Consumer Protection Laws on Distance Trading Rights

Many consumers in distance trading suffer financial loss or delays in mail order or online shopping -the consumer protection legislation and Distance Trading Regulations, in basic lay terms, are as follows…

In distant trading mail order companies (including in internet shopping or online shopping) in law do not have to tell you your rights -the entitlement to details exists only if you know your rights and ask ~but it is unlawful also in distance trading for mail order traders expressly or by implication (including orally) to mislead you or to seek to restrict the exercise of your rights in consumer laws.

Whether you have ordered goods from a catalogue, newspaper or magazine, television or internet advertisement, be they on approval or not, goods such as a jackets or dress or shoes, music CDs, video cassettes, DVDs or books, whether a one off purchase or periodically by club membership, paid for by cash or on credit, by debit or credit card, in full or in part, there are some consumer rights not commonly known under various consumer laws and mail order schemes which sometimes can save you time, effort, money.

For example, mail order companies must service serviceable goods they sell, and your credit card company also may be liable.

Catalogues usually subscribe to a mail order traders’ association whose logo they display, and there are expectations from them…

1. They must provide accurate information about such details as material used, colour, and size, of the goods they advertise, as well as regarding installation and anything that may restrict their use ~they must state any restriction on availability or delivery -as well as all charges involved, including any extra delivery charges.

2. You must be able within a stated period of time, usually two weeks, to return unwanted goods -if faulty or substitute goods (which must be on approval) post paid by them ~and if goods may require servicing you must be given fullest details if you ask.

3. You must be told how to complain should the occasion arise and speedily must be dealt with complaints and sympathetically.

Book or Music Clubs mostly subscribe to a mail order publishers association whose symbol they display and who must investigate complaints in case of failure in the following respects.

1. The main terms of any offer advertised must be stated clearly -must be accurate the details of quality, quantity, price, postage ~they must not be sent you unsolicited without an order (they must be returnable at seller’s expense if on approval); if you sent money it must be acknowledged with despatch date and any delay explained.

2. If you buy regularly you need not give a reason if you wish to cancel after a year, or if price increases exceed the expectation ~if debt collecting they must ensure not to unreasonably bother you.

Mail Order items advertised in a medium with a ‘protection scheme’ unless ‘classified’ are protected by advertising practice codes too ~the law requires advertisement to be ‘legal, decent, honest, truthful’ -‘washes whiter than white’ is an obvious slogan and fine.

Internet or online shopping is equally covered in the Distance Trading Regulations –whether deliver is by mail or courier.

1. You have the right without giving a reason to inform the seller within seven working days (the day of receipt not counting) that you wish to return the goods. You do not have to actually return them within the cooling off period, e.g., if the seller takes his time to issue a return number. Such a cancellation, in law, is for the whole of the package, unless the seller agrees or can be shown by custom and practice to accept return of individual items -e.g., if its RMA request form asks without more for items wanted to be returned to be marked. If you choose to do so, you must return the goods undamaged. If you have paid money, you are entitled to a full refund within thirty days which must be in ‘cash’ -not as credit-note, nor voucher (this is an implied statutory term -a term or condition that makes this the seller’s option is void).

In consumer protection laws and Distance Trading Regulations this is so also if goods are faulty or misleadingly described or not fit for the purpose that the seller was told of or enquired from (including orally –e.g., by telephone) or knew or could reasonably be expected to know –in this case you are entitled also to any return costs (e.g., postage). You are entitled to a refund also if the sale was not fair in the circumstances.

The seller’s discretion to replace or repair is normally exercisable if, e.g., the defect has been discovered after a long time of use, e.g., six months. Reference in law is to ‘goods’ as distinct from their wrapping or packaging -not that they must not have been opened or used; but they must be returned in good condition in reason in the applicable circumstance.

