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New developments in consumer legislation

As from July 1, the improved EU Package Travel Directive will extend its scope to cover different types of package holidays.

As from July 1, the improved EU Package Travel Directive will extend its scope to cover different types of package holidays.

This year will be a year that will bring about important changes in consumer legislation to the benefit of European consumers. The following  amendments are expected to be introduced in the coming months: an improved Package Travel Directive, an end to unjustified geo-blocking, the Payment Service Directive and a ‘roam like at home’ policy.

As from July 1, the improved EU Package Travel Directive will extend its scope to cover different types of package holidays. These past years have seen a change in the way consumers prefer to book their holidays, with new services emerging, thus giving rise to the need to amend legislation to cover certain types of new travel arrangements.

The new directive will be applied to three different types of travel packages:

Pre-arranged packages: packages that are ready-made by a tour operator and have to include at least two of the following: transport, hotel or any other service (eg. car hire, excursions, etc.)

Customised packages: a selection of components that have been selected by the consumer and bought from an online/offline trader;

Linked travel arrangements: a combination of at least two different types of travel services, purchased from different travel providers but for the same holiday.

These rules mean that the consumer will be receiving transparent information about booking, cancellation rights and prices and will have a clearer picture as to the package travel signed up for. Consumers also have the right to know about the places they will be visiting, the relevant periods and dates, the itinerary they will be using, the accommodation and its main features, the means of transport to be used during the holiday and they should be given the name, address and telephone number of the organiser.

The consumer should inform the travel agent about any special requirements when making a booking, such as special dietary needs. When any descriptive material about the package is false or misleading, the organiser must compensate consumers for any shortcomings suffered as a result of deceptive material.

Traders providing linked travel arrangements will have to provide security for the refund of all payments they receive from travellers where a travel service cannot be performed due to the company closing down.  There has also been a process aimed at putting to an end unjustified geo-blocking.

Geo-blocking can be defined as a discriminatory practice that does not allow online consumers to access or purchase products or services from a website based in another EU country.

Once this rule is implemented, it will define the following three specific situations:

The sale of goods without physical delivery: such as, a Maltese consumer who wishes to buy a car and finds the best deal from Germany. The consumer will be entitled to buy the product and organise delivery;

The sale of electronically supplied services: for example, a Spanish consumer who wishes to buy a specific online service from a Belgian company. This consumer will now have access to such a service without having to pay additional fees when compared with a Belgian consumer; and

The sale of services provided in a special physical location: for example, Maltese consumers wanting to visit an amusement park in France may buy the tickets directly without being directed to a Maltese website.

This regulation, however, does not impose any obligation to sell and does not harmonise  prices.  The aim of the new Payment Service Directive is to make electronic payments cheaper, easier and safer. The new rules introduced strict security requirements on electronic payments for the protection of consumers’ financial data and have also prohibited surcharging when consumers use their credit cards both online and in shops.

Finally, with the ‘roam like at home’ and fair use policy changes, consumers will now have a bigger data allowance when travelling within the EU. It will be much easier for consumers to make calls, send text messages and use mobile data without incurring additional extra charges while in another EU country. The amount of data depends on the type of contract one has and what is the allowance provided.

This information has been provided by the European Consumer Centre Malta. The ECC-Net is a European network consisting of 30 European Consumer Centres, representing all EU Member States and also Iceland and Norway. The network is co-funded by the European Commission and the EU Member States. In addition to assisting consumers in case of a complaint or dispute, members of the ECC-Net engage in joint projects to investigate specific business sectors. ECC Malta is hosted by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

ECC Malta can be contacted by e-mail on ecc.malta@mccaa.org.mt, by calling 2122 1901 or by visiting Consumer House, No. 47A, South Street, Valletta.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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