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Online and Distance Selling
The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (SI 2000 No. 2334), transpose into UK Law Directive 97/7/EC on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts. The scope of the Regulations is very broad. They cover both goods and services, where the contract is made without any face to face contact between supplier and consumer. Many businesses already use terms and conditions that meet these regulations, but all need to check that they do comply.
The purpose of the Directive is to increase consumer confidence and so strengthen the single European market by providing an agreed minimum level of consumer protection throughout the EC. The aim of the cooling-off period is to give consumers an opportunity to examine the goods or services being offered, as they would have when buying in a shop. The right to cancel is fundamental, however this is balanced in the Regulations by the consumer's responsibility to take care of the goods before returning them. The Directive does not apply to business to business transactions.
A distance contract is defined in the Regulations as "any contract concerning goods or services concluded between a supplier and a consumer under an organised distance sales or service-provision scheme run by the supplier who, for the purpose of the contract, makes exclusive use of one or more means of distance communication up to and including the moment at which the contract is concluded".
The seller must provide clear and comprehensible information to enable the consumer to decide whether to buy. This must include:
- the seller's name and, if payment is required in advance, his/her postal address
- a description of the goods or services
- the price including all taxes
- delivery costs where they apply
- arrangements for payment
- arrangements and date for delivery
- the right to cancel the order
- how long the offer or the price remains valid
If a business uses cold calling by telephone to sell to consumers, the caller must clearly identify the business (s)he represents and the commercial purpose of the call at the beginning of the conversation.
When an order has been made the seller must send to the consumer confirmation of the prior information in writing or another durable medium, such as fax or e-mail, unless it has already been provided in writing, eg. in a catalogue or advertisement. This should include information on when and how the consumer can exercise the right to cancel, a postal address where (s)he can contact you and details of any after-sales services and guarantees. The seller must provide this confirmation at the latest by the time that the goods are delivered or, in the case of services, before or in good time during the performance of the contract. If you are providing a service with no specified end date or for a period of more than one year, for example a mobile phone, satellite or cable television or gas and electricity supply, you must also send details about when and how the consumer can terminate the contract.
An organised distance sales or service provision scheme
The Directive applies only to contracts concluded in the context of organised distance sales or service-provision schemes, so it is probable that the Regulations do not apply if a business:
- does not normally sell to consumers in response to letters, phone calls, faxes or e-mails and
- does not operate an interactive shopping web site If, for example, you do not usually supply consumers by distance means, but you agree to do so in response to a one-off request, you do not need to comply with the Regulations. However, if your business regularly handles "one-off" requests and is organised so that it can deal with such requests (ie. there is for example a mail order facility), you do need to ensure that you fulfil the Regulations.
Exclusive use of one or more means of distance communications
This means that there has been no face to face contact with a representative of your business or someone acting indirectly on your behalf, such as in a showroom or a door to door salesman, up to and including the moment when the consumer confirms his/her order to buy the goods or service offered. More than one means of distance communication may be used. For example, a television or newspaper advertisement could give a website address or telephone number that enables the consumer to place an order. A list of examples of means of distance communication relevant to these Regulations is given at Schedule 1 to the Regulations. These include mail, telephone, e-mail, fax, printed advertising, radio and television.
You can also contact Birmingham Trading Standards, see Trading Standards for contact details.