Overseas & Web Purchases

Distance Selling Regulations the UK

In 2014 Consumer Contracts Regulations replaced Distance Selling Regulations. Both apply to purchases made at a distance. The examples below therefore look at distance selling before the new legislation came into place in 2014 and what the previous policy covered.

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Distance Selling Regulations Explained
There were set rules in place that were there to protect consumer rights when making distance purchases. A distance purchase is a sale away from the seller. Shopping online or via the telephone for instance.

When buying from a distant seller, they would have had to provide you with information on the following:

  • A product/service description outlining in detail what it is you will be purchasing
  • Identify the selling price
  • Delivery costs if applicable
  • Cancellation rights you may have
  • For services only they should outline the duration of the contract
  • Information about the seller including business address. This is an important one as it is crucial to know who you are buying from especially online.

For those that have entered into a contract before 2014 then the Distance Selling Regulation will apply.

Cancelling A Service
Many services will have flexible contracts where you can cancel an order any time such as gym memberships. However, you may be bound to some. There is some contractual service that cannot be cancelled such as:

  • Transportation contracts and leisure activities – these could include flights, train tickets, event tickets etc.
  • Contracts which you agreed to start after the cancellation period

It is essential however that at the time of purchase the seller made clear the cancellation period and policy. Without this, they would have been in breach of the distance selling regulations.

Delivery Regulations Explained
The regulations also had strict policies in place stating goods or services should be delivered/actioned within the time frame specified. It was 30 days for those that did not agree a time frame before the purchase.

Distance Selling Returns
Similarly, to online selling now sellers should provide clear details of their returns policy. It should usually be outlined within the terms and conditions.

The Distance Selling Regulation policy made sellers who failed to give the information cover the cost if you returned the goods. The refund you as the consumer should have received should cover the cost of the time, shipping costs and return costs.

Although the Distance Selling Regulation policy is outdated many of the rules and procedures still apply. Being aware of your rights as a consumer is essential. Be sure to check online who you are selling from and find out as much information as the seller as you can. It is important to read their terms and conditions if provided and be aware of your rights as a consumer. The consumer rights act identifies what you are and aren’t entitled to as a customer if you are worried about a purchase.

Consumer Rights Online Purchases
When you buy goods, you should be aware of your fundamental rights as a consumer. The consumer rights act came into play in 2015. Before this was the Sale of Goods Act which you will need to refer to if you purchased 2015.

Some things to think about when shopping online as a consumer:

• Return items as quickly as possible if you are unsatisfied. Many companies will have a policy in place that outlines a set number of working days in which you can return your goods. Stick to this!
• When seasonal shopping ensure you are aware of different delivery and shipping times if applicable. They should be specified by the seller.
• For expensive purchases that are over £100 maybe consider paying on your credit card for protection.

What Am I entitled to as a customer?
All consumers should receive goods or services that are “satisfactory as described”. This regulation ensures that customers are getting what they paid for.

Therefore, it’s so important that sellers are transparent within their product descriptions and accurately outline product details.

This is one of the major causes of disputes and claims against sellers. However, it is difficult to define “satisfactory” some would argue that it is based on opinion, not fact. An item should be deemed reasonable against the price paid. In most cases, if you are unhappy with the quality of a product, you should be able to resolve this directly with the seller. However, if you cannot agree, you may need to take your case to court. Although, that would only happen with high price items as that is a costly and time-consuming alternative.

You should also decide whether the product you have received is fit for purpose. This will mean taking into account whether it works and for a long time too. If you bought something and it broke after one use, then that is faulty. Many customers believe that if they have used it once they can’t get a refund.

For faulty goods, the new statutory rights ensure that you can get a full refund within 30 days of purchase. It is therefore essential to act quickly, test products when they come and don’t leave it too long. After that period, you may only be entitled to a partial refund, repair or replacement.

Another misassumption is that if you have brought something in the sale or second hand, then the same rights don’t apply. This is not true. The same rights do apply. However, it is important to remember the rule about a product being reasonable and satisfactory. If you pay a really low price for something that seems illegitimate like a car for example, then you can’t expect it to work the same as a £5000 car.

If you need some help with making a complaint against an online purchase Citizens Advice provide some excellent guides and tips. It’s important that you are clued up about what you are entitled to as a buyer.

The biggest annoyance for consumers is cancellation and return policies. You need to understand your rights to ensure you do not lose out on a significant amount of money for an item you are dissatisfied with.

Consumer Contracts Regulations and Cancellations
This legislation specifically protects orders made online, via mail order or on the phone.

Cancelling an order made from any of those distance channels do have different regulations in place. The cancellation policy also varies depending on whether buying goods or services.

For goods, you can typically expect a 14 day cooling off period from the day after you receive the goods. You then should send back the goods you no longer want within two weeks also. Although it is not always necessary to return your goods in its original packaging, it is down to the seller to determine whether you needed to remove it from its packaging or not. This will vary depending on the reason as to why you are cancelling.

Services vary only slightly as they have a cancellation period that runs from the day after you make the order. You should be told about your cancellation rights in writing by the service provider. If you are not, then you have up to a year to claim your money back.

Returning goods bought online
Similar to the cancellation policies the Consumer Contracts Regulations provide you with additional rights for returns.

How Long Do I Have to Return An Item?
The same policy for the cancellation period of 14 days applies. However, some online sellers may offer long return periods. But these may come with a catch.

Following their longer returns period will mean you are not covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. Therefore, you may be subject to additional costs, or partial refunds.

Similarly, to returning goods in the store, there are some exemptions with online purchases. The regulations won’t cover the following:

• goods that have a broken seal on them such as DVDs and CDs. Also, items with broken hygiene seals will not be accepted for returns such as underwear.

It’s important only to remove the original packaging if completely necessary.

• perishable items such as food and drinks will not be covered.
• personalised items. The seller can not reuse customised pieces. Therefore, it is your responsibility to reach your agreement directly with them.

Do I have to pay to return goods?
This is entirely dependent on the retailer. Some will include free return labels in your packages. Or some will cover the costs and still issue a full refund.

However, if it isn’t stated that it is “free returns” or that the retailer will pay then it is your responsibility. It is vital that when you send back an item, you get proof of postage. This prevents the retailer from claiming you never returned the goods when you did.

What refund will I receive?
The seller should provide you with a full refund of the item including delivery costs. Retailers should send you the money deposit the money back into your account within 14 days. In all cases, you may not receive the full refund. If the retailer believes there has been any damage caused by your handling of the goods, then they can deduct the refund.

Some companies may have a policy in place where they only refund with gift vouchers instead. It is your right to claim a monetary refund if you adhere to the correct return policy set out in the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Overall, there are many online tools and guides which can help you understand your rights as an online consumer better. If you are not happy with a purchase, make your complaint quickly. For online purchases remember the consumer contracts regulation protects you for a fixed period. Remember to align your expectations with a product with what is reasonable. It is about deciding if an item is satisfactory. Also, remember to shop securely online.

Trusted well-known companies will have a return and cancellation policy in place which can offer you peace of mind when purchasing. When making a complaint make sure you know the outcome you want and that its matched with what you are entitled to, act quickly and provide evidence to support your claim. There are significant regulations in place that can protect you so be sure to use them and be aware of them when shopping online. Remember it is not solely reliant on what policies the retailer has in place; your rights are your rights!

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