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Consumer Law in a Nutshell

Set out below are  some of the consumer laws in a Nutshell including the most commonly used pieces of legislation in consumer contract issues. Each one is not meant to be a summary of the whole law but covers the main areas where consumer disputes arise.

THE SALE OF GOODS ACT 1979 (For all good purchased/Contracts before 1st October 2015)

The SGA states that contracts may be in writing, verbally or implied by conduct.

Goods sold must be as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for their purpose and this means they should be fit for the general purpose they were purchased, they should be free from minor defects, safe and durable.

Where goods are purchased by sample, they must correspond with that sample.

The consumer must have a reasonable opportunity to examine any goods that are delivered to the buyer.

A consumer has the right to reject faulty goods within a reasonable period of time provided he does not intimate that he accepts those goods, or carries out any action that is inconsistent with the ownership of the goods.

Where goods are purchased that do not prove satisfactory then the buyer (if the right to reject has been lost) can ask for the goods to be repaired, replaced or can rescind the contract.

Where the buyer asks for the seller to repair or replace the goods (and the seller can chose which remedy is the most cost effective to offer) then the seller must repair or replace within a reasonable period of time, without causing any significant inconvenience, and must bear all necessary costs incurred in doing so.

Where a seller refuses to deliver goods then the buyer may claim damages against the seller, such damages being the market price or current price of the goods at the time or when they ought to have been delivered.

SUPPLY OF GOODS AND SERVICES ACT 1982 (For all contracts for services/goods supplied with the service before 1st October 2015)

This Act refers to both goods and services.

The services to be provided should be done within a reasonable period of time (if no time has been agreed).

Where goods are supplied with the service they must be fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality meaning  a standard that a reasonable person would expect taking into account any description of the goods, the price paid and all other relevant circumstances.

If the goods are faulty, there is no right of rejection but the rights are the same as set out in the Sale of Goods Act in regards to a repair, replacement or to rescind the contract, or reduce the purchase price of the goods

If no price has been agreed, the supplier can make a reasonable charge for its services.

CONSUMER RIGHTS ACT 2015 (will apply to all contracts where goods are supplied, including sale, hire, hire-purchase and service /materials contracts from 1st October 2015 and will replace the SGA and the SGSA)

The CRA will create a single set of rules which will apply to all contracts. New rules will also apply to the supply of services, and the Act will also set out, for the first time, specific rules relating to digital content.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, certain implied conditions will apply to every transaction that you enter into with a business for the sale and supply of goods and services (including hire purchase, hire, part exchange and contracts for work and materials. This will also apply to any “digital downloads” that you pay for.

The CRA will make it a condition that the trader transferring or selling the goods must have the legal right to do so and the goods supplied must be:

Of satisfactory quality.  This means that they must be of a standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory.  When assessing this, it is important that all relevant circumstances are considered, including the price (the higher the price, the more expectation of quality), any description applied to the goods, and any of the traders or the manufacturer’s advertising relating to those goods.

The goods will also have to be fit for any particular purpose.  So when you indicate that you require goods for a particular purpose, or if it is obvious that those goods you are only intended for a particular purpose , then those the goods should be fit for that specified purpose.

The goods will also have to match or conform to any description that was applied to them, or match any sample or model that you may have seen prior to purchase, and upon which you relied. If you later find that the goods do not conform to that description you were given, or any sample or display model that you saw, then the trader will be in breach of contract.

Under the CRA where any installation of goods has been agreed as part of the contract, for example the fitting of a new washing machine, then it will also be a condition of that contract under the CRA that those goods are to also be installed correctly.

In addition it is important to also bear in mind that the term “Satisfactory Quality”, is a general term and it will also cover a number of other matters, which must also be taken into account, when assessing the overall quality of the goods. These include:
– fitness for all the purposes for which goods of that kind are usually supplied

– appearance and finish (for example you would expect a ten year old car to have a few scratches. However this would not be acceptable on a brand new car)

– freedom from minor defects (you would not expect any on a brand new car although a few would be more acceptable on a ten year old car)

– safety; and

– durability (for example it would be expected that a £500 DVD player would last longer that a £50 one)

Under the CRA suppliers of digital content (such as apps, music, games  or  films) will also be required to ensure that any digital content is of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described.

