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Internet, mail order and telephone shopping

More people in the UK are choosing to shop from home, so it’s important to know how to buy things safely. Internet shopping in particular is on the increase and with sellers all over the world, it pays to know your rights.

Your consumer rights

The Distance Selling Regulations 2000 cover goods or services sold without face-to-face contact. They cover:

  • the internet
  • television
  • mail order, including catalogue shopping
  • phone and fax

The regulations say that:

  • you must be given clear information about the goods or services before you buy
  • goods must be delivered within thirty days unless agreed otherwise
  • there is a ‘cooling off period’ where you can cancel the contract to buy for any reason

The usual rules that apply to shopping on the high street also apply to distance selling. So adverts and descriptions must not be misleading and goods must be:

  • of satisfactory quality
  • fit for purpose, meaning they can do the job they were made for

You can find out more about shopping rights in the Directgov article ‘Your consumer rights and where to get help’.

The cooling off period and your right to cancel

The cooling off period begins as soon as an order has been made. For goods (such as books or electrical items) it ends seven working days after the day you get the items.

For services (such as mobile phone contracts), it ends seven working days after the day the order was made. If you agree to the service beginning within the seven days, your right to cancel ends when the service starts.

The cooling off period and right to cancel do not cover contracts for:

  • goods made to the your specification (custom-made)
  • perishable goods (flowers, fresh food)
  • CDs, DVDs, and tapes for software, audio or video if they are unsealed (have no packaging)
  • newspapers and magazines
  • betting, gaming and lotteries

Buying from overseas

Sellers on the internet in particular can be based anywhere in the world. This will affect your rights as you will only be covered by the laws of that country.

If you buy from traders in the European Union (EU) you have many of the rights you have in the UK. In the USA and elsewhere problems could be more difficult to sort out - so check the small print.

If you need to take legal action, going to court can be very expensive and time-consuming if the seller is based abroad.  

What to check

Bear in mind that:

  • in the EU, the card company must refund you if your credit or debit card is used fraudulently
  • you should get the supplier's phone number and postal address
  • keep a copy of what you've ordered, plus the supplier's confirmation message if you buy online
  • in many cases in the EU the law lets you change your mind and get a refund within seven working days of the delivery

What to do if things go wrong

Internet companies in the UK

First, put your complaint in writing and ask the company to put things right. You can use a Distance Selling regulations template letter from the link below to help you do this. If you aren’t happy with their response, contact Consumer Direct for advice. 

Overseas internet companies

 Ask the supplier to put things right. However if you still aren’t happy, any complaints about international internet companies can be sent to the Econsumer website. You can also contact Consumer Direct for advice.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help with complaints about internet companies in the EU.

Television auction channels

If you have a problem then you should contact the television channel to sort it out.

If you are not happy with their response, you can complain to the television and radio regulator Ofcom (The Office of Communications). 

Mail order companies

Try and sort out the problem with the company first of all. Send them your complaint in writing.

If the company doesn’t resolve your complaint, you can contact the Mail Order Traders' Association (MOTA). 

Telephone companies

Try and sort out the problem with the company first of all. Send them your complaint in writing.

If you still aren’t satisfied, PhonepayPlus deals with complaints about phone-paid services in the UK.

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