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Consumer Contracts Regulations

You have additional consumer rights when you buy product or services online, from a catalogue or through any other form of distance selling, or from a trader not selling from business premises.

On the 13th of June 2014, the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 came into force.

This is a set of rules which cover your consumer rights when you purchase goods “at a distance” (for example, over the internet or from a catalogue) or from a trader who is not selling from a business premises (for example, a door-to-door salesman).

Buying products in these circumstances can be different than in an ordinary situation, since you may not be able to inspect the item or may feel pressured by certain sales techniques, which is why you have additional rights in these situations.

These rights are aimed at allowing you to return goods and cancel services if you have changed your mind after purchasing them. If the goods are faulty or not as described, your normal consumer rights also apply – see our page about common problems with goods for information on these.

It is important to remember that these are just the minimum rights you have under law. Some traders may offer you a better deal - for example, they might give you a longer period for returning goods - so you should check their policies as well as knowing your basic rights.

Providing information

The law says that when you purchase goods or services, you should receive certain information. The information you should be given depends on the buying situation.

When the purchase takes place at a distance or not on business premises, the seller should provide you with:

  • Their details, including a physical address and a phone number
  • A description of what you are buying, as well as how long you will be committing yourself to payment for any included service
  • The total cost, or an explanation of how this will be worked out if it can vary
  • How much delivery will cost, as well as how returns will be paid for and the price of these
  • Details of your cancellation rights, and a standardised cancellation form you can use (or details of where to find it)
  • Information on whether digital products will work on certain hardware or with other software

The seller is expected to provide this information in a “durable medium”, meaning it should be provided in a way which means you can store it for later reference. Ordinarily this means they should provide a paper copy, but you may instead agree to receive it by, for example, email.

They may initially provide information in another form where suitable – for example, they may tell it to you over the phone if that is how you are ordering – but you must receive confirmation of the contract in a more permanent form afterwards.

If the trader does not supply the required information in an acceptable way, you may have the right to cancel for up to a year after the purchase.

If you are buying the product or service on the trader’s business premises, they do not have to supply as much information, but you must still receive details of what you are buying, how much it will cost (including delivery fees), and whether digital content will work with particular hardware and software.

Delivery rights

Once you have ordered goods, they should arrive within the time period promised by the seller. If they did not specify a delivery date, the goods should arrive no more than 30 days after purchase – though this is in extreme situations, and the seller should not delay sending your items unnecessarily.

Until the goods are with you (or someone you have agreed can receive them for you), the seller remains responsible for their condition.

Cancellation rights

Cancellation rights are perhaps the most important aspect of the Consumer Contract Regulations, as they ensure that you are able to get a refund if a product or service you have purchased at a distance or on your doorstep is not what you expected, or even if you just change your mind.

Cancellation rights for goods

You can cancel goods at any time beginning from the moment you order them up until 14 days after you receive them. You do not have to return the goods within this 14 day period – this is the amount of time you have to decide whether or not you wish to keep them and notify the trader if you do not. When you purchase multiple products which arrive separately, the 14 days starts when the final item shows up.

If you decide against keeping the goods, you must return them to the seller within 14 days of informing them. They should then refund your money within 14 days of receiving the returned goods or receiving proof from you that you have sent them back, whichever happens first. They should also refund the basic cost of postage.

Unfortunately, there are some exceptions to your right to get a refund for goods. DVDs, CDs and computer software must still be in their original shrink wrap if you want a refund (to prevent people from copying them and then returning them). Personalised or bespoke items are also non-refundable, as are perishable goods.

It should go without saying that if you do not want or are not sure that you want to keep goods you have received, you should not use them until you’ve decided to keep them, otherwise the seller may reduce the value of your refund. Do not handle the item any more than you would handle an item you were considering buying in a shop.

Cancellation rights for services

Your right to get a full refund for a service lasts for 14 days from the moment you sign up to it. However, this depends on you not using the service within this period, giving you an opportunity to decide whether or not you want to pay for it.

In many situations, of course, you will want to use the service as soon as you sign up for it. If you specifically request this, the service provider can allow you to begin using it immediately, but, while the 14-day cancellation period does still apply, you may be charged for the times you did make use of the service.

