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Online shopping – know your rights during the pandemic

With the current pandemic and a nation in lockdown, many of us are turning to online ordering more than ever before. Even as the country tries to start returning to something nearing normal people are hesitant to return to shops.

However, there are still some online businesses not providing people with their legal rights and many people don’t know what their legal rights are or if they still apply during a pandemic. (They do!)

Here are some of the most common questions I am being asked.

1) Can I still buy non-essential items online?
Yes. There are no restrictions on what you can buy online. However, you may find places are prioritising the stocking of essential items, so more items may be out of stock than usual.

2) I ordered an item that I don’t want or need now – What can I do?
Under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, consumers have a 14 day cooling-off period for changing their minds. A further 14 days is provided from this date to return the item. There are some exceptions to this, such as bespoke items and perishable items.

However, if you made a mistake and downloaded the wrong digital item from a website, then this is not covered. Depending on the specifics of the case, you may have rights, but many websites stipulate that by downloading the content you lose that 14 day right as you have already consumed the digital content which would then be exempt from the cover.

3) The trader is expecting me to pay the return postage – Can they do that?
It depends on the reason for return. If you have changed your mind, then unless the trader has explicitly stated free returns on all items then you will have to pay return costs. However, if the item is faulty, not as described or hasn’t lasted a reasonable length of time, then this would be a breach of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) and the trader must pay for the return.

4) Is it safe for me to take a delivery?
The person delivering the item(s) should keep 2 metres away from you when putting the item on the ground. After you have taken the item and opened it dispose of the packaging and wash your hands, as the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

5) The seller has told me that I have to wait longer than usual for a delivery?
The CRA states that goods must be delivered within the time frame agreed with the seller. If one hasn’t been agreed (you have agreed a time frame if the listing supplies a time frame) the trader must deliver ‘without undue delay’ and at the very latest not more than 30 days from the day after the contract is made. After this time you are entitled to a full refund.

However, during the pandemic, there may be delays due to reduced staff numbers and this should be detailed on the company’s website together with the likely number of days delay you can expect for delivery. Also, if items are coming via Royal Mail, do allow a possible delay, as there may be reduced staff in different parts of the country.

If you have paid for a set delivery date or extra for speedier delivery and it wasn’t delivered within this time you are entitled to that charge back.

6) I’ve waited a reasonable length of time but the item has still not arrived – What do I do?
Your contract is with the trader. Do not waste time contacting the courier. Let the trader spend their time finding out what has happened to your delivery. You could be a long time on the phone and you won’t have an evidence trail, so make sure you use email. State in your email that you expect to receive the item by a given date or receive a full refund quoting the CRA, as above.

7) I’ve got a gift card but I can’t use it online
Contact the company by email and ask for the date to be extended, as you are unable to use it. No precedent has yet been set for this but most businesses would extend the date as a goodwill gesture.

8) Can I get a refund on a download?
Digital content must not be supplied by the retailer within the 14 cooling off period unless you have agreed to it. Once the download starts, the cancellation right is lost. If you do not give consent, then you will have to wait until after the 14 days before downloading.

Replacement or repair is, generally, a first stage that must be gone through before any refund is payable. If someone downloads an ebook, for example, and then insists on a refund. The repair or replacement must be within a reasonable time and without significant inconvenience to the consumer, unless it is impossible or disproportionately expensive. Failing successful repair or replacement, the consumer could be entitled to a price reduction which can be up to the full price.

If a trader advertised that an ebook would work on a particular device but it was actually incompatible with that device, you would be entitled to a repair or more likely a replacement in the form of a version that is compatible with the device. If that is not possible, you would be entitled to a reduction in the purchase price which could be up to a full refund.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is closely monitoring businesses through this period. It has the power to open a consumer enforcement if it finds strong and compelling evidence that the law might have been broken and can call on the company or companies to change their behaviour by committing to formal undertakings or promises. If they refuse, then the case can be taken to court. It is asking consumers to report price hikes or making misleading claims about their products and services. So if a business is using COVID-19 as an excuse to break consumer law, please notify the CMA!

It won’t take up the individual issue for you but will start building up cases against the company if they see enough reports.

Always remember to assert your legal rights, which you always have, even in a pandemic!

Further help with getting redress for complaints

Top 20 Tips How to Complain! Use these tips when you complain to be effective!

Your rights, mail order, online and deliveries more on your rights is a site which gives you the contact details for CEOs. The CEO may not respond personally but it does get the matter escalated and you should get a response from one of the executive team.

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For more advice, tips and templates for complaining GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!




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For lots of help, advice, tips and consumer laws regarding this sector and many others GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!



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101 Habits of an Effective Complainer to help you become more skilled and assertive when making complaints





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Purchase downloadable templates to gain redress