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Small business guide to the Distance Selling Regulations

Do you sell to consumers online, or sell at a distance by another method? If so, then the Distance Selling Regulations, as amended by The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, may apply to you.

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As shopping online becomes increasingly popular, and more and more businesses move look for sales via the internet, it is important that business owners understand their obligations under the Distance Selling Regulations. If you sell to customers online, over the phone, by mail order or at a distance by another method, you need to make sure you're staying on the right side of the law. The protection that the Distance Selling Regulations offer is important to consumers who buy at a distance because they are unable inspect goods or services before they buy. When do the Regulations apply? The Regulations apply to your business if you sell goods or services without face-to-face contact with your consumer, using an organised distance sale or service provision scheme, for instance, via: the internet, including mobile internet text messaging phone calls fax mail order e.g. catalogues, mail order advertising in newspapers/magazines. An ‘organised distance sale' is not defined in the Distance Selling Regulations, so each sale must be looked at on its own merits. For example, if a customer places an order by telephone and the business usually only takes orders at its premises, on the face it this will NOT be a distance sale. BUT if the delivery of the goods or services is through an organised distance sale or service provision the regulations could apply. Key features of the Regulations You must give consumers clear information, including details of the goods or services offered, delivery arrangements and payment, the supplier's details and the consumer's cancellation right before they buy (known as prior information). You must also provide this information in a durable medium i.e. in writing or in downloadable terms and conditions. The consumer has a cooling-off period of seven working days, however this is due to be extended in the near future. The regulations give consumers an unconditional right to cancel an order. This is to allow the consumer the opportunity to examine the goods or consider the nature of a service. Cancelling an order If a consumer cancels an order, written notice must be given to you: Goods – within seven working days from the day after that on which the goods are received by the consumer Services – within seven working days from the day after that on which the consumer agrees to go ahead with the contract. If you fail to provide consumers with written confirmation of all the required information, the cancellation periods can be extended up to a maximum of three months and seven working days. If the missing information is provided during this time, then the cancellation period ends seven working days beginning with the day after the full written confirmation is received by the consumer. Are your terms and conditions up to date? Are you notifying consumers of their cancellation rights? If not, you could be inadvertently extending your customers right to cancel. These regulations are expected to be amended by an EU Directive in the next two years - read more here.