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Brief cases: fighting a £950 cancellation fee

Fees and charges

Being hit with a cancellation charge when returning goods can be a shock, but if you know your rights you may not have to pay it…

A Which? Legal member came to us for help after he tried to return a £2,626 dining set and was told he’d have to pay a cancellation charge of £950.

Mr Jones and his wife ordered six dining chairs and a table from Branstons Garden and Home by phone on 30 October 2015. The furniture was delivered on 23 January, but the chairs were much heavier than the couple expected and they decided the set was unsuitable.

Mr Jones contacted Branstons on 26 January and was told then of the £950 charge, which he considered excessive.

Our advice on cancellation charges

As he had entered the contract at a distance, we advised Mr Jones that he had a right to cancel and get a refund. But a refund would be minus the amount to cover any loss in the set’s value while he owned it, or for the cost of its return.

We advised that he ask the shop for a breakdown of the cancellation fee and why it was so much.

Branstons told him it was for the loss in value and the cost of the return. However, Branstons’ terms and conditions said that a customer had seven days to return unwanted goods. In fact, if you buy goods online or over the phone you have 14 days from the day you receive the goods to return them.

As Branstons incorrectly stated the wrong cancellation period, it wasn’t allowed to make any deductions from the refund due.

Branstons accepted this argument and asked Mr Jones to only pay the delivery charge. He agreed to this, and was refunded £2,556.

Your returns rights

Your right to return unwanted goods bought at a distance (online or over the phone) within 14 days is covered under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, although some types of contracts are excluded by these regulations.

Under the regulations, the trader can normally charge you the cost of returning the goods and for any loss in their value, subject to their terms and conditions (some retailers may cover the cost of the return as well).

But if the trader doesn’t give you details about what the cancellation period is, how long it lasts and how you should go about cancelling, it can’t then charge you any fee.

This article by the Which? Legal team originally appeared in the September 2016 edition of Which? Magazine

Comments
Guest
dieseltaylor says:
1 September 2016

Illustrates the dangers of shopping on-line. Not knowing the weight but presumably the dimensions of furniture seems something so obvious when you are physically in the shop.

But for Branstons making an error in their paperwork Mr. Jones would have been stuffed.
“As Branstons incorrectly stated the wrong cancellation period, it wasn’t allowed to make any deductions from the refund due.”

What this article should have covered, and has not, is whether the £950 would have been payable if the paperwork had been in order. This part of the law is surely the interesting subject. Was it a style made to order? Would 30% of the total order be ever defensible?

Guest
david says:
3 September 2016

NEVER had problems returning damaged items .I use amazon, NO PROBLEMS .

Guest

That’s OK, David, but many people do not wish to live their lives through the medium of Amazon’s on-line catalogue. I must admit, however, that buying a dining set without seeing it is taking a chance and it was just luck that meant the supplier could only deduct the delivery charge from the refund. I agree with DieselTaylor that a 30% deduction to cover putative value loss would have been excessive – I would say 10% is the most that would be fair and reasonable if the goods are returned immediately in pristine condition.

Guest

It’s an intriguing fact that this is the very first time I can recall seeing Which?’s legal advice that you can be charged for returning something that you’ve decided you don’t want and that you can also be charged a cancellation fee.

I notice, also, that some contracts are excluded but I think that what Which? should do is create a flow-chart that covers distance-selling returns. Tort law is well named, since it can prove tortuous indeed to navigate the labyrinth of regulations, precedents and legal niceties and Which? rightly makes education on this a priority. But the flow chart would be very useful as would a comprehensive list of excluded contracts and, most importantly, precise and accurate guidance regarding return costs.

We use Amazon a lot, and we’ve not experienced any issues when returning items. But that’s dealing with Amazon, and their Market-place sellers are a different issue. Normally, they’re pretty good, but I have encountered one case where they attempted to charge me for returning a camera battery which I had cancelled, since they’d failed to deliver in the time stipulated. On that occasion Amazon picked up the ball and paid the company and I was able to keep the battery, but it shows that caution is needed when dealing with any distance selling retailer.

Guest

The monthly Which? Magazine is becoming so full of interesting articles and reports these days that I hardly get time to read it all. I had not even opened the 84-page ram-packed September issue to see the Brief Cases advice on distance-selling returns so I thought I had better check whether there was indeed a flow-chart before commenting. Unfortunately, there is not, so I think that is a very good idea. It would be a very useful service to subscribers to send out with the magazine every so often a handy card containing nuggets of knowledge in a nutshell, especially on our legal rights. Diagrammatic presentation should be used wherever possible. I know it’s all there on-line but finding it can sometimes take too long whereas a set of cards could easily be consulted and relevant ones could be taken into shops.

Guest
dieseltaylor says:
4 September 2016

I like Ian’s idea.

There is though the fundamental problem that the Article has left a huge hanging question about charges that can be levied. The article is not good.

Looking further:
” A deduction can be made if the value of the goods has been reduced as a result of you handling the goods more than was necessary. The extent to which you can handle the goods is the same as it would be if you were assessing them in a shop.”

So even reading Which?’s Legal advice provides not a glimpse of guidance of a retention of £950. So Which Legal? what is the answer?

Guest

Lawyers rarely say anything with absolutes. And that’s a problem for shoppers needing unequivocal advice.

Guest
dieseltaylor says:
4 September 2016

Lawyers may prefer no to give uneqivocal advice however we are talking about a recent single Act and I think there is no wriggle room.

On the face of it the request for £950 comes into the impossible to enforce as there is no legal basis as all they did was take delivery and decide after the modest handling allowed that it was too heavy. The only feasible legal alternative for the company wanting the amount is it was a bespoke build . Taking into account when it was ordered and when it was delivered there is a whiff of special order.

I think part of the problem is that Which? Legal is AFAIK not licensed to practice and therefore I assume is not in a position to answer. Alternatively it never obtained the full details of the case. Thirdly perhaps it wanted a great scare-mongering headline. Or fourthly Branston’s were trying it on but Which do not want to say that.