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New distance selling rules among new UK consumer protection law reforms

Businesses must respect new consumer rights to cancel contracts for services or the supply of digital content over the internet up to a minimum of 14 days after those contracts have been entered into, under new rules which have come into force in the UK.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations implement the EU's Consumer Rights Directive and create a raft of new consumer protection rules that businesses must adhere to, including around distance selling and supply of digital content "not on a tangible medium". Digital content is defined as "data which are produced and supplied in digital form" under the regulations.

Under the new rules, which came into force on 13 June, businesses that supply digital content require consumers' "express permission" to begin supplying that content during the 14 day cancellation period.

Consumers' cancellation rights in relation to this digital content are lost where that express permission is obtained and businesses also have an acknowledgement from the customers that their cancellation rights are lost in those circumstances.

Businesses cannot charge consumers for digital content supplied to them under contract where that contract is cancelled within the 14 day cancellation period if they fail to meet the consent or acknowledgment requirements or provide confirmation to consumers of the contract they have entered into.

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.

Under previous UK distance selling regulations, consumers only had seven days from the date goods were delivered in which to cancel purchases of goods bought over the internet and claim a full refund.

Under the new framework, before entering into distance contracts with consumers, traders are obliged to provide consumers with a "clear and comprehensible" list of information. This information must include a description of "the main characteristics of the goods or services", the name and address of their business, the total price of the goods or services being sold, payment and delivery arrangements and details of "the conditions, time limit and procedures" that apply to cancellations, among other things..

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

Businesses 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.

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