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12 April 2018, 05:32
A crackdown on companies who make misleading claims over parcel deliveries has been welcomed by campaigners.
An enforcement notice has been issued by advertising watchdogs to stop retailers across the UK making incorrect delivery claims and ensure any restrictions or exclusions are made clear.
The move by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), part of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulatory system, follows concerns about customers in rural communities being subject to "rip-off" surcharges.
Companies will be required to take immediate action to ensure their advertising complies with the new guidance or face enforcement action, including the possibility of legal action by trading standards.
Any claim of "UK delivery" will now include all parts of the United Kingdom, including the Scottish Isles, and surcharges will be banned if such a claim is made.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: "Companies must honour the delivery claims they're making or stop making them.
"It's simply not fair to mislead people about whether parcels can be delivered to them, or how much it will cost."
SNP MSP Richard Lochhead, whose Fair Delivery Charges campaign has called for tougher action, said the move was "a significant first step".
Earlier this year the Moray SNP submitted a dossier of 124 firms who had failed to be upfront on charges for delivery to parts of Scotland to ASA - all of which will now be issued with the enforcement notice.
He said: "I'm sure that people living across Scotland will be pleased to see companies taken to task - and told to stop advertising free delivery when in many cases, for many customers, the reality is very different.
"It's now incumbent upon those companies who are failing to be upfront with consumers to sit up, take notice and change their practices. I hope they respond swiftly to this very clear shot across their bows.
"There is, of course, much more to be done - and I continue to be inundated with dozens of cases where online retailers are failing to be upfront over delivery charges. It's beyond belief that some firms don't classify mainland Scotland as 'mainland UK'.
"Ultimately, if companies truly value their customers in rural and northern Scotland then they shouldn't be discriminating at all when it comes to delivering goods."
Scottish Conservative Douglas Ross MP has also been campaigning for action on unfair delivery charges at Westminster, and said he was encouraged by the "positive step".
He said: "When deliver charges are advertised as United Kingdom, it should be clear that this includes all of the United Kingdom and not just certain locations of the company's fancy.
"The new rules will ensure delivery charges are clear and transparent for consumers and I welcome that companies will now face penalties for misleading customers when advertising delivery charges.
"Although this is another positive step in my campaign for fairer delivery charges, more still needs to be done to end the scandal of this postcode lottery."
Nina Ballantyne, consumer spokeswoman for Citizens Advice Scotland, said: "We have been campaigning on this issue for years and we recommended this action in our most recent report, so we are delighted that it has happened.
"We hope the companies concerned will respond positively and fix their procedures to make sure that Scots are treated fairly. We also hope other delivery companies will take this as a warning.
"People who live in northern Scotland don't expect special treatment, but they are entitled to expect fairness, and that includes transparent pricing information when buying items online."