Distance selling and consumer protection

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 implemented the European Consumer Rights Directive into UK law and replaced the Distance Selling Regulations in 2014.

They give consumers rights when they buy things online or over the phone and stipulate the information distance traders must provide.

Required information

The information distance sales traders must provide about the goods, services or digital content includes:

  • description;
  • total price or the way the price will be worked out if this can’t be determined;
  • how they should be paid for and when they will be provided;
  • details of any extra delivery charges and other costs;
  • who should pay for returns;
  • cancellation rights;
  • seller details, including address and contact details;
  • compatibility of digital content with hardware and other software.

Failure to provide this information can result in cancellation rights being extended by up to a year.

Cancellation rights

A consumer has the right to cancel from the time they place their order. This right expires 14 days after receiving the goods. If they decide to cancel during this fortnight they then have a further two weeks to return the goods.

A refund should be made within 14 days of the seller receiving the goods back or after the consumer provides proof that the goods have been returned. A deduction may be made if the consumer damages the goods while in their possession.

The basic cost of delivery of the goods is also refundable – but not extra delivery costs, for example if extra was paid for express delivery. The consumer may have to cover the return costs unless the goods were faulty.

Cancellation rights do not extend to:

  • CDs, DVDs or software if the consumer breaks the seal on the wrapping;
  • perishable items;
  • tailor-made or personalised items;
  • goods with a seal for health protection and hygiene reasons that has been broken.

If a service contract is made, the consumer has the right to cancel for 14 days after the contract was agreed. The provider should not start work for 14 days after the contract was made unless requested to. If they do, the consumer can still cancel within the 14-day period but must pay for any work already done.

Some service contracts cannot be cancelled, for example, hotel bookings, flights, car hire, event tickets, or where the trader is carrying out urgent repairs or maintenance.

Delivery

The seller – not the delivery firm – is responsible for the condition of the goods until they are delivered to you or to someone else you nominated to take delivery (eg, a neighbour).

Delivery should be made within 30 days unless a longer period is agreed. If it was essential that goods be delivered on time and they are late, the consumer has the right to cancel. If delivery on time was not essential but another reasonable delivery time cannot be agreed, again there is a right to cancel.

Excessive call charges

The regulations prohibit the use of premium rate numbers by distance traders for customers enquiring about products purchased. So, if the consumer calls to complain or ask about a delivery, a basic rate number must be used. Any surcharges made in breach of this rule can be claimed back.