Returns and the law

Returns and the law

This page describes how the law relates to returns and warranties you offer to consumer (non-business) buyers, for example when you sell on eBay. It provides advice on the following common questions:

Note: this page is for informational purposes and only applies to sellers based in the UK (with the exception of a limited number of territories within the UK that are not part of the EU, such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands). If you are based outside the UK, different rules are likely to apply. If you are based in Europe, the laws that apply will be similar but please familiarise yourself with the applicable rules and obtain professional advice if you are unsure. This page is not intended to be legal advice. If you're unclear about how any of these laws apply to you, please seek advice from a lawyer, Consumer Direct or similar professional.

Do I have to provide a refund if the buyer changes their mind?

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 you have to refund an item if the buyer changes their mind within 7 working days after the day on which the item was delivered. However, whether the Distance Selling Regulations applies depends on the type of item sold and the listing format used (see "Where do the Distance Selling Regulations apply", below).

Under the Distance Selling Regulations, buyers have a period of 7 working days after the date of delivery within which they can cancel the contract (often referred to as the "cooling off" period) and get their money back, including the original postage and packing charges. You must refund the original delivery charges. You are permitted to require the buyer to pay for the cost of returning the item, but only if you clearly inform the buyer of this before the contract is made.

You can specify the returns time frame and who pays for return postage when you create your returns policy. Please note that the minimum time frame for returns on eBay is 14 days. We've chosen this because a 14-day returns period will be required when changes to UK distance selling regulations come into effect in June 2014 .

If you didn't provide information about your business required under the Distance Selling Regulations, the buyer has up to 3 months to cancel the contract and get their money back.

To get a general idea of the laws governing distance sales, we recommend that you review the information on the Gov.uk website about online and distance selling for businesses.

Please note that if the Distance Selling Regulations do not apply to the sale of your item there's no legal requirement for you to provide a refund if the buyer simply changes their mind under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended)

Where do the Distance Selling Regulations apply?

The Distance Selling Regulations generally apply to sales to non-business buyers made by sellers acting in the course of a business, which have been made at a distance. In other words, where there is no face-to-face contact between the seller and the buyer before the contract is made. The Distance Selling Regulations usually cover sales made over the internet, including:

  • Buy it now listings on eBay.co.uk
  • Second Chance Offers on eBay.co.uk

The UK Distance Selling Regulations do not apply to auction-style format listings on eBay.co.uk, and do not apply to all types of items.

If your listing doesn't fall under the Distance Selling Regulations, you're not legally obliged 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:

  • OFT's guide for businesses on distance selling

Do I have to refund a buyer if the item is faulty or damaged?

The answer to this question relates to the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended). The act, described in more detail here, provides that items sold on eBay by business sellers to non-business consumers must be:

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

If an item you sell doesn't conform to these criteria, the buyer has the right to request money back within a "reasonable time". What is considered a "reasonable time" varies from item to item. For example, a pair of skis is unlikely to be used straight away, so a "reasonable time" is likely to be longer than for an item normally used on a daily basis. Other factors may also affect what is defined as a "reasonable time" for specific items.

In addition, the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 gives consumers a right to a repair or replacement where goods turn out to be faulty.

For a more detailed description of your statutory obligations, see the information on the Gov.uk website about accepting returns and giving refunds. We recommend you access professional advice on your minimum legal obligations, then create a returns policy around those minimum obligations that provides a level of customer service you feel your business should provide.

Do I have to replace or refund an item that gets lost or damaged in the post?

When a business sells an item to a consumer, the default position is that any loss or damage to the item that occurs in transit is the responsibility of the business. This means that you are likely to be required to replace items lost or damaged in the post.

Most eBay business sellers choose to replace lost and damaged items as a matter of course, using insured postage services where cost effective. However, if you'd like to know the precise legal position on loss and damage in transit as it relates to your business, we recommend you seek advice from a lawyer, Consumer Direct or similar professional.

Do I have to provide a warranty?

You don't legally have to provide a warranty. However, if you choose to offer one voluntarily, this will be legally binding. You may find that providing a warranty helps a buyer to choose to buy from you rather than another seller.

Remember that even if a warranty has expired, you may still have obligations under the Sale of Goods Act.

Resources:

What if I provide a service?

Consumers are also protected in relation to their purchase of 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 will imply that any goods and materials supplied must be of satisfactory quality and at a reasonable cost.

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 respect of death, injury or damage to property caused by the product. Please be aware that you will also be liable if you fail to identify the producer when asked to do so by the person suffering damage.

BIS has produced a list of FAQs and a more detailed document, which explains the impact of this piece of legislation:

Resources:

Further information about consumers' legal rights

In addition if you are a business selling to consumers you should be aware of consumers' legal rights.

For more help, see the information on the Gov.uk website about consumer rights, or you can obtain consumer protection advice leaflets from Trading Standards