What the law says a retailer must do about faulty goods
If you think a product you have bought is faulty, you should tell the retailer as soon as you can. You have a ‘reasonable’ time to examine goods you buy and check that they are satisfactory. If they aren’t satisfactory, you can ‘reject’ them and get your money back. But again, your legal right to reject goods is only for a ‘reasonable’ time. What is a reasonable time depends on the type of product, but it may not be very long, and could be only a few weeks.
Instead of a refund, you could accept a replacement or a repair, or claim compensation (usually the cost of repairing or replacing the goods). But you don’t have to take these options if you don’t want to. If you do let the retailer repair something that is faulty, you may still have the right to get your money back if the repair doesn’t work.
If you’ve left it too long to reject the goods and get a refund, or a fault appears later , you still have some rights:
- If the fault appears in the first six months, you are entitled to a repair or a replacement (but not if the fault is just ‘fair wear and tear’ or is caused by accidental damage or misuse). If the retailer rejects your claim, it’s up to them to prove the product wasn’t faulty in the first place, or that it couldn’t reasonably be expected to last that long.
- The retailer can choose to replace an item rather than repair it (or the other way round) if the alternative would be much more costly for them.
- If the fault appears after six months, you may still be entitled to a repair or replacement. But if the retailer disputes your claim, it will be up to you to prove that the product was faulty when you bought it. The retailer must pay for any delivery costs involved in repair or replacement, which must be carried out within a ‘reasonable’ time. If it’s not possible or practical to repair or replace the goods, you will still have the right to some or all of your money back, depending on how much use you have had from the product since you bought it.
You may also be able to claim if you’ve had to pay for something because of a faulty product (for example, if a faulty iron ruined your clothes). But any claim must be reasonable and proportionate. See also ‘What if a product hurts someone or damages something?’.
The word ‘reasonable’ often appears in consumer laws (for example, expecting something to be delivered in a ‘reasonable’ time, or getting a job done at a ‘reasonable’ price). ‘Reasonable’ means different things in different situations. In difficult cases (such as deciding how long something should last with normal use) you may need to get an opinion from a trade association or an independent expert who deals with the product or service in question.
If you buy something in another EU country, you have broadly similar rights against the retailer to those you have in the UK. The time limits for bringing a claim will vary from country to country according to local laws, but wherever it is, you have at least two years from when you bought the product. Your claim is against the retailer you bought the product from – you don’t have the right to take a faulty product back to a UK shop instead, although shops with branchees in the UK may allow you to do so.
However, if you pay for an item using a credit card, you will have the same claim against your card issuer in the UK as you have against the seller, provided it cost between £100 and £30,000 (see 'What are my rights if I buy on credit?').
The Sale of Goods Act doesn’t apply when you buy a house or flat. And if you buy something privately (from a person rather than from a business, like a shop), the legal principle of ‘buyer beware’ applies, so you should check something carefully before you buy. This is because the parts of the Sale of Goods Act that say things must be ‘of satisfactory quality’ and ‘fit for their purpose’ don’t apply to private sales.
But you do have some rights when you buy privately (from a person, not a shop or other retailer). The law says that even private sellers must not ‘misrepresent’ goods to you by misleading you or lying to you about something. So, for example, a person must not give you false information about the age or mileage of a second-hand car they are selling.
If you relied on something a private seller told you when deciding to buy and it turned out not to be true, you may be able to claim compensation from them. But you may need legal help to decide whether you can do this and how to go about it. See ‘Consumer protection: useful phone numbers’ for details of where you can get help.
Your Sale of Goods rights apply to:
- new goods bought at auction; and
- second-hand goods bought at an auction that you could not attend in person, for example, (a phone or internet auction).
If you buy second-hand goods at an auction that you could have attended, the person or business running the auction can exclude your Sale of Goods rights if they display a notice about this at the auction or in a catalogue. You should read these notices carefully before you take part in any auction.
Websites that allow private sellers to auction items usually make clear in their terms that your contract is with the seller, so anything you buy counts as a private sale and you won’t have the rights you would under other types of auction.
Many products come with a free guarantee or warranty from the maker. This may promise, for example, a free repair or replacement if the product goes wrong within a year. There’s no legal difference between a guarantee and a warranty. If the goods are still ‘under guarantee’ when you have a problem, using the guarantee may be the easiest and quickest way to sort it out.
If something you buy is faulty, your rights under the Sale of Goods Act are against the retailer. Any benefits given by a guarantee are on top of these rights. The retailer cannot replace them or take them away. This is why you will often see the phrase ‘this does not affect your statutory rights’ with a guarantee or on a receipt, for example. And you will still have your Sale of Goods rights even after the guarantee has run out.
To be able to use a manufacturer’s guarantee, you may have to meet certain conditions. For example, with a car you may have to have it serviced at certain mileages. If you don’t meet this condition, the guarantee may be invalid and the manufacturer may not fix the car for free if it goes wrong. But again, this does not affect your Sale of Goods Act rights.
On top of the maker’s guarantee, you may also be able to buy extra years of cover (an ‘extended warranty’) from the manufacturer or from the retailer.
