The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations, which implement the EU's Distance Selling Directive come into force on 31 October 2000, and will have a significant impact on all e-businesses supplying private consumers over the Internet.
The law will also probably apply to any paid-for subscription service, such as, for example, the provision of share market information.
Consumers will have an automatic right to cancel any order, even after delivery. Suppliers will be required to provide certain information to a consumer prior to the contract being concluded and will need to confirm the information in writing (which may be via e-mail).
The new law applies to all "distance contracts" - any contract concerning goods or services between a supplier and a consumer who, for the purpose of the contract, makes exclusive use of one or more means of distance communication, such as the Internet, e-mail, etc.
The law will apply to e-businesses whenever a customer falls within the definition of "consumer" - defined as "any natural person who is acting for purposes which are outside his business". This is an important exception and will exclude business-to-business transactions from the operation of the law.
The law also imposes upon businesses the obligation to provide to the consumer requisite information, including identity of supplier (and, where payment is to be made in advance, an address), the price of the goods or services (including tax) and the existence of a right of cancellation.
As a matter of urgency, Internet businesses will need to ensure they comply with the new regulations and will need to amend their order processing and Web sites accordingly. Trading Standards authorities will have powers to consider complaints and may apply for an injunction for non-compliance.
Andrew Rigby is head of e-commerce and digital law at law firm Tarlo Lyons.