Under these Regulations which came into force on 31st October 2000, where consumers (as opposed to businesses) buy goods from a web site (or by other means of “distance” sale, such as mail order, fax, digital TV or telephone), they are entitled to a cooling-off period that ends seven working days after receipt of the goods.
During this period, the consumer can change his or her mind about the purchase and return the goods for a full refund.
The OFT’s view is that the normal postage and packing charges for the delivery, but not the return, of distance sales purchases must always be refunded in addition to the cost of the goods when orders are cancelled during the cooling-off period.
The OFT yesterday welcomed Amazon.co.uk agreement to follow its interpretation of the Regulations.
It added that it is currently in negotiation with a number of other companies under the Distance Selling Regulations regarding the refunding of delivery charges.
However, Amazon.co.uk is not content. The company issued a statement saying that the refund obligation is “not settled law”. It criticised the OFT’s announcement that “implies we’ve been brought into line,” adding, “we haven’t”.
The relevant wording of the Regulations is that, in the event of cancellation during the legal period:
“the supplier shall reimburse any sum paid by or on behalf of the consumer under or in relation to the contract to the person by whom it was made free of any charge…”
The Regulations provide that, subject to some exceptions, a deduction can be made from the sum to be refunded if the contract requires the consumer to return goods upon cancellation and the consumer fails to do so or returns them at the expense of the supplier.
“The OFT’s argument seems reasonable – that the delivery charge levied by the supplier is ‘under or in relation to the contract’ according to the Regulations. Any B2C e-tailer should refund the delivery charge in these circumstances, but it does not need to pay for the cost of the return.”
The OFT and Trading Standards have a duty to consider any complaint about a possible breach of the regulations. Where it is considered that a breach has occurred, an officer has the power to apply for an injunction in the courts against the responsible person in order to obtain compliance with the Regulations.