New distance selling regulations take effect on 13 June 2014

online-shopAll customer contracts for the supply of goods and services need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency as on the 13 June the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 comes into force.

These new Regulations 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).

The new Regulations implement the EU Consumer Rights Directive that brings together a number of disparate existing rules. Currently, European rules on consumer rights are contained in four separate EU directives covering unfair contracts, distance selling, doorstep selling and sales and guarantees, respectively.

As discussed in my latest book, Essential Law for Marketers, the problem with these EU regulations is that they were made in a rather haphazard fashion and many were written almost three decades ago. The Consumer Rights Directive will, it’s hoped, ‘harmonize’ these existing regulations and give consumers more clarity about their rights when buying and selling in Europe.
Broadly speaking, the purpose for the EU Directive is to ensure that customers can be confident about making purchases within Europe, particularly online, and from businesses in other European countries outside of their own.

Under the new Regulations, distance sales remain as contracts where the retailer and purchaser aren’t in the same physical location. The new Regulations also apply to off-premises sales where the buyer and seller are in the same physical location but the location isn’t the business premises of the seller.

Whilst some provisions remain similar to the previous legislation the new Regulations will require some important changes in the way retailers contract with customers.

Cancellation and cooling off

There are now new consumer protection measures relating to the failure to inform customers of their right of cancellation. In such cases, the cancellation period will be suspended until the customer is made aware of their rights.

In the event that the retailer doesn’t inform the customer at all then the cancellation right of the customer is automatically extended a full year beyond the date at which it would’ve ended.

This means that failure to inform customers of their cancellation rights can create considerable periods of uncertainty for retailers over the return of goods.

Some of the other key changes under the new Regulations include a 14 calendar days ‘cooling off’ period that extends the existing statutory 7 days cooling off period for distance contracts.

However, exemptions to the cooling off period still exist for goods that have a short shelf life, like foodstuffs or goods that have been altered or personalised for customers in some way, such a pair of trousers that has been shortened and as a result are incapable of being returned to the merchant.

Confirmation of order

From next month, retailers will also have to provide customers with confirmation of the purchase at the time of delivery or before any service is performed. Whilst this is no different from an instantaneous confirmation email provided by the retailer, retailers should be aware that they need to provide a full description of the goods and services purchased including their characteristics and the full price including tax and any additional charges or delivery prices.

Shopping basket and check-out online

Consumers are also entitled to more information when they shop online. At the shopping basket stage of the order process, retailers must make them fully aware that completing the transaction will result in the order being accepted and a charge will apply.

For online orders, pre-ticked boxes for delivery options above ordinary postage or delivery options won’t be acceptable and shoppers will need to complete these details for themselves.

In all contracts, and unless the customer has expressly agreed otherwise, goods must be delivered within 30 calendar days of purchase.

Right to a refund

Perhaps one of the most far reaching changes made by the Regulations is that retailers like Amazon have a new obligation to refund customers within 14 calendar days of any order being cancelled and correspondingly customers have an obligation to return items within 14 calendar days of such cancellation.

Purchase of MP3 and other digital products online

Electronic content such as MP3 and video purchases are now classified as “digital content” and as such online retailers must now provide details of any technical functionality and any restrictions on the content. The reason behind this is that consumers should have better information in order to make informed purchasing decisions as such digital products are incapable of being returned once these have been downloaded and as a result, the purchase price can’t be refunded.

Customer helplines

One of the practices used by some retailers in using premium rate telephone numbers for customer helplines is no longer permitted and customers can only now be charged at the standard rate.

  • cc

    how does this apply to custom made orders?

    • BB

      Custom made orders are generally excluded as they are bespoke. This includes returning a pair of trousers, for instance, that have been shortened for the customer.

  • Claire

    So as of the 13th June 2014 online purchases now have a 14 day cooling off period is that correct? Because I am still seeing a lot of websites quoting a 7 day cooling off period so do companies have a grace period to change their website terms & conditions or is the consumer automatically entitled to 14 days regardless? Also if the retailer dies t make the consumer aware if the returns period dies the customer then get a year to return where previously it was 3 months and 7 days?

  • John Bird

    Is a funeral a CUSTOM order? Do funeral firms have to apply these regulations..? An example is getting a call in the middle of the night requesting you go to a Customer’s home to collect a deceased person…should the funeral company apply the 14 day cooling off period, are they breaking the law begining work before 14 days expire? People want funeral fairly promptly, do they have to wait for 14 days before they can take place(actually more than 14 days as the business shouldnt do any work before the cancellation period is up)
    Surely funerals are bespoke items and therefore exempt from the regs?

    • Zara Dickinson

      Surely these regulations apply to goods not services. A funeral firm is providing a service, not goods. And I don’t imagine you can change your mind about a coffin once a body has been placed in it, as it is not exactly in an unused resale-able condition.

    • Amelia

      I don’t think a funeral can be classified as distance selling. You don’t mail the coffin to the customer and in my experience the customer has a face to face meeting with the supplier to agree the details of the service.

      • Amelia

        Also, services that were delivered before the 14 day cancellation period expires must be paid for by the customer and services that expire because they were booked for a specific time in the near future are exempt. Additionally I think this service would certainly be classed as bespoke anyway, but you are covered from lots of different angles.

  • Gaz

    Do I need to refund initial postage costs if the customers changes their mind but the item has no faults?

  • Lisa Morrow-Mayer

    Do I have to pay return postage. I bought a printer on eBay from Dabs on 28-11-15 in evening. I tried to cancel using the more options button on 29-11-15 first thing in the morning and it wouldn’t do it. It said I was to late to cancel. I contacted seller direct right away to cancel. Then on Monday 30-11-15 notified they have shipped it. So now I have to pay return shipping.

  • Gaynor

    does this apply to animals sold as pets? I sold a kitten and it was returned about 10 days later because the guy worked long hours, which of course he already knew. I had to have the kitten tested at my vets to make sure that it hadn’t picked up any viruses or bacteria and also because most of my kittens are reserved at 6 weeks and go at 12 weeks their resale price is dramatically reduced if they are returned as they are much older and are classed as a rehome.

  • Peter Callomon

    I have an issue with a company based in Italy who I bought goods from. The goods appeared on time however they came from China. The goods were not suitable and as the distance selling directive permits I am allowed to return them within 14 calendar days of receipt. I am, to my knowledge allowed to claim a refund of the postage required to return the goods. The cost of the sale was about £98.80. The cost of postage to return the goods is £38.70. Am I able to claim a refund of this postage?