Your Rights Online
EU laws give you strong protection when you buy online. The Consumer Rights Directive protects you when you buy from businesses based in the EU, so remember to check the geographical address of any business that you are buying from. The Consumer Rights Directive also applies to other contracts you sign up to where you are not dealing with the business face-to-face. It covers buying something over the phone, from a mail order catalogue or a TV shopping channel.
What you need to know when buying online:
- Clear and accurate information before you buy
- A refund if your goods are not delivered
- Return something because you change your mind
- Cancel a service
- Buying on social media
- Cancel digital purchases
- What's not covered
The right to clear and accurate information before you buy
Before you complete purchases, the business must give you clear information on:
- The name of the business, including any trading names
- A description of what you are buying
- The postal address (not a PO box) and contact details including an email address and phone number for the business
- The price, including any taxes
- The delivery costs and any costs for returning the item
- The arrangements for payment and delivery
- Details of how to cancel your order and get a refund. You should be able to cancel using a cancellation form available on their website
- Details on what to do if you change your mind, and a copy of the form for returning goods. The business must tell you if the right to cancel, or the ‘cooling-off’ period, doesn’t apply
- How long the offer or price is valid
- Details of any guarantees or after-sales services
- The minimum length of any contract. Details of how and when to end a contract, if there is no end date or if it lasts for longer than a year
- Confirmation of your order in a durable form, this could be a letter or email
A full list of information requirements for distance and off-premises contracts can be found in the Consumer Rights Directive, Chapter III, Article 6.
The right to a refund if your goods are not delivered
You should receive the goods no later than 30 days from the date of purchase unless an alternative date has been agreed between you and the business before you enter into the contact.
If the goods are not delivered within that time frame you should contact the business and arrange another date that is suitable to you. If the business fails to deliver the goods by the new agreed date you can end the contract (due to the business not keeping to their side of the contract). You should receive a full refund (including delivery cost if paid by you) without delay.
In cases where the delivery of the item is essential within a specified time frame, e.g. a wedding dress, you should inform the business and agree a specific date for delivery. However, if it turns out the business cannot deliver the item, in this case the wedding dress, within this time frame and inform you of this, you can end the contract (due to the business not keeping to their side of the contract). You should receive a full refund (including delivery cost if paid by you) without delay.
The business should refund you without any delay. If there is a delay in you receiving your refund and you paid for the goods using a credit or debit card, your card provider may agree to reverse the transaction. This is called a chargeback. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately and give them details of your transaction and evidence of your attempts to contact the business.
The right to return something because you change your mind
When you buy online, you are given 14 days to change your mind. This means you have the right to cancel an order or contract for any reason within this period. If you buy a product online, the cooling-off period ends 14 days from the day you receive it. In the case of goods, you must also return the item within 14 days from the day you notified the business that you wished to cancel the order. If you cancel the order because you change your mind, you may have to pay for the cost of returning it. But, if the item is faulty, then you do not have to pay for the cost of returning it.
You are required to take good care of the goods and you may be liable for the diminished value of goods caused by handling them beyond what’s necessary to be sure they work and are what you ordered.
You should receive a refund within 14 days of cancellation, but a business can wait to refund you until you have returned the item or have provided the business with proof of return postage.
The cooling-off period is extended to a maximum of 12 months if the business doesn’t give you the information on your cancellation rights required under the Consumer Rights Directive before you are bound by the contract. If this happens, you should not have to pay any extra costs associated with your order or contract. But, you are expected to take reasonable care of the item until you return it.
There are some items and services where you do not have the right to cancel under the Consumer Rights Directive. It does not apply to:
- Customised goods, for example, a football jersey with your name printed on it
- Newspapers or magazines, although you do have a right to cancel subscriptions
- Audio or video recordings which have been unsealed or used by the consumer
- Computer software which has been unsealed or used by the consumer
- Swimwear or underwear that has been unsealed, which cannot be returned for hygiene reasons
- Items that are likely to deteriorate or expire rapidly, for example, fresh food items
A business must tell you when you don’t have a right to cancel, and explain why.
The right to cancel a service
In the case of a contract for a service, the cooling-off period ends 14 days after the day you conclude the contract, for example, when you agree to the contract or give your credit card details. How you cancel a service should be explained to you by the business before you make your purchase, for example, in the terms and conditions of your contract. Under the Consumer Rights Directive, a standard EU cancellation form must be provided for consumers, or you can also find a sample form here. Businesses do not have to send you a hard copy with each delivery, but at a minimum they must make the form available to you online.
Remember, if you buy from an EU business through social media, for example, Facebook, you have all the consumer rights listed above. However, if you buy from an individual, consumer rights legislation does not apply. So take the time to find out who you are doing business with, online or on social media, by checking for contact details and a geographic address.
Downloading music, books, apps and in-game purchases
Buying digital content can be very straightforward and so it is important that you are aware of what you should expect from the digital content provider while ordering.
Like buying any service, the provider should explain to you what your rights are. There are a number of safeguards introduced through the Consumer Rights Directive to protect consumers when buying digital content:
- You must clearly opt to begin the performance, download or streaming of digital content before you are responsible for any costs involved. Your agreement must be confirmed by website, app or streaming service. Where you must pay for a service, this must be clear at the payment page or checkout
- You have the right to cancel an online digital purchase the same way as you have the right to cancel other online purchases, unless you have clearly agreed to begin the performance, download or streaming and have acknowledged that this would lose you the right to cancel
- You should be told how your purchase will be compatible with hardware and software
- You should also be told if there are any technical protection measures - for example, a limit on making copies of your purchase
You can set up an account to buy music, apps, games or e-books which you download to your PC, tablet, smartphone or games console. This includes services like iTunes, App Store, Android Market, Amazon marketplace and Kindle, Netflix and Microsoft Xbox points. With most of these services you need to register a credit or debit card with the provider to be able to download items.
If you sign up to these services, you agree to their terms and conditions and you are responsible for any purchases made by you, or by someone else using your account. Before entering your payment details, it is very important to take time to understand exactly what you are signing up to and what you are going to be charged for.
Depending on your settings or your device, buying something using these services may only need a single click. This means you do not need to re-enter your card details every time, as they have already been saved securely. So, for example, your children could buy films or games on your tablet or phone without needing your payment details, which could mean significant charges to your credit or debit card.
With many devices, you can change your settings to control what can be bought. You can also set up your device so it needs a password to be entered before anything can be bought. Review these settings carefully, as if these limits are not put in place you might be held responsible for other people’s purchases, even minors who have used your account.
The Consumer Rights Directive does not apply in some cases, so it is important to check the terms and conditions before you buy. The following areas are not covered:
- Financial services, like banking or insurance products (unless they are purchased as an add on to a product or service, e.g., travel insurance with flights)
- Package travel
- Residential property rental
- Social services