When you buy goods from a trader, such as a shop, market stall or elsewhere, you enter into a contract that is controlled by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. This law was amended in 2003 by the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002.
A contract is a legally binding agreement between the buyer and seller where something of value changes hands, for example the passing of money for goods. Contracts don't have to be written down (unless they are for land or credit) and can also be verbal.
The following basic rules apply to all goods purchased, these are your statutory rights, but if you bought by post, telephone or via the internet, then this is known as distance buying and you have extra rights (see the section under distance selling). These rights do not apply to services where other rules apply but do include goods supplied as part of the service, (for example) double glazing or fitted kitchens etc
Your Statutory Rights
Goods should be of:
- satisfactory quality that is of a standard that a reasonable person would consider satisfactory, free from faults and defects and fit for their usual purpose, safe, durable and of a reasonable appearance and finish.
- fit for their purpose including for any specific purpose made known at the time of sale.
- as described - goods should correspond to their description. The description could be verbally, in writing, in pictures, on the product, or on packaging.
What are my options if I have bought faulty goods?
Firstly, act quickly and tell the business as soon as possible, phone, write or go back. Stop using the goods. Goods should be collected by the business, however if they are small enough to be carried it is better to take them yourself. Allow them a reasonable time to examine the goods. If they are not satisfactory you are entitled to reject them and claim a full refund provided you acted quickly. The law doesn't say how long the trader should have to examine goods but if it was an item such as a kettle, it wouldn't be as long as a motor car, so you will need to be reasonable.
If you decide to let them carry out a repair you will not lose your rights to a refund if the repair doesn't work. If you allow them to replace the goods, get an agreement in writing that if that too turns out to be faulty you can still have refund and "reserve your rights".
If the fault was there when you purchased the goods then you have other options. You can ask for a repair or replacement, or a reduction in price to allow for the fault, or you can give the goods back and ask for a refund. You might not get all your money back though and will have to allow for any use you have had out of the goods. If you ask for the repair or replacement but the trader says this is not possible or you ask for a repair but it takes a long time or causes significant inconvenience, you can still ask for a reduction in price or refund.
If the fault happens within six months of purchase the trader has to prove they were satisfactory when you bought them. After that six months is up, you have to prove the item was not satisfactory.
Letters of complaint
For guidance on writing letters of complaint, please refer to the "Citizens Advice self-help" website. This website has a range of letters that you can download and adapt to your own particular case. Here is a link to the Citizen Advice consumer advice pages.
Buying on credit
Remember also that if an item costs over £100 and you used your credit card (not your debit card) then the credit card company is equally liable for the performance of the contract under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. You can complain to them as well as the supplier.
When am I not entitled to anything?
- If you were told about a fault before you purchased
- If the fault was obvious and it would be reasonable to have noticed it
- If you caused the damage
- If you simply changed your mind, choose the wrong size, colour, appearance
- If you purchased the goods more than six years ago
The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellations and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 give you extra rights for goods you buy on-line or by other distance means such as over the phone or by post.
The regulations say that you:
- must be given clear information about the goods and services before you commit to buying them.
- must receive confirmation of your contract with the business.
- have a right to cancel your order within 14 days if you change your mind. There are some exceptions such as specially made or perishable goods, emergency repairs, hotel, theatre and restaurant bookings. A full list of exemptions can be found by clicking the links given below.
- must receive the goods within 30 days of placing your order, unless you have agreed a differrent date. You can claim a refund if the goods are not delivered within this time scale.
- should not have to untick pre-ticked boxes that offer you other services such as insurance or warrenties.
- should not have to pay more than a basic rate to phone the business about your contract.
- have a right to keep any goods that were delivered to you that you did not ask for, namely unsolicited goods.
There are some things which are not covered by these regulations. These include gambling, financial services, package travel, timeshare and buying a home as they are covered by other laws.
You could lose the right to cancel some goods and services if you do certain things. This includes unsealing goods which are not suitable for return for health or hygiene reasons (for example pierced earrings), opening sealed audio or video recordings or computer software, digital content once streaming or downloading has begun. Other exceptions can be found on the helpful links below. If goods are faulty, misdescribed or are not fit for purpose your normal statutory rights to claim a refund, replacement or repair still apply.
Links for more information
Distance selling: how the law protects you - from Citizens Advice
Distance Selling - from Which? the Consumers' Association