On Friday, June 13th (not a good date for the superstitious amongst us), Act 3/2014 of March 27th, 2014, yet another amendment to the Spanish Consumer Protection Act and supplementary legislation come into force. The new regulatory regime is therefore applicable to agreements concluded with consumers from that date onwards.
The purpose of this legislation is to introduce into the Spanish Consumer Protection Act the amendments necessary in order to implement Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and the Council, on consumer rights.
The Directive established the new legal framework for distance and off-premises contracts and amended the European rules regarding unfair terms in consumer contracts and certain aspects of sales and guarantee of consumer goods. Its aims include: consumer protection at the European level, in particular, in relation to sales made on the Internet; the consolidation of the Internal Market; and strengthening legal certainty for consumers and traders, as the previous regulatory regime exposed important gaps in the European rules.
Consequently, the most relevant legislative amendments introduced by Act 3/2014 are:
- New definitions of consumers and traders;
- Joint regulation of distance and off-premises contracts;
- Standardized and broader pre-contractual information obligations regarding, in particular: a) deposits or other financial guarantees (i.e. blocked amount on the consumer’s credit card); b) legal guarantees; conditions of after sales services and commercial guarantees; and c) supply contracts on digital content, where the consumer has to be informed about the use of this content and its technical limits, protection mechanisms and regional codification, as well as the interoperability of digital products with hardware and software;
- Modification of the rights of withdrawal of consumers, with a new regulation that introduces a standard form which the consumer may use and an extension of the time-limit for withdrawal to 14 days. If the trader does not provide information concerning the consumer’s rights of withdrawal, the time-limit is extended to two months from the beginning of the initial period.
- Implementation of the TJEU ruling regarding unfair terms, which enables the national court to rule on the nullity of such terms in consumer contracts and to integrate different provisions according to the principles of good faith to the contract.
It is clear that the purpose of the new Spanish Consumer Protection Act is to achieve coherent regulation by virtue of the entire Spanish legislative system, especially in relation to the sector-specific regulation of consumer protection. The Consumer Protection Act guarantees the application of each sector-specific rule which gives significant protection to the consumers subject to the rules of harmonization in the terms established by European Union law. We will see whether the 13th will be a bad omen for consumer protection in the harmonized market or whether we can hope for a reasonable and Internal-Market-related interpretation by the administrative authorities and courts in Spain. In any event, consumer contracts used until today should be fundamentally revised.