Failed Delivery? Fight Back!

'If I waste a day, you'll pay'

It's enough to make you growl. You've been told you need to be in for a delivery or service installation - sometimes taking a day off work. Then you wait in all day and they're hours late, or don't turn up. Yet you can fight back if you know your rights. You may even be able to force compensation for the lost time. 

While every effort's been made to ensure this article's accuracy, it doesn't constitute legal advice tailored to your individual circumstances. If you act on it, you do so at your own risk. We can't assume responsibility and don't accept liability for any damage or loss which may arise.

If an item doesn't arrive - your rights

When you order an item from a retailer, you're effectively creating a contract between the two of you, even if it isn't written down. The promised delivery forms a legitimate part of that contract. If the company fails to do what it promised then you've got rights.

  1. First, see if the delivery company can tell you where the missing item is

    delivery man

    It's important to understand your contract is with the retailer, not the delivery company. But while it's the retailer you will need to deal with in order to get compensation (see how below), if your parcel is late then in the first instance you may be best off contacting the courier first.

    Often delivery companies will have a customer service helpline or even online tracking facilities to help you find out where your delivery's got to. So if you know who's delivering your item it's worth trying them first.

  2. If your delivery is late, you may be able to get a refund or compensation

    If your delivery doesn't show up when it was meant to and in the condition it was meant to, there are three different forms of redress open to you. In brief:

    • Refund. If you ordered online or on the phone, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations you have the right to cancel an order within 14 calendar days and get a full refund, though you may need to pay return delivery costs. You have this right even if an item is delivered on time - but it can be a handy way of getting your money back if you got the delivery late.

      It's worth noting the Consumer Contracts Regulations also explicitly entitle you to a full refund if something arrived later than promised. If there's no specified date for delivery, then it must be with you within 30 days of ordering. See the Parcel Delivery Rights guide for full info.

      If you ordered in-store for home delivery - say furniture or anything else substantial - you won't be protected by the Consumer Contracts Regulations. In this case, get 'em to agree to a delivery deadline marked 'time is of the essence', then you'll get a load of extra rights if things go wrong. See Time Is Of The Essence for more details.

    • Compensation for extra time taken off work. If your delivery is late and you arrange for a redelivery, it's also possible to get compensation for extra time taken off work. This guide explains how you can do this in detail - see below.

    • Additional compensation. In some cases it may also be possible to try and claim for additional costs resulting from the late delivery, or even the inconvenience and distress it caused. This can be a grey area and you won't always be successful but it's worth bearing in mind - see more details on what you can claim below.

      Quick questions:

    • I'm worried a company won't deliver on time, what can I do?

      This is a common worry; for example, say you order a new sofa from a store with a deal that promises to deliver everything ordered before a certain date by Christmas.

      Legally, the "we will deliver your sofa before Christmas" is part of your contract. But normally the delivery time for any item you buy isn't an enforceable part of the contract unless you make it so.

      So if you went to the same retailer when buying a sofa, asked when it would be delivered and the sales person told you that it would be six to eight weeks, that's a guide and not a specific date.

      Whether or not they've already overshot the planned delivery date, you can make the date for delivery an enforceable part of the contract by stating 'time is of the essence', which will give you a load of extra legal rights should they fail to deliver on time.

      It's far easier to do this at the time of ordering, but you may be able to add it even after this - see how to add 'time is of the essence' for full info.

    • They left a 'missed you' note while I was in!

      If you're in waiting for a package but the deliverer just puts a 'sorry we missed you' note through your letterbox without letting you know they're there, you'd only have a reasonable chance of compensation if you could prove somebody was at home and the deliverer didn't take reasonable steps to communicate they'd arrived.

      But if you do have decent proof, you'd have the same rights as with any other delivery problems. For example, if there were 10 people in the house when the deliverer claimed they rang your doorbell and none of them heard a thing, you've a stronger case to back up your compensation claim.

      However, even if you can't prove it, there's nothing to stop you putting in a complaint to the seller (or even the delivery company) anyway.

    • I've been given a huge delivery time slot, what can I do?

      Mammoth time slots that require you to stay in for an entire day are all too common, for example, you're told the delivery will arrive any time from 8am - 6pm. Sadly there's little you can do about this from a legal point of view, if you've agreed to it. But there's nothing to stop you asking if it can do a narrower time slot.

