All consumers have rights when they buy faulty goods from someone acting in the course of trade, although the type of rights you have may depend on what you bought and how you bought them.
Generally consumer law dictates that the goods you buy must:
If goods don’t satisfy the above criteria, you may be entitled to:
What sort of remedy you get will often depend on what sort of goods you bought and how long it takes you to complain. You legally have up to six years to complain about faulty goods, although this doesn’t mean the goods have to last for six years – they should last as long as a reasonable person would expect them to last. The amount of time you have to check whether goods have something wrong with them depends on what is reasonable for that product – it will, for example, take you longer to check a fish-tank is working properly than a toaster. Ideally you should try to complain within a week to be entitled to a full refund. If you leave it longer, your rights to a refund dwindle and you will probably have to settle for one of the other remedies.
You should complain directly to the retailers you bought the faulty goods from. They may try to fob you off by saying that your complaint should be taken up with the manufacturers: this is untrue, your contract is with the retailers and it is legally up to them to sort out your problem if the goods are not up to scratch. They can then chase up the manufacturer themselves later but that’s not your concern.
If you take faulty goods back to the retailer within six months of buying them, it is up to the trader to prove that they were not faulty when you bought them. Any longer than six months and the burden of proof changes and it is up to you to prove that they were faulty when you bought them. You may need to show that the fault was not down to wear and tear or damage you caused, and that the product should have lasted longer than it did. An expert's report might be required for this.
The Sale of Goods Act still applies to second hand goods and sales goods bought from shops – if there is something wrong with them, you can take them back. They must be of satisfactory quality, but the price will be considered – if you bought a washing machine for a fiver not many reasonable people would expect it to work properly. Also, if you are told of any faults at the point of sale, you can’t return them because of that fault later.
If you buy second hand goods from private sellers the product must be as described but other than that it's a case of caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. If the buyer doesn’t mislead you in any way, you have no come back.
It’s always better to pay for goods by credit card rather than debit card, cash or cheque as under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, if you pay for something costing between £100 and £30,000 on a credit card, the card issuer must take responsibility if things go wrong in a purchase. This means if you don’t get any joy with your complaint against the retailer (e.g. if they’ve gone bust), you can claim your cash back from the credit card company instead.
If you buy something via telephone, mail order, internet, email or fax, the item must satisfy the requirements of the Sale of Goods Act (satisfactory quality, etc.), but under the Distance Selling Regulations, you also get a cooling-off period. This means that in the seven days after receiving your goods, you have the unconditional right to cancel your order and get a full refund (including delivery charges). This does not apply though if the goods you have ordered are custom made at your request or if you have pulled the packaging off something like a CD or DVD. (although you’d still be able to return them if they are faulty, of course). Unless otherwise stated, delivery of goods bought online should be within 30 days. If you don’t get it within this time, you can cancel the order. Before you buy you are entitled to information, including a description of the goods, the price (including taxes) delivery costs, name of the company, pay methods, etc. After you buy, you should receive written confirmation of your order plus information on how to cancel the order, a complaints address and details of after-sales services.
Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, work carried out by a trader should be done:
Any goods or parts fitted as part of the contract must be:
You may be able to claim compensation if the job doesn’t meet the above criteria but things are not as black and white as with problem goods: it is rare that you will have received no benefit at all from the work done and thus be justified in rejecting the whole job and get a full refund/refuse to pay (although sometimes the job will be so badly done that the harm caused will cost more to rectify than the original cost of the job).
You risk losing compensation if you don’t allow the trader a chance to put things right and you may still owe the trader some money even if he has not cured the problem, unless you can show he was negligent.
If the trader is dragging his feet on completing the work you can write to him/her and make time "of the essence of the contract". This sets a date after which you will consider the trader to be in breach of contract and can have the work completed by another trader – with the original company footing the bill. You may have to go to court over this so it is preferable to agree fair compensation for the delay instead if possible.
If you have a problem, put your complaint in writing to the trader as soon as possible, listing the problems that need to be sorted. You could pay some of the cash and withhold the rest until the problems are sorted.
Withholding pay altogether is a serious step – the trader could take you to court to enforce payment and when the dispute concerns work on goods the trader has a legal lien on the goods until agreement is reached about payment, so you may have to reluctantly pay to get your goods back, then take legal action.
If the case goes to court, you will need to prove your case "on the balance of probabilities". Take photos, keep copies of all letters and documents and get an expert’s report if necessary.
If a clause in the contract with the trader is blatantly unfair, it may be declared void by the court under the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994. Any term making you agree to pay all the money for the work up front is likely to be found unfair, for example. You can report unfair terms to Trading Standards Services and to the Office of Fair Trading.
If a trader does more work than agreed, you don’t have to pay for the extra work and you’re entitled to ask the trader to undo the work. However, you might want to accept the extra work and pay if it seems reasonable
If a cold calling sales person comes to your home to sell most goods or services costing £35 or more for cash (including cheques) you have seven days to cancel.
There are ombudsmen schemes for many services, such as insurance, banking and building societies or regulatory bodies for things like solicitors. If you have a complaint it may be preferable to go to them before you go to court.
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