Law guide: Complaints and disputes

See how we helped Liz

"It's not just a website... there are people there on call who can help answer your queries."

Liz W, London

Buying online

Buying online

When you buy something online from a UK based company your rights are the same as if you had bought from a shop. Once you have decided to buy something over the internet, be sure you know what is being sold, the total price, the delivery date, the return and cancellation policy, and the terms of any guarantee.

The law says that the goods must:

  • match their description. This means they must be as described by the seller. This includes any description on the label. For example, if a pair of trousers are described as being leather, they must be leather. In most circumstances, it also means that they must conform to any advertising claims made about them; and
  • be of satisfactory quality. This means the goods must meet the standards that any reasonable person would expect. This includes their condition (whether they are safe and free from minor faults), appearance and finish. The goods must also be fit for their purpose, which includes what you would normally expect from the goods in question and also anything that you have specifically pointed out for the seller. For example, if you were buying computer software and asked whether it would work on your particular computer, it should do so, otherwise the seller would be at fault.

In addition, if the seller sells the goods in the course of a business (rather than a private sale), a criminal offence may have been committed if the goods are unsafe, or their description or price is false to a material degree. If you feel this may be the case, you should report the matter to a Citizens Advice Bureau or the Trading Standards Institute, or Consumerline in Northern Ireland.

You may have additional rights when you buy over the internet, including the right to:

  • clear information before you decide to buy, including the name of the seller and the price of the goods, including any 'extras' like VAT or delivery charge. If you pay any money before the goods are delivered, the seller must also give you their full postal address. This information must be written and can be in a letter, fax, e-mail or on the website;
  • cancel your order at any time up to 14 calendar days after you received the goods to get your money back, but you might have to pay for the return of the goods. You can't cancel if, for example, the goods were made to order, or if they're perishable, or if they're newspapers, or software, audio or video recordings where you've removed any seal. Also you won't be able to cancel if you have a service, e.g. installation of a fitted kitchen that you agree to start before the 14 day cancellation period is up;
  • have the goods delivered within 30 days of your order, unless you and the seller agree otherwise. If the seller later realises they can't deliver within this time, they must tell you and give you the option of cancelling and getting a full refund; and
  • protection from fraud if you pay by a credit, debit or store card. If someone makes dishonest or fraudulent use of your payment card, you can cancel the payment and the card issuer must refund all the money to your account. You must inform the company that issues the card as soon as you suspect that someone else is using the card.

These rights don't apply, for example, when buying:

  • Timeshare agreements
  • Goods at an online auction
  • Food or drink from a delivery service
  • Services such as accommodation, catering or leisure services that are ordered for a specific date or period
  • Financial services such as insurance or banking; however, you may have other rights when you buy some types of financial service over the internet, for example certain types of loan

If you used your credit card to pay for the goods and they cost more than £100 and less than £30,000, the credit card company may have equal liability, even if the company isn't based in the UK, in terms of section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

When you buy goods over the internet, your rights depend on what the law says in the country where the company is based. If the seller is based in a European Union country, you may have similar rights to those if the company is UK based.

If there is anything on the site that is misleading, indecent or dishonest, you can also complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.

For more information see our Misleading advertisement section.

Other points to remember are:

  • Save all information relating to the transaction.
  • Take care with the information you give out.
  • Check the privacy statements.
  • Check the security of payment details.
  • You may have some extra protection if paying by credit card - see below.

Save all information

Save all information possible relating to your order. This might include pages from the supplier's website (e.g. the advertisement), the completed order form, and any emails.

Suppliers in UK and EU countries should provide you with key pieces of information before your order is finalised. For example, they have to give you the identity of the supplier, the main features of the goods or services, the price, the arrangements for payment and any rights you have to back out. All of this must be given in a clear and understandable way.

The supplier also has to send you confirmation of the order.

Take care with the information you give out

Be wary of giving out your bank account numbers, credit card numbers or other personal information to a company you don't know or haven't checked out. Don't provide information that isn't necessary to make a purchase.

Privacy statement

Good companies are likely to have privacy statements on their websites. These will explain what they do with the information they have about you and how secure the information is.

Such companies will also allow you to say whether or not you want your information passed on to other companies.

Any company that sells or passes on details about you without your consent could be breaking UK and European law. Outside the UK and EU, there may be little action you can take against, for example, a US-based company that has information about you.

Paying by credit card

You may have some extra protection if you pay by credit card. If you have a claim against the seller for breach of contract or misrepresentation - for example, if goods were not supplied, or were faulty - you may also have a claim against your credit card issuer. This could also be useful if the seller goes out of business.

This applies to goods or services costing more than £100 for one purchase (but less than £30,000), even if you have only used your card to pay a deposit. Note that it is the contract cost that must be more than £100; i.e. the total cost of the purchase, regardless of the number of items that make up that purchase.

Remember, you do not have the same protection if you pay by a debit or charge card.

Security of payment details

Many companies allow you to send your credit card details via a secure (encrypted) page and you should aim to buy from companies that give you this choice.

You will be able to see on the screen whether the page you are on is secure. Often it will flash up a warning as you enter a secure page, and you might see a closed-padlock symbol in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window. If a padlock is not there, and there are no other guarantees, you should think twice about buying.

Fraudulent use of your payment card

If someone uses your payment card (including debit, credit, charge or store cards) fraudulently to shop on the internet without your permission, you can cancel the payment and your card issuer must arrange for your account to be re-credited in full. If you find any unauthorised charges on your credit card bill, you should contact your credit card immediately.

Copyright © 2024 Epoq Group Ltd. All trademarks acknowledged, all rights reserved

This website is operated by Epoq Legal Ltd, registered in England and Wales, company number 3707955, whose registered office is at 2 Imperial Place, Maxwell Road, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, WD6 1JN. Epoq Legal Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA number 645296).

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We would also like to set some optional cookies. We won't set these optional cookies unless you enable them. Please choose whether this site may use optional cookies by selecting 'On' or 'Off' for each category below. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookie notice.

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Functionality cookies

We'd like to set cookies to provide you with a better customer experience. For more information on these cookies, please see our cookie notice.