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What if I buy by phone or mail order, or over the internet?

In general, the laws that apply to buying things in shops also apply when you buy by phone or mail order or over the internet.

The Distance Selling Regulations give you extra protection when buying from any European Union country:

  • by mail order;
  • by fax;
  • by phone;
  • over the internet; or
  • through a TV shopping channel or any interactive TV shopping service.

However, they don't cover auctions (including internet auctions), or buying from countries outside the European Union, such as Switzerland, Canada or the USA.

These regulations mean you must be told the name and address of the supplier and the price, including tax and delivery charges before you buy. You must also be given certain information in writing (which could be an email) about your rights, including:

  • how to cancel an order;
  • how to return goods; and
  • details of any guarantees or
  • after-sales service.

In most cases, you must also get a 'cooling-off period' of seven working days. This means you can cancel your order, without having to pay anything, within seven working days of receiving the goods or, in the case of a service, of placing the order. But if you agree to a service (work on your home, for example) that will start within that seven-day period, and you've received the written information about your rights before that work starts, then your right to cancel ends when the work starts.

Also, you can't return certain types of item, including:

  • bespoke (tailor-made) or personalised goods;
  • perishables (such as fresh food);
  • CDs, DVDs or computer software if you've opened the packaging.

You must also be protected against fraudulent use of your credit card details.

The regulations don't cover everything you can buy. For example, separate rules cover holidays and financial services (such as loans and investments).

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