What are my rights when buying online at auction?

With auctions moving online, and in some cases to UK platforms, EU consumer protection no longer automatically applies

Now that Irish auction houses have moved to online platforms – and with Brexit in the mix – how does this affect you as a buyer, and what are your rights if you are not happy with your purchase?

First of all, remember how auction houses operate. They take a commission from both the seller and buyer on every lot (item) sold at auction, known as buyer or seller’s premium. As a buyer you pay the hammer price in addition to the buyer’s premium. This is normally 20 per cent plus VAT, which most auctioneers round up to 25 per cent.

But it is worth noting – and this is where some people get caught – that not all Irish auction sites have their own online selling platform. This means they link to a third party website – which also takes a cut – adding a further cost.

Some sites, such as easyliveauction.com, offer a flat registration fee, normally €3, or an additional 1 per cent commission on top of the auctioneer's fee. If you don't pay the flat fee you can end up paying more than 26 per cent in commission.


The-saleroom.com, however, charges almost 30 per cent (28.98) when all fees and commissions are added up, so this can make a big difference to the end price paid, and that's before delivery costs are taken into account.

Some of the larger Irish auction houses absorb these additional costs, so check the terms and conditions in advance of bidding to ensure you are aware of the exact percentage that will be added to the hammer price.

What if I change my mind?
As Covid-19 forces the Irish auction industry to conduct online only auctions, you now have a 14-day cooling off period under the Consumer Rights Directive. However when lockdown ends and when the auction is public – where you are physically allowed attend a sale or inspect the goods – buyers are not covered by the Consumer Rights Directive.

It should be noted that this protection is only the case when you are buying from a business. You do not have any cooling off period if you buy from another consumer – such as buying from an individual seller on sites such as eBay.

But in all cases you are still protected by Irish consumer law, and the goods being sold must match their description. Most of the larger auction houses have condition reports on high-value items that show any faults like scratches, bits missing or damage.

If you want further details or close up photographs, contact the auction house to ensure you are fully au fait with what you intend bidding on.

What impact will Brexit have when buying from a UK auction house?
"When buying from a business registered in the EU, it's important to know that you have strong rights under EU consumer protection law. However, as the UK is no longer an EU member state, when buying online from businesses or auctioneers based in the UK, EU consumer protection legislation no longer automatically applies. UK consumer protection law will remain in place, however, you may find it difficult to resolve issues that might arise in the future," advises Muriel Dolan, deputy director of communications with the Competition & Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).

This means if you have an issue with something purchased at auction from the UK, you will have to seek independent legal advice and pursue legal proceedings with the auction house in another jurisdiction.

The good news is that the EU Consumer Centre in Dublin has agreed with its UK counterpart to work together for all of 2021 to help customers on any issues that may arise.

The adage "caveat emptor" (buyer beware) particularly applies when it comes to buying at auction. Choose a reputable house – and if it looks too good to be true, it more than likely is. ccpc.ieeccireland.ie