Distance Selling Regulations
E-commerce legislation and regulations
Online shopping has quickly become one of the most popular pastimes in Britain, with billions of pounds spent each year on goods purchased over the internet (as well as through more traditional methods such as mail order, telephone shopping etc). However, the majority of people are still unaware of their consumer rights when shopping online, and subsequently we are losing millions of pounds every year through unsatisfactory goods and services purchased on the World Wide Web.
But the laws on the matter are quite clear – not only are online shoppers protected by the Sale of Goods Act but also by the added extra of Distance Selling Regulations. The same rules apply to any other form of shopping from home, such as catalogues and buying over the telephone. This is because the Distance Selling Regulations are design to cover contracts made when there is no physical contact between the seller and the consumer. As long as you have not met the trader in person or bought from a company that doesn’t habitually sell in this way then the regulations should apply to you. Both goods and service bought remotely are covered by the regulations.
Put simply, Distance Selling Regulations say that you should be given clear information about the order and the company you are buying from, along with a cooling-off period and protection against credit card fraud and the menace of unsolicited goods.
Your consumer rights under the Distance Selling Regulations
Before you decide to buy, the seller must give you:
- Their name, along with their postal address if you have to pay in advance
- An accurate description of the goods or services
- The price, including any taxes and delivery charges if relevant, and how long the price or offer remains valid
- Delivery arrangements (usually within 30 days unless you agree otherwise)
- Payment arrangements
They must also tell you about
- The right to cancel the order
- Information about whether you will be liable for the cost of returning goods if you change your mind about them
- For services provided over a period of time, such as a mobile phone contract, or a gas supply contract, you must be told what the minimum duration of that contract will be
And then, after you buy, the trader must also provide you with the following information:
- Written confirmation of your order (by letter, e-mail or fax for example)
- Written information on how to cancel, a contact postal address and details of any guarantees, warranties or after-sales services, if applicable
- Details of how and when to end a contract for the provision of a service, if there is no specified finish date or if the service lasts for longer than a year, i.e. gas or electricity supply, internet service providers etc.
- This information should be sent to you by the time the goods are delivered, or before or soon after the time a service starts
Failure to provide this information by the employer will entitle you to a much longer period in which to cancel the order (see below).
A time frame will usually be agreed for when goods are supposed to arrive. If so, the goods must be delivered by this date. Otherwise the goods must reach you within 30 days of the placing of the order. Failure to do deliver the goods on time by the trader will mean that they are in breach of contract, and you will be entitled to a full refund if you have already paid.
In addition, you have a cooling off period of 7 days from the date on which the items are actually delivered to you, during which time you can change your mind and cancel your order. You are entitled to a full refund and you should not incur any cancellation fees. Other costs paid by you such as those for delivery should also be refunded.
Getting a refund
If you decide you do want to cancel then you should do this in writing – post, fax or email would do, but you may need to prove that you have actually done it and that they have received it, so a recorded delivery letter may be your best bet.
You are entitled to expect your money back within 30 days. You will only have to pay to send the goods back if this was explicitly stated in the pre-contractual information with which you should have been provided.
You are in all cases, however, required to look after the goods and make them available for collection, which is your ‘duty of care’. If the trader has arranged to collect the goods then this will expire after 21 days, after which you can do whatever you like with the goods; if you are contracted to return the goods yourself then it could be as long as six months.
The state of the packaging does not affect your entitlement to a refund. This is because the Distance Selling Regulations are based on the fact that the buyer has no opportunity to inspect the goods in a shop prior to their purchase. Therefore, the seller cannot reasonable expect the goods to be returned unopened you should still be entitled to a refund if you have kept the goods in a reasonable condition after opening them.
Protection Against credit card fraud
The Regulations also give you protection if your credit card details are used fraudulently after you have used them to purchase something under a distance selling contract. If you find an unauthorised payment on your statement relating to your transaction, you can cancel the payment and get a refund from the card company. This is courtesy of the Consumer Credit Act.
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