The rights you have shopping on the net

THE Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 provide that if you buy something over the phone, by mail order or online, you are entitled to a seven day “cooling off” period, during which you are entitled to return the item at your cost for a full refund minus their delivery costs.

This provision is to enable you to determine if the item is suitable or to try on a piece of clothing which you could normally do in the changing room if you bought from a shop.

But you lose the right to return goods if your item is personalised or made to order, or if it is perishable. And after seven days, you only have the right to return the item if it is faulty. The same applies to a CD, a DVD or computer software if it has been opened and the security seal broken.

If you are doing your Christmas shopping online this year, as many of us are, perhaps the most important thing to consider with Christmas Day just a couple of weeks away is delivery times.

Standard delivery times for online retailers are between five and seven working days, but remember that, legally, retailers have up to 30 days to deliver your items, which is obviously far too long for them to arrive in time for Christmas.

However, many retailers offer guaranteed delivery within a much shorter time of two to three working days, or even next day delivery if the item is ordered before a certain time, although there will usually be a charge for this.

At this time of year, many websites also guarantee delivery in time for Christmas.

Paying extra for speedy delivery, or ordering from traders who promise to deliver in time for the big day, gives shoppers the peace of mind of knowing they can make a claim for breach of contract if the goods arrive late, but obviously that won’t play well with the nearest and dearest if there’s nothing to open on the 25th.

But as the winter weather begins to bite and it starts to look like the snow is just around the corner, shoppers would do well to read the fine print around delivery times.

Be aware that many retailers will have an “unforeseen circumstances” clause in their delivery agreements, and that includes lorries and vans being unable to make deliveries because of snow and ice on the roads.

Where a distance contract is made and the customer specifically requests delivery by a certain date, and this is incorporated into the contract, the right to cancel the contract would exist if the goods aren’t received by the specified date, and the same applies where no delivery date is specified if the item doesn’t arrive within 30 days after the order was placed.

But remember that these rights only apply if you buy from a trader based in the European Union. If the trader is based outside of the EU, in America for example, you will need to check with the trader to see which country’s laws apply.

If you have bought an item through distance means and it turns out to be faulty, you are entitled to return it at no cost to you.

The retailer should arrange collection and delivery of a new item and cannot charge you for the facility.

If you pay between £100 and £30,000 for something using a credit card or credit agreement you have additional rights against the credit company should there be a fault with the item or if the trader has gone out of business.

Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 allows you to make a claim from your finance company as they are jointly liable for any breach of contract that cannot be remedied with the retailer.

You will need to contact your credit card company to make a claim.

Consumer Direct warns that if you need to complain about something you’ve bought you should do it quickly.

Tell the trader as soon as possible, either face-to-face, over the phone, in writing or by email.

Make sure you can prove you bought the item from them by keeping your receipt, the invoice or a bank statement showing the purchase.