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Consumer Rights.

Updated: 4 Mar 2021

I want to cancel a course I booked online, what are my rights?

If you booked a course online and can no longer attend, you've changed your mind or it isn't what you expected, you have rights to cancel.
Which?Editorial team

Did you book the course for work or personal interest?

As long as you’re a consumer, the Consumer Contracts Regulations gives you the right to cancel a contract entered at a distance - for example, when you purchase a course online or over the phone.

The definition of ‘consumer’ in the Consumer Contracts Regulations is an individual acting for purposes which are wholly or mainly outside that individual’s trade, business, craft or profession.

If you’re booking a course for professional development purposes and this is close to what you do professionally already, you may not be seen as a consumer.

Here are some examples where you are unlikely to be regarded as a consumer when you book your course:

  • You work as a digital marketer and have booked an online course on email marketing to improve your skills
  • You work as a nutritionist and have booked a conference and day course on food and mental wellbeing so you can move into this area of your profession
  • You work as a journalist and have booked a three-day course on sports journalism to cater for a gap in your reporting knowledge

If you’re booking a course out of personal interest (which could also include you taking a course because you’re considering a career change), you will be seen as a consumer.

Here are some examples where you will be seen as a consumer booking a course:

  • You work as an HR administrator and have booked a two-day course on cake decorating because you enjoy it and sometimes make occasion cakes for friends and family    
  • You work as a lawyer and have booked an evening course on fiction writing to have fun and meet new people
  • You work as a GP and have booked an online course to learn beginner’s French for your holiday later this year

This guide caters for consumers wishing to cancel a course they booked at a distance.

I’ve changed my mind about the course

As a consumer, if you change your mind about a course you purchased online or at a distance, you have 14 days from entering into a service contract in which you can cancel it.

This right under the Consumer Contracts Regulations applies regardless of whether the course will be taken online or in person.

The course provider shouldn’t start providing the service before the 14-day cancellation period has ended, unless you’ve requested this, booked on last minute, or the online course is already open for you to start.

If your course starts within the 14-day period

In this instance you will still have the right to cancel, but you must pay for the value of the service that was provided to you up to the point you cancel.

For example, if you buy an online course and then change your mind within the 14-day time period, you should be refunded a proportionate sum but could be charged for any admin or materials costs and the amount of teaching time you used.

If the course is provided in full within 14 days  

The right to cancel will be lost during the cancellation period if the service is provided in full before the 14 days elapses.  

Check the terms & conditions  

The minimum cancellation period that consumers must be given is 14 days, but some course providers may choose to exceed this.

You should always check the terms and conditions in case you have longer to change your mind.

Leisure activity exemption

If the course you booked online is one that you’ll attend in person with a specified number of people and on a specific date, it may be defined as a leisure activity.

Leisure activities that are due to take place on a specified date are excluded from your cancellation rights.

Leisure activities usually cover events such as plays or football matches, but this could apply to some courses too. 

It will depend a on what the course is and whether it would be defined as a leisure activity under that exemption.

For example, a one-off afternoon course in cut flower arranging with limited capacity could be classed as a leisure activity.

Traders may still choose to offer you the ability to cancel, but they are not obliged to do this.

The course isn’t what I expected

If you start your course and you find that it doesn’t match the description you were given or the teaching isn’t of satisfactory quality, you can request a refund under the Consumer Rights Act.

Under the Consumer Rights Act, the course provider has a duty to do the following:

  • Perform the service with reasonable care and skill
  • Make sure information that's been given to you about the course - written or spoken - is binding where you’ve relied on it to make your decision

If the service you’re provided doesn’t satisfy these criteria, you’re entitled to the following remedies under the Consumer Rights Act:

  1. The course provider should either redo the element of the course that's inadequate, or perform the whole course again at no extra cost to you, within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience.
  2. Or, in circumstances where the repeat performance is impossible, or it can’t be done within a reasonable time or without causing significant inconvenience, you can claim a price reduction. Depending on how severe the failings are, this could be up to 100% of the cost, and the course provider should refund you within 14 days of agreeing that you're entitled to a refund.

I was mis-sold the course I booked

Which? has heard reports of people being upsold to the next level of a course, only to find the course content is almost exactly the same as the one they’d just completed.

If you’ve been mis-sold a course over the phone, over email or online, you can cancel the course in the same way as if you’d changed your mind and get your money back.

If you think you were mis-sold the course, you can also complain to the course provider about the sharp practice, and seek compensation if you’ve lost money through the process.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations gives you rights to redress if you've been the victim of misleading actions or aggressive selling.

Key Information

What’s classed as unfair under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations?

Under the Regulations, a commercial practice is 'unfair' if:

  • it falls below the professional diligence standards that a trader in that industry would be expected to exercise towards you as a customer; and it affects, or is likely to affect, your ability to make an informed decision about whether to purchase a particular product.

A commercial practice will also be unfair if it constitutes a misleading action. For example, if:

  • you are told something false and the description is therefore untruthful in relation to the main characteristics of a product or if its overall presentation deceives you even if the information is factually correct; and it causes you to take a transactional decision you would not have taken otherwise.

A trader will be committing an offence under the Regulations if it knowingly or recklessly engages in an 'unfair' practice.

If you've been the victim of a misleading action, you will have 90 days to end the contract and get a refund.

You can only receive a refund if you haven't fully used the goods or digital products, or received a service in full.

So, if you take the full course and don’t complain until the end, you won’t get your money back.

Read our guide for more information on your rights to redress under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations if you’ve been mis-sold a course.