A visit to the London Games
London, the host city for the 2012 Olympic Games, will undoubtedly be inundated with sports enthusiasts from all over the world.
Whoever will be visiting London during these days will surely be tempted to buy various types of products and services. What consumers are not always aware of is that when we buy goods from a foreign country, it is the consumer protection laws of the country that apply if something goes wrong.
The European Commission felt the need to put together a webpage ( http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/health_consumer/london_2012/index_en.htm ) that contains key consumer tips on how to avoid any hassle when travelling, staying and shopping in London.
This webpage was established in partnership with Europe Direct, the commission’s information service, the UK Citizens Advice Bureau and the Network of European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net)
Travel and accommodation
Travellers departing from an EU airport should be aware that, legally, they are protected by the Denied Boarding Regulations in cases of delays, cancellations or denied boarding. Disabled and less mobile passengers have specific rights when using air travel. The law specifies the help these passengers should receive, not only during the flight, but throughout the air travel process.
This assistance should start from the very first stage of booking flights, arriving at the airport, checking in, getting on and off the plane, and leaving the airport.
Should we decide to book our accommodation online, we need to know that once the booking is made, we do not have any cooling-off period. In other words, there is no way back. In fact, accommodation booked on the internet is not covered by the Distance Selling Regulations.
When booking accommodation online, we should also know that, legally, the web trader must at least provide us with the name of the trader and geographical address, besides the e-mail address. An acknowledgement of the order must also be sent.
If accommodation is booked through a travel agency, it should be exactly as promised by the agency. Otherwise, we may be entitled to compensation.
If our baggage is delayed, lost or damaged, we should know that under the Montreal Convention 1999, the airline may be liable for damages.
With regards to delayed baggage, there are no set rules how airlines should address claims. Airlines are only obliged to cover essential, unavoidable expenditure resulting from the delay to delivery of the baggage. Baggage delayed for more than 21 days is considered lost and airlines should settle such claims on that basis.
For lost baggage, airlines usually request that claims are accompanied by a list of the items that were in the missing bag, and possibly original receipts backing up the claim.
This is, in fact, what insurance companies ask for when receiving such claims.
At this point it is worth mentioning that having a travel insurance policy may help us get a better settlement when we face such problems during our trip.
Damaged baggage is also covered by the Montreal Convention. In this case, the amount of compensation is usually based on the value of the damaged bag or on any of its damaged contents.
Claims related to baggage need to be reported to the airline before leaving the airport. When making such claims, we should be given a copy of the Property Irregularity Report. Then we will need to file an official complaint with the airline.
Buying tickets for sports events
Visiting London to see the Olympic Games naturally entails buying tickets to watch specific sports events. The London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG) has put several measures in place to help consumers buy tickets from authorised sources.
One of these is a website checker on the official London 2012 web-site (www.tickets.london2012.com). Consumers can use this to check if a site is an authorised ticket reseller or not. This checker is available at www.london2012.com/about-this-website/ticketing-website-checker.php.
The official London 2012 website has a non-exhaustive list of ‘known unauthorised websites’ claiming to offer London 2012 tickets. Hence, it is worth double-checking that the seller is genuine before forking out any money for useless tickets.
Like in any other EU member country, goods sold in the UK must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and as described. Consumers who buy goods that do not meet these criteria are entitled to a remedy which may be in the form of repair or replacement.
If neither of these two remedies is possible within reasonable time or without inconvenience, we may ask for a refund or a price reduction. The minimum two years’ legal protection also applies to goods purchased from the UK.
On the other hand, when the goods are not faulty, we have no legal right to return them to the seller and claim a replacement or refund from the seller. However, most companies have returns policies that give added benefits to consumers.
Hence, prior to purchase, we should check with each individual store what its after-sales policies are. Ideally, we get these policies confirmed in writing on the receipt.
Prices must be clearly displayed, inclusive of VAT charges. Extra charges should also be displayed. On most goods and services, a 20 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged in the UK.
European Health Insurance Card
To access state healthcare in the UK at reduced fees or for free, European citizens are strongly advised to get their free European Health Insurance Card. As European citizens, this card gives us access to healthcare services in all of the EU’s 27 member states, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. When we travel with this health card, we are entitled to the same public sector healthcare as the citizens of the country we are visiting.
Maltese citizens can collect an application for this card from the Entitlement Unit within the Ministry of Health, the Elderly and Community Care, or from any local council. One may also apply online on at www.ehealth.gov.mt if one has an e-ID. In Malta this card has to be renewed every three years.
Having a European Health Insurance Card does not mean we no longer need to purchase a travel insurance policy. This card does not cover the cost of bringing us back to Malta in case of a serious illness, accident or death.
Furthermore, in some countries, even with the European Health Insurance Card, we may still have to pay large medical bills and these may only be reimbursed through a travel insurance policy.
Ms Vella is senior information officer, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.