If you buy something from a business online as a consumer, you will have the same Consumer Rights Act protection as if you had walked into a shop. You will however also have additional rights and a cooling off period under the Distance Selling Regulations (DSR). These apply where there is no physical contact between the supplier and the consumer. If you do not meet the trader who is selling you the goods or services in person, you have this additional protection and a cooling off period.

Shopping online for goods or services is now usual and may soon be the most common way of purchasing many items. There are many advantages but there are also risks. The Distance Selling Regulations seek to address and minimise these by allowing a cooling off period.

Under the Distance Selling Regulations you have a number of additional consumer rights. These are that, before you decide to buy, you are provided with details of:

• the seller’s name and address if you are to pay in advance,
• an accurate description of the goods or services,
• the price including any taxes and the delivery charge,
• delivery arrangements,
• payment arrangements.

In addition, you must be given information as to:

• your right to change your mind and cancel;
• whether you will be responsible for the cost of return of the goods if you cancel;
• the minimum term of any contract for services entered into.

The contract should also deal with the delivery time for goods. If it does not, the goods must reach you within 30 days.

Cooling off

The Distance Selling Regulations therefore allow for a cooling off period. This is seven days from the date you receive the goods. During this time you can change your mind and cancel the contract. You will be entitled to a full refund of all monies paid without any cancellation charge or other extras. The cost of returning the goods will be payable by the supplier unless agreed otherwise.

If you decide to cancel you should always give notice in writing. This can be by post, fax or e-mail but you should always have proof that you cancelled within the seven-day period. Your money must then be refunded within 30 days.

You are required to look after the goods whilst in your possession and to make them available for collection should this be requested by the trader. Should the trader fail to collect them within 21 days after saying that he will do so you may then use the goods as you choose.

There is no requirement that the goods be returned unopened. Clearly you have to have the opportunity to inspect them and providing they are in reasonable condition when returned the seller can have no complaint.

In the case of services, the cooling off period will run from seven working days after the order was given or written confirmation received.

There are some exceptions when the cooling off period will not apply. There will be no cooling off period in the case of:

  • accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services
  • package travel and timeshare arrangements
  • food, drinks or other goods delivered regularly to the consumer’s home or workplace by a ‘regular roundsman’, such as a milkman or domestic oil supplier
  • goods made to the customer’s specification
  • goods that are perishable or can’t be returned, such as frozen food and fresh flowers
  • audio or video recordings or computer software that the consumer has opened
  • newspapers or magazines
  • betting, gaming and lotteries
  • premium-rate telephone and website services
  • services that begin, by agreement, before the end of the cooling-off period.