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Next breaks refund rules for online


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BBC News - Next breaks refund rules for online deliveries

 

A BBC investigation has found that Next has been breaking consumer law.

It has been failing to refund delivery charges applied to goods bought online, but then returned.

The BBC has also discovered that staff at other mail order companies are giving out the wrong information about their refund policies.

Under the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs), a customer returning goods within seven days is entitled to a full refund and the initial delivery charge.

These legally binding rules were introduced in 2000 to protect customers who, unlike high street shoppers, are unable to inspect goods before they buy them.

The law does not cover the cost of returning the unwanted items.

But Next has been breaching the regulations by billing customers for delivery costs - even if goods are returned within seven days.

When the BBC questioned Next, it said it would change its policy from the start of August.

'Necessary changes'

A spokesman said: ''During the last three years, Next has not offered a refund of the delivery charge.

_48298309_nextinvoice.jpg Next invoice: the price of the goods has been refunded but the postal charge remains

"This was in line with our interpretation of the Distance Selling Directive. However following clarification from the European Court of Justice in April this year on interpretation of the Directive, Next is in the process of implementing the necessary changes to ensure that delivery charges will be refunded. "

The spokesman pointed out though that customers had not had to pay for returning the goods.

There is no obligation for retailers to offer free returns.

Trading Standards said that since the Distance Selling Regulations had been legally binding in the UK since 2000, there was no excuse for not adhering to them.

Andy Foster, operations manager at the Trading Standards Institute, said: ''If there is a failure to refund delivery charges that is clearly wrong and we will interpret that to be a breach of contract."

Mr Foster said there were steps customers could take if the rules were not adhered to.

"What they should do is approach the retailer and ask them to give them their money back or they can take their case to the small claims court.

Confused

He added: ''The majority of businesses we speak to are law-abiding, but there is a small minority that are not and those are the companies we need to take action against.''

Other major companies appear confused about the DSR.

Continue reading the main story

I have not been refunded the delivery charge on a number of occasions. I didn't mind ... but now I know I feel a bit cheated

Kate Porter Shopper

On its website, Debenhams says it only refunds delivery charges if the product is faulty.

Helpline staff said that was the case even if the item was returned within a week.

But a spokeswoman from the retailer said this was not actually the company's policy and that staff would be re-appraised of the rules: ''Unfortunately the wrong information was given out. Delivery charges are refunded within 7 days, even for goods that are simply unwanted.

"We will make sure all our customer services staff know the correct policy and we will look at updating the website.''

Littlewoods advisors told BBC researchers that customers must pay the delivery fee no matter how quickly the product is returned.

Its website it states it won't refund delivery charges unless the product is faulty.

Its call centre staff also told the BBC that customers must pay the delivery fee no matter how quickly goods are returned.

'Uphill struggle'

Littlewoods said it was operating within the rules: 'We believe that we do comply with the requirements of the Distance Selling Regulations and many of our brands offer free delivery and returns.''

Matt Bath, Technology Editor from Which? said many customers aren't aware of their online rights.

''People face an uphill struggle when trying to convince online stores to give them the money back that they are rightfully owed, the only recourse we have to complain to trading standards or go to the small claims court. Both are long and laborious processes and it's unfair that consumers have to go through that.''

Shopper Kate Porter from Sydenham in south -east London buys lots of clothes online but wasn't aware of the distance selling regulations.

''I have not been refunded the delivery charge on a number of occasions. I didn't mind because I buy so much online rather than going to the shops, but now I know I feel a bit cheated.''

If consumers do believe they have been unfairly charged, Trading Standards is now urging them to get in touch.

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