      You could try something like, "Look, this is a 10-hour time slot for a delivery that'll take less than a minute to receive. I'm prepared to settle for a more reasonable delivery slot from 9am - midday. But if you can't do this it simply isn't worth it for me, so I'll have to cancel the order and go somewhere else."

      However, you can't cancel simply on the strength of the retailer refusing to budge on a delivery scheme that you've agreed to. So you need to insist on the time slot or other delivery arrangements you want as a condition for buying the goods or ordering the service in the first place, or you'll go elsewhere.

      Don't be afraid to follow through on this. It's only when enough of us refuse to accept unreasonable delivery times that services will begin to improve.

  3. What to do if your item hasn't turned up at all

    If the delivery date of your item has long passed, or the courier has told you it's been lost in transit, your next step is to go to the retailer. It's the retailer who's ultimately responsible as that's who your contract is with.

    If your item just doesn't turn up then the retailer is in breach of its contract with you, and your consumer rights take effect. This guide is more about redress and compensation for late deliveries - for full details on your rights when shopping, and how to get a refund or replacement, see our Consumer Rights guide.

  4. If your item arrives damaged, you have rights - even if you've signed for it

    Signing for an item just means it's been delivered - you're not signing on the quality of the item delivered. So even if you found any faults or issues after signing for the delivery, you still have the same rights as with any faulty item.

    Of course, if you also signed a delivery note stating you'd examined the goods and they were in perfect condition, but later discovered they were damaged, there could be an argument about whether you were responsible for inflicting the damage after delivery.

    If this is the case, it's better to change the wording to 'not examined', so it's clear you didn't have the time to do this - otherwise, inspect 'em carefully.

  5. Don't forget the key delivery rights need-to-knows

    This can be a complex area. So at a glance, here are our top five need-to-knows on the subject:

    • The biggest protection online is you can send it back if it's late. Unlike in stores, buy goods online and the Consumer Contracts Regulations mean you've 14 days after arrival to change your mind and send them back (though you'll pay postage unless something is faulty). So if your parcel doesn't arrive in time, you've the comfort of knowing you can return it.

    • Give delivery instructions when ordering. We often hear horror stories of firms leaving parcels in wheelie bins, under bushes, in BBQs or behind rear car wheels to be reversed over. So if you may be out, tell the delivery company where to leave it, or ask a neighbour to receive it.

    • Your contract is with the store, not the delivery firm. Unless you paid directly for the delivery, then it's the store that owes you a duty of care. Don't let it fob you off, it's the one you paid - and it chose to sub-contract out delivery. So contact it, be firm, be polite, and ask for a refund (and maybe compensation). More help below.

    • If you take time off work and they don't show, claim compensation. For larger deliveries, if you stay in, taking time off work, then you may be entitled to compensation for your time. This is under the rules of 'consequential loss', but you need to legitimately take extra time off to wait in for the delivery for it to work. We've drafted a template letter to help with any claims...

    • Unless it specifically states a delivery date rights are difficult. By law, delivery only needs to be "within a reasonable time", which is normally up to 30 days. For goods ordered in stores for delivery, unless a store has said it will arrive by a set date, it's tricky. So if you are ordering in a store where possible ensure it states this and make it agree 'time is of the essence'.

Get compensation for extra time taken off work

If your delivery's delayed and you have to take extra time off work to await redelivery, it's possible to get compensation. Of course, we're not talking about when you stay in hoping the delivery may turn up, but when a delivery or installation's been booked for a certain day - and you've arranged to be in specifically to receive it.

While your legal rights can only truly be enforced in court, just knowing and quoting them boosts your chance of success. It's also possible to get compensation for additional costs and even the inconvenience and distress caused by late delivery problems.

Some inspiration before you begin

I got £150 from UPS after using your failed delivery template. Thanks very much.

Wrote to Ikea using the compensation letter template and had great success! They took four attempts to deliver to me, one broken table and a taxi fare. The order was only £60 and I kept the order and got £100 compensation!

By quoting bits from the guide I was able to secure close to £60 for my wasted day. Much better than the £10 offered before I went to this site!

If you've successfully used the steps in this guide to get compensation for a failed delivery, please let us know in the forum discussion.

  1. Complain to the retailer - not the courier company

    From the moment you pay for your goods or service to the second it's delivered, the retailer - not the courier or delivery company - is responsible, as that's who your contract is with. So it should always be your first port of call for any complaints.

