Distance Selling and Online Shopping Consumer Protection Regulations
New regulations came into place in June 2014 covering the supply of goods and services online or at a distance in the whole of the EU. The Consumer Contracts Regulations apply to all situations where a retailer and purchaser are not in the same physical location, including all items bought online or at a distance, at home or at work. They replace the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling Regulations) 2000 and the Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumers Home or Place of Work Regulations 2008 (known as the Doorstep Selling Regulations).
Rights to cancellation
One of the major new rules in the regulations is a change to the timescale of the 'cooling-off period' for distance and online orders, increasing it from seven days to fourteen days in which the buyer has the right to a cancellation. The right to cancel an order starts when the order is placed and ends fourteen calendar days from when it is received. If the order is for multiple items, the cancellation date starts from when the last item is received. The right to cancel a service starts when the customer enters into the contract and end in 14 calendar days from then. A cancellation of a contract also covers any ancillary contracts, such as warranties or insurance cover.
Specific information must be provided by the seller both before and after an order is placed. If the information required is not given, or improperly given, the customer's cancellation rights can be extended by up to one year.
Before a purchase is made, the seller must give a price that includes all information on taxes, details of how payment can be made, the cost of delivery, how long delivery will take and how items will be delivered. They must also give their business name and contact details, a clear description of the goods or services being sold and information about the right to cancel within 14 days, how long the contract is for and the conditions for terminating it.
Once an order has been placed, the seller must provide written confirmation with details of what has been purchased and how much it cost, details of the delivery arrangements and clear instructions on how the order can be cancelled and goods returned. The confirmation must include an address to which complaints can be sent and give information on the minimum duration of the contract and how to terminate it. There is further information that must be given when an order is placed online, including an email address, a VAT number and what languages are available. Sellers must list all steps that are involved in placing an order ensure that customers can download and print off terms and conditions. Online orders must be acknowledged electronically as quickly as possible.
Retailers who sell digital content, such as MP3 files or videos, must give clear details of any content restrictions and technical functionality. This allows for more informed purchasing decisions as digital products cannot be returned once downloaded and no refund of the purchase price given.
If an order is cancelled, a retailer must give customers a refund within 14 calendar days of cancellation, and the customer must, in turn, return the item with 14 calendar days of cancelling the order. The seller has the right to withhold the refund until the returned items are delivered back to them. They are now allowed to reduce the amount refunded if there is clear evidence that goods have not just been checked but have been used before returning. If the seller has not specified that the cost of returning goods will have to be paid for by the customer then the customer is not liable for the costs of any returns and the basic delivery cost must be refunded. If the customer chose to purchase a more expensive enhanced delivery, such as next day, they are still only entitled to a refund of basic delivery costs.
The regulations make it illegal for a company to include hidden costs, such as charging for items that have been pre-placed in an online shopping basket or that have been selected with a pre-ticked box. A button, clearly marked 'Pay Now,' must be clickable for online ordering and variations such as 'Submit' or 'Order Now' are not acceptable when asking for online payment. If a helpline is offered, calls must not exceed the cost of a basic telephone call and must be free, to a mobile or to a number starting with 01, 02 or 03. The customer must be informed of any helpline call charges.