The UK’s Distance Selling Regulations

The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 came into force in the UK on 31st October 2000. They include a vast array of regulations and rather than concentrating on them all I will concentrate on the most important requirements.

When do the regulations apply?

The regulations apply to distance contracts, these are contracts:

  • For the sale of goods or the provision of services.
  • Between supplier and the consumer (business to business distance selling does not fall under these regulations).
  • Under an organised distance sales or service provision scheme.
  • Where the supplier communicates with the consumer without ever coming face to face with the consumer.

Such distance communication would include:

  • Unaddressed or addressed printed matter.
  • Letters.
  • Press advertising with order forms.
  • Catalogues.
  • Telephone with or without human intervention.
  • Email.
  • Fax and
  • Television.

But the regulations do not apply at all to: contracts for the sale or transfer of land, contracts for the supply of financial services, contracts concluded by automated vending machines or other automated commercial premises, contracts by telephone through the use of public pay phones and contracts concluded by auction.

What do the regulations require?

The regulations require a supplier to:

  1. Give certain information to consumers prior to concluding the contract.
  2. Give consumers written confirmation of their order.
  3. Repay sums paid by consumers within a certain time period.
  4. Perform the contract within a certain time period.

Prior to the conclusion of the contract the following must be provided in a clear and comprehensible manner:

  1. Identity of the supplier and if payment in advance is required then the supplier’s address.
  2. Description of the main characteristics of the goods or services.
  3. Price of the goods or services, inclusive of taxes.
  4. Delivery costs, where appropriate.
  5. Payment arrangements.
  6. Delivery arrangements or arrangements for performance of the service, e.g. when the customer can expect delivery of the goods or performance of the services.
  7. That there is a seven day cooling off period.
  8. If the consumer is to use a premium rate telephone number, the cost of the call must be specified.
  9. Length of any special offers/how long the price remains valid.
  10. Minimum duration of the contract in the case of a contract to supply goods or services.
  11. If substitute goods or services may be provided in the event of those ordered by the customer being unavailable.Â
  12. Notification that the supplier will meet the costs of the consumer of returning any substitute goods they do not want.

Suppliers must provide their customers with confirmation of prior information in order to ensure it is enforceable, they must also provide the customer with further information:

  • Details regarding the fact that the consumer has the right to cancel the contract at any time and how this right can be exercised.
  • Details of cancellation process: including address.
  • If consumer is responsible for cost of returning goods to supplier if the consumer cancels.
  • Address of business.
  • After sales guarantees etc.
  • Conditions for cancelling contract where it is of unspecified duration or is longer than one year.

This information must be given to the consumer either before the conclusion of the contract of before or during the performance of the contract.

A distance contract can be cancelled at any time during the ‘cancellation period’ by notification of said intention in writing.

Cancellation period for goods: where written confirmation and additional information is provided before or at the time of delivery then there is a cancellation period of seven days. Where written confirmation and additional information is provided within three months of delivery then the cancellation period will end seven days after receipt of the written confirmation/additional information. Where the obligation to give written confirmation and additional information is not fulfilled within three months then the cancellation period ends three months and seven days from the day after the delivery day. Sellers can also extend these cancellation periods as they see fit, provided of course they do not mislead consumers as to their rights.

Cancellation period for services:

  • Where written confirmation and additional information is provided on or before the conclusion of a contract for services then the cancellation period is seven days.
  • Where written confirmation and additional information is provided after the contract has concluded but within three months, then the cancellation period lasts for seven days after the information is provided.
  • Where the service provider has the consumers consent to begin the performance of the services before the seven day cancellation period and the additional information is provided before performance of the services begins then the cancellation period ends when the performance of the services begins. If though the same situation occurs but the information is not given before the services are rendered then the cancellation period will end seven days from the date of receipt of written conformation and the additional information.
  • Where the obligation to give written conformation and additional information is not fulfilled within three months of the contract being concluded the cancellation period is three months and seven working days from the day on which the contract concluded.

If a contract is cancelled by a consumer then any sum paid by the consumer must be repaid within thirty days of cancellation.

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