New Distance Selling Regulations 2014
If you sell anything online then you will already be aware of the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 which you have to comply with. As with anything to do with the Internet, times change and things need to be updated. An entirely new set of regulations called The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 will apply to anything that you sell through your website from the 13th June 2014 onwards. Here is a summary of what is changing and how this might affect you.
Information provided to the consumer
Before the buyer purchases anything from your website, you have to tell them the main characteristics of the goods or services they are buying as well as all additional costs such as delivery charges. The total price inclusive of taxes must be shown to them. The consumer does not have to pay any extra fees if they were not properly informed of them before they placed their order.
The consumer must explicitly acknowledge, at the time of placing the order, that they understand that placing an order implies an obligation to pay:
Where the ordering process requires activating a button or a similar function, the retailer must ensure that the button or similar function is labelled in an easily legible manner, only with the words ‘order with obligation to pay’.
Once the order has been placed, you are required to provide the consumer with a copy of their order on a ‘durable medium’ – email counts. The sale is not considered final until you’ve sent this and the 14 days cooling off period starts at this point. This email must contain: (ii) the identity of the trader; (iii) the total price of the goods/services (inclusive of taxes); and (iv) all additional delivery charges and any other costs. You also have to tell them about their right to cancel.
Increased cooling-off period
The cooling off period for cancelling and returning products purchased on the internet increases to 14 days. Certain goods do remain exempt from this, such as personalised items or anything that will deteriorate rapidly (food or flowers). You must inform the consumer of their withdrawal rights, otherwise they can still return the items up to a year later! This cooling off period now applies to items sold through online auctions such as eBay too.
Supplying a sample withdrawal form
Consumers must be given access to a cancellation form that they can use to exercise their right to cancel. The consumer does not have to use this form to cancel but it is intended to make it quicker and easier for them to exercise their rights. The best way of doing this on a website is with a form that they can fill out and submit.
Banning pre-ticked boxes
You can’t use ‘pre-ticked’ boxes to sell additional services like insurance or gift-wrapping. Consumers must expressly consent to buying anything additional and can request a refund for anything that was automatically selected for them. My interpretation of this is that it applies to non-standard delivery charges too, so you can’t pre-select express delivery options which will incur an extra charge.
Better refund rights
To get a refund, consumers are now required to return goods or provide evidence that goods have been returned. If the consumer has to cover the cost of returning the items to you, then you must have informed them of this before they placed the order. Consumers have to return the goods to you within 14 days of cancelling. On the other hand, you have 14 days to give them their money after receipt of the returned goods (or evidence of their return).
Surcharges and expensive helplines
If you make a surcharge for a particular payment method you can only pass on the actual cost to you, you can’t make up an arbitrary fee. If you provide a telephone line for consumers to contact you about an order they placed, calling this line can only be charged at normal geographic or mobile phone rates. This means that you can no longer use numbers that start 09, 084, 0871, 0872 or 0873. The consumer is entitled to claim any overcharge back from you.
What about selling digital downloads?
The same rule applies about giving as much information about the download as you can. You should include information about the file type, language, compatibility and any geographical restrictions. Consumers still have the right to withdraw from the contract within 14 days, however once they request the download to start they lose their cancellation rights. Your terms and conditions must inform the consumer that they will lose their right to cancel once they begin the download.
Most online stores will need to review and update their terms and conditions. You can read the full legislation here. If you need any specific help, you should seek legal advice. Please note that this article is not an authoritative representation of the law and is for guidance only.
In addition to updating your terms and conditions, you will probably need to add a cancellation/withdrawal form to your website and change the text on the ‘place order’ button. These are fairly trivial changes but you may need the help of a web developer to complete them in time.