    Even if you saw the deliverer kick the antique Ming vase you ordered down the stairs to your door, your complaint can go to the retailer rather than the delivery company (though in this example, the deliverer would also be legally responsible to you for damages for 'trespass to goods').

    This applies even if you've paid extra for a specific courier company via the retailer. The same rights and remedies apply if you've a contract for installation, or have arranged for a service to be carried out, and it's been breached due to a no-show.

    The only exception is if you arranged delivery yourself separately with the courier company. In that it's the core service you've paid for that has failed (full info on that in the Consumer Rights guide).

  2. Compensation depends on whether you've suffered 'consequential loss'

    If you lose a small claim it's rare to have to pay the other side's costs, apart from certain expenses such as their travelling expenses and time off work to attend the hearing for them and their witnesses (not more than £95 each a day).

    So if you win, these are what you can get back from the other party. However, the loser rarely has to pay any of the winner's legal fees (eg, a solicitor's charges for advice or representation).

    Whenever you buy goods or services, you're technically entering into a contract - even if it's not written down. If a company breaches that contract, you may be eligible for compensation.

    This could be for a direct loss (eg, you didn't receive the item), or for an indirect loss occurring as a result of the breach of contract - what's legally known as 'consequential loss'. But if what went wrong made you lose out in additional ways - so, for example, if you have to take another day off work to wait in for a redelivery - you may be able to claim for this.

    The point of compensation is to put you in the same position you would have been in had the contract not been broken. So the consequential loss you may be able to claim for, and the amount, depends on if you lost out because of the missed delivery.

    Quick questions:

    • What if the company has a consequential loss exclusion clause?

      This is a legal grey area. The mere fact that a company has an exclusion clause prohibiting consequential loss claims doesn't mean it's allowed. It may be an unfair contract term, in which case there's a chance it may not be valid, so don't let it unnecessarily put you off making a complaint (though it may make you think twice before shelling out to go to court).

    • What kind of thing counts as a consequential loss?

      Don't try to be too clever here. You can only claim consequential loss for things that aren't 'remote' from the breach.

      Saying you needed to take another day off as they didn't deliver is reasonable. But arguing "as they didn't turn up, I was late for my appointment, sped up and had an accident and I want them to pay for that" is too remote.

  3. Compensation would be for any EXTRA time you've taken off

    Although it might seem slightly unusual, you can't claim compensation for the original no-show day as you haven't technically lost out through this. You were going to take that day off work anyway; the fact it turned out to be futile is aggravating, but not a loss in a legal sense. The key is what's needed to put it right.

    So if the end result is you need take a SECOND day (or morning/hour) off for a new date, you should be due compensation for loss of earnings or the holiday you've taken.

    To have good grounds for compensation, your complaint needs to be considered reasonable in a court of law. So if the failed delivery happened when the area's roads were closed due to snow, for example, you're less likely to have a strong case than if there were no adverse circumstances.

    Quick questions:

    • Can I claim if I didn't take any extra time off?

      If there were no additional costs to you waiting longer or on another day, it's unlikely a judge would award in your favour. However, there's nothing to stop you complaining to the company anyway, saying its service was inadequate and below expectations, and asking what it's going to do to make it up to you (see how to complain).

    • What if the deliverer came outside the agreed time window?

      Provided the original appointment was agreed, again, the key here is: did you need to take more time off or was there any consequential cost? So had you taken a morning off and they came an hour outside the window but you were still at home, it's annoying - but you haven't suffered a loss.

      But if you then went to work because you couldn't wait in any more and had to take more time off to reschedule, or had to pay for an extra hour of childcare so you could wait in for the extra hour, then there is a consequential loss.

    • How many hours can I claim for?

      As far as time's concerned, if you had to take a number of unpaid hours off work to sort out a delivery problem (not including the original delivery itself), contract law states you should be able to recover any damages that you suffered as a result of the breach of contract. So you can claim for all of 'em.

    • Can I claim for my time even if I'm on a high salary?

      You can claim whatever you want, but of course, as we'll come to later, the key is whether you'll get it. Don't forget you may be required to prove your rate. There are no hard or fast rules here, but the other side could argue your claim is disproportionate.

      For example, imagine this happened to a supermodel who won't get out of bed for less than £20,000 an hour. It's likely that if she charged for a day (£160,000!) the other side would argue this wasn't fair as she could've hired someone else for £100 to stay in for her. So there's a balance to be struck.

