What is a cooling-off period?

The phrase ‘cooling-off period’ often appears in the T&Cs of contracts or websites of retailers and providers that offer goods or services you can purchase from a distance - online, over the phone or mail order, for example.

It's the period of time you have to change your mind about something you’ve purchased from a distance.

The statutory minimum for a cooling-off period that a seller must offer you is 14 days.

Your consumer right to a cooling-off period for goods and services purchased at a distance comes from the Consumer Contracts Regulations. Cooling-off periods don’t apply to purchases or services bought from a private individual.

When the 14-day cooling period starts depends on whether the contract is for goods or a service.

  • For goods purchased at a distance, the 14-day cooling period starts from the date you take ownership of the goods. You can cancel the goods at any time from the moment you place your order and up to 14 days from the date they arrived.
  • For services purchased at a distance the 14-day cooling off period starts the day after you entered into the contract for the service.

There are some situations where a cooling-off period won’t apply to goods and there are also cooling-off period exemptions for some services.

Is there a cooling off period for digital downloads?

The Consumer Contracts Regulations treats digital downloads differently - this includes things like music and software downloads.

Retailers mustn’t supply digital content within the 14-day cancellation period unless you've given your permission so you have an opportunity to ensure the digital content is what you want before downloading it.

If you want to download digital content within the 14-day cancellation period you must also acknowledge that once the download starts you'll lose your right to cancel.

How to cancel goods during a cooling-off period

If you’ve purchased goods online, via mail order, over the phone or from a doorstep seller and you’ve changed your mind, you have the automatic right to a 14-day cooling-off period in most circumstances.

Use the cooling-off period

You’ll need to tell the seller within 14 days of taking ownership of the goods that you want to cancel. The easiest way to do this is by emailing them, so you have a written record.

If this isn’t possible and you need to phone, make sure you make a note of who you speak to and what was agreed. Then, make sure you follow up with a letter or email.

You can use your cooling-off period to cancel most items, for example:

  • a watch bought online
  • a book paid for over the phone
  • shoes ordered via mail order

You have a further 14 days from when you cancelled to return the product.

What does ‘taking ownership of the goods’ mean?

When you take ownership of the goods, it means that your goods have either been safely delivered

1. to you in person

2. to a neighbour you’ve approved to take your parcels when you’re out or

3. to a safe place you agreed to.

If you nominated a safe place or neighbour to receive your parcels, this will be interpreted by the retailer as the parcel having being delivered to you.

The date of safe delivery will be when the 14-day cooling off period starts - even if you don’t actually manage to get your goods off your neighbour till three days later.

If your package is left somewhere outside or with a neighbour without your instruction to do, and it takes you days to find it you can complain.

Contact the retailer to explain when you actually received the goods and that your 14-day cooling off period therefore starts from the day you found and safely took ownership of the goods.

Get money back

The seller should refund the cost of standard delivery you paid when you purchased the product, but you’ll usually have to pay to return the product.

Cooling-off period exemptions for products

But there are some exemptions. You won’t get a cooling-off period when you buy:

  • something that deteriorates quickly - like flowers or some food
  • an item that was personalised or custom-made for you
  • a CD, DVD or software, if you break the seal on the wrapping

Read our step-by-step guide for more information on how to cancel an online order.

Is there a cooling-off period when buying a car?

This depends on how you bought the car - for example, did you buy it in person at the dealership, online or over the phone? This will determine whether or not you have a cooling-off period when buying a car.

Read our guide on 14-day cooling off periods for cars for more information.

Did you buy warranty?

If you bought a warranty for the product order you're looking to cancel or send back, read our guide for more information on how to cancel warranty.

Is the product actually faulty?

Under the Consumer Rights Act all products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

If something you’ve bought arrives broken, not as described, or has later developed a fault, get a refund, repair or replacement for the faulty product.

How to cancel a service during a cooling-off period

You usually have the automatic right to a 14-day cooling-off period when you buy a service at a distance.

So if you’ve purchased a service online, via mail order, over the phone or from a doorstep seller and you’ve changed your mind, contact the seller.

Use the cooling-off period

If you’re trying to cancel a service you’ve arranged, you’ll need to tell the seller within the 14-day cooling off period that you don’t want the service anymore. The easiest way to do this is by emailing them, so you have a written record.

If this isn’t possible and you need to phone, make sure you make a note of who you speak to and what was agreed. Then, make sure you follow up with a letter or email.

Examples of services where you can use your cooling-off period to cancel:

  • You booked a cleaning agency to professionally clean your home
  • You hired a solicitor to deal with the sale of your house
  • You booked a pest control company to help with a mouse infestation
  • You booked onto an introduction to knitting evening
  • You booked onto an introduction to dressmaking evening

Get your money back

If you paid for a deposit, you should also get this back. But if the service had at your request already started during the cooling-off period, the business will keep what’s necessary to cover costs of services provided up until you cancelled.

For example, this could mean it deducts admin or paperwork costs during this time.

Cooling-off period exemptions for services

If you went into the business’s shop or premises to arrange the service you won’t get this cooling-off period.

You also won’t get a cooling-off period for:

  • booking a hotel room
  • renting a vehicle
  • transporting of goods including courier services
  • catering or leisure activities for specific dates like hotel and restaurant bookings, theatre tickets, and catering for a big event like a wedding or 40th birthday party
  • requests for urgent repairs and maintenance
  • some financial products and services, which are explained in our guide on cancelling a financial product

Make sure you check the cancellation period for these before you commit to the service.

Read our step-by-step guide for more information on how to cancel an order for a service bought online.

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