Information is available from the Trading Standards Institute to help consumers. Please note the county council is not responsible for this information.
In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
If you are in dispute with a trader over goods bought in the UK, you can obtain advice on your legal rights from the Citizens Advice consumer service, a solicitor or another advice agency.
However, if a trader is based overseas it may be difficult to know who to complain to and what your legal rights are. The law can be confusing as your rights as a consumer depend on where and how you bought the goods.
You may have additional rights if you bought the goods using your credit card.
If you buy goods from a trader based in the European Union (EU) some of the legal rights you have may be similar to rights you have in the UK - for example, rights when you buy goods that are faulty or unsafe. This is because some laws - called 'directives' or 'regulations' - are made in the EU and they are either transferred into UK law or form part of UK law as soon as they are made.
Whilst basic legal frameworks are set by the EU, the way they are transferred into the law of the individual countries within the EU can sometimes vary; do not assume that the rights you have in the UK are exactly the same as those in another EU country.
With regard to consumer contracts in the EU, if a trader in another EU Member State wanted to take court action against you they could only do so in the UK. A trader cannot have terms and conditions that avoid this. However, you have the choice to take court action against a trader in the EU Member State where they are based or in the UK.
If you buy goods in a country outside the EU, the laws of that country usually apply. The consumer rights you have under EU rules can apply to purchases made from non-EU online traders that target consumers in the EU. It may prove difficult, however, to claim your rights against traders not based in the EU.
Key EU directives that apply to contracts for the sale of goods in EU countries are summarised below.
DIRECTIVE 1999/44/EC ON CERTAIN ASPECTS OF THE SALE OF CONSUMER GOODS AND ASSOCIATED GUARANTEES
The Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees Directive sets out minimum requirements for goods that apply no matter where they were bought within the EU. Goods must 'conform to the contract of sale', which means they must:
This Directive also states that a guarantee offered by a trader is legally binding. It must be set out in a clear understandable form and include the name and address of the trader giving the guarantee, as well as how to make a claim. Legal rights that apply in an EU country regarding the sale of goods are not affected by a guarantee.
DIRECTIVE 2000/31/EC ON CERTAIN LEGAL ASPECTS OF INFORMATION SOCIETY SERVICES, IN PARTICULAR ELECTRONIC COMMERCE, IN THE INTERNAL MARKET ('DIRECTIVE ON ELECTRONIC COMMERCE')
When you buy goods online from a trader in the EU, the Electronic Commerce Directive (this was transferred in to UK law as the Electronic Commerce (EC) Regulations 2002) requires the trader to provide certain information:
The Directive also sets out other requirements:
DIRECTIVE 2011/83/EU ON CONSUMER RIGHTS
The EU also introduced the Consumer Rights Directive (part of which was transferred into UK law as the Consumer Protection (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013). Under this Directive:
The 'Buying by internet, phone and mail order: distance contracts explained' and 'Buying at home: off-premises contracts explained' guides give more information on how the Directive has been transferred to UK law and how it applies to contracts made with UK traders.
Under the Consumer Rights (Payment Surcharges) Regulations 2012, which were amended by the Payment Services Regulations 2017, traders are banned from imposing surcharges on consumers for using the following payment methods:
This rule applies if the payment service providers, for both you and the trader, are located in a European Economic Area (EEA) state. If either the payment service provider for you or the trader, but not both, is located in an EEA state, this ban does not apply.
Traders can impose a surcharge for other methods of payment, but the amount must not be excessive; it must reflect the actual cost to the trader of processing the payment. The Regulations apply to most sales and service contracts.
The Regulations give you rights to redress. Any requirement to pay a banned surcharge, or the part of a surcharge that is excessive, is unenforceable by the trader. This means you do not have to pay. If you have already paid the surcharge, or the excess, you are entitled to a refund.
I am in dispute with an overseas trader: what can I do?
These are the practical steps you can take when you want to complain to a trader about goods:
I paid by credit / debit card: what can I do?
