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Returns and the law

Returns and the law

Laws about returns and warranties

Note: this page is for UK sellers, with the exception of a limited number of territories within the UK that aren’t part of the EU, such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. If you’re based outside the UK, different rules may apply. This page isn’t meant to be legal advice, so make sure you seek advice from a professional if you’re not sure which laws apply to you.

Refunds when a buyer changes their mind

Under Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 you have to refund the price of an item (and original delivery charges) if the buyer changes their mind. Make sure you process the refund within 14 calendar days of when you receive the returned item or proof that the return has been posted.

Buyers have a minimum of 14 calendar days from the day after the item is received to let you know they’d like to return the item for a refund. You can set a longer returns timeframe if you choose. Buyers then have an additional 14 calendar days from when they let you know they want to return the item, to actually return it, or provide proof of the return.

Legally, you’ll have to refund the original delivery charges as well, to the value of the cheapest postage option. You can specify a returns timeframe and who pays for return postage when you create your returns policy.

You must inform your customers of their right to withdraw from the contract within the 14 day cooling-off period. If you do not provide this information, your buyers have up to 12 months to return an item for a refund. You can find a copy of the model instructions for withdrawal in Schedule 3 of the Regulations.

For more information, have a look at the UK government site about online and distance selling for businesses.

Consumer Contracts Regulations apply only when you sell certain items.

If Consumer Contracts Regulations don’t apply to the sale of your item, you don’t have to provide a refund if your buyer changes their mind under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended).

Where Consumer Contracts Regulations apply

As a business seller, Consumer Contracts Regulations apply when you sell from a distance to non-business buyers. In other words, where there is no face-to-face contact between you and your buyer before the contract is made. Consumer Contracts Regulations usually cover sales made over the internet, but may not apply to all types of items sold.

If your item doesn’t fall under Consumer Contracts Regulations, you don’t have to refund a buyer if they change their mind. However, you may choose to provide a service that goes beyond the minimum legal requirement in order to encourage consumers to buy from you.

Resources:

  • The Office of Fair Trading guide for businesses on distance selling

Refunds if the item is faulty or damaged

The Sale of Goods Act of 1979 (as amended) states that items sold on eBay by business sellers to non-business consumers must be:

  • of "satisfactory quality";
  • "as described"; and
  • "fit for purpose".

If your item doesn’t meet these standards, your buyer can request their money back within a "reasonable timeframe". What"s considered a "reasonable timeframe" varies based on the item. For example, a pair of skis is unlikely to be used straight away, so a "reasonable timeframe" is likely to be longer than for an item used on a daily basis.

The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 gives buyers the right to a repair or replacement if their item is faulty.

For more information about your statutory obligations, have a look at the UK government site about accepting returns and giving refunds. If you’re not sure, make sure you consult a professional about your minimum legal obligations before you create your returns policy.

Refunds or replacements for items lost or damaged in the post

As a business seller, you’re responsible for any loss or damage to your item while in transit to your buyer. This means that you are likely to be required to replace any lost or damaged items.

Many business sellers choose to replace any lost and damaged items using insured postage services. If you'd like to know the precise legal position on loss and damage in transit as it relates to your business, we’d recommend you seek advice from a professional.

Refunds if you provide a service

Buyers are also protected when they purchase services. The most important law covering the supply of services is the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982.

When it comes to the supply of services, tradesmen and professionals are required to carry out that service with reasonable care and skill and within a reasonable time. Similarly, if not explicitly agreed between the parties, the law implies that any goods and materials supplied must be of satisfactory quality and at a reasonable cost.

Find out more:

Warranties

You don't legally have to provide a warranty. However, if you choose to offer one, it’s legally binding. You may find that providing a warranty encourages buyers to buy from you over other sellers.

Remember that even once a warranty has expired, you may still have obligations under the Sale of Goods Act. Find out more about the Sale of Goods Act from OFT.

Resources:

Consumer Protection Act

The Consumer Protection Act 1987 gives people the right to sue the producer, importer or own-brander of a defective product for damages in the case of death, injury or damage to property caused by the product. Please be aware that you’ll also be liable if you fail to identify the producer when asked to do so by the person suffering damage.

As a business seller, you should also be aware of your consumers' legal rights. For more information: