Highland Trading Standards welcome new doorstep selling rules

Cooling off periods and cancellation rights have been simplified for doorstep selling rules by new legislation which takes effect from 1st October 2008.

Under The ‘Cancellation of Contracts Made in a Consumer’s Home or Place of Work etc Regulations 2008’ all businesses, sellers and traders, who enter into a contract with a consumer at their home or workplace must give a 7 day cooling off period and cancellation notice.

These new rules will be effective from the 1st October 2008 and will cover contracts that are made during solicited or unsolicited visits by traders.

Under previous legislation, ‘The Cancellation of Contracts Concluded Away from Business Premises Regulations 1987’  consumers were given a seven day cooling off period and cancellation rights when they agreed  to buy goods or services worth more than £35 from a trader during an unsolicited visit to their home.

Over the years, however, unscrupulous doorstep callers have tried to restrict consumer rights and avoid the necessity to provide a cooling off period as well as cancellation rights. A consumer would find that a contract would only be ‘cancellable’ if the doorstep caller had made an ‘unsolicited’ call to their home. The legal definition of 'unsolicited' meant that either the seller called at the consumers’ home, uninvited, or the consumer agreed to a visit after the seller phoned or visited without prior consent by the consumer.

By contrast a 'solicited' visit was defined as being a visit at the express request of the consumer. Therefore if a consumer contacted a trader after receiving a leaflet or ‘flyer’ through their door or after responding to an advertisement, the consumer would be deemed to have ‘invited’ the seller into their home and was not therefore entitled to a cooling off period or cancellation rights.

Highland Council’s consumer advice staff have frequently had to advise consumers that if they had invited salespersons into their home and agreed to work being carried out or if they had bought goods after inviting a seller into their home, they did not have the right to cancel and were legally bound to pay by the terms of the contract they had signed.

Tales of consumers trying to get rid of salesman who would not leave their home, unless a contract was signed are unfortunately not uncommon.  Where consumers have signed a contract to get rid of a salesman thinking they could cancel later, they have been shocked to find out later that they had no right to cancel.

The introduction of new legislation will, it is hoped, prevent such misery occurring again.  The new regulations will apply to all contracts with a total payment of more than £35. These new rules also offer further protection to consumers in that cancellation rights must be given clearly in writing and prominently displayed in any written contract.  Where no written contract exists the trader will still be required to give a written notice of these rights to the consumer. 

This new change in the legislation will affect trades such as plumbers, joiners, electricians and possibly other tradesman where they have been invited by the consumer to provide quotes for work carried out in their home.   All trades who carry out home improvements as well as sellers going door to door will now have to comply.    There are exceptions to these rules however which are listed in the new regulations.  An example of such an exception would be the seller of perishable goods such as foodstuffs or goods supplied to meet an emergency e.g. storm damage to a property.

Alistair Thomson, Head of Environmental Health and Trading Standards feels this is just what enforcement staff have been waiting for and these changes are long overdue.   He explains: “Consumers now have a safety net of a cooling off period.  No longer do rogue traders have the advantage of loopholes relating to ‘unsolicited’ and ‘solicited’ visits. Our enforcement staff are ready to deal with those rogue traders who have previously been out of reach.”

He further warns: “Those traders who fail to provide a written ‘Notice of the Right to Cancel’ to consumers or those who fail to provide the information required by this new piece of legislation shall be committing an offence under the new rules relating to doorstep selling.  Therefore not only will they be unable to enforce the contract against the consumer but, if prosecuted, could face a fine of up to £5000.”  

Businesses who feel that they may be affected by this legislation are encouraged to contact Highland Trading Standards for advice. The Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), formerly known at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has provided assistance for businesses on their website:  www.berr.gov.uk which includes forms relating to cancellation notices for consumers.

Mr Thomson added:  “We encourage all businesses to make themselves aware of the new legislation so they do not fall foul of the new requirements and to contact us if they feel they need further guidance.”

Both Highland businesses and consumers can contact The Highland Council, TEC Services, Trading Standards in person or in writing at: Highland Trading Standards Unit, 38 Harbour Road, Inverness, IV1 1UF or telephone: 08454 04 05 06

Note to Editor:

A copy of the 'Cancellation of Contracts in a Consumer's Home or Place of Work etc Regulations 2008' can be found at:
www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2008/uksi_20081816_en_1

Further guidance for businesses can be found on the doorstep selling FAQ's page which also lists the types of businesses who are exempt from these regulations.

1 Oct 2008
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