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New Consumer Contracts Regulations: What they mean for our customers

Based on the EU Consumer Rights Directive, the Consumer Contracts Regulations came into force on 13th June 2014 and replace the previous Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs) that had governed all online purchases (and telephone orders) until then. But what’s new, and what does it mean for you, our customers – in plain English?

The Regulations apply to all consumer contracts, including things like utilities, goods bought online, digital goods such as music and video, and other goods or services bought in shops or otherwise. Most notably excluded are holiday and transport.

Because we sell artificial flowers online, we’ll only cover the purchase of physical goods via the internet. Feel free to use the link above if you’d like to read up on services, utilities, etc.

So What’s New?

14 days cooling off period instead of 7 working days, plus 14 days to return

Note the distinction between “days” and “working days”. Because working days are defined as Monday – Friday, the cooling off period has in practice been extended by 5 days. As before the period starts the day after the day of delivery, so let’s take an example:

  • Monday 1st – goods are delivered
  • Tuesday 2nd – cooling off period starts (same as before)
  • Monday 15th – cooling off period ends (previously would have been Wednesday 10th)

This cooling off period is the time within which you may let the supplier know that you wish to cancel the contract (i.e cancel the order or purchase). You do not need to state any reason and they may not normally refuse. Once you have emailed, phoned or written to cancel, you have an additional 14 days to post the item(s) back. The previous DSRs did not specify any time limit.

It is worth noting that the guidance suggests both sellers and buyers to act “without undue delay”, so it is still recommendable to get in contact as soon as possible and post back before well before the end of the return period. The above also relates mostly to “change of mind” situations and doesn’t really cover defective goods (which fall under the Sale of Goods Act).

How it affects you: We’ve been offering a no quibble 14 days returns policy since mid-2013 as we know that selecting the right artificial flowers online isn’t always easy. Having detailed photos and measurements on our website has helped us to keep return rates low.

Faster Refunds

Sellers are obliged to provide refunds within 14 days after receiving your cancellation notice, down from 30 days before. The refund may only be delayed until the returned goods have been received back by the seller. If you send proof of posting (showing both addresses), then the refund must be made within 14 days of the seller receiving that notice. Our advice therefore is to try and use a trackable delivery method and send proof of posting to the seller – of course where feasible and appropriate to the value of the goods.

How it affects you: You’ll be pleased to know that at GT Decorations we’ve always aimed to acknowledge return/cancellation requests within 24 hours, and for refunds to be processed within 7 days from receiving your return.

A clamp down on excessive fees

The regulations now stipulate against high credit fee charges and premium rate support telephone numbers. Separate regulations prohibiting “above cost” surcharges for different payment methods have been in force since early April.

How it affects you: GT Decorations have long made it a policy not to charge extra regardless of payment option used and have never applied surcharges for Paypal or certain credit cards.

No additional payments without explicit authorisation

In the past some sellers have reportedly been “pre-ticking” checkboxes for additional, payable services from which a savvy shopper would have had to opt out from by unticking. Thankfully this is now illegal and should prevent being faced with a charge that you couldn’t know about, just because it was hidden on the website.

How it affects you: We never have and never will add hidden charges or extra services “by default”. All charges are shown up front right in your shopping basket.

What’s stayed the same?

Sellers are still required to tell you about your rights and obligations before your order, such as making you aware of your cancellation and return rights, giving you access to contact details, and making sure that you are treated fairly.

Conclusions

The new regulations are not so much new, but rather a refinement of existing legislation to further clarify consumer rights in a few select areas. We’ve of course reviewed our returns policy to make sure that it meets or exceeds all the Regulations’ requirements. No matter which direction the European debate is going in the UK, it is pleasing to see that consumers benefit from adequate protection when buying online across the EU, and that the playing field between sellers continues to be levelled in a fair manner.

Notes:
Please do not rely on the above for legal advice. The link at the top of this article links to the UK government’s notes on the subject for further reading, but in the event of a dispute please exhaust the seller’s complaints procedure and seek professional guidance. If your dispute is with us, we will of course do everything in our power to put things right.

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