the Conference "The Unfair Terms Directive": 5 years on – 1-3 July 1999

The European Commission organised the conference "The Directive on « Unfair Terms », five years later - Evaluation and future perspectives". To give rise to an open discussion on the application of the Directive 93/13 on unfair terms in consumer contracts. The conference was an important step in helping the Commission to write the report on the application of the Directive that has to be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council.

The conference minutes consist of the speakers' interventions, the preparatory documents and the conclusions of the workshops as well as, in the attachments, the national reports written by the different contracting parties responsible for the collection and the analysis of the national "case law.

The content of these documents is the exclusive responsibility of their authors and binds by no means the European Commission.

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Table of contents pdf

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The integration of Directive 93/13 into the national legal systems pdf

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Workshops pdf

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Annexes pdf

Application de la Directive 93/13 aux prestations de service public. Rapport d'une étude par INC pdf, novembre 1997

For more information on the case law concerning unfair terms in consumer contracts please consult the the EU Consumer Law Acquis Database, which links the directives under the Review, relevant ECJ jurisprudence, national transposition measures as well as national case-law. Attention: The link will redirect you to an external website of the contractor.

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Consumer sales and guarantees

Sellers of consumer goods within the EU are obliged to guarantee the conformity of the goods with the contract for a period of two years after the delivery of the goods.

Certain standards exist for assessing when conformity can be assumed and when not. If the goods are not delivered in conformity with the sales contract, consumers can ask for the goods to be repaired, replaced, and reduced in price or for the contract to be rescinded. The final seller, who is responsible to the consumer, can also hold the producer liable in their business relationship.

This is regulated in the Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees.

The Directive aims to harmonise those parts of consumer sale contract law that concern legal guarantees (warranties) and, to a lesser extent, commercial guarantees.

Member States can require consumers to inform the seller of the lack of conformity within two months after its discovery. A commercial guarantee must be clearly drafted and indicate what rights it gives on top of consumers' legal guarantees.

Commission Communication BG CS DA DE ET EL EN ES FR IT LV LT HU MT NL PL PT RO SK SL FI SV pdf on the Implementation of the Directive on Sale of Consumer Goods and Guarantees.

The purpose of the communication is to examine how Member States have implemented the Directive. It includes an analysis of the case for introducing direct producers’ liability.

This communication forms part of the process of reviewing the consumer acquis.

EC Consumer Law Compendium: a Comparative Analysis and a database of the EU Consumer Law Acquis.

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Distance selling

The aim of EU legislation in the field of distance selling is to put consumers who purchase goods or services through distance communication means in a similar position to consumers who buy goods or services in shops. "Distance communication means" include traditional means of distance of communication, such as press adverts accompanied by order forms, catalogue sales, telephone. It also covers more technologically advanced means of distance communication such as teleshopping, mobile phone commerce (m-commerce), and the use of the internet (e-commerce).

Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997 on the Protection of Consumers in respect of Distance Contracts, applies to any consumer distance contract made under the law of an EU-Member State. It provides a number of fundamental legal rights for consumers in order to ensure a high level of consumer protection throughout the EU.

The Directive applies to most contracts where a consumer and a supplier running an organised distance-selling scheme do not meet face-to-face at any stage until after the contract has been concluded.

According to the Directive the following consumer rights, among others, need to be respected:

  • Provision of comprehensive information before the purchase
  • Confirmation of that information in a durable medium (such as written confirmation)
  • Consumer's right to cancel the contract within a minimum of 7 working days without giving any reason and without penalty, except the cost of returning the goods (right of withdrawal)
  • Where the consumer has cancelled the contract, the right to a refund within 30 days of cancellation
  • Delivery of the goods or performance of the service within 30 days of the day after the consumer placed his order
  • Protection from unsolicited selling
  • Protection from fraudulent use of payment cards

Some types of contracts are excluded from all the provisions of the Directive, for instance, contracts for financial services and contracts concluded through an auction.

Other types of contracts are excluded from the core provisions of the Directive, such as the provision of comprehensible information before the purchase and the right to cancel the contract. These include contracts for services to be performed on a specific date or within a specific period such as hotel room bookings, travel or concert tickets.

There are also some exemptions from the right of withdrawal. These will apply unless the consumer and supplier agree otherwise. These exemptions cover, for instance, goods made to the consumer's specifications and perishable goods.

The Distance Selling Directive is one of 8 directives currently being analysed in the context of the Review of the consumer acquis.

EC Consumer Law Compendium: a Comparative Analysis and a database of the EU Consumer Law Acquis.

Commission Communication on the Implementation of the Distance Selling Directive.

