In the guide

Distance selling covers the sale of goods, services or digital content where there is no face-to-face contact with consumers

For example:

  • online
  • phone
  • mail order
  • TV shopping channel
  • interactive TV 

This is a complicated area and more detail is provided in the 'Consumer contracts - distance sales' In-depth Guide.

If you sell on or away from your business premises, you will also need to read the other relevant In-depth Guides - 'Consumer contracts - on-premises sales' and 'Consumer contracts - off-premises sales' - to avoid tripping up over this legislation.

This downloadable scenarios document will help you decide where contracts are made.

So what's it all about? Broadly speaking:

  • you must provide consumers with certain information before the contract is made
  • you must obtain the consumer's clear agreement if you want to charge for additional items (no pre-ticked boxes in the contract)
  • customer helplines must cost no more than the basic rate
  • you have obligations on delivery, including the point at which the consumer becomes responsible for the goods
Selling and supplying goods, digital content and services
Obligations apply if you sell or supply consumers with goods or digital content that are not of satisfactory quality, not as described or not fit for purpose, or if you provide services that are below standard. You can find out more in the following Quick Guides: 'Goods', 'Digital' and 'Services'

What's not covered?

The Regulations are broad, but they don't cover all contracts. Typically these concern package travel, timeshare and consumables that are regularly delivered to the customer's home. You will need to check the In-depth Guide for a full list.

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Information you must give

There is some very specific information you must give to consumers, including your trading address, pricing, complaint-handling policy and cancellation rights. It must be clear, legible and understandable, and be appropriate for the way you distance sell. This information must be given before you enter into an agreement with the customer. If you do not give certain parts of this information the consumer does not have to pay.

The In-depth Guide contains a table with detailed information on the requirements.

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Electronic contracts

Where a contract is completed electronically and also places the customer under an obligation to pay, you must make sure that he is aware of this obligation - for example, by using 'pay now', 'buy now' or similar wording at the point where he clicks to pay. If you don't do this, the contract is not legally binding on the customer.

If you ring the consumer to complete the contract, you must first give your identity and the reason for your call.

After the contract is made you must give the consumer confirmation of the contract in a durable form (paper or email). This must include all the information indicated above, unless you provided it in a durable form before the contract was concluded. Note that this information forms part of the contract you have with the consumer.

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Cancellation rights

There are certain contracts that a consumer does not have the right to cancel, and a consumer's actions can affect his right to cancel; see the In-depth Guide 'Consumer contracts - distance sales' for more information on these.

For other contracts, generally speaking, consumers have the right to cancel a contract at any time and for any reason within a 14-day cancellation period.

The rules on cancellation are much more detailed than this, however, so you will need to read the In-depth Guide to get the full picture.

Customer has used the goods
If the consumer handled the goods more than was necessary to decide if they were suitable, you may be able to recover compensation from the consumer up to the contract price
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Additional payments

You must always get the consumer's clear agreement if you want to charge an additional payment for something that is linked to the main contract - for example, gift-wrapping or quick delivery.

This means that you can't have a default option, such as a pre-ticked box on a website, that consumers have to un-tick to avoid payment. Consumers who have not agreed will not have to pay; and if they have paid, they can claim a refund from you.

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Helpline phone charges

If you provide a telephone helpline for consumers to contact you about goods or services they have bought, you can only charge the 'basic rate'. This means the normal geographic or mobile rate. Consumers who have paid more than the basic rate can claim the extra from you.

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Delivery & risk

Unless you both agree otherwise, you must deliver the goods to the consumer. This should be on the agreed delivery date, without undue delay, or not more than 30 days from the day the contract was made, depending on the contract.

You remain responsible for the goods until the consumer, or someone he has nominated, takes possession of them.

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Unsolicited goods

If you send goods to a consumer that he didn't request, he's entitled to keep them as an unconditional gift and does not have to pay you for them.

And you can't assume just because the consumer doesn't contact you after receiving the goods that he is agreeing to pay for or return them. This is called inertia selling, and is a banned practice under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. 

You can read about this, and other banned practices, in the 'Consumer protection from unfair trading' In-depth Guide below.

Once you've finished, make sure you look at the full range of Quick Guides to see whether there are any other areas of law that affect your business.

For more detailed information please see the In-depth Guides below. Once you've finished, make sure you look at the full range of Quick Guides to see whether there are any other areas of law that affect your business.

Before you start
Make sure you choose your location using the drop-down list at the top of the page. The In-depth Guides provide country-specific information as some laws are different in England, Scotland and Wales, and some are enforced differently
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In-depth guidance

This is a general guide and you may well need to know more; take a look below where we've listed our In-depth Guides on specific topics related to distance sales

General

Consumer contracts – distance sales

The rules when you form contracts at a distance, including information requirements and cancellation rights

Internet auction sites & marketplaces

Special rules apply when selling over the internet via an auction site or marketplace (as opposed to your own website)

Online sales of age-restricted products

Selling certain goods to young people is illegal; understand your obligations as an online retailer

Other

Consumer protection from unfair trading

When dealing with consumers you must ensure that you act fairly; you must provide accurate information and avoid business practices that are unfair, misleading or aggressive

Returns policies

Find out when your customer is entitled to a refund, replacement or repair

The sale & supply of goods

Understand what your obligations are – under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – when a consumer buys goods from you

Unfair contract terms

Contract terms are not binding on consumers unless they are fair

Digital content

Understand what your obligations are – under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – when you supply digital content to a consumer

The supply of services

Understand what your obligations are – under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 – when you supply services to a consumer

Feedback

Consumer enquiries from England, Scotland and Wales are handled by the Citizens Advice Consumer Service who can be contacted by telephone on 03454 04 05 06. Consumer enquiries in Northern Ireland are handled by ConsumerLine who can be contacted by telephone on 0300 1236262. Call charges may vary.

Business enquiries are dealt with by your local council. Use the Chartered Trading Standards Institute's postcode finder to locate your local trading standards team.