What are your Consumer Rights when buying online or at a distance – By Amanda Hamilton
As a consumer, you have rights. The main statute that protects our interests as consumers is the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The unprecedented times we are experiencing means that more and more people are buying all, or most of, their needs online – especially Christmas gifts. So, what are the rules relating to online purchases and how are you protected, particularly if you change your mind or the person you are giving a gift to doesn’t like it?
The answer to this question very much depends on what is purchased online.
This area of law comes under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 which came into force on the 13th June 2014.
In essence, the burden lies with the seller to provide all necessary key information including:
- A description of what is being purchased, the total price and how it is calculated
- How you pay for the items with details of any additional costs and when the item(s) will be delivered to you
- Details of your rights to cancel and the cost of returning, and who pays for the cost of returning items
- In respect of digital items, information on the compatibility of hardware and software as far as the seller is aware (or can reasonably be expected to be aware)
- The geographical location of the seller or the trader on behalf of whom the seller is selling
- Details of how to cancel the purchase
But what happens if you place your order and then change your mind, either before or after the item is delivered?
As a consumer, your right to cancel under the Act start as soon as you pay for the order and ends 14 days after receiving the items or last of a batch of items. If you are purchasing services online then your right to cancel starts as soon as you sign a contract and ends 14 days later.
If a seller does not provide all the necessary information to you, he/she can be sanctioned according to the Consumer Contracts Regulations and the length of time you have a right to cancel may be extended from 14 days to one year. So, if not all the information is supplied by the Seller an automatic extension will apply under the regulations which the consumer can quote. For example, ‘I know my rights under the CCR 2013 and since you haven’t supplied me with all the necessary information, I am now able to cancel for up to one year’
The rights afforded to consumers online under these regulations, are greater than buying face to face which are covered generally by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
In respect of refunds, the seller must refund the cost of the item and standard delivery within 14 days after receiving the returned item or within 14 days of receiving proof that you have returned the item (for example, proof of posting). On the other hand if the seller has agreed to collect the returned item, then a refund should be forthcoming within 14 days of cancelling the contract, whether or not the item has already been collected.
There are, as always, exemptions where the Consumer Contract Regulations do not apply – for example, DVDs, CDs or items where there are seals that are broken including seals that are there for health or hygiene purposes, such as underwear. Also, bookings relating to hotels, flights or car hire are exempt. That does not mean to say that there is no redress on these types of purchases, but that they are exempt for the purposes of the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013.
If you are purchasing services, such as membership of a dance studio, and you decide to cancel after you have attended a few times within the 14 day period, then any refund may be reduced to allow for the benefit you have received.
It is always best to check the sellers’ Terms and Conditions before purchasing anything because while the minimum period of cancellation under the Regulations is 14 days, some sellers may have extended this which gives you, the consumer, a longer period of time to make up your mind. Many sellers do this over the Christmas period as they recognise gifts are bought in advance of Christmas Day and 14 days is not always practical.
A word about Digital Downloads
A seller must not supply a digital download – be it music or software – until the 14 day cancellation period has passed to allow the purchaser, to be absolutely sure that this is what they want. However, the purchaser can give his/her express permission to do so, in which case, the right to cancel is lost. In practice most consumers click a button to ‘download now’ and receive their digital book or music immediately, which means their right to cancel is lost.
Calls to helplines
If you find yourself needing to call the company’s helpline or customer service team, the good news is, it is strictly prohibited under the Consumer Contract Regulations to charge in excess of a normal call rate to any helpline. In other words, no premium rate numbers are allowed!
With all that has been going on this year, and the huge increase in online buying, it’s important to understand your rights, and know how you are protected, when buying remotely. So, be sure to read the terms and conditions, and don’t be afraid to go back to the seller if you need to.
Find out more about consumer rights Here