Distance Selling and Consumer protection

Distance Selling and Consumer protection explained

As the way we shop has completely changed with the introduction of the internet and mail order, it was necessary to create and implement regulations to prevent problems and to protect consumers. In 2000, the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations were introduced and this legislation created a number of requirements that businesses had to comply with.

Distance Selling

These regulations are applicable to both products and services and specifically when a business and a consumer enter into a contract. This contract is created when the customer and the business haven’t met face to face such as over the phone or online.

There are however exceptions to this rule. These exceptions are applicable to the following:

  • Contracts that are created between businesses (B2B)
  • Financial services which have been sold at a distance. These are instead covered by the Financial Services (Direct Marketing) Regulations instead
  • A contract that relates to the acquisition of land
  • A product purchased from a vending machine
  • Products or services bought through an auction with an auctioneer


There has been an area of contention with respect to Ebay, particularly in relation to the last point mentioned above. This is because some people believe that Ebay is in fact an auction site and the managers of eBay are the auctioneers.

A Supreme Court in Germany ruled that an online auction is not a ‘real’ auction as such and therefore the European Directive on distance selling which can relate to online auctions. However in the UK a decision on this issue hasn’t been made and as such online auctions aren’t covered by the regulations.

Consumer Rights

When the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 can be used, consumers have a cooling off period when they are within their rights to cancel the contract. There doesn’t have to be a particular reason for the cancellation, a consumer can simply change their mind.

When goods are purchased the cooling period is usually 7 days from the day that the product is received. If a service is purchased, the 7 days will expire in 7 working days from the date of order. With certain purchases the cooling off period is slightly longer, lasting 3 months.

That being said, there are certain products that are excluded from this cooling off period.

This includes:

  • Made to order products such as bespoke designs or custom products
  • Perishable products such as flowers and fresh food
  • DVDs, CDs and tapes if the packaging has been removed
  • Magazines and newspapers
  • Products purchased for gaming, betting and lottery

Refunds and Returns

A refund can be issued if the consumer notifies the supplier before the end of the cooling off period. The consumer must state that they wish to cancel the contract. Where a cancellation occurs, the business must issue a full refund within 30 days.

If you do cancel your contract however, it is important to understand that the onus is on you to return the product to the company you bought it from. You have a duty to take reasonable care of the product until they are sent back to the supplier.

However, suppliers cannot force a customer to return products. The customer will be fulfilling their duty to restore the goods to the supplier simply by making them available for collection. Businesses can include a clause in their contracts which will state that customers are required to return the product to the supplier and pay the costs associated with this.

Contracts must also include provisions if the business would like the consumer to meet the costs associated with returning unwanted products. The situation is slightly different if the product turns out to be faulty or defective. In this instance, a supplier cannot charge for recovery of the items.

If a supplier refuses to issue a refund or they will not allow you to return the products then you can involve the Office of Fair Trading and Trading Standards. These regulatory bodies are responsible for enforcing the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000.

About the Author
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers team and posted by Lloyd Barrett, Admin & Customer Services Manager for online advice service Expert Answers. Expert Answers provides legal advice to users in the UK who post a question on their secure platform.

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