Selling at a distance (via the internet, phone, etc) - before 13 June 2014

This is article number 181433 from the Trading Standards Institute.

The main legislation specific to distance selling and internet trading is the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (often referred to as the Distance Selling Regulations or DSRs).

The DSRs apply to products or services that are being sold to consumers without face-to-face contact, and where the consumer has not had an opportunity to examine the goods before buying or discuss the service in person.

These Regulations require consumers to be given clear information about the goods and services offered, and the right to cancel within seven working days. Clear information including the company details, terms and conditions, description of goods, cancellation rights, and pricing information must be available and easily accessible to consumers.

In the guide
What is distance selling?
Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000
The right to cancel
Effects of cancellation
Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
Other consumer protection legislation
Penalties
Further reading

What is distance selling?
Distance selling includes the following (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • internet
  • letter
  • press advertising with order form
  • catalogue
  • telephone
  • email
  • teleshopping

Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000
Key features of the Regulations:

  • consumers must be given clear information about the goods or services offered before making a purchase, which includes the following:
    - sufficient detail for consumers to be able to identify the business they are dealing with
    - description of the main characteristics of goods
    - details of delivery and costs
    - price of goods and how payments can be made
    - if payment is required in advance, a full geographical address must be provided
    - arrangements for delivery. Goods should be delivered within 30 days unless the parties agree to a different period
    - information about consumers' right to cancel (see below for further information on the right to cancel)
  • after making a purchase, consumers must be sent confirmation in writing, or in a another durable medium (email) and be informed about the following:
    - when and how to exercise their rights under the DSRs to cancel including, whether the trader requires the goods to be returned by the consumer and if so who will pay for their return
    - details of any guarantees or after-sales services
    - geographical address of the business (not a PO box address)

A full list of the information that must be provided to a consumer is contained in the above legislation.

For contracts made from 13 June 2014 however, the above legislation is superseded by the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. See our leaflet 'Selling at a distance (via the internet, phone, etc) - from 13 June 2014' for more information.

The right to cancel
The consumer has the right to cancel the distance contract from the moment the contract is made. For services this period runs seven working days from the day after the contract was concluded and for goods seven working days from the day after the day on which the consumer receives the goods.

For services, the supplier must provide the consumer with information as to how the right to cancel may be affected if the consumer agrees to performance beginning less than seven working days after the contract was concluded. This information must be provided prior to or in good time during the performance of the contract.

Effects of cancellation
Consumers are entitled to a refund of any money they have paid (this includes the initial delivery costs) in relation to the contract even if the goods are not defective in any way. The refund must be given as soon as possible after the consumer cancels and within a maximum of 30 days. The trader cannot insist goods are returned before a refund is given, nor can the trader insist that the goods are returned unopened and in their original packaging. However, the consumer has a statutory duty to take reasonable care of the goods. If the consumer fails to return the goods or does not take reasonable care of the goods, the trader has a right of action against consumers for these breaches.

The DSRs do not allow traders to make any further charges, such as a restocking charge or an administration charge. Traders can require consumers to pay for the cost of returning the goods but only if the consumer was informed about this before the contract was made. However, traders can never require consumers to pay for returning substitute goods or faulty goods (or any goods that do not comply with the contract) whatever the circumstances.

By complying with the Regulations, and providing the following information in a clear and comprehensible manner, not only are you encouraging the confidence of consumers, you are enhancing the quality of their online shopping experience.

Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
Also related to distance selling are the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002. These Regulations mainly apply to traders who sell/advertise goods or services to businesses or consumers on the internet or by email. Traders must provide the following information (this is not an exhaustive list), some of which overlap with the DSRs:

  • the full name of your business. If you are a limited company you will need to state this or if you are an individual/partnership you will need to state the name of the individual/partner(s)
  • the geographic address at which your business is established
  • your contact details, including email address
  • details of any publicly accessible trade or similar register with which you are registered
  • if your service is subject to an authorisation scheme or if you are a member of a professional body, details of the relevant supervisory authority or body
  • details of any code of practice to which you subscribe
  • your VAT registration number
  • where you refer to prices, a clear and unambiguous indication of those prices and whether the prices include taxes and delivery costs
  • details of stages involved in the ordering process, including any costs involved in distance communication if the cost is anything other than a standard rate

Other consumer protection legislation
It is also strongly recommended where relevant that retail sites incorporate a system to prevent sales of age-restricted products such as alcohol, spray paints, video games and DVDs to persons under the required age. There are many more goods that are subject to age restriction - see our leaflet 'Age-restricted products' for more information.

As well as the laws covered above, trading standards services enforce a range of consumer and trading legislation (covering such areas as misleading prices and product safety), that might affect you. Please browse our other leaflets to see if anything else covers your area of business. If your business sells via auction websites, please see our leaflet 'Internet auction sites and marketplaces'.

Existing consumer protection law applies to distance selling - see particularly our leaflets 'The sale and supply of goods - civil law' and 'A guide to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations'.

Penalties
Where the breach affects the collective interest of consumers, a business may also be subject to an enforcement order by a trading standards service or other regulator. Using the Enterprise Act 2002, they can apply to the courts for an injunction against any business found not complying with the Regulations.

Further reading
More information can be found in the Distance Selling hub on the Trading Standards Institute website.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. Please contact us for further information.

Relevant legislation
Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000
Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
Enterprise Act 2002
Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

Last reviewed/updated: May 2014

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