Consumer law defines off-premises sales contracts as contracts concluded in the simultaneous physical presence of the trader and consumer in a place that is not the business premises of the trader. These kinds of sales are usually concluded either at the consumer’s home or in the street. Sales that start on the street and are concluded at the seller’s business premises also classify as off-premises.

When you decide to opt for this type of purchase method, the law provides you with additional protection if the value of the goods purchased exceeds €30. Off-premises sales can, in fact, be cancelled during the 14-day cancellation period. This time starts as soon as the sale is concluded and expires 14 days after you receive the products purchased. When the purchase concerns a service, the withdrawal period starts from the day of the conclusion of the contract.

As a consumer, you have the right to be informed in writing about the right of withdrawal. If you are not, then your right to cancel the sale is extended to 12 months or to 14 days after the day you are informed about your cancellation rights.

Should you change your mind about the purchase and decide to cancel the sale, it is your responsibility to do so in writing so that you have proof that you cancelled within the legal time limit. To cancel a sale, you can fill in the withdrawal form the seller should have given you when concluding the sale, or write to the seller and clearly inform him of your intention to cancel the purchase.

Once a sale is cancelled, the seller is obliged to reimburse you the money paid within 14 days. Furthermore, it is the trader’s responsibility to collect any delivered unwanted goods if this was part of the sale agreement or if the goods delivered cannot be returned by post.

Sales that start on the street and are concluded at a business premises also classify as off-premises

When purchasing goods off premises, you are responsible for carefully checking the goods and then decide if you want to keep them or not. If you decide to return them, it is important that you do not use them as the trader may claim compensation for diminished value. In the case of services, if you already made use of part of the service before changing your mind, you will be required to pay for the part of the service that the trader carried out. If, however, the service contract has been performed, the right to cancel cannot be exercised.

The law stipulates a number of situations where the 14-day cooling-off period does not apply. These include cases where goods are made to the consumers’ speci­fications or clearly personalised, goods that are likely to deteriorate or expire rapidly, unsealed goods unsuitable for return due to hygiene reasons, and digital content that has been downloaded following the consumer’s express consent of losing the right of withdrawal once download starts.

When you buy goods or services off premises you should not be requested to make any deposits or payments before they are delivered or started. A deposit not exceeding 10 per cent of the total amount due may be requested after the 14-day cooling-off period.

As a consumer you are also entitled to information about the sale that includes a detailed description of the goods or ser­vices, the contact details of the trader and the agreed price and method of payment. In case of goods you should also be in­formed about the date of delivery, and in the case of services the period of time when these will be performed. Consumer problems related to off-premises contracts may be reported to the Office for Consumer Affairs at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.


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