Most sites breach fair trading law

The majority of UK consumer Web sites could be breaching government regulations covering consumer rights, the Office of Fair...

The majority of UK consumer Web sites could be breaching government regulations covering consumer rights, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned.

Hazel Ward

Findings from a survey carried out by the OFT showed that, of 637 consumer sites reviewed, some 52% failed to give easily accessible information about refunds or exchange policies. The Internet sweep, carried out by the OFT and 28 trading standards bodies, was designed to investigate what type of advice, if any, was offered to consumers before buying online.

By law, failure to give the consumer full information on goods or services purchased over the Internet, particularly about the right to cancel an order or claim a refund, can put a business in breach of the Distance Selling Regulations which came into force at the end of October last year.

Chris Barnes, IT solicitor with Eversheds, said ignorance was the main reason why so many sites were not compliant. "Web sites in the UK are not very good at telling consumers what their rights are," he said.

"The risk to the retailer for non-compliance is no longer criminal sanctions, but it is still serious. Trading Standards authorities can make your life miserable by hounding you for non-compliance. Not only that, but your reputation as a business will suffer very badly, especially if the OFT gets programmes like Watchdog involved."

hazel.ward@rbi.co.uk

This was last published in March 2001

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