Shopping on the internet and on eBay is great fun, but it's important to learn how to shop safely and to know your rights if things go wrong.
Consumer Direct provides general advice about safe online shopping including top tips for trading on online marketplaces like eBay.
For advice on general precautions to take when shopping online, have a look at the Safe Internet Shopping guide produced by Consumer Direct.
The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has also produced an advice guide specifically aimed at online consumers. Which? also have some advice on their website which may be useful.
What are your legal rights as a consumer? Below you'll find a summary of consumer laws to help you to understand the legal issues that affect you as a consumer and the laws that are designed to protect you.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes and only applies to sellers based in the UK (with the exception of a limited number of territories with the UK that are not part of the EU, such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands). If the seller is based outside the UK, different rules are likely to apply. This page is not intended to be legal advice. If you're unclear about the way any of these laws apply to you, please seek advice from a lawyer, Consumer Direct or similar professional.
The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013
The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 – which we discuss in more detail below – require business sellers to comply with a certain number of obligations such as providing clear information about themselves and providing the consumer with certain rights such as a cooling off/cancellation period.
To get a general idea of the laws governing distance sales, we invite you to have a look at the BIS' summary of the Regulations which are available here.
The Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002
Under the eCommerce Directive business sellers must provide the following information, sellers must provide the following information in their listings.
For further information we recommend that you browse the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)website, particularly the Beginners Guide to the E-Commerce Regulations 2002.
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 came into force on 26th May 2008. The Regulations introduce a general duty not to trade unfairly and seek to ensure that traders act honestly and fairly towards their customers (we discuss the Regulations again below). It applies also to price indications that become misleading after they have been given, and to any indications given about the way in which a price will be calculated.
It is an offence under the Regulations for business sellers to give consumers a misleading indication about the price of goods or services, or the manner in which the price is calculated.
Under the Regulations, business sellers are legally required not to falsely represent themselves as consumers.
When a buyer places the successful bid on an item or clicks "Buy It Now", the two parties will have entered into a legally binding contract (with very few exceptions as detailed in our Non-Binding Bid Policy).The terms of the contract are set out in the seller's listing and in agreeing to buy the goods or services the buyer is accepting those terms.
Consumer Direct has produced some helpful guidance regarding contracts.
Unfair Contract Terms
In general, companies are free to use whatever contractual terms and conditions they consider reasonable. If prospective customers are unhappy with these they can attempt to re-negotiate the terms in question or go elsewhere. There are, however, some legal safeguards for consumers in relation to unfair contract terms.
The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 (UTCCRs) provide protection for consumers when entering into contracts. Companies who deal with consumers and use standard form contracts must ensure they do not use unfair terms. Under the UTCCRs, an 'unfair term' is defined as one which, contrary to the requirements of good faith, causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer. If a term is unfair, it will not bind the consumer.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has a duty under the Regulations to consider complaints made to it about unfair terms. Although the OFT cannot intervene to resolve individual disputes, it can act to stop the terms it considers unfair, if necessary by seeking an injunction through the courts.
Both the OFT and Consumer Direct have provided helpful guidance on the protection afforded by this legislation.
Types of statements that are prohibited by law
Any statement which could have the effect of causing the average person to believe that they have less or no consumer rights to pursue a justified claim against a trader is void and may amount to a criminal offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Below, you will find a list of the typical restrictive statements which may not be used:
Notices of this type are not acceptable and cannot be made compliant by including the statement 'your statutory rights are not affected'. Most consumers are not fully aware of their consumer rights therefore this disclaimer is ineffective.
Further information on your rights where you encounter restrictive statements.
Consumer Contracts Regulations
The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 apply to sales made by a seller acting in the course of business to a consumer which have been concluded at a distance. In other words, where there is no face to face contact between the seller and the consumer. This would cover sales over the internet.
The Consumer Contracts Regulations apply only to certain purchased items.
Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations a business seller has to refund the price of an item (and original delivery charges) if the consumer changes their mind within 14 calendar days of when they receive the returned item or proof that the return has been posted.
Consumers have a minimum of 14 calendar days from the day after the item is received to let sellers know they’d like to return the item for a refund. Sellers can set a longer returns timeframe if they choose. Consumers then have an additional 14 calendar days from when they let sellers know they want to return the item, to actually return it, or provide proof of the return. Legally, sellers will have to refund the original delivery charges as well, to the value of the cheapest postage option. Sellers can specify a returns timeframe and who pays for return postage when they create their returns policy.
Sellers must inform their customers of their right to withdraw from the contract within the 14 day cooling-off period. If sellers do not provide this information, consumers have up to 12 months to return an item for a refund.
You can read more about online and distance selling for businesses on the UK Government website.
Sale of Goods Legislation
The most important piece of legislation relating to the sale of goods through eBay.co.uk is the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended).
The Act provides that wherever goods are bought they must "conform to contract". This means that items sold through eBay by business sellers must be:
Therefore goods sold by business sellers must not be inherently faulty at the time of sale, must match any description given to them and, allowing for factors like price, they must be fit for their purpose, defect free, safe and durable.
Where the seller is a private individual, the goods must be "as described". The goods are not legally required to be of "satisfactory quality" or "fit for purpose".
The Sale of Goods Act applies to both new and used items. It's worth bearing in mind that second-hand goods are likely to be judged less rigorously new goods. For example, it's not reasonable to expect that used goods will be of the same quality as new goods. In any event, sellers of second hand goods remain under an obligation to ensure that the goods are as described.
When a business seller is selling an item to a consumer, any loss and damage to the goods that occur in transit are at the seller's risk. Therefore, in these cases, a buyer should not have to pay for postal insurance.
Supply of Services Legislation
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, any goods and materials supplied must be of satisfactory quality and at a reasonable cost.
Consumer Protection Act
The Consumer Protection Act 1987 gives people 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. The seller of the product will also be liable if they fail to identify the producer when asked to do so by the person suffering damage.
BIS has produced a helpful list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, which explains the impact of this piece of legislation.
Trading Standards maintains a list of products recalled due to safety issues, which you can access.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 implements the EU's Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and introduces a general prohibition on businesses not to treat consumers unfairly and obliges businesses not to use:
One of the key tests in the Regulations is whether the commercial practice in question materially distorts the consumer's economic behaviour (e.g. was the consumer persuaded to make a purchase they would not otherwise have made because of the commercial practice?). These rules apply to business sellers who list goods or services on eBay.co.uk.
A breach of the Regulations is, in most cases, a criminal offence.
If you're buying from a registered business seller, it will say so in the section in the top right hand corner of the listing.
If you believe you've suffered a breach of contract or consumer legislation, free advice on your consumer rights and assistance with any individual consumer problems or complaints is available through the Government funded Consumer Direct, your local Citizens Advice Bureau or your legal practitioner. Consumer Direct has also produced detailed guidance on the next steps if things go wrong.
Many of the key consumer laws mentioned in this guide apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland, although there are some minor differences. You can get more information on consumer protection legislation from the following websites:
Consumer Direct, which is the government funded national advice line set up to provide clear, practical advice to consumers in the UK
The responsibility for enforcing trading standards legislation in Northern Ireland lies with the Trading Standards Service of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment