Distance selling is the sale of goods or services through mail order, digital TV, phone or text message.
Consumer rights in this area were previously covered by the Distance Selling Regulations. These regulations were replaced by the Consumer Contracts Regulations in June 2014.
Since October 2015, the delivery of goods, including those purchased via distance selling have been covered by the Consumer Rights Act.
When making a purchase through distance selling, what are your consumer rights?
Information the seller must provide before an order is placed
Before an order can be placed, the seller must make clear the following information:
- Business name, address and contact details
- Description of the goods or services
- Price, including taxes
- How to pay
- Delivery details, such as costs and when the goods will arrive
- Minimum length of contract and billing period
- How to end a contract
- How to cancel, including when a consumer would lose the right to cancel
- Whether costs will be charged after a service has been cancelled
- Standard cancellation form, if appropriate
- Conditions for financial deposits and guarantees
- Details on digital content
- Cost of phone calls or other communications when making an order where that cost is more than the basic rate
This information must be written in a way that is easy to understand and supplied in either paper form, by email or some other manner than can be saved for reference by the consumer.
Right to cancel an order
The seller must inform the consumer of their right to cancel the order within 14 days of the order being delivered.
A reason for cancelling is not required.
If the seller does not inform the consumer of their right to cancel, the consumer may cancel at any time during the next year.
If the seller informs the consumer of their right to cancel within that year, the consumer has 14 days to cancel from when they were informed.
Downloads and streaming services
Where the item obtained through distance selling is a download or a streaming service, the seller must:
- inform the consumer that they will lose their 14 day right to cancel should they download or stream content, and the consumer must agree to this
- receive agreement from the consumer to an instant download before they begin the download
- include information on the above in confirmation of the related contract with other pre-contract information
If the seller does not carry out any of these steps, the consumer will retain their right to cancel within 14 days without paying.
Where an item has been picked for a consumer and added to their order without their active involvement, (i.e. the consumer didn’t choose the item themselves), a seller cannot charge for this item.
If a seller does charge for such an item, the consumer has the right to demand this money be repaid to them.
Once the order has been placed
The seller must confirm the contract no later than the delivery of the goods, start of the service or download.
A copy of the contract must be provided to the consumer either on paper, by email or some other form that may be saved for future reference.
Delivery must be made within 30 days of the order, unless agreed with the consumer.
There are a number of situations where the above rules do not apply. These are for:
- purchases worth £42 or less
- NHS prescriptions and treatment, whether they are free of charge or paid for
- construction of new buildings but not extensions
- regularly supplied food and drink
- package holidays, holiday clubs and timeshares
- property letting contracts
- vending machine purchased goods
- using a payphone, or payment for an internet connection
- passenger travel tickets
Delivery of goods
The seller is responsible for the condition of the goods until they have been received by the consumer, or by someone on the consumer’s behalf, for instance, where delivered to a neighbour.
The seller is therefore responsible for the service provided by the courier it uses, rather than the delivery service bearing that responsibility. What this means is that it is the seller’s responsibility to ensure that delivery takes place within the standard 30 days (unless otherwise arranged with the consumer).
Should delivery be late, and the consumer required the item to be delivered on time, they may cancel the order and be given a full refund.
Returns and refunds
If a purchased item is faulty, not as described or does not serve the purpose it was intended for, the consumer must be offered a full refund.
There are a number of exceptions to this:
- where the consumer knowingly purchased a faulty item
- where the consumer damaged the item in an attempt to repair it or to have someone else repair it
- where the consumer doesn’t want the item anymore unless the purchase was made without seeing the item first
There are certain items that only require a refund to be made if they are faulty, including:
- personalised items
- custom-made items such as curtains
- magazines and newspapers
- computer software, DVDs and CDs that are supplied unwrapped
A refund must be made to consumers who cancel their order within 14 days. Once the order is cancelled, the consumer has 14 days to return the goods, and the refund must be made within 14 days of the goods being received by the seller.
If a consumer accepts an item (confirms receipt to the seller and possibly alters the item) and discovers it is faulty at a later date, the seller may be liable to repair or replace it. The consumer also has the right to reject the item even after it has been repaired or replaced.
The seller must repair or replace a faulty item if the consumer returns it within 6 months, unless the seller can prove that the item was not faulty when purchased. In this situation, the seller may ask a consumer for proof that an item was faulty when they bought it.
Consumers have the right to make a claim for an item up to 6 years from when they purchased it. In Scotland, the time is shorter, at 5 years.
Regardless of whether a consumer has a warranty or guarantee for a purchased item, they still have a right to free repairs or a replacement.
Should the consumer ask for proof of purchase, this can be provided in the following ways, among others:
- sales receipt
- packaging label
- bank statement showing the payment going out
Should an attempt be made to return an item by a person other than the consumer who purchased that item, the seller does not have to accept this return.
Telephone call charges
If the consumer has to phone the seller regarding the purchase, the Consumer Contracts Regulations states that helpline phone charges may not be in excess of the basic call rate for existing customers.
This applies to the purchase of goods and services alike.
Should a consumer be charged excessive call fees over the basic call rate, they have the right to claim the extra charges back.
How legal advice can help
As a consumer, should you find yourself in any doubt about how to deal with a return, refund or exercise your consumer rights, take legal advice to ensure that your rights and interests are dealt with fairly by the seller.