If a credit card was used to buy the goods and the amount in dispute is over £100 but less than £30,000, then contact your credit card provider. Under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 you can hold the credit card provider equally liable with the trader for a breach of contract or misrepresentation. This could include supplying faulty goods, non-delivery of goods or making false claims about goods. This protection extends to traders overseas and items bought when abroad.
If the cost of the item exceeds £30,000 and is less than £60,260, and the finance was arranged specifically to buy that item, you may be able to claim against the finance company under section 75A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. If you are unhappy with the credit card provider's response then you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If you use a debit card to buy goods or if you use a credit card and the price of the goods is less than £100 (your rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 would not apply), you may be able to take advantage of the chargeback scheme. Chargeback is the term used by card providers for reclaiming a card payment from the trader's bank. If you can provide evidence of a breach of contract - for example, goods are not delivered or are faulty, or the trader has ceased trading - you can ask your card provider to attempt to recover the payment. Check with your card provider as to how the scheme rules apply to your card, whether internet and overseas transactions are covered and what the time limit is for making a claim.
In the event of a dispute, if you used a debit card or a credit card to service an online payment method (such as PayPal) it is unlikely that you will be able to use either the Consumer Credit Act 1974 or the chargeback scheme to claim from your card provider. However, PayPal has its own dispute resolution process, which may assist you in getting your problem resolved.
I am still in dispute: where can I get help?
If you followed the steps outlined above and your dispute remains unresolved, there are organisations that may be able to help. Please note that some of the organisations listed below may not be able to offer you direct assistance in obtaining a remedy, some may just take the information for intelligence purposes in order to assist consumers as a whole. If you are still unable to resolve your complaint then you may need to consider legal action.
EUROPEAN UNION (PLUS ICELAND AND NORWAY)
If you are based in the UK and have a problem with a trader in the EU (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden) or Iceland and Norway you can seek advice and support from the UK European Consumer Centre (ECC). The UK ECC is part of the European Consumer Centre Network and there are 30 centres covering Europe plus Iceland and Norway. It can advise and assist in cross-border disputes that involve a trader in another EU Member State.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Directive has been introduced by the EU. ADR procedures are another way of resolving disputes about goods and services between you and a trader without going to court. In the EU these procedures can take different forms and have different names - for example, arbitration, mediation, complaints boards and ombudsmen.
If you have a problem with goods or a service that you purchased online from a trader in the EU, you can use the European Commission's Online Dispute Resolution Service to send your complaint to an approved dispute resolution body. It may be cheaper and quicker than going to court.
You can use the European Small Claims Procedure to make a claim of up to EUR 5000 against a trader in any EU country except Denmark. This procedure is an alternative to using the Small Claims Court procedure in England and Wales.
The UK ECC can also provide advice on ADR schemes, the Online Dispute Resolution Service and the European Small Claims Procedure. The contact details are:
UNITED STATES AND CANADA
If you know the trader's address then you may wish to complain to the trader's local Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBBs aim to make the marketplace fair and effective. Some BBBs offer intervention but most of them publish 'reliability reports' of traders in their area. If you just want to notify the US Government without seeking advice (to report a scam for example) then you can use the Federal Trade Commission's online reporting assistant.
To complain about a trader in the United States go to the Better Business Bureau website.
To complain about a trader in Canada go to the Better Business Bureau website and search for the relevant province.
It will be helpful to know which state the trader is based in so you can complain directly to the Office of Fair Trading in that state. Follow the website links below to the relevant state's Office of Fair Trading / Office of Consumer Affairs, which will include contact details:
The New Zealand Ministry of Consumer Affairs website gives information on your rights
Other countries may have a department that deals with consumer rights. Key words to look for are 'consumer protection' or 'trading'. These departments may be part of a larger department dealing with competition issues, food safety, health or welfare. You may be able to obtain information on the right department to complain to from the UK based embassy for the relevant country. Contact details for embassies can be found on the GOV.UK website.
Last reviewed / updated: September 2020
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
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The county council is not responsible for this information.