Shopping online, by mail order, over the phone or through a TV shopping channel can be more convenient and cheaper than the high street. But there are drawbacks to not being able to see and touch items, which is why you have extra protection.
From 13 June 2014 the new Consumer Contracts Regulations - which implement the Consumer Rights Directive in UK law - apply to all purchases you make at a distance.
For purchases made before this date, the Distance Selling Regulations still apply.
- Under the Distance Selling Regulations, you're entitled to key information about the seller, including a geographical address
- Your right to cancel starts the moment you place your order and doesn’t end until seven working days from the day after you receive your goods
- If your goods are faulty, or you're sent substitute items that you don't want, the retailer must pay return postage costs
The Distance Selling Regulations
Until 13 June 2014, the Distance Selling Regulations were the rules that protected your consumer rights when buying products from a distance, for example, online or over the phone.
They set out information the seller must give about the goods or service on offer, including:
- a description of the goods or service
- the price of the goods or service
- delivery and any cancellation rights
- information about the seller
This information will normally be set out in the terms and conditions, but if you're buying goods over the phone the seller can provide the information verbally.
The information about the seller must include a geographical address if payment is taken. When you place an order, the seller becomes obliged by law to provide further information in writing or by email.
This includes details of how to exercise any right to cancel and who is responsible for the cost of returning goods. If the seller has already provided this information they don't need to do so again.
If the seller wants to send substitute goods, because they don't have the items you wanted in stock, it should say so before you place your order.
The cost of returning substitutes should always be at the seller’s expense.
Your right to cancel an order
The Distance Selling Regulations state that your right to cancel an order starts the moment you place your order and doesn’t end until seven working days from the day after you receive your goods.
This is the minimum consumers must be given and many sellers choose to exceed this, so always check the terms and conditions in case you have longer to return your items.
As this seven-day working period is the time you have to decide whether to cancel, by law the seller can’t say that you must have returned the goods within this time frame.
Confirmation of your cancellation should be sent by email, letter or fax.
The goods you can't return
There are some goods you can't return if you simply change your mind, including:
- CDs, DVDs or software if you've broken the seal on the wrapping
- perishable and other items that deteriorate rapidly such as food and flowers
- tailor-made or personalised goods
- underwear and earrings
Cancelling a service contract
If you're buying a service, such as gym membership or a cleaning service, you can usually cancel up to seven working days from the day after you enter into the contract.
But there are some contracts you can’t cancel simply because you change your mind, including:
- contracts for transport and some leisure services to be provided on a specific date eg hotel bookings, flights, car hire, concert and other event tickets
- contracts for services where you agreed to the service starting before the seven working days has expired - as long as the seller has provided all the information detailed above
If the seller has failed to comply with the requirements to provide information, Distance Selling Regulations mean that your right to cancel doesn’t end until seven working days from the day after the seller does comply.
This is up to a maximum of three months and seven working days from when you placed your order.
Although, be aware that this doesn't apply to specific date contracts for transport services and events.
When to expect your goods
The Distance Selling Regulations say that goods must be delivered within the time frame you agree with the seller.
If no time frame is agreed, the seller has 30 days from the day after they receive your order to deliver your goods.
What should you get back?
The original cost of the outbound postage to you should always be refunded by the seller.
The seller's terms and conditions or returns policy should state who pays the cost of returning the item.
If they don't state this, then the seller has to cover the cost.
In this case, you're entitled to a refund of the total amount you paid, including costs to ship the item to you, and the fee to return the item. No admin or restocking fees should be charged.
Returning faulty goods
If you receive faulty goods and wish to return them, The Distance Selling Regulations are in addition to your other legal rights.
So, if your goods are faulty and don’t do what they're supposed to, or don’t match the description given, you have the same consumer rights under the Sale of Goods Act as you have when buying face to face.
Any terms and conditions that say you must cover the cost of returning an item wouldn’t apply where the goods being returned are faulty.
What isn't covered by the DSRs
Some contracts fall outside the Distance Selling Regulations altogether, including contracts for the sale of land or construction of buildings and items bought from vending machines.