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Buying Goods

For contracts made before 1 October 2015, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 will still apply and different rules may apply. In the majority of cases, there will be little difference in the practical steps required by both you and the trader in resolving a complaint, when the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 becomes law. However in some cases the differences may be quite significant.

Here Consumer Genie highlights your rights when buying goods  and the changes that will take effect , when the Consumer Rights Act comes fully into force. See: Consumer Rights Act 2015 basic guide and summary

Every day we enter into contracts without even thinking about it – when we are buying goods such as the papers, shopping, eating out or taking a taxi.  This is because contracts do not have to be in writing in order for them to be binding.  In most cases, all that is needed is: An offer; and An acceptance; and Consideration – money or money’s worth. Buying Goods

Even when you buy that sandwich for lunch, you expect it to meet certain expectations about  being fresh, edible, and have the ingredients listed on the side – and the law recognises this expectation. When you buy goods, they have to be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose – but what does this mean? Goods do not have to be perfect – but they should be of a quality that the reasonable person would expect: they should last a reasonable period of time, be safe, free from minor defects, and do what they are generally purchased to do. This applies whether you buy new or second hand goods, but the law will take account of the age of goods at the time of sale, the price paid, and how long they have lasted.

Returning  Faulty Goods

Under Sale of Goods Act 1979 (the law BEFORE 1st October 2015)

If goods are faulty you can reject them within a reasonable period of time and get a full refund – this is often stated as about 4 weeks however, you will lose that right if you take some action that is inconsistent with rejecting, such as using the goods.  A good example is buying a car with air conditioning and upon collection seeing that it does not have the air conditioning but has a sun roof instead – if you drive it away, your right to reject will be lost immediately as you have had time to inspect the car, and the fault is obvious.

On the other hand, there have been cases where the right to reject has been extended longer than 4 weeks, even up to 16 months – so it will all depend on the actual facts of the case.

If you have goods repaired or replaced, this does not affect your right to reject. If the goods are faulty and a reasonable time has passed then you still have the right to a repair, replacement or to rescind the contract BUT the reality is, the retailer will get to choose the most cost effective solution (usually a repair). Any repair or replacement must be done within a reasonable period of time and without causing significant inconvenience – what this means will depend on each case but for example, to fix faulty heating within 2 weeks during the summer may be deemed reasonable, whereas the same time mid-winter may not.  If the retailer cannot repair or replace within a reasonable period of time you can rescind the contract – return the goods and get a partial refund.  Alternatively, you can claim against the retailer for the cost of having the goods repaired.

Any replacement does not mean a new item – it can be reconditioned, and it does not have to come with any new warranty (if one was provided in the first place).

Under The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (the law AFTER 1st October 2015)

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA), certain standards will apply to every transaction for the sale and supply of goods. This will include part exchange, hire, hire purchase, and contracts for work and materials.

If, the goods you purchase are faulty, you will have a 30 day period during which you are entitled to reject them. This so called “short-term right to reject” will apply unless the expected life of the goods is shorter, for example with highly perishable goods. However this short-term right to reject will not apply in cases where the only breach relates to an incorrect installation of goods, for example where a new wood burning stove has not been correctly installed.

Under the new CRA if during this initial 30-day period, you ask the trader to either repair or replace the faulty goods instead of rejecting them, then the period will be paused so that you will still retain the remainder of the 30-day period, or seven days (whichever is longer) to check whether the repair or replacement has been successful and to decide whether or not to still reject the goods.

If returning faulty goods you are entitled to claim a refund. This would be a full refund or, in the case of hire, a refund for any part of the hire that was paid for but not supplied.  Importantly, you would also be released from all of your outstanding obligations under the contract – for example, if you bought a car on HP, you would be released from the outstanding instalments.  Any refund must be given to you without undue delay, and in any event within 14 days of the trader agreeing that you are entitled to a refund.

