UK: New Consumer Regulations For Online And Distance Sales

Last Updated: 14 February 2014
Article by Martin Fanning and Rebecca Andersen

From 13 June 2014, new Regulations will come into force governing consumer contracts for sales of goods, services and digital content made online or otherwise at a "distance" (e.g. over the phone or by email) in the UK. The Regulations will replace existing rules on these (and other) types of consumer contract. They include changes to key consumer rights and additional requirements on traders in relation to distance sales, and may necessitate changes to both traders' sales documents and processes.


On 13 December 2013, the UK Government published the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (the "Regulations"). They are part of the UK Government's consolidation of UK consumer law and implementation of the EU Consumer Rights Directive (which aims to simplify consumer rights within the EU). Their purpose is to ensure that consumers are better informed and protected when buying.

The Regulations apply to contracts between consumers and traders that are concluded by "means of distance communication", e.g. online or by email, telephone or post ("distance contracts"), and will replace the current Distance Selling Regulations which regulate sales at a distance (the "DSRs").

(The Regulations also replace the current Cancellation of Contracts made in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work, etc Regulations (known as the "Doorstop Selling Regulations") and implement rules for other consumer contracts, but in this note we focus on the implications for distance contracts.)

Highlights and key changes for distance contracts

The Regulations make a range of changes to the regime set out in the DSRs and also tackle new areas. The key highlights are:

  • Pre-contract information: The information to be provided to consumers before a contract is concluded has been changed and extended (e.g. traders must provide more details about cancellation rights and return costs, and details about complaints and redress). There are also some rules around specifically when and how some of the information must be provided. Failure to provide certain information (e.g. on costs and cancellation rights) will mean that consumers will not be obliged to pay the trader.
  • Obligation to pay and order buttons: Where a contract is concluded electronically, the trader must make it very clear (and obtain the consumer's explicit acknowledgement) that the consumer is obliged to pay the trader. Order buttons (or similar) must be labelled "order with obligation to pay" or with other similar unambiguous words. A consumer will not be bound by an order if these requirements are not fulfilled.
  • Additional payments: A consumer's express consent must be obtained for any payment additional to the agreed price for performance of the trader's main obligations (e.g. gift wrapping or insurance). A pre-ticked box which is not unticked by a consumer would not amount to express consent.
  • "Cooling off" period: This period (during which a consumer can cancel a contract without liability) has been extended to 14 days. The Regulations also contain more detailed provisions on when the "cooling off" period will start and a much longer "cooling off" period of up to 12 months where pre-contract information is not provided. There is also a new right for consumers to cancel certain contracts for services requested by the consumer and provided during the "cooling off" period (although the trader is entitled to be paid for such services).
  • Digital content: The Regulations include specific provisions for the supply of digital content not in tangible form (such as music downloads). Information on the functionality and compatibility of such digital content must be provided to consumers, and there are rules on the supply of such digital content during the "cooling off" period, for instance.
  • Refunds: The timeframes for providing refunds have been updated and it is now clearer that, for a refund for goods, consumers should generally have returned the relevant goods. Traders will be entitled to deduct an amount equal to the diminution in value of the goods caused by the consumer's handling of them beyond what is necessary to establish their nature, characteristics and functions (essentially what might reasonably be allowed in a shop).
  • Helplines: Where a trader operates a helpline for consumers to contact the trader about a contract, it cannot require consumers to pay more than the "basic rate" (a geographical or mobile rate, which does not include a contribution to the trader's costs).
  • Time for delivery: There are new provisions on time for delivery and risk that may differ from the position set out in the trader's current terms.


While the new regime will apply to many consumer contracts, certain sectors and types of contract are not caught by some or all of the rules. These include package travel and residential lettings. In addition, the regime generally does not apply to contracts for financial services (although these types of contract are subject to separate regulation and the Financial Conduct Authority is also looking at introducing similar rules on helplines for financial institutions).

Take action now - 13 June 2014 is not as far away as you think!

Review your sales documents and processes to assess compliance with the Regulations and whether any changes are necessary (web pages, terms, returns and/or delivery policies, telephone scripts and email templates may all need updating). This should include whether:

  • all the pre-contract information is provided to consumers, in the right place and at the right time - for instance, delivery restrictions might need to be moved to earlier in the order process;
  • you issue all the required communications (containing all the information) within the required timescales - you may not, for instance, currently issue confirmation of cancellation;
  • your online features, such as online order buttons and the use of tick boxes, are compliant - a simple "place order" button, for instance, may need to be changed;
  • your data capture processes and records are adequate - with the burden of proof now being on the trader to evidence its compliance with information requirements, good records may be invaluable; and
  • internal processes facilitate compliance (e.g. by making refunds and cancellations) in the required timeframes.

Check the charge to consumers of using any associated helpline and, if appropriate, put in place a "basic rate" alternative.

These steps should help to protect not only against breach of contract claims (now that compliance with certain Regulations is deemed a contract term), complaints, regulatory scrutiny and negative publicity, but also against unexpected costs and administration.

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.

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