30 October, 2012
As the Christmas season approaches consumers are once again trawling the internet in search for Christmas bargains and those must-have presents. Ahead of the festive season the OFT has been sweeping the internet itself searching for breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations and other consumer protection law and unsurprisingly the OFT has found signs that many are not complying with the law. In particular they raised concerns about unreasonable restrictions on customers' rights to a refund and failing to provide an email contact address.
The Office of Fair Trading (the "OFT") has recently issued new guidance to businesses on how to comply with the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (the "Regulations") with as many as half a million people living in remote areas in the UK.
The Regulations affect the buying and selling of goods and services via the internet, phone, mail order, email, interactive TV or text. The OFT found that those consumers living in rural areas were often mislead with information about delivery costs, particularly where they had been promised 'free UK delivery' and in some circumstances businesses had refused to deliver to the consumer altogether.
The upshot of the new guidance is that businesses should now clearly display early on in the transaction any additional delivery charges which are to be imposed on those living in rural areas. The OFT has suggested that any additional charges should be capable of justification by the supplier. None delivery of goods, to those in rural areas, should only be considered where it can be justified by objective criteria; such criteria may include the additional cost of delivery owing to distance. Unless expressly agreed otherwise, the supplier should also ensure that goods are delivered within 30 days from the day after the day the customer sends the order, or provide a refund.
Distance should not prohibit consumers from returning goods for free, either where the goods supplied are faulty or where unwanted goods are returned within the statutory seven-day cooling offer period; unless the consumer has been notified in writing that additional charges may apply.
It is no longer good enough for businesses to have important pre-contractual information hidden away; the information ought to be provided clearly and comprehensibly. The updated resources are available on the OFT's Distance Selling hub which provides guidance for retailers and business support organisations on regulations that affect buying and selling goods and services via the internet, phone, mail order, email, interactive TV or text.
For advice on meeting your legal obligations to consumers when selling over the internet please contact the Business Law Team on 01254 222399.