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Top 600 retail sites get festive health check

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The UK's top 600 retail websites will be checked by the Trading Standards officers in about 100 local authorities during December to ensure they comply with key requirements of online shopping laws, the Office of Fair Trading has said.

The exercise will check whether sites provide shoppers with the contact details required by the Distance Selling Regulations, as well as correct information on their right to cancel. It will not check every aspect of legal compliance.

It is estimated that UK consumers will spend £14bn online this Christmas, according to the OFT. However, its research has shown that most online shoppers do not know that they have additional protection, and many websites may be breaching regulations by not fully respecting consumers' rights.

In June, the OFT published the findings of its internet shopping market study, which found that 28 per cent of the online traders it surveyed were unaware or only slightly aware of the laws applying to internet shopping, and 66 per cent had never sought advice on them.

More than 20 per cent of sites did not provide an email address as required by regulations and 16 per cent did not tell shoppers that they had a an unconditional right to cancel without giving a reason, provided they did so within seven working days of receiving their purchase. Most sites (59 per cent) appeared to impose conditions that could prevent or at least deter consumers from exercising their cancellation rights.

Heather Clayton, a senior director at the OFT, said: "Shoppers need to be confident that their rights are respected when they shop online. This sweep will identify where online retailers may be falling short and need to refresh their knowledge of the law."

Trading Standards officers will decide how best to address any potential breaches they identify, according to the OFT. An assessment of the web sweep results will be published in the New Year but offenders will not be named.

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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