Under the CRA the trader is responsible for the reasonable cost of returning the goods except where you have decided to return them to the place where you actually physically bought them. However, the Act makes it clear that you are not required to return the goods to this place unless this was agreed from the outset as part of the contract. However even if you do decide to return the goods to the shop where you bought them, you may in some circumstances be able to claim some or all of that cost from the trader – for example, if you bought a faulty second hand car that broke down in the middle of nowhere and you had to pay some money out for the AA or RAC to return the car for you.

Returning non-faulty goods

The position would be the same both under the pre 1st October and post 1st October position.

If goods are not faulty, you have no legal right to return them – most stores will have a returns policy, but as they are not legally obliged to provide one, they can be as wide or narrow as the shop decides.  If you cannot see a returns policy in the shop, presume there is not one.

In addition you cannot claim for defects that were brought to your attention before the sale, or if you examined the goods before purchase and any defects should have been obvious.

You cannot also claim for damage that you have caused or if you simply change your mind about wanting the goods.

Also you cannot claim if you chose the product yourself for a purpose that was neither obvious nor made known to the trader at the time and you then found that the item was simply unsuitable for that purpose. For example, you buy a Flymo hover mower which breaks when you attempt to cut down a hedge with it. In this case you would not be able to make a claim unless the trader told you that it would be suitable for hedge cutting.

Finally you would have no rights both under the old and new law to claim for faults that appear as a result of fair wear and tear.

Buying on-line

Your rights as a consumer are the same if you have purchased from a business on line or by telephone, but you have cancellation rights – see our buying on-line guide and The Consumer Rights Act 2015 brief Guide

Second Hand Goods

The Sale of Goods Act for pre 1st October 2015 contracts as well as the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 also applies to second-hand goods purchased from a trader.

Buying on e-bay

If you buy goods on e-bay from a trader then your rights are the same as if you had purchased directly from a trader.

Paying by credit agreement or credit card

If you purchase goods using your credit card or with a connected credit agreement (an agreement arranged with the trader solely for those goods) and the goods cost between £100 and £30000 then the finance company are jointly and severally liable with the trader for any misrepresentation or breach of contract. This is provided for under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

Warranties and Guarantees

Retailers and manufacturers are not legally obliged to offer a warranty or guarantee.  However, any warranty given by the manufacturer is directly binding and therefore if you have a guarantee in place and the goods are faulty you can rely on the Sale of Goods Act, for contracts made prior to 1st October 2015, or the Consumer Rights Act for post 1st October 2015 contracts against the retailer, or the manufacturer, or both.  The retailer cannot oblige you to rely on the warranty.  Even once the warranty has expired, you may still be able to claim against the retailer under the Sale of Goods Act/Consumer Rights Act.

Always remember that your statutory rights both under the SGA and the CRA are with the trader who sold you the  goods, and/or the credit card company if Section 75 CCA applies (see: Paying by credit agreement or credit card above) and the guarantee offered by the manufacturer is in addition to such rights.  It is YOUR choice whether to pursue the trader, the credit card company or the manufacturer and neither may deny you your statutory rights and direct you to the other.

Contracts signed at home or work

If you signed a contract for goods at your home or your workplace then for most goods you will have 14 days in which to cancel the contract under the CONSUMER CONTRACTS (INFORMATION, CANCELLATION AND ADDITIONAL PAYMENTS) REGS 2013. See: The Consumer Rights Act 2015 brief Guide.

In addition the trader must provide you with certain information before the contract is made, the trader must have obtained your clear agreement if they wish to charge for you additional items (no pre-ticked boxes in the contract). Also any customer helplines must cost no more than the basic rate and these Regulations also give the trader new obligations on delivery, including the point at which you becomes responsible for the goods.

Making a Complaint


Going to Court

Questions & Answers

How long should goods last?

A good question, and one that causes a lot of confusion.  Not all goods will last for a long period of time – in most cases it is a case of “you get what you pay for”.   It is a common myth that all goods have to last for 6 years.  The 6 year period is the time in which you have to submit a claim to the Court for faulty goods.  So, if you buy an expensive washing machine, you would expect it to last more than 6 years, but cannot bring a claim after 6 years from the date of purchase.

