The Consumer Contracts Regulations
From 13 June 2014 the Consumer Contracts Regulations - which implement the European Consumer Rights Directive into UK law - apply to all purchases you make at a distance.
The Distance Selling Regulations have now been replaced by this piece of legislation.
For guidance in relation to contracts entered into on on after 13 June 2014, please see our page on the Consumer Contracts Regulations.
This page provides guidance in respect of existing contracts which were entered into on or before 12 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, for contracts made up until 12 June 2014.
The Distance Selling Regulations 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 costs (where applicable) and any cancellation rights
- the minimum duration of the contract
- information about the seller
This information has to be provided in a clear manner, and in a format appropriate to the means of communication used (so, for example, in the terms and conditions of a written contract, or verbally in the case of purchases over the phone).
The information about the seller must include a geographical address if payment is taken in advance.
When you place an order, the seller becomes obliged by law to provide further information in a durable medium, such as 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 any such substitutes should always be at the seller’s expense.
Your right to cancel an order for goods
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 period is extended in cases where the seller failed to provide the required information to you after the contract was concluded.
Seven days is the minimum legal cancellation period 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 the contract, by law the seller can’t say that you must have returned the goods within this time frame.
If you wish to cancel a contract, you should send notice of your cancellation to the supplier 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.
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 if you cancelled?
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.
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Returning faulty goods
If you receive faulty goods under a contract entered into on or before 12 June 2014 and wish to return them, The Distance Selling Regulations are in addition to your other legal rights.
So, if your goods received under a contract entered into on or before 12 June 2014 are faulty and don’t do what they're supposed to, or don’t match the description given, you have the same consumer rights 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
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.