Distance Buying by Internet, Fax, Mail or Phone

Distance Buying by Internet, Fax, Mail or Phone

Distance Buying in the UK

I work in the Trading Standards Department of a County Council and in 2005 I had a truly appalling nightmare experience when I bought a computer by phone. As a result, with the help of my Trading Standards Officer colleagues at work, I became quite knowledgeable about consumer rights when buying “at distance”, that is when the goods are not actually seen and there is no face to face contact. I hope this information will be helpful to others who have similar problems.


Please note that over time some of the links may cease to work as the websites are modified.

1. Legislation.
There are three pieces of legislation relevant :-
(a) Distance Selling Regulations, this allows you to send goods back and obtain a refund for any reason within seven working days of delivery. However, you have to pay for the return of the goods. There are more details here :-
(b) Sale of Goods Act, this allows you to obtain a full refund if the goods are not “fit for purpose”. There are more details here :-
(c) Consumer Credit Act, this means, if the retailer is disreputable and wrongly refuses to refund you, your credit card company may refund you and then they will recover the money from the retailer's bankers. There are more details here :-

2. Trading Standards.
Over the past few years in Britain, Consumer Direct rather than your local council's Trading Standards Service has become the usual first point of contact when you have a problem with a retailer which is proving difficult to resolve.
Phone :- 08454 040506
Website :- http://www.consumerdirect.gov.uk/
They will :-
(a) Give you a quick explanation of the above three pieces of legislation and send you plain English pamphlets for reference.
(b) Send you letter templates to use in trying to resolve the problem with your goods or obtain a refund. There are some here :-
(c) Record your complaint about the retailer and add it to any others already on file.
(d) Give you advice on how to proceed with your particular problem.
(e) Possibly take up your complaint directly with the retailer or, if the retailer has a Home Authority Trading Standards Officer, pass the details to him/her for consideration.

3. Credit Card Company.
You should :-
(a) Let them know as soon as possible that you have a problem.
(b) Provide them with all the details and evidence of what has happened.
(c) If you are entitled to a refund the retailer is allowed 30 days after the return of the goods to refund your money, if they do not refund you and do not dispute your entitlement to a refund then on Day 31 your Credit Card Company should refund you.
(d) If the retailer does dispute your entitlement to a refund, then it has a further 60 days to prove to your Credit Card Company why you are not entitled to a refund.

4. County Court.
If all else fails you may have to use the Small Claims Procedure.
(a) You can find your local County Court from here :-
(b) They will give you straightforward advice on procedure and send you a plain English pamphlet.
(c) You do not need to employ a solicitor.

5. Proving Your Case.
This is most important because to some extent your Credit Card Company and Trading Standards will be “second guessing” what the outcome of your County Court case would be, when deciding whether to refund you or take up your case with the retailer respectively.
(a) Keep a diary of exactly what happens and when.
(b) Keep details of the agreed system specification, the order, emails, faxes, letters and phone conversations.
(c) Send all important letters by Recorded Delivery.
(d) Consider tape recording all important phone conversations and inform the other party you are doing so.
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