Survey finds websites 'breached' consumer laws

Internet shopping page on a computer The websites were chosen at random by trading standards officers

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Checks on internet sellers in Scotland have found widespread non-compliance with laws designed to protect buyers, according to trading standards officers.

More than two-thirds of 220 websites surveyed failed to comply with consumer protection laws such as cancellation rights and providing refunds when due.

The survey was conducted by officers from 22 Scottish local authority areas.

Officials described the amount of non-compliance as "worryingly high".

The survey of websites, which were selling a wide range of consumer goods across the UK, was part of a project organised by the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS).

It found that more than 50% of sites, chosen at random, failed to provide a full refund when required.

More than one in four websites illegally deducted the original delivery charge from money refunded, while 43% of sites failed to inform consumers of their right to cancel.

One in five added unexpected surcharges onto prices late in the buying process.

'Battle to keep up'

SCOTSS chairman Colin Baxter said: "These are worryingly high levels of non-compliance.

"These legal requirements are important for a variety of reasons: to protect online buyers, to ensure fairness and a level playing field for reputable retailers, and to ensure the smooth working of the internet marketplace.

"Since the early days of e-commerce, trading standards officers have worked hard with significant success to ensure that internet sellers are complying with the law.

"However, with the continuing expansion of e-commerce in the UK, new entrants are joining the market every day, many of them small micro-businesses with little experience of consumer law."

He added: "It is a battle for law enforcement to keep up".

The project involved an online inspection of the websites as well as officers carrying out "test purchases" to check how a consumer would be treated in practice.

Purchases were also cancelled within the statutory seven-day period to test whether website operators were following their obligations in those circumstances.

SCOTSS said non-compliances were followed up by officers either directly contacting the retailer involved, or referring to the trading standards service for the area where the companies were based.

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