Distance Selling Act

E-commerce in the UK is governed by the Distance Selling Regulations 2000, which are designed to protect consumers who are purchasing over the internet, by mail order, telephone or email. The regulations apply to business-to-consumer transactions but not to business-to-business. Here is a short summary of the regulations and a link to the official guide from the Office of Fair Trading.

PURCHASING/INFORMATION RIGHTS

The consumer has the right to the following information as part of their purchase:

  • Full details of the vendor, including company name, contact information, legal status of the business, company registration number (if applicable), registered office address, VAT registration number (if applicable), 'regulated by' information (if applicable)
  • Written terms of the purchase, including the right to cancel, price (showing whether inclusive or exclusive of taxes), delivery cost, quantity, description of goods, delivery information
  • Written confirmation of the order (can be via email)

Delivery must be made within 30 days unless otherwise agreed with the consumer. If a specific delivery timeframe is agreed, such as 3 working days, then the delivery must be completed within that time.

Customers must be given all the relevant information, including the company's terms and conditions, prior to the purchase. It could be argued that if a company's terms and conditions are not property visible before the purchase, then they are not binding upon the customer. A clear link to the terms and conditions page is acceptable however, even if the customer decides not to click it.

CANCELLATION RIGHTS

Under the Distance Selling Regulations a customer has a period of 7 working days within which to cancel their purchase, regardless of whether the goods have already been delivered. Unless a company's terms and conditions state otherwise, the company is liable to cover the cost of returning the goods. A customer is entitled to a full refund, including the cost of delivery (both ways if applicable), for any goods that are returned because of a fault or defect.

The cancellation rights do not apply to:

  • Hospitality or transport services (if they are supplied on a specific date for a specific period of time)
  • Perishable or customised goods
  • Electronic goods such as software, audio or video
  • Publications, including newspapers and magazines
  • Gaming betting or lottery services

MORE INFORMATION

The Office of Fair Trading has a published a comprehensive 48-page guide for businesses on distance selling. You can download it here.