  4. You're expected to try to minimise your loss

    Before you can legally claim, you're expected to try to minimise your loss. For example, this means you'd need to try to arrange delivery at a convenient time when you'd be home without incurring problems, or ask a friend, neighbour or family member to wait in for you (if you need to pay them, or for their costs, you could claim that).

    Remember, you can always say to the seller: "Look, you've broken the contract. I'm off work from 5pm Saturday or all day Sunday. If you deliver then it'll save you a compensation claim from me, but I won't pay more for that delivery."

    But if it can't do any convenient times, and you have to take time off work as a result, it's time to put in a claim.

  5. Buy online or use 'time is of the essence' trick

    The easy way to ensure you can always get a refund is to buy online. Most goods and services you buy online (or by mail order, or phone) are covered by Consumer Contracts Regulations. This gives you the right to cancel orders within 14 calendar days and get a full refund, although you may need to pay return delivery costs.

    For other orders, there's a useful little legal phrase called 'time is of the essence'. This means when you buy goods or order a service, it must be delivered within a specified time (eg, before Christmas). If this isn't in the agreement and there's no specified date, the only obligation is that it must be delivered within a 'reasonable' time, and that is rather loose.

    It's less hassle to try to get this before you buy or order, but you can always make time of the essence without the retailer's consent after it's been guilty of undue delay.

    Full details on how to do this in the Time is of the essence section below.

  6. You may be able to claim additional compensation

    As well as claiming for extra time taken off work, you may be able to claim for additional compensation as well.

    There's nothing to stop you putting in a claim for extra costs incurred if they're legitimate, (eg, phone calls or petrol costs if you had to drive out of your way to collect a parcel) but it's likely to come down to your individual negotiation skills. Keep it reasonable (so no claiming for a private jet to work because your new bike wasn't delivered in time).

    You may also be able to put in a reasonable claim for loss of enjoyment of the goods or service because they've been delayed.

    For example, this could apply if you missed the Cup Final on your new plasma and had to make do with an old black 'n' white set. Or the new dining suite didn't arrive in time, and you were made to look a fool at a dinner party you'd prepared to show it off because your guests had to sit on the floor.

    It's important to note complaints for this are never guaranteed to pay out. But you may want to consider it, particularly if you've suffered substantial distress or inconvenience due to delivery problems (eg, a holiday's been ruined, the dress didn't arrive in time for the wedding, or tile delivery problems meant you had to put up with a leaky roof for weeks).

How to try for compensation

The aim here is to use your legal rights to get the company to negotiate compensation without the hassle, expense and risk of going to court.

It's about showing the company that a judge would rule in your favour - so it's in their best interest to reach a reasonable offer of compensation.

You've technically got six years to make a claim in court, but avoid waiting this long. The sooner you complain, the more seriously the retailer's likely to take your claim.

  1. See if you can get a refund or compensation via the company's own late delivery procedure

    Some (but not all) companies have a standard procedure to compensate you if they've failed to deliver, so it's well worth a check on the company's website, or call customer services to find out.

    For example, eBay has a moneyback guarantee* if you paid via PayPal and your order doesn't arrive.

    This should be your first port of call - any extra compensation's likely to be at the store's discretion so there are no guarantees, but it's certainly worth a try. At the least you should look for a refund on the delivery charge - if you've paid for express delivery and the delivery's late, you should be able to get a refund for that as a minimum.

    Even if it has a system in place, this shouldn't stop you from pushing your legal rights if you feel its standard compensation isn't adequate. But if the company's already making you a reasonable offer, you're less likely to get extra compensation on top.

    Had failed delivery compensation from a company not listed above? Please let us know in the Delivery Rights discussion.

  2. Call the company to say it hasn't met expectations

    If it doesn't have a standard procedure, or you don't feel its normal compensation offer is adequate, call the company to let 'em know its service "didn't meet your expectations". This applies even if you don't have legal compensation rights. Companies are interested in protecting their reputations and won't want to leave customers disgruntled if they can help it.

    Before you call, work out what you really want to achieve and what compensation you'd settle for. Then be reasonable and focus on achieving that, not 'grabbing every penny'.

    If you've had to fork out due to the botched delivery, you may want compensation in the form of cash. But if it's simply compensation for extra time and hassle, consider if you'd be happy with a credit note or voucher. Remember, the more you want, the harder it'll be to achieve.