How long something should last will also take account of outside factors, for example, you cannot complain to a retailer if your washing machine breaks down after 2 years because it is clogged with lime scale.

This is why, when you buy goods, under the SGA ( for contracts made prior to 1st October 2015) once you have had them for more than 6 months, if they go wrong, you have to show that the reason for the fault is an inherent one that has taken time to manifest itself (often by way of an independent report).  During the first 6 months after purchase, that burden lies with the retailer.

Similarly for any goods purchased  after 1st October 2015, when the CRA 2015 takes effect, if the defect is discovered within 6 months of delivery, it is assumed that the fault was there at the time of delivery unless the trader can prove otherwise or unless this assumption is inconsistent with the circumstances (for example, obvious signs of misuse).

If more than six months have passed, then you will have to prove that the defect was there at the time of delivery. You will also have to prove the defect was there at the time of delivery if you choose to exercise your short-term right to reject goods.  Obviously some defects will not become apparent until sometime after delivery, and in these types of cases it normally should be enough to prove that there was a hidden, or an underlying defect at that time.

I bought a dress and when I got home it did not fit - can I take it back?

This is the same as returning the goods if they are not faulty – you have no legal right to think about the purchase and change your mind if you buy in store so it will depend on whether the store has a returns purchase, and the terms of that policy.

This also applies to other contracts purchased in store or at a retail premises – such as furniture or a car.  Over the years I have spoken to many consumers who on a whim purchased a car on a Sunday and wished to cancel it Monday, only to be told that they cannot.  If you cancel in these circumstances the retailer can look to you for its administrative costs and its loss of profit.

The same applies if you buy furniture from a store and then find when it is delivered that it will not fit in the house – you have no legal right to just return the goods and the retailer could leave them with you, or charge you delivery costs and any loss of profit as a result.

You would however be able to return a dress if it did not fit, even if there was nothing wrong with it, if the dress was purchased at a distance, for example a dress bought over the internet. See: Buying goods on-line

Can I demand a new replacement for my faulty phone?

Under the SGA 1979 (the law prior to 1st October 2015) normally, the retailer will get to chose whether to offer a repair or replacement, depending on which is the most cost effective.  However, any repair or replacement must be carried out within a reasonable period of time and must not cause you significant inconvenience.  If a replacement is offered, it does not have to be new – the retailer just has to put you back in the same position that you were before (i.e. if the phone was 2 years old, they may supply a reconditioned phone).

Under the CRA 2015 (the law post 1st October 2015) if you have lost or choose not to exercise your right to reject the phone, you will be entitled to claim a repair or replacement.

If you elect for either a repair or replacement, the trader must do this at no cost to you, and within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience.

The CRA makes it clear that you cannot choose one of these remedies above the other if the chosen remedy is either impossible or disproportionate as compared to the other remedy. Also, once you have chosen a remedy, you must give the trader a reasonable time to provide that remedy.

Unlike the old SGA, under the CRA, the remedies will fail if, after just one attempt at repair or replacement, the phone still does not meet the necessary requirements. You do not have to give the trader multiple opportunities to repair or replace the phone, which was the case under the old law, although you may allow for this if you want to. The remedies will also fail if they are not provided within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience.

If a replacement phone is offered, again like the remedies under the SGA it does not have to be new – the retailer just has to put you back in the same position that you were before (i.e. if the phone was 2 years old, they may supply a reconditioned phone).

If the repair or replacement remedy does fail, or they are not available, or if they were not provided within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience, then you can choose whether to keep the phone or return it. If you keep the faulty phone, for spares for example, then your claim will be for a reduction in price; if you return it, then you are rejecting it.

Any price reduction must be an appropriate amount, which will depend on all the circumstances of the claim. It could be any amount up to the whole price of the phone.

