When the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 ("DSRs") entered into force in the UK in 2000, they were hailed as a valuable step forward in the levels of consumer protection for those shopping online and by other methods of "distance communication", such as over the telephone.

Originally introduced to implement European legislation, the DSRs were primarily drafted in order to provide increased confidence and certainty for consumers when shopping 'at distance' where the lack of a face to face meeting with the seller often made consumers wary (note that business to business distance selling is not caught).

With the aim to resolve this lack of confidence, the DSRs tackled the following main areas where goods or services are provided either over the internet, over television, mail order, phone or fax:

  • an obligation to provide consumers with information in a clear and comprehensible manner which includes details of the goods or services offered (such as a desciption and price), delivery arrangements and payment, the supplier's address (where payment is required in advance) and the consumer's cancellation right before they buy;
  • the above requirements must be provided by the seller to the consumer in writing; and
  • Subject to several exemptions, every consumer automatically has a 'cooling off period' of seven days during which time they are be fully entitled to withdraw from the contract and return any goods purchased.

However, a recent development has emerged in respect of the DSRs' application to goods, which are purchased from online auctions sites (eBay and Tazbar for instance). The reason for this is that the DSRs clearly state that the regulations do not apply to contracts concluded at auction. Thus, for consumers who purchase on eBay, the regulations need not apply. However, eBay not only acts as an auction site but also provides consumers with an opportunity to purchase on a 'Buy it Now' or 'Second Chance' basis. In such circumstances, notwithstanding the fact that the sale has taken place on an auction site, an actual auction has not taken place and, as a consequence, the DSRs will apply.

As a result of the above, talks were recently held between the Office of Fair Trading and several online auction site owners and an agreement has been reached that they will now provide information to consumers of the rights which they entitled to when an item has been purchased on such 'Buy it Now' or 'Second Chance' basis.

The former involves paying a stipulated price for an item and hence there is no bidding involved. The latter, 'Second Chance' purchasing is very similar however involves the seller offering the 2nd highest bidder from an auction to purchase the item at a fixed price due the original auction winner pulling out