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. 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

Ceoemail.com 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.

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

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

 

 

 

Your rights when shopping online with a non EU website:

Rip Off Britain shopping online

Don’t get tied in knots over wedding cancellation

At a time when a health and economic crisis has hit the world, we are hearing of some companies that are taking advantage and not adhering to their legal obligations. Whilst the majority of businesses are doing the right thing by their customers, many are not. They are hoping that consumers do not know their legal rights or believe that consumer rights don’t apply in this situation, when they most certainly do!

For example, we have heard of many airlines breaching the law and only offering vouchers or making it very difficult for customers to claim full refunds, for example. Coronavirus and travel – who’s taking advantage? And for what your rights are and how to assert them see Travel in the time of Coronavirus – Your rights explained

Another sector not playing by the rules is wedding venues.

outside of a hotel front door with canopy

Hotels, that are also often hired for weddings, have, of course, had to cancel events due to COVID-19. The consumer is not cancelling, the venue is, so the venue is in breach of contract and should make a full refund. However, a number of them are charging a cancellation fee, stating that it is in their terms and conditions. The venue is cancelling, so this could be deemed an unfair contract term and condition under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPUTRs) and the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

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. Its report published 24 April 2020 stated that:

“• As of 19 April, the CMA had received just under 21,000 COVID-19 related complaints, of which 14,000 have come via its dedicated online form.
• The CMA has written to 187 firms accounting for over 2,500 complaints about large price rises for personal hygiene products, such as hand sanitiser and food products.
• Complaints relating to cancellations and refunds now account for 4 out of 5 complaints being received.”

A spokesperson for the CMA said “CMA will not hesitate to take enforcement action if there is evidence that businesses have breached competition or consumer protection law.”

So what can you do if you have booked and paid for a venue and it is now refusing to refund you?

1) Write. Always write so that you have an evidence trail. Go straight to the top. Write to the CEO getting the contact from ceoemail.com You are unlikely to get a response from the CEO but it will help to escalate the matter.

2) In the current circumstances it would help to support businesses if you accepted a new date for the event, at no extra cost, if you can. But this should be like for like. For example a weekend date for a weekend or a partial refund  if it is a weekday.

3) If you are not able to do this, state that you require a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, as the company is in breach of contract.

4) Include in your email the date by which you expect to hear back from them and what you will do if you do not receive a satisfactory response.

5) Say that if you are not fully satisfied with their response, you will not hesitate in taking the matter further. This will include, but not be limited to, reporting them to the CMA, sharing your experience on social media and seeking redress through the Small Claims Court or will be contacting your Credit Card company or bank A guide to credit and debit cards and the Consumer Credit Act 1974

6) If they are relying on any unfair terms and conditions such as unrefundable deposit then quote from the CPUTRs (link above).

7) If you do use Section 75 and are refused take the case to the Financial Ombudsman.

8) If you have wedding insurance you could also try using this and if you have difficulty take the matter to the Financial Ombudsman. However, it is worth noting that insurance is there if YOU cancel. The Insurance company is likely to correctly say that the venue should be paying up. It may get more complicated for other services regarding the wedding!

9) Once Government advice is that wedding venues can run as normal and offer you the same service as you booked e.g. for 200 guests and 200 are allowed then you will need to go ahead or forfeit any costs as it will be you changing your mind and breaking the contract. In these circumstances you insurance may cover you as it is there for if you not the venue cancels.

10) I am amazed by the number of people who have contacted me all of whom are taking up my time and asking for my expert help for free without a “Please” or a “Thank you”. When you try and negotiate with a venue or are asking anything of anybody manners go a long way!

This advice goes for all the associated services too!

Coronavirus - how to ensure you gain redress when a venue cancels

It is outrageous that companies are treating customers this way. Ultimately it will backfire, as now more than ever consumers are taking note of which companies are doing the right thing by their customers and which ones are not.

Wedding venues and insurance Watchdog The One Show

Businesses can take advantage of Government schemes, such as furloughing staff, and business grants and not least insurance if they properly protected themselves. But the consumer has no such cover. Consumers can only rely on the law and the law should be upheld.

Ultimately only a court can decide if a company is in breach of consumer law. However, it is unlikely any company in breach of contract would want to go to court and let the flood gates open….”

See Travel in the time of Coronavirus – Your rights explained for more about holidays, travel, rights and how to assert them.

See All you need to know about booking/complaining about holidays/flights/travel for more advice and help including coronavirus related travel/events.

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo

 

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

 

 

 

Hotel sign and how to get a full refund on venue cancellations