Young woman confused, making up her mind

Making Your Mind Up

We all change our minds sometimes and buy things we later regret. If it’s something like a year-long broadband deal, this can cost us big. But the ‘cooling off’ period gives us the right to think again. We look at how it works.

Cooling Off

The ‘Cooling Off’ period is a 14-day window where we can cancel a service we’ve signed up to if we’ve changed our mind. It also applies to certain items bought online or over the phone. The 14-day period begins on the day after we arrange the service, buy the goods or sign the contract.

What kind of services?

Things like phone contracts, broadband deals and gym memberships all fall under this kind of ‘service’. Other types of service don’t have a cooling off period. These are things like bookings for hotels or short term lets, car or van rental or cinema or theatre tickets.

What kinds of goods?

Most items bought online from a retailer automatically come with a 14 day cooling off period. The 14 days start on the day we receive the goods. The exceptions are: things that go off quickly (food, flowers), custom made or personalized goods and any CD/DVD or software disc where the seal is broken. The cooling off period only applies to items bought from a retailer online, not an individual (eg: a gumtree seller).

When we buy something online the seller has to give us certain info in writing (or email), including info on our right to cancel. If they don’t, the cooling off period is extended by a whole year.

The where and the when

The way the cooling off period works means it’s very important where we signed up to the service or bought the item. If we walk into a phone shop and sign a new contract, the cooling off period won’t automatically apply. But if we sign up to a new contract online or over the phone, it will.

This may seem odd, but the reason is that we are able to get a better idea of what we’re buying in a shop. When we buy something online, we might be less aware of what we’re paying for. This also works if we sign up for something after a salesperson has knocked on our door at home. The same applies if we sign up for a service at a stall or anywhere that is not the company’s ‘business premises’, as long as the service costs £42 or more.

Getting money back

If we are eligible under the cooling off period to cancel the service we’ve signed up to, we should get our money back.

What about if we’ve used the service during the cooling off period? If we’ve paid for the first month up front, we’ll get our money back minus the days since we signed up. If we’ve used the service during the cooling off period but haven’t paid anything up front, we have to pay for what we’ve used when we cancel.

If we want to return goods we’ve bought online under the cooling off period, we have to let the retailer know within 14 days. We then have another 14 days to return the items.

What if they won’t pay out?

If we’re within our rights to cancel under the ‘cooling off’ period, then the service provider or retailer has a legal duty to refund us. If they refuse, the next step is to launch a complaint.

Take a look at our info page on how to complain effectively here. Also, Citizens’ Advice have useful info on making a complaint, including template letters we can download from their site. They also have a consumer helpline.

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