1. What is e-consumer protection?
There is no single framework of legal regulations to cover you when you
purchase goods on the Internet. Legal controls for the online sale of
goods have yet to catch up with those for conventional shopping.
Protection for consumers in the EU is likely
to improve over the next few years. Proposals for a directive on e-commerce
covering all aspects of Internet-based services are currently under negotiation.
A new EU directive was implemented in March 2002 and improves protection
of consumer rights for faulty or defective goods. Not all EU states have
implemented it yet, however.
2. What protection do e-consumers have in law?
A range of UK laws apply to the sale of goods,
regardless of whether that sale is completed in person, by mail order,
or via the internet. Most of them are only applicable to the UK.
A growing body of law created through European Union directives now provides
a framework for trade throughout the European Economic Area (the EEA -
the full member states of the European Union).
Problems can arise if the organisation you are purchasing from (or an
intermediary such as an online auction) is not based in the UK or the
Internet-based sales are usually treated in the same way as ‘mail
order’. If you are buying from companies based in the UK or the
EU, UK and EEA regulations for mail order and distance selling apply.
Distance selling covers Internet sales, mail order and telephone sales.
The UK Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (which
implements an EU directive) requires the seller to provide customers with
specific information on:
the main characteristics of the goods;
the price, including any taxes and delivery
where to address complaints about the goods.
You have some limited protection if you use a
credit card (but not a debit card) when you buy from organisations in
states outside the EU. The Office of Fair Trading takes the view that
the Consumer Credit Act applies to purchases across borders, certainly
within the EU. The major UK credit card companies take a different view,
and currently only 'voluntarily' meet claims for the liability of cross-border
You may be able to claim compensation for fraudulent or substandard goods
from your credit card company, but there are usually restrictions on the
amount paid. For the purchase of goods between one hundred pounds and
thirty thousand pounds sterling, the credit card company is jointly liable
for any misrepresentation in the sale of the goods or breach of contract.
3. What rights do I have as an e-consumer?
Under distance selling regulations (which apply only in the EEA) you have
to have the sale and delivery of goods completed
within 30 days of your order (unless the parties to the sale agree otherwise);
to a refund as soon as possible, and in any
case within 30 days if the goods you ordered are unavailable;
to return goods within seven days of their
receipt, and require a refund (the supplier is entitled to deduct the
costs of carriage). There are exceptions for perishable goods, custom-made
goods, and dated goods (such as magazines);
to cancel a payment where goods have been
ordered through unauthorised or fraudulent use of your credit or debit
4. Key points to bear in
When you buy online:
Use a credit card rather than a debit card. You will
have more protection.
? Only purchases in excess of one hundred pounds sterling, within the
UK, are covered by the major credit card companies.
Make sure that the company is based within the UK
or EEA. If not you risk losing your money if the goods do not turn up
or are defective. You could also be surcharged for import duty and VAT.
Never give credit card or personal information as
part of any purchase by email, or via a web page that is not encrypted.
If the form with your details is sent encrypted the
small padlock icon in the corner of your browser will be shown as locked.
Print out each screen that contains details of your
purchase. If you need to complain at a later date these pages will provide
the information you need.
If you purchase goods that do
not originate from within the UK, but the company you are contracting
with for the sale of goods is based within the UK (such as companies who
offer cheap imported goods), you are covered by UK consumer protection
Just because a site has a '.uk' domain name it does not mean that it trades
from within the UK, or that the company operating it is registered in
When you purchase online through a member of the Trust UK accreditation
scheme you have a guarantee that the company will:
Protect your privacy;
Ensure that your payments are secure;
Let you know what you have agreed to, and how to
cancel orders should you need to;
Deliver the goods or services ordered within the
agreed time period; and