    What to say

    Ask to speak to the most senior person available (eg, "Can I speak to your manager or supervisor please?") then clearly state your case. Always be firm but polite. Being rude won't help, and it certainly isn't fair to the person you're calling. Try something like this:

    "My delivery didn't arrive at the time we agreed, which is a breach of contract. I had to take a second day off work for redelivery, but it's left me out of pocket. I'm calling to claim for this consequential loss, as is my legal right.

    My lost wages are £50, but I'm happy to remedy it with a £20 voucher. So if we can reach a settlement now, it'll save you a formal claim for my damages.

    If they don't agree, ask what they can offer - they may come back with something else. It's then up to you to consider whether to accept it, but remember, if you turn down a reasonable offer it's less likely you'll get extra compensation on top. Ensure you state what 'remedy' you'd like in any correspondence to ensure it's clear what they need to do to fix it for you.

  3. How to write a delivery complaint letter asking for compensation

    If it hasn't offered suitable compensation yet, write a formal letter to the company. This will shift your case up a gear by showing them you know your legal rights, and that you're serious.

    Again, while you don't want to take the case to court if at all possible, the letter's about reinforcing that if you did, you'd have a strong case for compensation. So you want to show them they'll save themselves a lot of further hassle and expense by reaching a negotiated settlement now.

    To help, we've drafted a template letter with the basic text to get you started. Just delete any parts that don't apply, and send to the retailer. Keep a copy for reference, and send the letter by recorded delivery to make sure it arrives.

    FREE template letter. Download a free template letter to claim for Delivery Compensation (Problems opening the letter?)

    It's worth noting that you could do this by email if you prefer, but it's crucial you receive a response back to acknowledge it, otherwise legally you've no proof it's arrived. So if you send it by email but don't get a response, follow up by posting the letter by recorded delivery.

  4. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate

    Once you've sent the letter, remember, everything hinges on negotiation. If the company gets back to you with an offer of compensation, you need to carefully decide if you want to take it.

    • If you want to accept its offer: Get in touch to let it know and arrange payment. If you want to accept its offer but also you've got another unresolved complaint relating to it, say you're accepting its compensation 'without prejudice' to your outstanding claim. Using this specific term is crucial, as it means the offer isn't binding or usable against you in any further legal processes.

    • If you don't feel it's enough: You could try to negotiate a higher settlement. If you decide to do this, clearly state what you'd be prepared to settle for, and reiterate the reasons, costs and evidence you have to back these up.

      This is going to depend largely on your negotiating skills, but don't forget - it's never guaranteed the company will meet your counter-offer, and it may renege on its first offer.

    Even if it's less than you originally asked for, it may be worth accepting the company's offer to save the hassle of court action. Yet there are no rights and wrongs here; it's about how hard you're prepared to push. If you're thinking of taking it to court, ensure you read the next section for full pros 'n' cons first. Please do report how you get on in the Delivery Rights discussion.

  5. If all else fails: how to take 'em to court

    Hopefully the letter should settle it. But if you've tried all the steps above and it still hasn't offered you a satisfactory settlement, making a court claim is a last resort.

    Important note: This step is based on the process for England and Wales. We've included the basics for the rest of the UK, but for more see the NI Direct and Scottish Government sites.

    This option isn't for everyone. If you're a court novice, maybe try to seek help from a legal friend or advice centre.

    The only person who can force action is a county court judge (sheriff court in Scotland) but don't always think judges and wigs; this is often just a case of filling in some forms online.

    Sometimes simply doing this will mean a company settles (assuming you've a decent legal claim), so you might not have to go all the way to court. Remember, you've a legal right to fair treatment, and it's rare to have to pay the other side's costs, so it's relatively risk-free but do read on to see if it's the right thing for you.

    It's also worth noting that it isn't generally a quick process. Court action can take about six months, so do factor this in if you decide to go for it.

    Think very carefully about whether you want the hassle of this process and whether it's worth it. It's far better to use this as a last resort threat and settle with the company if possible.

  6. Try to go through the court claim process

    You can apply to a county court to claim back money you're owed. Previously this was referred to as taking someone to the 'small claims court', but now it's called a 'court claim'.

    Here's one MoneySaver's experience for inspiration:

    I successfully won a small claims case for damages after a failed delivery, despite the company's terms stating it wasn't responsible for failed deliveries. I won every penny I claimed, including £660.77 for late delivery damages.

    Of course, for belt and braces you could consider hiring a lawyer for larger claims; see the Law Society website for more.

