Distance Selling Consumer Protection

Buying goods and services online or by phone can be risky for the consumer.  The United Kingdom’s Distance Selling regulations are designed to give consumers  confidence to make purchases without having face to face contact with the vendor and to ensure that businesses who engage in distance selling on a regular basis provide their patrons with certain information. 

What is distance selling?

Distance selling is when goods or services are purchased from a vendor by phone, fax, text message, digital television, e-mail, the internet and by regular mail.  Items purchased from catalogs and print media advertisements are also considered as goods bought through distance selling. 

What rights do consumers have?

Consumers are afforded a number of rights under the UK distance selling regulations if they purchase goods from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales through distance selling.  These rights include a “cooling off period,” protection against credit card fraud, price and delivery guarantees and safeguards to protect the buyer’s privacy.   These protections for consumers are in addition to those found in face-to-face transactions.  The distance selling regulations might not, however, apply to businesses that do not engage in distance selling as a part of their overall business plan. 

The “cooling off period” is the keystone of consumer rights under the distance selling laws.  Businesses are required to inform their patrons about this right during the purchase.  Under this provision, consumers have the ability to cancel their purchase without financial repercussions within seven business days of the date of purchase. 

Merchants must also give consumers information on how to properly place an order in addition to providing the terms and conditions of the purchase in a downloadable or printable format.  A notice that the order has been received by the merchant must be sent at the time of purchase.  Traders must also inform customers if their business will keep a record of the purchase that is accessible to the patron and what, if any, codes of conduct apply to the sale.  Other information the seller must provide includes identity of the business, description of the purchase, a price that includes taxes and delivery charges, and payment options.  A physical address must be provided to the customer if advance payment is a requirement.   The goods or services should be received by the consumer within 30 days, unless otherwise agreed upon. 

Exceptions to the Distance Selling Regulations

There are several types of purchases that the distance selling regulations do not apply to.  These include the sale of land, construction contracts where land ownership is transferred, products purchased from vending machines, business to business sales, purchases made from a telephone through an operator and sales made at auctions, including televised auctions.