UK: A Review Of The Distance Selling Regulation 2000

Last Updated: 5 July 2001
Article by Lee Gage

The Regulation The law applying to all B2C transactions over the Internet has been beefed up with the passing of the UK Consumer Protection (Distance) Selling Regulation 2000 SI 2334 (‘the Regulations’), which implements the European Directive 97/7/EC on the protection of consumers in respect of distance contracts and came into effect on 31 October 2000.

The consequences to those involved in e-commerce are many and it would be the foolhardy who would not give careful attention to the demands of the Regulations. A failure to comply would not only result in being imposed with unfavourable terms in respect of transactions but also lead to the appearance that e-commerce is not credible and indeed dubious. However, compliance would create an air of credibility, confidence and trust: all important ingredients in ensuring that transactions over the Internet grow larger and larger.

Its Application The Regulations apply to all e-commerce sale of goods or services contracts with consumers and indeed go beyond the Internet to include fax, telephone, television and conventional mail order transactions. To be precise the Regulations apply to "distance communications" which are defined as ‘any means which, without the simultaneous physical presence of the supplier and the consumer, may be used for the conclusion of a contract between those parties’.

However, they do not apply to contracts relating to the supply of financial services, the sale of land, vending machines and auctions. Furthermore, there is only limited application to contracts for the supply of groceries by regular delivery and contracts for the provision of accommodation, transport, catering and leisure services.

Prior Information & The ‘Cooling-Off’ Period At the nub of the Regulations – which apply only to B2C and not B2B distance contracts – is the introduction of a ‘cooling off’ period within which consumers are given the right to pull out of a distance contract. The purpose of this ‘cooling off’ period is ostensibly to give consumers the opportunity to examine the goods or services in the same way as they would have had they purchased it over the counter in a shop.

Regulation 8 obliges the supplier to provide certain ‘prior’ specific information to the consumer in writing before the transaction is entered. These include informing the consumer that he has the right to pull out of the contract within seven (7) working days from the date after the date of the contract in the case of services or seven (7) working days from the date after the date of the receipt of goods. Where the consumer exercises this right within the ‘cooling off’ period, the contract is avoided altogether: as if the contract had never been made (or in technical jargon void ab initio). The notice must be provided at the latest by the time the goods are delivered or, in the case of services, during the performance of the contract.

A supplier of services, however, is exempted under Regulation 8(3) provided the supplier, prior to the conclusion of a contract, informs the consumer in writing (unless the parties agree otherwise) that the latter will not be able to cancel the contract ‘once the performance of the services has begun with his agreement’. It is extremely important, therefore, that appropriate terms are always included in website terms in this respect. Otherwise you may actually have completed the service and the consumer will have had the benefit and yet the contract can still be cancelled – i.e., they get the service for nothing!

The detail of the information which must be given is:

  • The supplier’s name and address
  • A description of goods and services
  • The price including taxes
  • Delivery cost
  • Arrangements for payment
  • The right to the ‘cooling off’ period
  • The cost of any premium rate calls
  • Time frame of the offer
  • Minimum duration of the contract (where applicable)
  • Details regarding substitute goods (if the seller reserves the right to substitute other goods if the ones ordered are not available.

Moreover, in addition to the ‘prior’ information to be given before sale, the supplier must (after the purchase has been made by the consumer) send a confirmation in writing of the main items of the ‘prior’ information.

The Regulations do not prescribe how this notice of cancellation right should be given by the supplier. However, it seems eminently sensible in the circumstances to provide it on a website by employing a simple ‘pop-up’ window clearly timed to pop up prior to the sale with a statement that set out the information required prior to sale. The window could state:

‘It is the requirement of the law that the following information is conveyed to all customers and that it is confirmed as acknowledged. Please click the "Information Acknowledged" button after carefully reading the following information.’

Such a notice will indicate to the consumer that is website is in full compliance with the law and that could create a positive public relations face. Alternatively, it could just read:

‘IMPORTANT NOTICE: Please click the "Information Acknowledged" button after carefully reading the following information.’

Of course it is possible to send the information via e-mail, fax and/or even ‘snail mail’ at the point of sale. Where notice of cancellation has been given, any related credit agreement is also automatically cancelled.

It must be noted that the right does not apply to the supply of goods or services the price of which depend on fluctuations in the financial market which cannot be controlled by the supplier nor to customised goods. Into this category also fall audio or video recordings or computer programs which are ‘unsealed’ by the consumer as do supply of magazines, periodicals and newspapers and gaming, betting or lottery services.

However, woe betide the supplier who fails to provide notice of the right to cancel to the consumer, for he will find that he has now allowed the short ‘cooling off’ period to be extended by an additional three (3) months. It is also necessary that the consumer is told when and how the contract can be cancelled and the name and address of the person to whom notice of cancellation must be given.