    Key points:

    • Try to resolve things directly first

      Before you get legal, you're expected to try to resolve things directly, and ideally send a 'letter before action' to say you're going to take them to court. If you don't try, the judge could look unfavourably on your case.

    • Remember to factor in the fees

      Fees may be waived if you're on benefits or a low income, but for most, as well as the initial application fee (£35 to £455 for claims up to £10,000), you may need to pay a court allocation fee hearing fee if your case ends up in the court room. However, it's worth bearing in mind you get these back if you win.

    • It's designed so you can go it alone

      In all but the most complicated cases you shouldn't need the help of a solicitor, as the small claims system is designed with this in mind. Free sources of help are listed in the Who's Who section of the How to Complain guide. If you're a complete novice, consider asking a savvy friend for help.

Safeguard against future problems

Though you may be able to get compensation if the worst happens, it's far less stressful if a delivery goes as planned. Use these quick tips to help future deliveries go smoothly.

  1. Order the right way

    A little extra planning can go a long way towards helping your parcel reach the right destination on time.

    Thanks to MoneySaver audirob for these insider tips, please add yours in the Failed Delivery Fight Back discussion:

    Add a contact number. I'm a trainer for a delivery company. When ordering online, in the third line of address detail that's rarely used, put your phone number. As this will always be printed on the delivery label and handheld scanner, the driver can call if he has problems locating you.

    Leave a note. If you know you're having a delivery, leave a note on the door or window specifying which neighbour will take your delivery in your absence.

    Tell 'em where to stick it. If you want the parcel left, leave a signed note saying where. The driver can take that away and leave the parcel as instructed.

    Pass it on. As MSE is well viewed I hope many people will see this and hopefully improve your delivery success. I deliver between 50-110 stops per day and if people would do the above it would make things so much easier.

  2. Research offline, shop online for rights to a refund

    Many worry about online shopping safety, but in terms of consumer rights it's a blessing. The Consumer Contracts Regulations mean that if you buy online or by phone, you've a right to change your mind within 14 calendar days, even if there's no fault.

    Just send the goods back to get a refund of the price and original delivery charge - though not the cost of returning it. Once you've cancelled your contract, you'll have a further 14 days to return the goods.

    This is why many people have become ‘roboshoppers' - researching offline, buying online. This is especially worth it for bigger items; go to the shops to look, then order online for extra rights. See Martin's Roboshopper blog.

    The Consumer Contracts Regulations are also helpful if you're ordering for a certain delivery date (such as a birthday or Christmas). Let's say you order a games console online for a Christmas pressie. If it doesn't arrive by Christmas Eve as promised, these rights mean you can just buy one in store, send back the original when it arrives, and get a full refund.

    If you need to send it back, it's likely you'll need to pay for the return delivery, but they should refund the original delivery cost.

    Here's a quick summary of what the Consumer Contracts Regulations cover - see Rights when buying online for more:

    • What's covered? Goods or services via mail order, phone or online.

    • How long do you have to cancel? You've got 14 calendar days after you receive goods. If you've ordered a service it's 14 calendar days after the service commences, although you may be expected to pay for any service you've used between when the contract was commenced and when you chose to cancel.

    • How long do you have to send it back? After cancelling, you have a further 14 days to send the item back.

    • What's NOT covered? Exceptions include fresh food and flowers (for obvious reasons of decay!), personalised goods, accommodation/transport/leisure services purchased for a particular timeframe, newspapers and magazines, lottery tickets, sealed audio, video or computer software that has been opened or a service that has already started. You also can't cancel if you have examined the goods in a shop then ordered from the same retailer online and this inspection was specifically noted as part of the purchase contract. 

    • How can you cancel? You usually need to write to let the seller know, although some allow you to cancel by phone. As soon as you've cancelled, take good care of all of the goods in your contract, as you have to send them all back in reasonable condition (but not necessarily in the same packaging). You'll also usually be asked to pay for return delivery, unless the seller doesn't say this in its T&Cs, or the goods were faulty.

    • How do you get your refund? The seller must then pay back any cash within 14 days of receipt of your items or cancellation of the service, including cost of delivery to you - although be sure to specifically ask for this to be included as some stores don't add it automatically. If it didn't tell you about your cancellation rights, you may have longer to cancel the order.
  3. Use the 'time is of the essence' trick

    If all else fails and you need an item delivered by a specific time or date, there's a little-known rule of law you can use to give yourself extra consumer protection.

