The Government is increasing the time limit for returning goods bought online or by phone from seven days to 14 days. explains what this means for you.

Consumer Minister Jo Swinson last week announced details of how shoppers will be better protected under the European Union's Consumer Rights Directive. This includes increasing the time limit for returning goods purchased online or by phone if you change your mind (see the Consumer refunds to be made easier under new laws MSE News story).

What exactly is changing?

Currently, you have seven working days from when you receive your goods to request to cancel the contract and get a refund for items bought "at a distance" – online, via mail order or over the phone. In future, you'll have 14 calendar days instead. (See our Consumer Rights guide for the current rules.)

If you buy on the doorstep ("off-premises"), then you also seven calendar days from when you receive your goods to cancel the contract and get a refund. This will also be extended to 14 calendar days.

This means the rules will be harmonised for the two types of sales.

When will this come into force?

These rules have to come into force in all EU countries by June 2014. However, it's unclear exactly when they'll come into force in the UK.

What items can I return?

The regulations will cover the majority of purchases made from traders based anywhere in the EU's 28 countries, including the UK.

There are some exemptions, including financial services, gambling and package travel, which aren't covered under these regulations but are often covered under other laws.

Other goods are exempt from the cancellation rules, including personalised goods and perishable items such as food and flowers. This is the same as now.

Do these rules apply in-store?

No. If you're shopping in-store, you have no legal right to return goods, unless they're faulty. However, the shop's own returns policy may allow you to do so.

A way to get around this is to go into a store to view a product first, then seal the deal online. This way, you know you can return it if you change your mind – otherwise known as robo-shopping.

But if you carry out negotiations with the trader in-store, including noting particular terms as part of the contract, and then order the item online, you'll lose your right to return the item. This will remain the same when the new rules come into force.

How can I cancel the contract?

You'll be able to cancel your contract by any means, as long as you make it clear. However, you'll need to be able to prove you asked to cancel, so it's best to keep a record of this.

At present, you usually need to write to let the seller know, although some allow you to cancel by phone. 

Will I have to pay delivery costs to return an unwanted item?

Currently, if the trader or retailer says you have to pay to return the item, then you'll have to do so. This will remain the same when the new rules come into force.

How long will the retailer have to give me a refund?

Under the new rules, retailers will have 14 days after the day on which they received the goods, or after the day on which you can provide proof of postage, to give you a refund. If the item isn't returned, the trader can withhold the refund.

Currently, the seller must give a refund within 30 days, even if goods haven't been returned.

However, there can be a deduction from the refund if goods have been used.  

Will the refund include any delivery costs I paid to receive the item in the first place?

Currently any refund has to include the delivery cost you originally paid, and this will remain the same.

The only exception under the new regulations is where you've opted for express delivery over standard delivery. Here, you'll only get the standard delivery charge back. At present the retailer has to refund all delivery costs, whatever method you chose.

Are services also covered by these rules?

The majority of this information also applies to services (a contract where a company carries out work for you). But there are some differences because of the nature of  services compared to goods (anything you can hold).

For instance, the cancellation period for services will run from when you agree the contract. For goods, it runs from when you receive them.

Also, you won't be able to cancel a service once it has been fully carried out. But you will be able to cancel a contract for goods within 14 days of receiving them. 

A trader can also charge you for services provided in the cancellation period, before the cancellation takes effect. For goods, there is no equivalent charge.