Distance Selling and Consumer protection explained

The Distant Selling Regulations

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000, as amended, a buyer is, in certain circumstances, entitled to receive a refund if they change their mind.  

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 implemented a European Directive on distance selling (Directive 97/7/EC).

When do the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply?

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply to both goods and services, where the contract is made between a supplier (a seller acting in the course of a business) and a consumer (a non-business buyer) and there is no face-to-face contact between them.  

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 will apply to most sales made over the internet.

Are all goods and services covered by the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000?

Certain goods and services are exempt from all or part of the Regulations. These are as follows: 

  • Business-to-business contracts;
  • Financial services sold at a distance (However, these are covered by the Financial Services (Distant Marketing) Regulations);
  • Contracts for the sale of land;
  • Products bought from vending machines;
  • Goods or services bought at an auction with an auctioneer.

Isn’t eBay an auction site?

There has been much debate as to whether eBay is an auctioneer in the proper sense of the law. In 2004 the German Supreme Court ruled that online auctions are not “real” auctions and that the European Directive on distance selling covered buyers and sellers in online auctions. However, German law relating to auctions is different to the law of England and Wales and the question has yet to be decided by the Courts of England and Wales. 

“Buy It Now” listings and “Second Chance Offers” are, however, unlikely to be regarded as auctions.

If the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 do apply what are the rights of the consumer?

Cooling off periods

Where the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply consumers have a cooling off period in which they can withdraw from the contract for any reason.

In the case of goods the cooling off period generally ends 7 working days after the day of the receipt of the goods.  

In the case of services the cooling off period generally ends 7 working days after the day upon which the order was placed. However, if the consumer agrees to the service beginning within 7 days, the cooling off period ends when the service starts.  

In certain circumstances there is a cooling off period of 3 months. 

The cooling off period and right to cancel do not, however, apply to contracts for the sale of the following goods: 

  • Goods made to the customer’s specification (these are known as “bespoke” goods);
  • Perishable goods, for example fresh food and flowers;
  • CDs, DVDs and tapes once the packaging has been unsealed;
  • Newspapers and magazines;
  • Betting, gaming and lotteries.

Refunds

Where the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply and a consumer notifies the supplier in writing or in another durable medium and before the end of the cooling off period that they wish to cancel the contract, they must receive a full refund within 30 days.

Return of goods

Where the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 apply and a consumer notifies the supplier in writing or in another durable medium and before the end of the cooling off period that they wish to cancel the contract, the consumer is under a duty to take reasonable care of the goods and to “restore” them to the supplier.  

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 a supplier is not able to demand that the consumer return the goods. The consumer’s duty to restore the goods simply means that they must make the goods available for collection by the supplier. 

However, the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 allow a supplier to include in the contract a term requiring the consumer to return the goods to their supplier at the consumer’s cost.  

The supplier is only allowed to charge for recovery of the goods if the consumer exercises his right to cancel the contract within the cooling off period and if there is a provision in the contract allowing the supplier to make such a charge. If the consumer has the right to cancel the contract under other legislation, for example under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, as amended, because the goods are defective, the supplier is not permitted to charge for the recovery of the goods.

What should I do if a supplier refuses to give me a refund or take back the goods?

The Office of Fair Trading and the Trading Standards Departments of local authorities in England and Wales have the responsibility for enforcing the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000.