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The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Regulations brought in last October gave home shoppers new legal protection"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 12:55 GMT
Half of online stores 'break law'
A person buying goods via the internet
More than half of UK consumer websites are breaching the law, according to a survey by the Office of Fair Tading (OFT).

Trading standards officers and the OFT tested a variety of websites, finding that more than half failed to give any information on refund or exchange policies.

John Vickers, director general of the OFT, said: "Failure to tell consumers about their right to cancel and to a full refund is a breach of the new Distance Selling Regulations and something which must be put right.

"It is in the interests of consumers and good businesses to make ways of buying from home as robust as possible."

The OFT is keen to raise awareness as the popularity of home shopping continues to grow.

Caroline Banks, the OFT's director of consumer affairs said many shoppers did not seem to realise that laws which apply to other forms of retailing also apply to the internet.

There are very few laws that relate to ordinary purchases of goods and services, which don't apply to the internet

Caroline Banks
She underlined the OFT's determination to make sure etailers respect those laws.

"There are very few laws that relate to ordinary purchases of goods and services, which don't apply to the internet," she said.

"The difficulty with the internet is actually identifying where the people are, where they're based, tracking them down, and making sure the laws in the right country can be applied to them.

"Nobody says it's easy, it's certainly more difficult than it is with other kinds of transactions, but it can be done."

This has prompted the OFT to launch a consumer awareness campaign to advise shoppers on how to safeguard their rights and get the service they both deserve and pay for.

Guidelines for home shoppers

As part of this campaign, the OFT has issued a booklet which highlights shoppers' rights under the Distance Selling Shopping Regulations.

It tells shoppers they are entitled to:

  • A full refund if goods or services are not provided by an agreed date or within 30 days of placing an order if no date was agreed.

  • A "cooling off" period during which an order can be cancelled without any reason and a full refund made.

  • Protection against credit card fraud.

  • Clear information before placing on order, including the supplier's full name and address.

  • Written information (by letter, fax or e-mail) about purchase.

The booklet is available free of charge from the Office of Fair Trading, PO Box 366, Hayes UB3 1XB.

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