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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Internet, mail order and telephone shopping

You have certain rights when you buy something online or by mail order, phone or television. Find out how these rights protect you if there’s a problem with your order or you want to cancel because you’ve changed your mind.

Your rights when you buy goods or services

Video guide to buying online

Watch this short guide to your consumer rights when buying online

The law gives you rights when you buy goods or services without face-to-face contact. It covers:

  • online shopping
  • television shopping, eg from shopping channels
  • mail order shopping, eg from a catalogue
  • shopping by phone and fax

The laws says that:

  • you must be given clear information about the goods or services before you buy
  • you must get written confirmation of this information after you have made your purchase
  • there is usually a ‘cooling-off period’ where you can cancel your order for any reason
  • you can get a refund if items aren’t delivered on the agreed delivery date

If no delivery date is given, you can get a refund if items aren’t delivered within 30 days of placing your order.

The usual rules that apply to shopping on the high street also apply to distance selling. So items must be:

  • as described
  • of satisfactory quality
  • fit for purpose

Find out more about these shopping rights by following the link below.

The cooling-off period and your right to cancel

If you buy something without face-to-face contact, you will usually have a ‘cooling off period’ of seven working days. It lets you can cancel the order for any reason and get your money back.

If you decide to cancel your order within the cooling off period, you must tell the trader in writing.

You don’t have this cancellation right:

  • when a new service starts immediately (eg paying for access to a website)
  • if the item is personalised or made to order
  • if the item is perishable, eg food or flowers
  • for newspapers or magazines
  • where the security seal has been broken on a CD, DVD or computer software
  • if you buy something from an online auction like eBay - this is known as a private sale

If you have already paid for the items or services, the trader must refund your money within 30 days of you cancelling the agreement.

When the cooling-off period starts

The seven working day cooling-off period usually starts on the day after you receive the goods.

But the trader has to tell you in writing:

  • your right to a cooling off period
  • how to cancel your order
  • who is responsible for returning goods
  • who has to pay the cost of returning goods if you cancel in the cooling-off period
  • information about any after-sales service
  • the address to use for complaints

If you don’t get this information, your cooling-off period extends up to a maximum of three months and seven working days. For example if the trader takes one month to tell you in writing, you get a cooling-off period of one month and seven working days.

If the wrong item is delivered or it’s faulty

If you've been sent the wrong item or the item is faulty, you can return it and ask for your money back. In these cases the seller must cover the cost of returning the items.

Buying from overseas

Sellers can be based anywhere in the world – even if a website has a UK web address ending ‘’. If the seller is based outside of the EU, check the terms and conditions of the contract to see which country's law applies.

Follow the link below to find out who to complain to if things go wrong when buying abroad.

Buying safely

There are scam websites that offer items for sale to get your money and personal details like your credit card number. Other scams include salespeople selling items at inflated prices or products that aren’t delivered. Follow the links below to find out how to protect yourself from scams.

If you need to make a complaint

Get advice from Consumer Direct

For practical consumer advice call 08454 04 05 06

If you need to complain about something you’ve bought, always go back to the seller first, eg the website or TV channel. 

If you don’t hear back from the seller or don’t agree with their response, you should make a complaint in writing.

If you’ve paid using credit (eg a credit card), you can also complain to the finance company (see link below).

If you’ve paid using Visa, Mastercard or Maestro, you may be able to complain to their ‘chargeback’ scheme. This will cover you if there’s a problem with the goods or the seller has stopped trading. You will need to contact the card company to make a claim.

If you bought the item from a national newspaper, you can complain to the Safe Home Ordering Protection scheme.

You can get advice on disputes from Consumer Direct, the government funded consumer advice service.

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