The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has revealed that more than a third of the UK’s top online retailers could be breaking consumer laws.

It has been suggested that 62 companies may not be fully complying with the consumer protection law following a check on 156 of the UK’s biggest websites.

The OFT has asked retailers to change their websites before Christmas after it found unreasonable restrictions on refunds, inadequate contact details and unexpected charges at the point of checkout.

The most common rule being defied relates to refunds with some retailers requiring that the product is returned in its original packaging or original condition, making it difficult for customers to reasonably inspect the item before deciding whether or not they need to return the goods. The OFT explained that this could be in breach of the buyer’s right to inspect or assess a product.

In addition it has been reported that nearly two-thirds of all the retailers checked, failed to provide an email contact address, instead favouring a web contact form, which is a breach of the E-Commerce regulations. It also found that 2% provided no electronic contact details whatsoever.

Once customers reach the checkout, the OFT say that 24% of the sites that notified buyers there would be compulsory charges in addition to the original price then proceeded to add extra charges on top. These unexpected charges included card or booking charges and luggage fees.

Overall, almost all of the websites are now complying with the Distance Selling Regulations, with 99% giving details about delivery times, and 95% supplying a full geographical address when payment was required in advance.

Commenting on the findings, Cavendish Elithorn, a Senior Director at OFT, said:

“The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law.

“We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online.”

All sites that may be breaching consumer laws have now been written to, and those who do not change their sites to comply with the law could be taken to court and face fines according to the authority.