Consumers purchasing goods, services or digital content are entitled to the rights as set out in The Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013. These Regulations go hand in hand with The Consumer Rights Act 2015 and the specific information varies depending on how the sale is made (online, ‘off-premises’ or face-to-face) so be sure note what scenario applies to you.
The Regulations came into effect from 13th June 2014 and superseded the previous directive, The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. However, please note that these older Regulations still cover any contract entered before 13 June 2014 - please see our guide for more information.
In this guide, we will break down and summarise the Regulations where it applies to 'distance’ or online selling and how it affects you and your business.
When conducting online (distance) sales, you are obligated to provide certain information to your customers. This applies to all types of sales, including goods, services and digital content:
Description - an adequate summary of what you are selling which also details the length of the commitment by the customer, if applicable
Price - the total cost of the goods or how the cost will be calculated if a set amount can’t be confirmed prior to the sale
Payment Method - how the goods or services will be paid for and when they will be made available to the customer
Additional Costs - any extra costs that are or may be payable if they are not calculated in advance for example, delivery charges
Cancellations - whether the consumer has the right to cancel or change their mind, and provide an easy-to-use cancellation form
Returns - which party covers any cost of returning the goods
Details - easily accessible information about yourself, the seller, which includes contact information and address
Digital Guidelines - If you are selling digital services, software compatibility of the content will have to be provided (to the best of your knowledge)
If as the seller you do not provide all of the information set out in the Regulations, you risk the cancellation rights of the consumer being extended by up to a year. The information can be provided in various forms which constitute a ‘durable medium’, with email being the easiest for online selling. If you are making some or the majority of sales via phone, you can also provide the information verbally when the contract is also made by phone. You must also provide confirmation of the contract when the sale is made.
As you can imagine, the Regulations also give consumers specific rights when they’ve entered into a contract with you i.e when they’ve made the purchase and depend on what you are selling.
Customers have the right to cancel any order as soon as they confirm the purchase, up until 14 days after they’ve received the good or service. If you are sending a single order in multiple deliveries, then the 14 day period starts from when the customer receives the last item, not the first. Be aware that the customer is entitled to a further 14 days from when they cancelled to send any goods back to you. The timescale provided by the Regulation is the minimum that’s required, so you can always increase this period if you did want to. It’s also worth checking if the goods you sell fall into the ‘exempted’ category which impacts the consumer's cancellations rights.
Similar to goods, customer have 14 days to cancel a service from the start date of the contract. Depending on when the service is provided by you, immediately or after the 14 day cancellation period, the customers right to cancel will differ. If the service is provided straight away, you have the option to charge the customer for the value of the service that is provided up until they cancel. Again, there are some exemptions where customers do not have the right to cancel a service, for example, car hire, hotel booking and more.
The Regulations set out specific measures for digital downloads and cancellations. Unless the consumer has given their explicit consent to receiving the content within the 14 day cancellation period, then you aren’t allowed to give the download to them. Once the customer has initiated the download, you need to ensure that they are aware that it results in them losing their right to cancel. If consent is not gained at this point, they will have to wait until the cancellation period has expired before downloading the content.
When you have received the returned goods or if proof of postage and been provided by the customer, you should take relevant action to ensure the customer receives the refund within 14 days. You can make a deduction to the refunded amount if you feel the customer has handled the goods more than necessary and as a result, caused damage and loss of value. Obviously, this scenario is on a case by case basis so it’s down to your discretion on what a reasonable amount to deduct is.
If a customer has received a faulty good, including digital content, customers are entitled to the same rights as detailed in the Consumer Rights Act. As stated, if the goods or digital content are not of a satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or differ from what was advertised, consumers are entitled to a full refund up until 30 days after of when the customer took ownership of the product. However, this doesn’t apply if the customer has downloaded the product but they can ask for it to be repaired or replaced if the download develops a fault.
When arranging delivery of a product, it’s worth bearing in mind that you as the seller are responsible for the condition of the goods until they are received by the customer, as stated in the Consumer Rights Act. This means that until the customer receives their order, you are liable for the service provided and not the selected company or service you have chosen to deliver the products.
Unless you have specifically agreed a longer period with the customer, you have 30 days in which to deliver the goods. If the delivery arrives later than agreed, regardless of whether the delivery is time essential or not, the consumers are entitled to cancel their purchase and request a full refund.
If as a business you offer a helpline where customers can enquire about products they’ve already purchased, the Consumer Contracts Regulation prevents you from using a premium rate number and you mustn’t charge more than the basic rate for calls.
For more information on the Consumer Contracts Regulations, you can read the full legislation here.
Please note that this guide is not intended as legal advice.