(Any seals that the seller may lawfully ask to be agreed not be broken are only such as may be on the goods themselves and of a kind that would not restrict your legal right to try the goods, e.g., to decide whether you like and wish to keep them -except if the item sealed is “computer software or driver disk” [although it is difficult to see how, e.g., a printer or scanner can be tried without the use of its driver disk to see if one likes and wants to be keep or not within the cooling-off period]).

These legal obligations are of the sellers, directly to the customers, and are not affected by any liability on the part of the manufacturer, and any terms or conditions that exclude or restrict consumer rights given by law, e.g., that the customer must contact the manufacturer instead, even if agreed to, are void in law.

Sometimes are involved return or authorisation number request procedures for administrative purposes of the seller -sellers may not, e.g., by refusing to issue an RMA, lawfully refuse receipt of returned goods.

If in relation to returning goods within the seven-day cooling off period the customer mentions a reason [whether asked or not], e.g. that they are faulty or not fit for the purpose, that does not affect the customer’s right to return them within seven days of receipt, and does not entitle the seller to treat such a reasons to, e.g., insist to repair or replace them under any other terms and conditions.

If goods are returned as faulty and the customer states that the return is for refund, any authorisation bars the seller from exercising any otherwise exercisable discretion. Any such ‘returns policy’ of the seller that, e.g., faulty goods or liability (including for injury or damage resulting from faulty goods) will not be accepted (or that will not be accepted unless made, e.g., within fourteen days of purchase), has no validity in law and any, e.g., internet return-forms that do not open may be tantamount to attempt to unlawfully seek to limit liability or the exercise of the consumer’s rights -as well as absence of ‘good-will’ on the part of the seller and in it’s own right make the contract void and be ‘unfair trading’.

If you are under age, the seller sells you totally at his own risk, because no contract entered into with a party who is under age is binding, and you may not be held to any terms and conditions in case of any dissatisfaction.

2. If you have paid money for goods to be despatched at the seller’s convenience but have not received the goods within thirty days (unless made-to-measure goods or plants or you have agreed to wait longer -when a despatch date must be quoted) you are entitled to a refund -the medium that advertised it must find out if the advertiser has folded and try to get it for you if you claim with full details in reasonable time (normally within two months of ordering from a magazine or three months of the date of a newspaper advertisement -also your credit-card company may help if you paid by credit-card).

Trading Standards, Office of Fair Trading may be complained to -they do not disclose your identity without your consent. If on evidence they have a good reason to prosecute the seller, upon conviction you may claim compensation -including for unnecessarily caused expenses, e.g., postage, travel, correspondence, telephone calls. (But a word of caution: they rarely prosecute at the absence of many complaints or the seller’s not agreeing to amend its trading practices –and (while on the face of it perhaps similar to a police officer’s ignoring a burglary on that ground) not only if a complaint is frivolous but also if it is considered vexatious may they not prosecute.) Your money claim must still be in the County Court or the Small Claims Court.

Suing Consumer protection laws allow arbitration; you may also sue via the internet in the small claims court. If you are suing in the County Court a company you may do so at one local to you, but if suing one or more persons trading as a business it may have to be where it is located. In court protocol you need only send one Letter Before Court to the seller, and you must spell the seller’s name correctly -if a company is limited by guarantee its details are available from the Companies House –including the names of its company secretary and director/s with their direct contact addresses.

Unsolicited Goods in the case of, you do not need do anything -normally the goods become yours if you hear no more for six months or if you inform the seller but they are not collected within a month.

Do keep the receipts for monies paid and any documents.

(Sanctions against traders are not necessarily of lasting effect in the general spirit of lawful distance trading practices: e.g., the Aria Technology Limited was found in 2000 [ICSTIS report no. 81] by omission considered unintentional to have mislead the consumers, and in 2005 [Nominet DRS 02364: Atek –v- Aria] by commission intentionally to have done so. Should you wish legally justifiably in the public interest to alert fellow consumers, there are also consumer comments or consumer complaints sites on the internet where you may lawfully do so.)

(Laws change –always ascertain current law.)

The author has a website at: http://www.geocities.com/eoa_uk

The author’s favourite site is the Teacher of Teachers