Consumer Rights: 'Is it wise to buy my new kitchen from abroad?'

Protection of rights is a worry despite the lure of dream Italian units and appliances at low prices

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The Independent Online

Q: After a windfall, we decided to install our dream kitchen. We have always wanted particular units and appliances and I found exactly the right things online from a company in Italy. The prices are very competitive and even taking exchange rates and shipping costs into consideration we'd save quite a bit by buying abroad. But what if things go wrong? Would we have any rights at all? Should we forget the savings and buy in the UK?

MK, South Wales

A: Shoppers are often put off buying abroad by a fear of becoing involved in a wrangle with a business outside the UK. However you're rights are the same anywhere in Europe and you can get a refund if the goods are faulty or not what you expected. Buying online gives you even more rights than buying from a shop.

The website you're using should give you all the information about your kitchen appliances and units and the contact details of the firm.

Don't think that just because a website has a address the firm is in the UK. Equally a firm with an Italian domain name may not be in Italy. If you can't find the contact details and address on page then don't trade with that company and don't trust PO boxes.

Reputable firms will make it easy to find out where they are as they want your business and your trust. Tedious as it may seem do read the terms and conditions rather than just ticking the box. If you're not happy about anything, don't 'shop'.

Then under the Distance Selling Directive you have a seven-day cooling off period in which to change your mind, starting the day after the goods are delivered, so you can send them back for any reason. In a shop you can't demand a refund simply because you change your mind.

If you do end up sending things back you have to pay for the shipment but the trader then has to refund your money within 30 days.

The most common cause of problems is caused by orders not turning up at all. When you place your order you should be given an idea of when you'll get them and they should arrive within 30 days unless you agree a later date will be acceptable – if the units have to be built from scratch for example.

If there's a reason that you really need the goods by a certain date, make that very clear at the outset and keep a written (or e-mail) record of those discussions. That will then form part of your agreement with the company and make it easier to claim some recompense if they don't make that date.

Having taken all possible precautions, if things do go wrong write or e-mail the company first explaining the problem and what you want done about it. If that doesn't work, the UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) can give you information and advice and there's a network of 29 of special agencies across the EU, Iceland and Norway. They don't have powers to force traders to play ball but they can ask their counterpart office in Italy to assist you by contacting the firm.

If that still doesn't get a satisfactory solution they can advise about alternative dispute resolutions or how to take a claim through the courts. The UK ECC is at or on 08456 040503.

Buying from a UK company doesn't always guarantee a great service and problem free shopping.

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