The emergence of the so called ‘bitumen bandits’, consisting of mainly foreign groups of men who target vulnerable people by posing as legitimate traders, has highlighted the need for everyone to be vigilant when confronted with door-to-door salespeople. The good news is that door-to-door sellers, like any other sellers, must be honest about the goods and services they sell.

What is a door-to-door sale?

A door-to-door sale is when goods or services are sold at a place other than the usual trade premises of the seller. The obvious case is when a seller calls in at your home to sell you goods or services. It’s possible, however, that some transactions entered into online will also be considered a door-to door-sale.

The law

While the Fair Trading Act 1986 and the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 may apply to how these people do business, the current legislation covering door-to-door sales is the Door to Door Sales Act 1967. The legislation is due to receive an upgrade to give consumers greater protection by being incorporated in the Consumer Law Reform Bill. Before the new legislation is enacted, however, the 1967 Act is what’s in place at the moment.

Protecting yourself

The first means of protecting yourself is to know what you’re protected from and what you aren’t. You’re protected by the Act if the seller makes the first approach to you and a credit sale takes place. A credit sale is one where you pay after the goods or service is received. This means that if you pay cash up front, you aren’t covered by the legislation.

If you’re buying goods or services on credit from a door-to-door sales person, make sure you obtain a written agreement; this must be signed by both you and the seller. Ensure that the agreement shows the name and address of the trader, the cash price, the amount of each payment and – if it’s appropriate – how many, how often and where payments are to be made.

Make sure you’re given a copy of the agreement, which should have a notice about your right to cancel. Make sure you understand the agreement or ask someone to explain it to you, particularly the total amount of money you must pay. Don’t sign until you’ve had time to do this, no matter how much the salesperson encourages you to sign then and there on the doorstep.

Other things to be aware of and are good practice to use when there’s a salesperson on your doorstep, include asking for identification, obtaining and comparing quotes from other providers and getting the seller’s references and contact details.

Cancelling the agreement

If you decide you don’t want the goods or service, you have seven days to cancel the agreement. The seven days starts the day after the date the credit agreement was made. Cancelling the agreement means that the salesperson or, more usually, the company supplying the goods, must return any money you’ve paid. You’re also entitled to retain the goods already received until you get your money back.

In some cases, you may have up to one month to cancel the agreement, starting the day after the date that you agreed to buy. You’ll be able to do this only if the agreement isn’t signed by either you or the seller, it doesn’t contain adequate details about the trader or purchase, you weren’t given a copy of the agreement, or you didn’t receive a Right to Cancel form or Notice of Cancellation. If cancelled, the agreement is treated as if it never had any effect.

You’re entitled to keep the goods until you get your money back and it’s not your responsibility to take any cancelled goods back to the seller; the seller must pick them up from you. You do have an obligation, however to take reasonable care of any goods for 21 days after you give notice of cancellation. It’s also handy to know that if the seller has provided any services before you cancel the contract, the seller is not entitled to any compensation for those services.

Go with your instinct

Decisions made on the spot with a door-to-door sale are often those that you may come to regret later. In order to avoid this, give yourself time to consider both whether you want to go ahead with the purchase and whether the person standing in front of you is legitimate. If it doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.