The full title of the regulations is The Consumer Protection (Distant Selling) Regulations 2000. They derive from European legislation which applies to a similar extent throughout the European Union. The intention is that the consumer has a minimum level of protection which applies equally and consistently throughout the European Union. It does not follow that a website that observes the United Kingdom regulations will observe the regulations imposed by all other member states in the European Union. It may be that a member state has imposed stricter regulations.
Specific types of transactions are excluded. They include the sale of land, financial services, vending machines and auctions. Some specific types of transactions are partially excluded from the regulations. They include the sale of food, drinks, transport, accommodation, catering and leisure services provided at a definite time.
The regulations seek to provide protection for the consumer against unscrupulous websites and other distant sellers. However, there is no corresponding protection for websites against unscrupulous consumers.
The regulations are intended to make a consumer feel safe and secure when shopping in a virtual environment. If the consumer feels safe and secure, they are more likely to buy without first touching and feeling the goods being bought. One of the major potential achievements of the Internet is the disintermediation of the market place. In other words, the consumer is able to deal directly with the manufacturer and thereby cut out the wholesaler and retailer. The regulations are one step in the direction of achieving that goal. However, every website must be familiar with the regulations so as not only to ensure compliance, but also protect themselves from those seeking to avoid their liability under a contract.
The regulations are enforced by the Director General of the Office of Fair Trading together with the Trading Standards Departments of the local authorities. The intention is that where a breach of the regulations occurs, the website will be notified and asked to remedy the breach. If the breach is serious or a previous warning has been ignored, the website may be asked to give an undertaking to observe the regulation that has been breached in future. Only as a last resort will proceedings be taken in court to compel a website to comply with the regulations.
Anyone may complain about a breach of the regulations. Unless the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, it must be investigated. The Director General has the power to publish the details of any undertaking given or court order made in order to enforce the regulations through a 'name and shame' regulatory approach.