The network of European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) serves EU consumers shopping for goods and services on the European market, providing them with advice on their EU consumer rights and helping them with their disputes with traders in other EU countries.
What is the UK European Consumer Centre?
We are funded jointly by the UK government and the EU. We offer free advice and assistance to consumers who have bought goods or services in another EU country (or Norway and Iceland) and experienced a problem. The goods or services may have not been delivered, may have been faulty or badly carried out. Sometimes money is not returned when it should be, goods or services are mis-described or, consumers have been tied into terms and conditions they do not understand.
How can we help?
One of our advisors will look at your complaint and decided, on the details that you’ve submitted, that there is a potential breach of your consumer rights, entitling you to a remedy from the trader. We are not a court, nor do we have all sides of the story so this does not mean there is a breach. Only a court can truly decide that but in theory there is enough alleged for us to look further at the problem.
There is a counterpart office in every EU country and if, once we have reviewed any further information, we still feel there is still a potential breach, we will send the details of your complaint to the appropriate counterpart office. Although the consumer law in all EU countries is very similar there are some differences. Once the details of your complaint have been received by our counterparts, they will again review it to see if they, with their specialist knowledge of their own consumer law, agree that there is reason to pursue the complaint. If they do not they will communicate this to us, we will pass this information back to you and there will be nothing else we can directly do to help you. At this point it’s possible we can point out other ways, usually the court system, that you might choose to use to pursue your complaint. UK ECC has no way to appeal the final decision of the counterpart centre.
More often than not the counterpart centre will agree with us that there is a justified complaint. If this is the case they usually try and contact the trader on your behalf. This gets around many of the logistical difficulties in pursuing a complaint across borders, such as different languages. Communication is usually in writing by email but may also be by telephone. They will explain the legal position to the trader and ask if they are willing to do anything to resolve the issue. Any reply will be passed back to UK ECC and we will pass it back to you.
Limitations on our service that you need to be aware of
No power to require action from the trader
In the UK and most other countries the only way to enforce your consumer rights, if the trader will not give you what you want, is through use of the court system. The centres have no power to require a reply or action from the trader. However, we are government funded, hosted by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and trained in the relevant UK consumer law. This all means that we are often successful where the individual consumer has not been, but that we sometimes also fail.
In the UK, if you do pursue your consumer rights through the courts, there will be an expectation that you have done everything reasonable to avoid going to court. Allowing the UK ECC to try and help resolve you complaint can be part of meeting the court’s expectations.
The nature of the service with communications and replies being passed from you, to us, to our counterpart centres, to the trader and back again means that this can be a slow process. Although many cases are concluded much quicker, it is not uncommon for some cases to take three or four months or even longer to resolve. We only ask that you are patient and look out for our emails or telephone calls. Please remember that the only alternative is often the court system and that this is usually a much longer process.
The UK European Consumer Centre is co-funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the European Commission.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has designated the Chartered Trading Standards Institute as the host of the UK European Consumer Centre.
The official notification to the European Commission can be found here.