Shoppers now have more protection when buying goods and services and greater rights when things go wrong, as the EU Consumer Rights Directive is now in force.

Key changes under the new Consumer Contracts Regulations, which apply when shopping online, over the phone or on the doorstep, include:

  • Doubling the time limit for cancelling contracts and returning goods from seven working days to 14 calendar days.
  • Banning pre-ticked boxes, such as for additional payments. You should not have to opt out of these add-ons.
  • Capping post-contract phone helpline costs so callers pay no more than the standard rate of geographic numbers (beginning 01, 02, 03). So premium rate numbers for queries on something you've bought are now not allowed.
  • The new regulations will also apply to downloadable content, such as books, films and music. When you buy these digital items, you must be told what systems or hardware will be needed for the download to work.

If you're shopping in-store (this excludes day-to-day items such as a cup of coffee or newspaper), here are the key changes:

  • Improved information about the good or service you're buying.
  • Goods should be delivered without "undue delay" and within 30 days.
  • Capping post-contract phone helpline costs so callers pay no more than the standard rate of geographic numbers (beginning 01, 02, 03). So premium rate numbers for queries on something you've bought are now not allowed.

Most traders must comply to the new rules, although here are some exclusions such as package travel contracts, construction contracts and most financial services. See our Consumer Rights guide for how to complain if you're not happy with goods or services you've paid for, and see the Consumer Contracts Regulations for the full list of changes. campaigns manager Wendy Alcock says: "As the weather warms up, from today shoppers now have longer to cool down from their online or at-home shopping.

"The changes to cooling-off rights give us double the time to cancel an order and get a refund.

"This doesn't mean people should go out and buy things they don't need or haven't budgeted for, but the new rules are great for bargain hunting, safe in the knowledge that you can change your mind if something's not quite right."

Cancellation rights

When you order an item or sign a contract from now onwards, the delivery of goods should be without "undue delay" and within 30 days.

  • Goods or services bought "at a distance". For items bought online, via mail order or over the phone, once you've received goods you now have 14 calendar days from the day after receipt of goods or completion of a contract to ask to cancel the contract and get a refund. Previously this was seven working days.
  • Goods or services bought "off-premises". With goods or services bought on the doorstep costing over £42, the trader must inform you of your cancellation rights (it's a criminal offence not to). The right to cancel here has also been extended, from seven calendar days to 14 calendar days. These rights don't apply to goods under £42, but they do apply if, for example, you buy insurance or a warranty which pushes the total cost above the £42 threshold.

Anyone who cancels or asks for a refund has 14 days to return the goods (you may have to pay for the return cost), otherwise traders can withhold refunds until the goods are returned and they can reduce the amount of money refunded.

This rule also applies to "ancillary contracts", including warranties and insurance, which you wouldn't have got if you'd not taken out the main contract. The ancillary part of the contract should be cancelled automatically if you decide to cancel the original contract or return the original item.

Cap on phone helpline costs

After buying an item or service, if you have any queries or wish to cancel your contract or return the goods, you must be given a phone number to call which costs no more than the "basic rate". The guidelines say you shouldn't have to pay more for this service than you would pay to call a friend or relative.

This actually means that companies aren't allowed to charge you premium rates once you've entered into a contract with them. Instead, companies must use geographic numbers, which usually begin with the prefix 01, 02 or 03.

These regulations don't apply to calls you make before you sign a contract.

Pre-ticked boxes are banned

Additional payments or add-ons must not be set on default when you're placing an order where you could incur extra charges if you haven't actively had to untick certain boxes.

But this doesn't apply to pre-ticked boxes that may sign you up to a newsletter or marketing emails. If you don't want to get on a mailing list, you'll need to opt out by unticking the box.