The purpose of the Communication is to examine how Member States have implemented the Directive. All interested parties were invited to submit replies to the Commission by 21 November 2006. The Commission has made available the replies to the consultation and a short summary of the responses pdf.

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Doorstep/Direct selling

Outcome of the consultation on the possible revision of the Directive.

During extensive consultations with stakeholders, the Commission received feedback stressing the need of the revision of the existing Directive.

Special protection rules exist for EU consumers who conclude contracts with traders for goods and services made at the doorstep, in the consumer's home, at his place of work or during an excursion organised by a trader for consumers. Directive 85/577/EEC aims to protect the consumer in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises

The Directive provides for a withdrawal period of no less than seven days enabling the consumer to cancel the contract
It does not apply to contracts for :

  • the sale of land
  • the supply of food, drink and other goods intended for current consumption in the household and supplied by regular deliverymen
  • certain contracts concluded on the basis of a trader's catalogue
  • insurance contracts
  • contracts for securities

Some of the problems stem from the differences in consumer protection in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises between the Member States. There is also a possible need for simplifying and updating the current rules to address concrete problems of application of the Directive.

The Direct Selling Directive is one of 8 directives included in the Review of the consumer acquis.

Questions raised in the Direct Selling consultation document focus on issues which are specific to the sector, such as the application of exemptions and their possible need for a revision. Horizontal issues which cut across the acquis, such as definitions, are not dealt with in this document unless they concern aspects particular to direct selling.

The consultation on the Direct Selling Directive was closed on 4 December 2007.

The outcome of the consultation is presented in this summary of responses pdf.

List of responses to the public consultation.

Brief overview DE FR

EC Consumer Law Compendium: a Comparative Analysis and a database of the EU Consumer Law Acquis.

Study on Door to Door Selling - Pyramid Selling - Multi Level Marketing DE FR

The Study was completed in November 1999 in the English language. It is in two volumes. Volume I ' Outline of a Possible Approach to Regulation pdf' and Volume II 'Analysis pdf' .

DISCLAIMER: This Study has been produced by an outside contractor for the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection and represents the contractors views on the matter. These views have not been adopted nor in any way approved by the Commission and should not be relied upon as a statement of the Commissions' views or those of the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Protection. The European Commission does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this Study nor does it accept responsibility for any use made thereof.
COPYRIGHT: © European Commission 1999

Report of the Hearing on 15-16 March 2000 on Door to Door selling - Pyramid selling - Multi level marketing DE FR pdf

Intended closure of Complaint No 2003/4297 - Geplante Einstellung der Beschwerde Nr. 2003/4297pdf.

Published on 16-07-2009 - Veröffentlicht am 16-07-2009

The deadline mentioned in Point 22 has expired - Die in Punkt 22 erwähnte Frist ist abgelaufen

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Price indication

The Commission has made available the replies to the public consultation and a short summary of the responses PDF.

This follows the Commission Communication on the Implementation of the Unit Prices Directive 1998/6/EC. CS ES DA DE EL ET FR HU IT LT LV MT NL PL PT SK SL FI SV PDF

The purpose of the Communication was to examine how Member States had implemented the Directive. All interested parties were invited to submit replies to the Commission by 1 September 2006.

The «Unit Prices Directive» obliges traders to indicate the selling price and the price per unit of measurement on all the products which they offer to consumers. The aim is to improve consumer information and facilitate price comparison.

This information must be unambiguous, clearly legible and easily identifiable. If advertising mentions the selling price it must also indicate the unit price. For products sold in bulk, only the unit price must be indicated.

However, for some small retail businesses and for certain forms of itinerant trade, the obligation to indicate the unit price may be an excessive burden. In such cases the national authorities may stipulate that the obligation to indicate the unit price of products, other than those sold in bulk, shall not apply for a transitional period from March 2000 onwards.

Directive 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 16 February 1998 on consumer protection in the indication of the prices of products offered to consumers.

Appraisal of Unit Prices Directive

An Appraisal of the Unit Prices Directive is available. This Appraisal was undertaken by EIM Business and Policy Research, "the contractor", for DG Health and Consumer Protection and was completed in August 2004. It represents the contractor's views. These views have not been adopted, or in any way approved, by the Commission and should not be relied upon as a statement of the Commission's or Health and Consumer Protection DG's views. The European Commission does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in the Appraisal, nor does it accept responsibility for any use made thereof.

Disclaimer: The responses to the public consultation have not been adopted or in any way approved by the Commission and should not be relied upon as a statement of the Commission's or Health & Consumer Protection DG's views. The European Commission does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in these responses, nor does it accept responsibility for any use made thereof.

EC Consumer Law Compendium: a Comparative Analysis and a database of the EU Consumer Law Acquis.

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