OFT finds online retailers breaking consumer laws

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has conducted a check of 156 of the UK’s most popular websites to ensure they complied with the current consumer laws. Its enquiries found that over a third (62) of the websites checked were judged to have unreasonable restrictions on refunds and compulsory charges. Furthermore, consumers were not informed about these stipulations prior to purchase.

The OFT has asked the perpetrating websites to address these violations by Christmas or else they will be subject to sanctions.

Not to say the remaining 60 per cent of sites come out of this unscathed, as 24 per cent of businesses who informed buyers of additional charges were found to be guilty of charging unexpected costs.

The OFT would go on to cite nearly two-thirds of all retailers for violating E-Commerce regulations, as these sites failed to provide an email address. The sites in question would only provide a web contact.

The most consistent breach of consumer rights was the sanction that all returns are to have the original packaging.

Such violations are not an industry norm however, as the OFT found that most retailers complied with Distance Selling Regulations. These rules state that goods should be delivered within 30 days and that shoppers should be given a 7-day cooling-off period in which they can cancel an order and get a full refund. Financial products are not covered by this law.

A senior director at the OFT, Cavendish Elithorn, commented on general online business practice saying, “The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law, we encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online."