New law - online terms and conditions - Business Works
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New law - online terms and conditions

by Aisha Dickson, Solicitor, Adams & Remers Anyone selling goods, services or digital content to consumers online must now review their website terms and conditions and related sales processes immediately, warns law Aisha Dickson, Solicitor at Adams & Remers, as new Regulations came into force from 13 June 2014.

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 applies to those who trade online or sell goods or services to consumers over the telephone or by mail order, as well as those providing 'digital content', which includes downloads and streaming of content such as music, videos, games and apps.

The Regulations are part of the extensive EU reforms which are being made to consumer law. They introduce wide-ranging changes, including alterations to the information which needs to be communicated to a consumer, amendments to delivery times, 'cooling-off' periods and refunds procedures, as well as setting out new rules for 'digital content'.

Consumers now need to be given a list of pre-contract information that should include details about the business, the goods, prices and other charges, the contract terms and the right of cancellation. This information should be provided in a 'clear and comprehensible manner' before the customer makes any commitments and confirmation should then be sent via a 'durable medium' such as email, text message, or the consumer's personal account.

The total price payable (including delivery) must be made clear and the customer must be aware of the point at which they are proceeding with the payment, for instance via an unambiguous 'pay now' button.

pre-ticked boxes are no longer allowed

The customer's consent must be obtained before taking any additional charges, such as for extended warranties or express delivery, and pre-ticked boxes are no longer allowed. Premium telephone lines have also been banned by the Regulations and those offering a phone line for post-contract enquiries must ensure that customers are not charged more than the basic rate.

The 'cooling off' period (which gives the customer time to change his mind and cancel the contract) has increased from 7 to 14 calendar days. For goods, this period runs from the day after the delivery date and for services from the day after the consumer enters the contract. Failure to provide the new list of pre-contract information can result in the 'cooling off' period being extended to a whole year.

Unless it is agreed otherwise, goods must be delivered without undue delay and within at least 30 days. Consumers now have 14 calendar days to return unwanted goods from the date of cancellation and a refund for the total price paid, including any delivery charges the customer has incurred, must then be processed within 14 days of cancellation or the receipt of goods. It must be made clear in the pre-contract information if customers are required to pay for the return of goods.

The Regulations have introduced a new concept of 'digital content', which is broadly defined as 'data which is produced and supplied in a digital form, not on a tangible medium' (eg. not on a CD or DVD). The pre-contract information for 'digital content' must include details of the functionality, compatibility with hardware or software and details of technical protection or restrictions. Digital content must not be made available before the end of the 'cooling off' period, unless the customer gives his express consent, in which case the consumer will lose his right to cancel as soon as the download or streaming begins.

Making updates to a website and adjusting procedures is not complicated and should be carried out immediately. It will be harder to deal with the fall out of non-compliance later down the line.

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