Online Purchase Returns and Reimbursement of Charges

April 15, 2010

In Handelsgesellschaft Heinrich Heine GmbH v Verbraucherzentrale Nordrhein-Westfalen eV (Case 511/08) , the Court of Justice had to consider German legislation covering the reimbursement of the costs of purchase where a consumer exercised his or her right to return goods under the Distance Selling Directive (Directive 97/7/EC). 

The basic question to be resolved was what costs were reclaimable. Was the standard delivery charge of €4.95 which was operated by the retailer reclaimable? 

The Court, despite some concerns about inconsistencies in the various translations of the Directive, was sure that such a sum was reclaimable. The Court stated ‘It should be noted … that Article 6(1), first subparagraph, second sentence, and Article 6(2), second sentence, of the directive authorise suppliers to charge consumers, in the event of their withdrawal, only the direct cost of returning the goods. If consumers also had to pay the delivery costs, such a charge, which would necessarily dissuade consumers from exercising their right of withdrawal, would run counter to the very objective of Article 6 of the directive …. In addition, charging them in that way would compromise a balanced sharing of the risks between parties to distance contracts, by making consumers liable to bear all the costs related to transporting the goods.’ 

The ruling was summarised by the Court as follows:

‘Article 6(1), first subparagraph, second sentence, and Article 6(2) of Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 1997 on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts must be interpreted as precluding national legislation which allows the supplier under a distance contract to charge the costs of delivering the goods to the consumer where the latter exercises his right of withdrawal.’