The Regulations implemented Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and have, for contracts entered into after 13 June 2014, revoked the Distance Selling Regulations 2000 and Doorstep Selling Regulations 2008. The Regulations will affect traders in different ways depending on whether the relevant contracts with consumers are "on-premises contracts", "off-premises contracts" or "distance contracts".
The Regulations are much wider than the regulations they repeal. They apply to all consumer contracts, including contracts for benefits supplied by employers to employees. There are, however, a number of excluded contracts to which the Regulations do not apply including contracts for gambling, services of a banking, credit or insurance nature or for the construction of new buildings.
There are also certain provisions which apply to all three types of contract. For example, the trader cannot impose additional charges which have not been expressly agreed by the consumer in advance, the trader cannot charge more than the basic rate for post contract telephone calls, the goods must be delivered without undue delay by the trader and in any event within 30 days of the conclusion of the contract and the goods remain at the trader's risk until physically received by the consumer.
"On-premises contracts" are treated by the Regulations as contracts entered into with the consumer at the trader's business premises. Under the Regulations, traders are required to provide certain information to the consumer before entering into on-premises contracts in a "clear and comprehensible manner".
The information which must be provided is set out in Schedule 1 to the Regulations and includes the main characteristics of the goods or service, the identity of the trader, the total price and the contract duration. However, there are exceptions. These requirements do not apply to day-to-day contracts or contracts which are performed immediately. Having said that, it is important to note that even if this exemption from the Regulations applies, traders will still need to adhere to the requirements of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and the price marking order.
"Off-premises contracts" and "distance contracts"
Under the Regulations, "off-premises contracts" are contracts which are entered into between the trader and the consumer at a premises other than the trader's business premises for example at the consumer's home. "Distance contracts" are those which are entered into where the consumer is not in the "simultaneous physical presence" of the trader i.e online or on the telephone. The requirements imposed by the Regulations in relation to off-premises are broadly similar to those for distance contracts.
As with on-premises contracts, the trader must provide certain information to the consumer in respect of off-premises and distance contracts such as delivery arrangements, the trader's complaint handling policy and cancellation rights. Traders who don't provide the relevant information in relation to off-premises contracts are guilty of a criminal offence so compliance with the Regulations is extremely important.
The Regulations give consumers 14 days to cancel the contract (increased from 7 days previously) and this cancellation period can be extended to 12 months if the trader has not provided the necessary information to the consumer. If the consumer withdraws or cancels a contract, the trader must reimburse all payments (with the exception of non-standard delivery costs) received from the consumer within 14 calendar days.
Although there are a number of excluded contract types referred to above and as such the Regulations may not apply to many institutions, traders must be aware of the terms of the Regulations and ensure that they carry out their business in accordance with the Regulations. The possibility of criminal sanctions for non-compliance highlights the need to implement these provisions in practice.