If the service has an endpoint, such as hiring someone to repair something, and it has been carried out to completion while the cancellation period still applies, it is unsurprisingly unlikely that you will still be able to cancel the service. Additionally, some services, mostly those which involve carrying out an activity on a specific date (such as attending a concert or staying in a hotel), are not subject to these cancellation rules. Urgent repairs or maintenance requested from a trader are also exempt.

Cancellation rights for digital goods

When you purchase digital content, the seller should not provide it to you until the 14-day cancellation period has elapsed, unless you decide otherwise. If you wish to receive it immediately, then you will lose any cancellation rights. The seller must make this clear to you before allowing you to download it early.

Additional rights

The Consumer Contracts Regulations contain a number of other provisions intended to put a stop to unfair tactics by sellers and service providers, so knowing about your new rights is vital.

One risk of buying items online is that sometimes sellers will try to sneakily increase the cost of your order by bundling in additional items through the use of a pre-ticked box. For example, they may attempt to add on insurance for your purchase, requiring you to click on the tick-box to remove it before buying.

However, the Consumer Contracts Regulations have put an end to this, and sellers are now not allowed to charge you for any additional goods or services which are tacked on to your order through the use of a pre-ticked box. If they do charge you more in this way, you have the right to a refund of the additional amount. Any add-ons must be specifically picked by you.

There are also new rules on product helplines which mean that any number you call to enquire about your order or a product you have purchased can only be charged at the basic call rate. You can claim back the excess charge if you are forced to call a premium rate number for these purposes as an existing customer.

Previous legislation

For contracts entered into before 13th June 2014, different rules apply. Our old guides to the Distance Selling Regulations and Doorstep Selling Regulations can be found below. These do not apply to new contracts.

Distance Selling Regulations

Consumer protections are in place when you buy goods online, from a catalogue, over the phone or anywhere else without face-to-face contact. These are called the distance selling 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 1979 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 face-to-face 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 - if this is not stated then the seller has to cover the cost
  • 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 trader will entitle you to a much longer period in which to cancel the order, as your right to cancel doesn’t end until 7 working days from the day after the seller does provide it. This is up to a maximum of 3 months and 7 working days from when you placed your order.

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 from the day after you placed 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 working days from the day after the goods are 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 1974.

Doorstep Selling Regulations

Many people are sweet-talked into purchasing products of little use by door-to-door salesmen. Fortunately, doorstep selling regulations can protect us when we fall into their web of deceit.

Anybody who tries to sell you goods at your home (as well as anyone trying to sell you something outside the premises of their business) is compelled by law to inform you of your cancellation rights, which can be included in a contract or given separately in writing. Any seller failing to uphold this will be acting illegally, and they should be reported to the Trading Standards Office immediately. Furthermore, you will not be under any obligation to the seller.

These cancellation rights are very powerful as they allow you a 7-day ‘cooling-off period’ to cancel the contract if you wish and get your money back.

Unfortunately these do not cover all purchases. The regulations do not apply to goods bought for less than £35 pounds. You will also not be able to get a refund if the goods were of one of a certain number of types:

  • Land
  • Perishable items (food)
  • Investments whose value fluctuates according to financial market behaviour

Claiming a refund under Doorstep Selling Regulations

In order to cancel a contract you must inform the seller of your decision in writing and deliver it to them either by post or email. Sellers are supposed to provide their customers with cancellation forms for this purpose but writing a letter works just as well. The letter or form must be posted within the 7-day cooling off period (it does not matter when it is received as long as it was posted in time).

Be wary when cancelling the contract as you may not be dealing with the most reputable of tradespeople. As a precaution you should always send your cancellation form or letter by recorded delivery and maintain the delivery slip, as well as keeping a copy of the letter or form, so that you keep some proof of your cancellation. If you choose to cancel by email then it is relatively simple to retain a copy of your email in your account.

After the contract is cancelled then it is treated as if it had never existed, and the trader is obliged to return any money that you paid (this includes deposits).

Any unconsumed goods must be returned to the seller, although you are not required to do so until you have received your money back. You do however have to front up for any expenses incurred when returning the goods.

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