Online shopping: know your rights

After the closure of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in April, consumers may now feel a little lost. However, there is still plenty of legislation in place to protect your purchases.

When you buy things online, you are entering into a contract with the retailer. It's this that gives you your 'statutory rights', and if anything is wrong, it is the retailer's responsibility to deal with it. Don't let them send you to manufacturers, or claim it's your problem once you've paid for goods or services - instead, keep these important pieces of legislation in mind.

Returning goods

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, you have the right for repair or refund if goods are not:

  • Working (i.e. are broken or faulty)
  • As described
  • Of 'satisfactory quality', defined in Section 14 as "the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking account of any description of the goods, the price and all the other relevant circumstances"
  • Fit for purpose, or do not last a 'reasonable length of time'

When you return goods:

Exceptions to beware of:

  • Buying from an individual. While auction sites like eBay may have additional measures to protect consumers, individual sellers are simply required to accurately describe the items for sale. Beyond that, it's 'buyer beware'
  • Returning non-faulty goods. If clothes don't fit, for example, retailers have no obligation to accept returns unless their published returns policy says otherwise

Cancelling services

When you sign up to services online, whether it's a gym membership or a media streaming subscription, you have the right to cancel, for any reason, for 14 days after entering the contract (The Consumer Contracts Regulations, 2013).

After this point, if you are unhappy with the service for another reason, the Supply of Goods and Services Act, 1982, requires that services be carried out with:

  • Reasonable care and skill
  • Within a reasonable time
  • At a reasonable costs

If you can prove this was not the case, a service can be cancelled: although you may have to go to court if the service provider disagrees, so it's worth being prepared.

Using our free Money Dashboard budgeting software is an excellent way to identify unreasonable costs, while monitoring the service should show whether 'care and skill' was taken.

Digital downloads

Digital downloads are treated as services under The Consumer Credit Regulations, and are subject to the same rules. However, if you download content within the 14 day cancellation period, you waive your rights to 'cancelling the service'.

Unfair charges

Under The Consumer Contracts Regulations, 2013, a trader may not:

  • Charge for items added at the point of sale by a pre-ticked box
  • Charge for items added to a shopping basket by the seller
  • Charge above basic rates (i.e. premium rates) for help line phone calls by existing customers

Finding further support

Although the OFT no longer exists to deal with complaints, information on consumer rights can be found through successor organisations The Trading Standards Institute and The Competition and Markets Authority.

More practical advice is also available from consumer rights organisation Which?, and from The Citizens Advice Bureau.

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All content is for informational purposes only and is the opinion of the author. Nothing on this website should be interpreted as "advice". Money Dashboard Ltd make no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or any damages arising from its display or use.

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