The Distance Selling Regulations – A New Cooling Off Period and Digital Downloads

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (the 'Distance Selling Regulations 2013')  (text) implement the EU's Consumer Rights Directive (EU website) and establish new consumer protection rules that business traders* must comply with.

Under the new rules which came into force on 13th June 2014, the cooling off period for consumers* purchasing goods and services 'at a distance' is extended from 7 days to 14 days. This now includes the sale and supply of digital content - "data which are produced and supplied in digital form."

Businesses that supply digital content must obtain 'express permission' from consumers to supply them with content during the 14 day cancellation period. Consumers lose their cancellation rights when (1) they give their express permission to receive digital content and (2) the business has received their acknowledgement.

Traders are unable to charge consumers for any digital content where the contract is then subsequently cancelled during the new cooling off period, express permission has not been given nor acknowledgement received. Traders must also ensure that consumers receive confirmation of the contract they have entered in.

Under the new rules, goods bought over the internet can also be cancelled up to a minimum of 14 days "after the day on which the last of the goods come into the physical possession of the consumer, or a person, other than the carrier, identified by the consumer to take possession of them".

In cases where those cancellation rights are exercised, businesses are generally required to issue a refund to consumers "without undue delay", including in certain cases delivery charges they had imposed, after goods are returned by consumers.

Where the delivery of goods consists of multiple components, the 14 day cancellation period begins "after the day on which the last of the lots or pieces" are delivered to the consumer.

The Distance Selling Regulations 2013 replace the 'Distance Selling' Regulations 2000 (as amended) for all contracts entered into after 13th June 2014. Traders must provide consumers with a "clear and comprehensible" list of information. This information must include

  1. a description of "the main characteristics of the goods or services",
  2. the name and address of their business,
  3. the total price of the goods or services being sold,
  4. payment and delivery arrangements and
  5. details of "the conditions, time limit and procedures" that apply to cancellations, among other things.

Traders must also "make available to the consumer a cancellation form" should they wish to exercise a right to cancel under the regulations.

Traders that fail to provide information relating to consumers' cancellation rights ahead of finalising an "off-premises" contract with them could be said to be committing an offence and may be fined.


Under the new regulations

“consumer” means an individual acting for purposes which are wholly or mainly outside that individual’s trade, business, craft or profession;

“trader” means a person acting for purposes relating to that person’s trade, business, craft or profession, whether acting personally or through another person acting in the trader’s name or on the trader’s behalf.

“business” includes the activities of any government department or local or public authority;

“distance contract” means a contract concluded between a trader and a consumer under an organised distance sales or service-provision scheme without the simultaneous physical presence of the trader and the consumer, with the exclusive use of one or more means of distance communication up to and including the time at which the contract is concluded;

Guidance on Distance Selling Regulations 2014

Please visit the Distance Selling Hub at Trading Standards.