Legal guarantees in Europe
The legal guarantee, which every consumer in the EU is entitled to, has been introduced in certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods.
Update: Feb 2015
The legal basis is the directive 1999/44/EC - a minimum harmonisation directive which takes into account pre-existing rules in several Member States providing a higher level of protection for consumers with regard to the non-conformity of goods.
Understanding these national differences is important when it comes to cross border trade as sellers will tend to apply the legislation of their own country, unless they target specific countries through online sales or other distance selling means and have developed country specific after sales services.
The main differences in the application of Directive 1999/44/EC in the various EU between the Member States, Iceland and Norway concern:
On many occasions the seller redirected the consumer to the producer, even for application of the legal guarantee.
The Directive offers a 2-year legal guarantee of conformity, from the date that the item was delivered to the consumer. Most countries have implemented a 2-year guarantee of conformity but six countries apply a longer duration, with 4 of them taking into account the expected lifespan of the product. In 14 countries the time limit can be reduced for second-hand products but cannot be less than 1 year.
The directive permits member States to impose a notification deadline, but it cannot be shorter than 2 months. 12 countries have transposed the 2-months deadline, while 18 countries decided not to adopt a firm time limit of 2 months. Out of these countries, 15 specify that the consumer should act within a reasonable time frame of noticing the lack of conformity.
12 countries decided that during repair or replacement the 2-year duration of the legal guarantee is suspended and resumes as soon as the consumer receives the repaired or replacement item.
In principle, in any legal dispute, the party who claims the application of a right must prove their case. Exceptionally, this burden of proof can be reversed. All Member States introduced this burden of proof reversal into their national laws in favour of consumers. 5 member States went further by extending the normal 6-months duration. In 9 out of the 53 consumer cases (16.98%) the seller would refuse the returned item. The consumer would be redirected to the producer or one of the brand's official repair centres, and his/her complaint under the legal guarantee would be refused.
Quite often a defect does not occur right away but only after the consumer has used the item for some time. If the item is replaced, it is to the consumer’s advantage as they receive a new item. However, even though the Directive anticipates the replacement to be free of charge, the seller may consider that these circumstances entitle him/her to compensation. This issue is not covered by the Directive and Member States are therefore free to impose national rules. In 8 countries, the seller is allowed to ask the consumer for compensation for the time he/she had use of an item that later turned out to be defective.
The report has also looked into other legal guarantees foreseen by national law coexisting with the legal guarantee of non-conformity introduced by Directive 1999/44/EC such as the legal guarantees against hidden defects for example.
Here, you will find the full report of the ECC-NET.
If you want to get a general overview regarding legal guarantees and commercial warranties in a specific country, the ECC-Net summarises the situation in each of the participating countries in a country fact sheet that you can find on our European map.
To help you find your way around commercial warranties and reach a deal which benefits you, you can use the check lists also included in the Europe map before subscribing, especially for warranties involving costs.
Since commercial warranties have become an integral part of marketing and since such offers must be made in accordance with consumers' rights under the legal guarantee of conformity which applies to every product sold to a consumer in every EU Member State, Iceland and Norway, the ECC-Net has also developed check lists which allow sellers to make sure that their commercial warranties meet requirements.
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