Your rights online

EU laws give you strong protection when you buy online. The Consumer Rights Directive covers you when you buy from businesses based in the EU, so check the geographical address of any business that you are buying from. These rights do not apply if you buy from a business  outside of the EU or from another consumer. They also apply to other contracts you sign up to where you are not dealing with the business face-to-face such as buying something over the phone, from a mail order catalogue or a TV shopping channel. When you buy online you have the right to 

Buying from a business based in the European Union

These EU laws do not apply in some cases, so it is important to check the terms and conditions before you buy. The following areas are not covered:

  • Financial services, like banking or insurance products (unless they are purchased as an add on to a product or service, e.g., travel insurance with flights)
  • Package travel
  • Timeshares
  • Residential property rental


The right to clear and accurate information before you buy

Before you complete a purchase, the business must give you clear information on:

  • The name of the business, including any trading names
  • A description of what you are buying
  • The postal address (not a PO box) and contact details including an email address and phone number for the business.
  • The price, including any taxes
  • The delivery costs and any costs for returning the item
  • The arrangements for payment and delivery
  • Details of how to cancel your order and get a refund. You should be able to cancel using a cancellation form available on their website.
  • Details on what to do if you change your mind, and a copy of the form for returning goods. The business must tell you if the change of mind option, known as the ‘cooling-off’ period doesn’t apply.
  • The cost of ordering – for example, the cost of a premium rate phone call if you have to order this way.
  • How long the offer or price is valid
  • Details of any guarantees or after-sales services
  • The minimum length of any contract. Details of how and when to end a contract, if there is no end date or if it lasts for longer than a year.
  • Confirmation of your order in a durable form, this could be a letter or email

A full list of information requirements for distance and off-premises contracts can be found in the Consumer Rights Directive, Chapter III, Article 6.

The right to a refund if your goods are not delivered

You should receive the goods no later than 30 days from the date of purchase unless an alternative date has been agreed between you and the business. If the goods are not delivered within the time frame you should contact the business and arrange another date that is suitable to you or cancel the contract and receive a full refund. The business should refund you the money without any delay.

However, you may cancel the contract after the 30-day period if delivery of the item during this certain time period was essential. For example, if you ordered a wedding dress but it did not arrive in time for the wedding. If you informed the business at the time of purchase that delivery by or on a specified date was essential then you are also entitled to cancel the contract if the business has stated clearly that they cannot or will not deliver the item.

Where the contract is cancelled, the business has to refund you any money that you have paid for the item within 14 days.

If they do not provide you with a refund within 14 days, and you paid for the goods using a credit or debit card, your card provider may agree to reverse the transaction. This is called a chargeback. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately and give them details of your transaction.

The right to return something because you change your mind

When you buy online, you are given a cooling-off period of 14 days. This means you have the right to cancel an order for any reason within this period. If you buy a product online, the cooling off period ends 14 days after you receive it. You can download a sample cancellation form here.

You must also return the item within 14 days from the day you cancelled. If you cancel the order because you change your mind, you may have to pay for the cost of returning it. But, if the item is faulty, then you do not have to pay for the cost of returning it. The business must refund you any standard delivery costs you paid. They don’t have to refund you any additional delivery costs for example if the item was delivered by priority posting.

You are required to take good care of the goods and you may be liable for the reduced value of goods caused by handling them beyond what’s necessary to be sure they work and are what you ordered.

You should receive a refund within 14 days of cancellation, but a business can wait to refund you until you have returned the item or have proof of return postage.

The cooling-off period can be extended to a maximum of 12 months if the business doesn’t give you the information on your cancellation rights required under the Consumer Rights Directive. If this happens, you should not have to pay any extra costs associated with your order or contract. But, you are expected to take reasonable care of the item until you return it.

There are some items and services that are not covered by the cooling-off period. Your right to cancel does not apply to:

  • Customised or perishable goods, for example, a football jersey with your name printed on it or fresh food items
  • Newspapers or magazines, although you do have a right to cancel subscriptions
  • Audio or video recordings which have been unsealed or used by the consumer
  • Computer software which has been unsealed or used by the consumer
  • Gaming or lottery services
  • Swimwear or underwear that has been unsealed, which cannot be returned for hygiene reasons
  • Items that are likely to deteriorate or expire rapidly
  • Tickets for events with a specific date or time– e.g. concerts or sporting events
  • Reservations for hotels or holiday homes for a specific date or period of time
  • Car rental for a specific date or period of time

The right to cancel a service

In the case of a contract for a service, the cooling-off period ends 14 days after you conclude the contract, for example, when you agree to the contract or give your credit card details. How you cancel a service should be explained to you by the business before you make your purchase, for example, in the terms and conditions of your contract. Under the Consumer Rights Directive, a standard EU cancellation form must be provided for consumers. Businesses do not have to send you a hard copy with each delivery, but they must make the form available to you online.

The right to return something that is faulty

If you buy something through distance selling (online, over the phone, from a mail order catalogue or a TV shopping channel) and it turns out to be faulty then your consumer rights are the same as if you bought it in a shop.

If what you bought is damaged or faulty you should complain to the business in writing immediately, by email, fax or letter, and ask for a refund or replacement. If you bought something from an EU-based website and you have to return the item because it is faulty, the business has to pay for any return shipping costs.

If you return a faulty item, and your refund is not provided within 14 days and you paid for the goods using a credit or debit card, your card provider may agree to reverse the transaction. This is called a chargeback. Contact your bank or credit card company immediately and give them details of your transaction.

Downloading music, books, apps and in-game purchases

Buying digital content can be very straightforward and so it is important that you are aware of what you should expect from the digital content provider while ordering.

Like buying any service, the provider should explain to you what your rights are. There are a number of safeguards introduced through the Consumer Rights Directive to protect consumers when buying digital content:

  • You must clearly opt to begin the performance, download or streaming of digital content before you are responsible for any costs involved. Your agreement must be confirmed by website, app or streaming service. Where you must pay for a service, this must be clear at the payment page or checkout.
  • You have the right to cancel an online digital purchase the same way as you have the right to cancel other online purchases, unless you have clearly agreed to begin the performance, download or streaming and have acknowledged that this would lose you the right to cancel.
  • You should be told how your purchase will be compatible with hardware and software.
  • You should also be told if there are any technical protection measures – for example, a limit on making copies of your purchase.

You can set up an account to buy music, apps, games or e-books which you download to your PC, tablet, smartphone or games console. This includes services like iTunes, App Store, Android Market, Amazon marketplace and Kindle, Netflix and Microsoft Xbox points. With most of these services you need to register a credit or debit card with the provider to be able to download items.

If you sign up to these services, you agree to their terms and conditions and you are responsible for any purchases made by you, or by someone else using your account. Before entering your payment details, it is very important to take time to understand exactly what you are signing up to and what you are going to be charged for.

Depending on your settings or your device, buying something using these services may only need a single click. This means you do not need to re-enter your card details every time, as they have already been saved securely. So, for example, your children could buy films or games on your tablet or phone without needing your payment details, which could mean significant charges to your credit or debit card.

With many devices, you can change your settings to control what can be bought. You can also set up your device so it needs a password to be entered before anything can be bought.  Review these settings carefully, as if these limits are not put in place you might be held responsible for other people’s purchases, even minors who have used your account.

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