If you choose to reject the faulty phone, then you are entitled to a refund. This refund may be reduced to take account of any use that you have had from the phone. However, no deduction can be made if the trader has simply delayed in collecting the phone from you.  Nor can a deduction be made where the phone is rejected within the first six months of supply.

What are rights if you buy sale items?

Sale items are still covered under the Sale of Goods Act for contracts entered into prior to 1st October 2015 and the Consumer Rights Act for any contracts entered into post 1st October 2015 and therefore if they are not as described, of satisfactory quality or fit for purchase you have the same rights as if you had purchased new goods.  However, you cannot return sale items if it was marked as imperfect or the fault was pointed out to you at the time of sale (unless there is a returns policy that says otherwise). Always remember when assessing the level of quality that is satisfactory, considerations such as price, description, age and easily identifiable defects should always be taken into account.

Can I demand a store to sell me something at the price it was advertised?

No. When a shop displays or advertises goods (for example, by displaying them on a shelf in a shop alongside a price ticket) it is usually giving you what is referred to as an ‘invitation to treat’. You can then make an offer to buy the goods. At this point the trader is under no obligation to accept the offer – a contract is only made when the shop accepts the offer, normally when it takes your payment.

If however, a store often has prices mislabelled then they may be committing a criminal offence, and they should be reported to your local Trading Standards department.

I paid £250.00 deposit for my new car that has broken down - can I claim against my bank?

Provided the car cost less than £30000 then any claim you have against the trader you can bring against your card company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

I purchased some curtains on-line and did not like them when they arrived - can I send them back?

If the curtains were not made specifically to your order then you have 14 days starting the day after you received them to cancel the contract.  See the goods on-line section.

I entered into a contract for new windows at my home and when I phoned to cancel they said I was too late as 15 days had passed, but they did not tell me of that time.

When you enter into most contracts at home you will have 14 days in which to cancel the contract.  If the trader did not inform you of your rights to cancel in writing, then you have up to 14 days to cancel starting the day that the trader informed you of your rights.  The longest that this period can be extended to is 12 months from the day after the normal cancellation period would have ended. Therefore, in this case, if the contract did not set out the cancellation clause, it cannot be enforced against you.

I cancelled a contract signed at home - what happens to the finance agreement I also signed?

When you cancel within the cooling off period then the finance agreement is automatically cancelled and the trader is responsible for informing the finance company.

I bought a new portable cordless power drill and used it quite a lot over the course of four months. At the end of the first month I noticed that the built in battery was not retaining its charge for long. The shop performed a repair but the power drill continues to perform poorly. What can I do?

Under the CRA, because you had only had the power drill for four months, the trader must provide a full refund. If, however, you had rejected the power drill more than six months after you bought it, the trader would have been entitled to reduce the refund to take account of the use that you had had of the drill.

I bought a DAB radio last week. When I turned it on, it will only tune into one station. What can I do?

Clearly the DAB radio is not of satisfactory quality, and is in breach of the CRA. Under the CRA, because you have had the faulty DAB radio for fewer than 30 days you are entitled to reject it for a full refund. So you would be entitled to return it to the shop. Because the fault is obvious there is no need for further testing and the trader must agree to provide a refund.

I paid to download an album which was described as containing all 20 classic tracks. When I download it I found that a couple of the tracks were missing. What can I do?

Under the CRA, which has introduced new remedies for “digital content”, the digital content in this case is not as described. In accordance with your remedies under the Act, you are entitled to either a repair or replacement of the digital content, in order to bring it in line with the description. In this case, an appropriate remedy may be a download the additional two missing tracks.

I have thousands of music tracks stored on my computer and I recently bought an app which organises or all your music files. Having downloaded the app and installing it, rather than organising all of my music files, I found that it contained a virus, which deleted all my music files. What can I do?

If you are able to show that the damage was caused by the app itself and that the damage would not have arisen if the trader had used reasonable care and skill, the trader would be responsible to either repair the damage (by recovering the music, if that was possible) or to make an appropriate payment to you to compensate for the lost music files. Under the CRA the trader can choose which remedy they offer.