Cancellation, Refund & Recovery

The consumer must, if he wishes to cancel, send the cancellation notice in writing to the location indicated on the website within the ‘cooling-off’ period. Once the contract is cancelled the supplier must be reimbursed as soon as possible and in any event within thirty (30) days. The refund should include the cost of delivery if the customer was charged for it. However, it is clear that if the cost of delivery was borne by the supplier, matters end there. The consumer is under a duty to restore goods to the supplier and in the mean time to take reasonable care of them. The obligation to return the goods is not on the consumer but if he has agreed to do so and does not, the cost of the supplier recovering the goods would fall on the consumer.

Clearly, consumers who use or damage goods will not be allowed to cancel the sale. It does become prudent, therefore, for suppliers to include a term in the contract stipulating that if the customer wishes to cancel he/she must return goods at his/her expense. The supplier must also notify the consumer within twenty-one (21) days of when the supplier expects to collect the goods. Where the consumer fails to make the goods available for collection the supplier can recover the cost of recovering the goods.

Where goods are given in part-exchange and the consumer cancels the contract, the consumer is entitled to recover from the supplier a sum equal to the part-exchange allowance unless ‘the part exchanged goods are returned to the consumer in a condition substantially as good as when they were delivered to the supplier’ before the end of the period of ten (10) days beginning with the date of cancellation.


As a general rule, the supplier must perform the contract within a maximum of thirty (30) days from the day after the day the consumer sent his order to the supplier, unless of course it was agreed otherwise. Where the supplier is unable to do this, the consumer must informed and any money paid reimbursed. Such reimbursement must be made by the day after the expiration of the thirty (30) day period. A contract which has not been performed within the thirty (30) days period is treated as if it was never made.

The Sale Of Goods Act 1979

It might be of interest to note that the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (‘the Act’) - which primarily governs conventional contracts of sale of goods and services - continues to apply along side the Regulations. This means that in respect of the question of passing of risk and property in goods in transit from the seller to the buyer the normal rules under section 18 of the Act would be overturned, were the contract to be silent on this question. Under the Act if the contract is silent, as a general rule risk and property pass to the buyer at the time of the contract. However, under the Regulations because of the ‘cooling off’ period, risk and property remain on the supplier until the expiration of the ‘cooling off’ period and pass to the consumer only if that period comes to an end without the consumer exercising his cancellation option.

This would therefore have ramifications on the question of insurance. Whereas under the Act the burden of insurance would prima facie fall on the consumer, under the Regulations it now falls squarely on the supplier.


One issue of more than moot interest is the question of whether ‘e-tailing’ websites outside the UK are caught in any way, shape or form by the Regulations (and if they are, whether the Regulations can be enforce against them). In order to answer this question we need to look at the provisions of the EU Regulation on Jurisdiction and Recognition and Enforcement of Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters (44/2001). As a general rule, in respect of consumer contracts – and the Regulations deal exclusively with them – consumers can sue suppliers, immaterial of their location, at a court in their own country. This even if a jurisdictional clause in the contract nominates another country’s court as having jurisdiction. Thus, if a foreign website supplies goods to a UK consumer, the latter could claim that UK courts have jurisdiction and that the Regulations apply. However, it is difficult to see how these can be enforced against foreign websites, especially if they are outside the EU: where at least each state has to have similar laws like the Regulations.

Contracting Out, Fraud & Unsolicited Goods And Services

Suppliers cannot contract out of the provisions of the Regulations and thereby deny consumers their rights under the Regulations. In other words, you cannot contract out of the right to cancel.

Where there has been fraudulent use of credit or debit cards, the consumer can cancel such fraudulent payments and become entitled to a full reimbursement by the card-issuer. Obviously the card-issuer will require indemnity from the supplier and this even if goods had been delivered. Accordingly, website owners need to look very carefully at the question of insuring against this risk.

Where unsolicited goods are sent to consumers by way of ‘inertia selling’, the Regulations entitle the consumer – and thereby punish the inertia seller – to retain or dispose of the goods as if they were an unconditional gift. And where the inertia seller dares to demand payment for the unsolicited goods or services, he may find himself guilty of committing a criminal offence.


New enforcement powers have been given under the Regulations to the Office of Fair Trading, Local Authority Trading Standards Departments and the Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment in Northern Ireland. Where complaints are made to them, they could apply to the court for an injunction against any person who is in breach of the Regulations if such breaches persist despite prior warnings from the authorities. Moreover, the Director General of Fair Trading is empowered to publish any undertakings or agreements made by offending e-suppliers to ensure that they comply with them by the use of the often effective tactic of ‘name and shame’.

These powers are in addition to the individual consumer’s right to cancel and, if necessary, sue for their refund.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.