Friday September 11th 2009, by Piers Strickland
The German case of Pia Messner v Firma Stefan Krüger has clarified what charges UK suppliers can and can’t levy on customers who are returning goods.
FACTS: A German internet based business had terms in force on its website which stated, amongst other things, that a purchaser would be liable to pay compensation for any deterioration in the goods through use for their intended purpose. There was a German law which allowed suppliers to charge consumers generally for the use of goods they return. The German court asked the European Court of Justice (the “ECJ”) for a ruling whether this German law as compatible with the European Directive 97/7/EC on distance selling (the “Directive”).
DECISION: The ECJ held that:
- A provision that allows a seller to claim compensation from the consumer for the value of the use of the consumer goods, was not compatible with Articles 6(1) and 6(2) of the Directive.
- Articles 6(1) and 6(2) do not prevent a consumer from being required to pay compensation for the use of the goods if he has used the goods in a way which is incompatible with good faith or unjust enrichment.
COMMENT: This case is instructive for companies selling in the UK, as it confirms that the only charge a supplier can impose on a consumer cancelling a contract under the Directive is the direct costs of returning the goods to the supplier. Other fees such as administration or restocking fees are not permitted under the Directive.
The Directive is an important constituent of “Website Law” and needs to be carefully considered by those companies involved in “Distance Selling” over the internet.