The 14-Day Cooling Off Period – What You Need to Know

consumer-rights-SpainThe EU consumer directive on distance selling includes a cooling off period from 14 days. Know exactly what’s covered, and more importantly what isn’t.

The rules class a sale not made on company premises as a distance purchase. These distance purchases includes door-to-door sales, phone sales, catalogue orders and online purchases.

The 14-day cooling off period starts to count from the day that you receive the goods or sign a contract, but if the period ends on a non-working day then it is extended until the nearest working day. If the seller hasn’t clearly informed you about your rights to withdraw from the purchase then this return period is extended to one year.

If you exercise your right to withdraw from the purchase, a refund must be made within 14 days of returning your goods including basic delivery costs – if you opted for a more expensive delivery option, this won’t be refunded.

How Should I Return Goods and Inform the Company?

Remember that it is not enough simply to return goods, you must inform the company of your decision to withdraw from the purchase; in Spanish this is called your Derecho de Desistimiento. However you do not have to give a reason for the return or service cancellation.

The company must make template letter available (based on a standard EU form) that can be used to cancel any contract or withdraw from a purchase. Normally this form will be shown online, or included in the package when you receive goods. In the case of door-to-door and telephone sales the company could either supply the template on paper or send it to you by email. Legally you are not obliged to use the trader’s template letter, but it’s usually quicker and easier to do so.

Some traders may request that you indicate from a list the reason for the return. Although you don’t have to give a reason if you’ve simply changed your mind, in the case of faulty goods that are not normally accepted for refund you should make this clear.

Based on the information available from the EU, here are the details required for a basic withdrawal from purchase letter:

  1. To (company name, geographical address, fax number and/or e-mail address).
  2. I/We hereby give notice that I/we withdraw from my/our contract of sale of the following goods / for the provision of the following service ________.
  3. Ordered on _______/ received on _________
  4. Name of consumer(s)
  5. Address of consumer(s)
  6. Signature of consumer(s) (only if this form is notified on paper)
  7. Date

The only points you’ll need in Spanish are 2 and 3:

2   Por la presente, les informo sobre de mi intención de acogerme a mi derecho de desistimiento dentro del plazo legal establecido para el mismo para la venta de los siguientes productos / provisión de los siguientes servicios ____________

3   El pedido se realizó el día _________________ y se recibió el pedido el día ___________

Which Goods or Services Aren’t Covered?

Some goods or services are exempt from the new law including:

  • Plane, train, concert tickets and hotel bookings
  • Regular deliveries of food and drink
  • Goods made to order or clearly personalised (such as a made-to-measure suit)
  • Sealed DVDs, Blu-ray, videogames which you have opened
  • Purchases from private sellers
  • Urgent repairs (eg plumber)
  • Financial services that depend on currency fluctuations
  • Perishable goods (such as foodstuffs)
  • Health and hygiene goods (eg shavers) when the packaging has been opened.
  • Goods sold at public auctions
  • Daily newspapers or magazines (except for subscriptions)
  • Alcoholic drinks that have fluctuating market prices when the price has been agreed upon sale and that cannot be delivered before 30 days.
  • Goods that form part of a set and cannot be sold individually.

Remember that these exceptions do not refer to faulty goods that can always be returned (see our article on Consumer Rights). However if you use goods and then change your mind you cannot simply request a refund as companies must receive returned goods in pristine condition, although it is accepted that the packaging must have been opened to inspect the contents (e.g. clothing) .

If you contract a service and specifically request that it commence before the 14-day period ends (for example a telecoms service), be aware that even though you still have the right to cancel you will be liable for any services delivered during that period.

What Can Go Wrong?

Some companies may try to charge you for returns. In this case it must be made clear on the website, or from the salesperson, all associated costs but these cannot be abusive towards the customer. This could be the case with bulky items such as furniture, and is especially the case with smaller vendors that could find it difficult to cover the cost of returns – remember to check beforehand. If there is no mention of any additional cost then the vendor cannot charge you once you’ve informed them about your intention to withdraw from the contract.

Another issue is that of personalised goods. The UK press has stated that the new directive reduces consumer rights in this area, for example when buying fitted kitchens or new windows, leaving consumers vulnerable. It is vital to remember that unless manufacture has actually commenced then a company cannot refuse to cancel the contract during the cooling off period. Notwithstanding this, there will always be unscrupulous traders who will try to get round the law – in order to keep these cases to a minimum companies will have to provide proof that manufacture started before the 14-day period ended because the customer specifically requested this. It is essential to check the small print in any contract and not take the word of the salesperson regarding your cancellation rights.

Who Can Help You With Issues?

If you encounter any problems and the company is unwilling to help then your first action should be to visit your local Municipal Consumer Office (Oficina Municipal del Consumidor – OMIC). They will be able to advise you free of charge, but remember to take along all your paperwork such as delivery note, purchase withdrawal letter and contract (if applicable).

If you decide to submit an official complaint, not all regions in Spain use an online system for Official Claims Forms, your local OMIC should be able to advise you.

If you need to take the matter to court, for any claims under 2000€ only a verbal hearing is necessary and no lawyer is required. A template for verbal hearings can requested from your local courthouse.

MSS Tip

With door-to-door sales never hand over any cash. If you do this the company can claim that the deposit paid was to start manufacture and, in the case of bespoke goods, you could have problems if you change your mind before the end of the cooling off period.

If you don’t understand a contract don’t sign it there and then, ask the salesperson to return and get someone to check it over for you.

The UK Government offers a guide aimed mainly at traders but it’s useful for consumers to read too.

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