The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations were passed into law in England in 2000, and give consumers protection and special rights when goods are purchased at a distance, such as through internet shopping, a shopping channel on TV, newspaper advertisement with order form, or by telephone.
Buying at a distance does not allow the consumer to make a physical inspection of the goods being sold, or to have any face to face interaction with the seller. As such, the Regulations introduce certain rules that a supplier must comply with when providing a consumer with goods or services at a distance. The Regulations only cover consumer transactions. They don’t apply to contracts between businesses.
The supplier is required to provide certain specific information before the contract for goods and/or services is concluded. This includes: (a) its name and address; (b) a description of the goods; (c) price and delivery costs; (d) how long the price quoted is valid; (e) existence of the consumer’s right to cancel; and (f) whether or not goods can be substituted if the original item is unavailable.
Once the order is taken, the supplier must confirm these details back to the consumer, and provide additional information on how the right of cancellation can be exercised if the goods are to be returned – and who bears the cost of returning them. They must also provide information on how and where to complain, and details of any guarantees or warranties the goods or services will benefit from. Under the Regulations, a consumer is not allowed to cancel a contract for services once those services have started.
Right to Cancel
If the supply is for goods, and the supplier has provided the required additional information, the consumer has the right to cancel within seven working days (i.e. not including weekends and public holidays) starting from the day after they receive the goods. If the supplier has not complied, the seven day time period to cancel doesn’t start until that information is received by the consumer. There is a long stop of three months plus seven working days, after which the consumer loses the right regardless. In the case of services, the time periods are the same, but the period starts from the date on which the contract for services is concluded.
Exemptions to Right to Cancel
There are some goods and services, which by their nature, are exempt from a right to cancel. These include personalized or bespoke items (such as monogrammed or tailored shirts); perishable items (such as food and flowers), unsealed CDs, software, DVDs which are not inherently defective (due to ease of copying), newspapers and magazines (they date quickly) and anything related to gaming, betting or lottery services (failure to win is not a valid reason for cancellation!).
Returns and Refunds
Refunds must be paid as soon as possible, but in any event, no later than 30 days after cancellation. The supplier must refund the full cost of the goods, as well as any delivery charges incurred by the consumer. If the goods have already been received, generally, the cost of returning the goods to the supplier is the consumer’s responsibility.
However, if the consumer exercises a right to cancel, receives the goods, is obligated to return them, but fails to do so (or does so at the supplier’s expense) then the supplier can make a charge for the cost of recovering the goods – but not for the costs of the goods themselves. This right doesn’t apply if consumer has the right to reject the goods legitimately (i.e. they were not of satisfactory quality or fit for the purpose described).
In addition, the consumer has an obligation to take reasonable care of the goods and to return them in good condition. If the goods are not in reasonable condition when they arrive with the supplier, the supplier must still provide a refund. Any action the supplier may have lies in the consumer’s failure to take reasonable care. If the supplier fails to ask for the return of the goods within 21 days of the cancellation, the consumer’s obligation to take reasonable care will end.
Exceptions to Regulations
Certain types of sales, even when made from a distance, are excluded from the regulations. The most notable are: (a) auction sales – i.e. items bought from eBay would not be covered unless they were purchased using the “Buy It Now” feature; (b) contracts for financial services; (c) land or real estate, except for very short term leases (such as temporary office accommodation); and (d) vending machines and photo booths.