Do You Know Your Consumer Rights?

Not knowing your rights can cost you money. Why shouldn’t you receive a refund or replacement if you are sold defective goods? In this article, we put the spotlight on your rights as a consumer and explain:

  • What consumer protection legislation there is in the UK
  • What your rights are when returning faulty goods
  • Your rights if you change your mind about a purchase
  • Complaining about services (with or without goods)
  • How you can complain about goods and services

In March 2018 Peter Vicary-Smith of the consumer watchdog ‘Which?’ voiced his concern that consumer rights were being neglected in Brexit negotiations. The worry is that without EU directives, the workload would be too much for bodies like Trading Standards and so British consumers would suffer. Although UK legislation exists to protect consumers, very few people take advantage of it as they aren’t sure of these rights. In this article, we take a look at what to do if you wish to return an item or replace a faulty one. We also consider the rules for services and digital content. Finally, we explain what to do if the retailer doesn’t respect your rights.

What consumer protection legislation is there in the UK?

In October 2015 the Consumer Rights Act replaced existing pieces of legislation (the Sales of Goods Act; the Unfair Terms in Consumer Regulations Act and the Supply of Goods & Services Act) to make the rules simpler, stronger and more relevant to modern times.

You have 30 days to return faulty  or defective goods to a store

One key change was that for the first time, the sale of digital content (covering the purchase of downloaded or streamed material like apps and eBooks) was specifically mentioned so that these buyers had exactly the same consumer rights as people who buy goods and services.

What are your rights when returning faulty goods?

The Consumer Rights Act stipulates 3 key reasons why a consumer can return goods to a retailer. Any goods (even those purchased in sales or second-hand) should be:

  • in a satisfactory condition,
  • fit for the purpose they were intended for
  • as they were described to the customer

You have 30 days to return faulty or defective goods to a store, and the onus is on the retailer (rather than the customer) to prove they met all these conditions. Your sales contract is with the shop and not the manufacturer so don’t let them fob you off with this excuse. You are under no obligation to accept a credit note or voucher in lieu of a full refund.

After 6 months, it’s your responsibility to prove that the goods were defective when you bought them.

After 30 days, a ‘tiered remedy’ system is in place. The retailer has one opportunity to either replace or repair the goods before you’re entitled to a refund. After 6 months, it’s your responsibility to prove that the goods were defective when you bought them. You might need reports by experts (for example, research showing a particular production line was defective) or other evidence of widespread problems ((often found on online forums or social media).

What if you change your mind about a purchase?

How many times have you purchased something and then changed your mind about it, or received a gift that you want to exchange because it isn’t to your taste?

A man is shown holding his phone which has a defect since he bought it

Retailers are under no legal obligation to change goods in these circumstances although many will as a goodwill gesture to keep your custom. Theoretically, the recipient of a gift has no rights since the sales contract was between the purchaser and the shop. If you’re buying a present for someone, it’s often a good idea to write the name of the recipient on the shop’s receipt. Many stores would accept this as proof that the rights have been transferred.

Complaining about services (with or without goods)

The Consumer Rights Act also protects you when you pay for services such as home improvements (with goods) or a haircut (without goods). The legislation states that the service should be carried out with reasonable care and skill and that the cost is also reasonable. The Act stipulates that the problem should be remedied or redone (as in the example of car repairs). If this isn’t possible, you are entitled to a discount or refund.

How can you complain about goods or services?

One of the most important things is to complain as soon as you notice the defect preferably within 30 days. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it is to prove. Before you even set foot in the shop to complain, you should have a clear idea of the wording of the relevant legislation. This means you won’t be fobbed off with excuses and mistaken information by the sales staff. Also, think about what you want them to do: a replacement or do you want a refund?

An elderly man is shown complaining about a defective purchase over the phone

Although you might be angry about the shoddy workmanship, try to keep calm. Speak firmly without raising your voice. If you find that the conversation is going nowhere, insist on speaking to the manager. Often they have a better understanding of consumer rights. In all your conversations with employees, keep a note of what was said. This will come in useful if you want to take the matter further.

If your visit to the store has no results, your next step is to contact their head offices and note all the calls (and their costs for future reimbursement). If the matter still can’t be resolved to your satisfaction, you can go through dispute resolution or refer the matter to your local Trading Standards. You also have the option to go through the small claims court for goods and services worth under £10,000. You don’t need to pay for a solicitor, and you have 6 years to make a claim (apart from Scotland where it is 5 years).

Conclusion – Knowing your rights can save you money

There’s nothing worse than forking out money for goods or services and then being let down. If you know your consumer rights and know how to complain, the faulty item will be replaced or you’ll get your money back. At least, you won’t be left out of pocket.

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