Return policy law goes back to the drawing board

Gov't yet to come up with legal regulations and is now going back to the drawing board for third time.

consumer 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
consumer 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The irony may have been lost on members of the Knesset Finance Committee when a meeting convened Wednesday to discuss and approve a new law allowing consumers to return their purchases was itself cancelled. MK Gilad Erdan (Likud), the committee chairman, spoke of the "shameful" failure of the government to properly prepare the law and consult with relevant bodies. "Government offices are supposed to bring the committee prepared documents, not rough drafts," said Erdan. "This is an unacceptable waste of time." The cancelled meeting was originally convened to discuss the 2005 law allowing for the return of goods purchased by a consumer, even without a specific complaint. Understanding that the policy could not be unilaterally imposed in the widely divergent business areas of the economy, the law gave the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry the authority to decide which sectors to apply it to. But the ministry has yet to come up with a legally acceptable set of regulations, and is now going back to the drawing board for the third time, after the last failed attempt in December, 2007. Behind the technical setbacks, though, are a number of parties who are very interested in seeing the bill continue to be mired in bureaucratic setbacks. "I've never seen a hall so full of lobbyists," said attorney Yaron Levinson, head of the Histadrut consumer authority. "This is a very important bill for consumers, and it's a shame that it is being held back by technicalities." One party that was unambiguous in its delight at the ongoing delays was the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, which represents the country's business trade and services community. The FICC lauded the decision to cancel the meeting, saying the regulations would result in a state of chaos in the business world and spur arguments over the conditions of the return policy. "These regulations run against the basic conception in all legal systems around the world, that a transaction is final, as long as it is fair," said Uriel Lynn, President of the FICC. But Chana Tiri, a lawyer at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, said that the sort of deals targeted by the legislation could hardly be considered absolutely "fair." She explained that consumers were regularly tied down to deals after being signed on by aggressive marketers, especially in fields like vacation packages and various sorts of customer clubs. The ministry's proposal would have allowed a customer the right to return any unopened purchase, and would have allowed the return of a number of items even after they were opened, as long as they had not yet been used. The logic allowing the return of items such as furniture or electronics even after they had been opened, according to Tiri, is based on the assumption that these products are not significantly affected by the minimal amount of use incurred during the 14-day return period. The other area covered in the proposed regulations is the ability to cancel registration to clubs, courses and services. The proposed list would have included subscriptions to cable, cellular and satellite services, hair removal agreements and vacation plans, discount clubs and medical services like an emergency call button. At this point, consumers will have to wait until the ministry irons out all of the legal issues involved, and cuts through the swaths of industry lobbyists trying to block the bill or cut it back significantly. In the meantime, though, shoppers should be aware that a significant number of transactions are already required to have a no-questions-asked return policy, including telephone transactions, direct marketing, or when the company return policy is not specifically posted.