An extended warranty is like a breakdown insurance policy. It includes a contract that should explain exactly what sort of problems or faults will and will not be covered. Check the terms carefully to see what is covered. For example, problems caused by ‘wear and tear’ are not normally covered.
Retailers that sell domestic appliances and also extended warranties on them must give you written information when you are buying a product in the shop, in their catalogue or on their website. This explains your rights and options when considering an extended warranty, including, for example, the fact that you do not have to take out an extended warranty at the same time as you buy the product.
Your rights also apply to second-hand goods, although the law says you must take into account the price you have paid, and be prepared to expect lower quality. For example, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect a ten-year-old, high-mileage car to perform as well as a new one, or to last as long. Also, if you bought the goods privately you have less legal protection.
You have the same rights to a refund, replacement or repair with goods in a sale as with non-sale goods. But if the goods were reduced in price because of a fault that should have been obvious to you in the shop, or was pointed out to you (for example, a chip in a vase), you won’t be able to get a repair, refund or replacement because of that fault.
If you simply decide you don’t like something, or it doesn’t suit you, a shop may:
- give you your money back;
- allow you to change it; or
- give you a credit note to later.
But legally, a retailer doesn’t have to do any of these things. The law on refunds and replacements applies only if something is faulty.
In general, if someone buys you a gift and it turns out to be faulty, it is the buyer who has rights under the law, not you. If you can, ask them to help you sort out the problem.
Or if you are giving someone a gift, you can let them deal with any problem by naming them as the future owner when you buy it. You can do this by writing their name on the receipt, invoice or guarantee card.
When you order a product and pay a deposit, you enter into a contract. If you change your mind and break the deal, you cannot insist on your money back, so you may lose your deposit.
You can’t normally back out of a contract once you have signed it, unless it says in writing that you have the right to change your mind within, say, 14 days. So never sign a contract without reading it first. However, there are some specific cases where you may legally be able to back out of a contract you’ve signed (‘What are my rights if I buy on credit?’).
If a salesperson makes an ‘unsolicited visit’ to your home and you sign a contract to buy goods or services, you normally have a seven-day ‘cooling-off period’ (as long as the goods or services cost more than £35). This means you can cancel your order (in writing) within seven days for any reason, without having to pay anything. An ‘unsolicited visit’ is one where the salesperson arrives on your doorstep without warning, or makes an appointment to visit you after a phone call or letter that you didn’t ask for.
You also have this right if, after an unsolicited visit, you agree to the salesperson coming back later. Currently if the salesperson visits you because you have phoned their company asking for a visit, you don’t have the same right to a ‘cooling-off period' but the government intends to change this in 2008 to give you the same rights as for an unsolicited visit.
There are some things for which the cooling-off period does not apply, whether or not you bought them after an unsolicited visit from a salesperson. These are if you:
- buy land;
- buy insurance or most other types of financial service; or
- take out a loan, hire purchase agreement or mortgage.
A law on 'unfair commercial practices', which came into force in April 2008, made it illegal to 'trade unfairly', which includes salespeople misleading customers or using high-pressure sales tactics.
The Distance Selling Regulations 2000 say that if you buy something by phone, by mail-order, over the internet or via interactive TV, the seller must deal with your order (in most cases, deliver it) within 30 days, unless you agree to something different. But these regulations don’t apply if you order something in person (for example, in a shop). So you may need to agree that you must have the item on or by a specific date, and include this in the contract (for example, by writing it on the order form). This is called ‘making time of the essence’. If the order doesn’t then arrive on time, you could cancel it and get a refund.
If you didn’t ‘make time of the essence’ when you ordered, and the goods are seriously delayed, you can enforce a reasonable time limit by writing to the retailer and setting a final date for delivery. If the goods don’t arrive within that time, you can then cancel the order.
What if I have problems with how something was installed?
If installing goods (such as a carpet or kitchen units) is part of your contract with the retailer and it isn’t done properly, the law says the retailer must redo the work properly or pay the costs of getting someone else to do it.
If this doesn’t solve the problem, you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund. This is the case even if the retailer sub-contracts another firm to do the job. But if you find the installer yourself and pay them separately, you will have to claim against them yourself if there are problems (see ‘Dealing with problems with services’).
If something is wrongly marked with a lower price, you can’t insist on buying it at that price. The law says that a retailer can refuse to sell anything to you, at any price, without giving a reason. But if a retailer sells you something at too low a price by mistake, they can’t later make you pay the extra, unless they can show you knew the price was wrong.
Under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, it is illegal to give misleading price information about goods and services. This applies to, for example:
- price labels;
- prices in catalogues;
- prices on shop shelves; and
- prices given over the phone: amd
- prices on a website
It also applies where a shop is comparing its prices (to another shop’s prices, for example).
There are also rules about special-offer and sale prices. For example, if a shop advertises that a product has been reduced in price, it must normally have offered the goods at the old price (and in that branch, if the shop is part of a chain) for at least 28 days in a row in the last six months. If it hasn’t, it must make this clear to shoppers. Also, price-comparisons should always be with a genuine selling price, not a specially inflated one that would exaggerate the savings.
These rules also say that prices for consumers (but not businesses) must include VAT.
Retailers must also make clear any extra charges that you cannot avoid paying (such as for delivery).
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