New rules for consumer contracts came into force on 13 June 2014. The new Regulations apply to all consumer contracts concluded on or after this date, and place obligations on traders to provide pre-contract information and to include certain terms in their contracts. Certain goods or services are exempt from the new rules.
Examples of the specific information to be provided include a description of the goods or services; the identity of the trader (including its geographical address, not just its registered office); the total price payable including any taxes, delivery charges or additional costs; and the duration of the contract or any conditions for terminating it. This is not an exhaustive list and the information may differ depending on the type of contract (e.g. distance, off-premises or on-premises). The information must be "made available", meaning that the consumer must reasonably be expected to know how to access it. For online orders, the information must be provided before the order is placed, "in a clear and prominent manner".
It is an offence not to provide the relevant pre-contract information for off-premises contracts and the trader could be fined.
Cancellation and returns
The Regulations provide for an extended "cooling-off" period for distance and off-premises contracts, of 14 calendar days from the date of delivery of the goods (this used to be 7 days). If the trader has not provided enough pre-contract information, the cancellation period is extended to 12 months (although the period can be reduced to 14 days once the breach is corrected).
To obtain a refund, the consumer must return the goods or show evidence of a return. For distance and off-premises contracts, consumers can be required to return the goods within 14 calendar days of cancelling the contract.
Model cancellation form
It is a requirement that traders inform consumers of their cancellation rights. To assist with this, the Regulations contain model cancellation instructions and a model cancellation form. If the trader gives the consumer the option of filling in and submitting this or a similar form, the consumer need not use it - any "clear statement" of cancellation is sufficient.
Express consent is required from the consumer where extra payments are to be charged in addition to the price of the goods or services. Hidden charges or pre-ticked boxes (where purchasing optional extras are made the default) are not acceptable. Consumers will not be liable for any costs which they were not told about before entering into the contract.For online transactions, it must be obvious when clicking a button will result in payment. The button should be labelled "order with an obligation to pay", or other similar unambiguous formulation.
Calls to customer helplines must be at basic rate, not premium rate (otherwise the trader is liable to compensate the consumer for any charges over the basic rate).There are additional requirements for "digital content" such as music or video downloads, although we have not covered these in this note.