Business

Next breaks refund rules for online deliveries

Next shop front
Next says it will change its policy and will refund postage on returned goods

Next has been breaking consumer law by failing to refund delivery charges on goods bought online but then returned, a BBC investigation has found.

Other mail order companies were also found giving out the wrong information about their refund policies.

A customer returning goods within seven working days is entitled to a full refund and the initial delivery charge, under the Distance Selling Regulations.

Next told the BBC it would change its policy from the start of August.

The Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs) are legally binding rules and were introduced in 2000 to protect customers who, unlike High Street shoppers, are unable to inspect goods before they buy them.

Even if you simply inform a company that you wish to return the goods within the seven working days, you should get a refund of the initial delivery costs.

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 the seven working days.

'Necessary changes'

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

Next invoice
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 DSRs had been legally binding in the UK for ten years, there was no excuse for not adhering to them.

Andy Foster, operations director 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," he said.

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 DSRs.

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-apprised of the rules: ''Unfortunately the wrong information was given out. Delivery charges are refunded within seven 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 call centre staff told BBC researchers that customers must pay the delivery fee no matter how quickly the product is returned.

Its website states it will not refund delivery charges unless the product is faulty.

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.''

'Uphill struggle'

Matt Bath, technology editor of Which?, said many customers were not 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 [is] to complain to Trading Standards or go to the small claims court," he said.

"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 was not aware of the DSRs.

''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,'' she said.

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

Consumers do not have the right to full refunds under the DSRs for perishable goods, personalised or custom-made products, magazines and unwrapped CDs.

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