    Get the company to agree to a delivery deadline marked 'time is of the essence', and you'll qualify for a load of extra rights if things go wrong.

    If you don't state this, the only obligation on the company is that it must deliver within a 'reasonable' time, so it'd be solely down to your negotiation skills to get your money back.

    Make it clear that 'time is of the essence', and if goods don't arrive by the specified date, or a service start or finish date isn't met, you'll be legally entitled to cancel your contract and demand any linked credit agreement be annulled or deposit refunded. Or if you'd rather, you can choose to continue, but at a lower price:

    • Use it in store. Add 'time is of the essence' to beef up your rights when ordering in store.

    • It adds to your consumer rights. This is because buying in store means you wouldn't be covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations which only protect you when buying online, by mail order or phone. They mean you're already automatically entitled to a refund if an item isn't delivered by the agreed date, or within 30 days if there is no agreed date.

    • They don't have to agree. It's there to put into practice, but it doesn't automatically mean the trader will agree. As with any consumer rights, whether it's binding would ultimately be down to a judge to decide (if it gets that far).

    • This is a relatively unknown trick. 'Time of the essence' isn't widely known because companies simply don't want to be held to such close account for delivery. It'd mean businesses would be forced to improve delivery service, which would be better for consumers - but at the company's expense.

    So if you need your goods or service by a specific date (eg, a present in time for Christmas, or windows fitted before you go on holiday), use this to build up extra legal ammunition.

    While it's theoretically possible to add 'time is of the essence' to your contract if you've already ordered, it's far easier to add it when ordering.

    It is also possible to add 'time is of the essence' after you've ordered, especially if they are playing games with delivery. However, companies may refuse and then it'll be up to the courts to decide.

    • See how to add time is of the essence

      To let the retailer or supplier know before you order, just ask them to add a note to your invoice. Key info to include are the phrase 'time is of the essence', the date it's needed by, and the reason. For example, 'Time is of the essence - must be delivered by 30 August 2024 as needed for house move'.

      Don't be unreasonable though. If you pick an outlandish date and a full-blown dispute blows up, you could face a very unsympathetic judge if it goes all the way to court.

      Try to add it if worried about timings on an existing order

      Step 1. Write to the retailer / supplier

      If you didn't add it at the time of ordering, it's more complicated, but you can still make time of the essence without the agreement of the trader.

      To be safe, wait until there's been an 'undue delay' in delivery before you do this (you'll need to use your noggin as to how long is unreasonable). After this, you can tell 'em delivery must happen within a reasonable period (see what to do if it still won't deliver).

      So write to the retailer or supplier to say you're 'making time of the essence', and need the goods delivered by a particular date. Include the reason, eg, 'dress is for wedding'. You'll need to specify a timeframe - again, how long depends on your circumstances. About 28 days would usually be reasonable.

      To help, we've added a section on this in the template letter above. Just delete the parts that don't apply to you, fill in, and print. Then send it off, but keep a copy of the letter for reference. It's best to send by recorded delivery so you've got proof it's arrived.

      It's worth noting that you could do this by email if you prefer, but it's crucial you receive a response back to acknowledge it, otherwise legally you've no proof it's arrived. So if you send it by email but don't get a response, follow up by posting the letter by recorded delivery.

      Step 2. Follow up with a phone call

      Hopefully, the retailer should reply with an acknowledgement. But if not, follow up with a phone call to check it's received your letter and will now deliver by the date specified. Reiterate you're adding 'time is of the essence' to your contract, as is your legal right.

      If they haven't heard of it, stick to your guns. It's likely many staff won't be familiar with 'time is of the essence', so don't be put off. Explain it's a key part of consumer law, and that you have a right to ask for it to be part of your contract.

      Step 3. If the supplier still won't play ball ...

      If the company or supplier continue to be obstructive, or they honestly level with you and say there's sadly no chance your goods will arrive within a reasonable time, there's a final option. At this point, you can threaten them with damages for their breach of contract on top of the cancellation.

      Again, this must be reasonable and suit the circumstances. So if you'd ordered a wedding dress that failed to arrive in time, tell them you'll claim for damages for distress and disappointment in having to wear an off-the-peg number instead.

      Hopefully the prospect of having to pay further costs will make them deliver on time. If not, put in a claim and negotiate a settlement; see our tips above for a full how-to.

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