Your statutory rights under the CRA for digital content only apply if you have to pay for it. However, there may be situations where, for example you buy a new laptop which as part of a promotion comes with “free” anti-virus software. In such a case would you still be covered if the “free” anti-virus software was faulty?

The CRA states that “free” digital content will not be regarded as “free”, and it will be deemed to be part of the contract, for which you will have your statutory rights, if the “free” digital content was either originally supplied with goods or services or other digital content for which you had to pay a price; or, if the free digital content was not generally available unless you had to pay for it or for any other goods or services or other digital content.

So by applying this to the laptop with “free” anti-virus software example above, the so called “free” anti-virus software (the digital content) would be regarded as being supplied with the contract for laptop (i.e. the goods), and so would benefit from the protection from the CRA. This is because in order to obtain the ant-virus software as a stand-alone product you would either have to buy it separately or purchase some other goods or services or other software which came with it ‘free’.

If you receive faulty goods, you have the legal right to return them within 30 days for a full refund. If you return the faulty goods after 30 days (but within 6 months) you will be entitled to have the goods either repaired or replaced.

This 30 days right to reject does not apply to digital content.  Although if the goods automatically come with “digital content”, i.e. they are combined into the one product for example a mobile phone, then the CRA makes it clear that in such a case, your rights will be the same if you were just buying “physical goods” and so in such a case, you will still benefit from the 30 day right to reject and to receive a full refund.

With regard to the 30 day right to reject, if you did not wish to reject the item you can instead request either a repair or a replacement. However, if that repair or replacement is not successful – or if another fault occurs – you can then demand a refund, or a reduction in price. Unlike the old position, under the CRA you do not have to give the trader another attempt at repair. If you request a refund more than six months after purchase, the retailer is entitled to reduce the amount refunded to take account of the use that you have had of the item. The retailer can also reduce the refund within the first six months if there is an active second hand market for the item.

If you download faulty digital content, the CRA will allow you the right to the repair or replacement (or indeed a price reduction) of whatever you downloaded.  For example you pay to download a new album which is described as containing all 40 tracks. When you download it you find that the album only contains 35 tracks and that 5 are missing. Under the Consumer Rights Act, the digital content is not as described. Under the Act you would be entitled to a repair or replacement of the digital content, to bring it in line with the description. In this instance, an appropriate remedy may be a download of the final five tracks.

With regard to purchasing services under the new Consumer Rights Act, the familiar implied terms under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 (see above) still remain. However the CRA includes new statutory remedies which will allow you, if you have received a substandard service to be able to demand that those services are repeated or get a price reduction.

Under the CRA you are no longer bound where boxes are already ticked for added services or goods – commonly found when booking budget air tickets.  All businesses should ensure that any tick-boxes are un-ticked and allow you to actively tick and therefore positively choose whether or not to add any additional services or goods.

Under the E-Commerce Regulations, businesses have to provide certain information about them when contracting with you.  The Consumer Rights Act will make this requirement contractually binding on businesses.

The CRA also makes it clear that businesses dealing with you in an unfair or negligent manner will not be able to enforce their contracts and may be in breach for failing to exercise reasonable care and skill.

Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 (see below) it has always been the case that the subject matter and price of a contract are excluded from being assessed for fairness by a court. The CRA has addressed this and from 1st October 2015 although both the subject matter and price will still be excluded, they will only be excluded if they are both “transparent and prominent”.

Another important  addition brought in by the Consumer Rights Act is that any information which is either said or sent to you either in writing or e-mail, will be binding on the company, if it can be shown that you actually relied on that information, when entering into the contract. In other words, it influenced your decision to go ahead and enter into the contract.

Under the CRA, if a trader is in dispute with you, they will need to make you aware of any relevant certified Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, and they should also notify you whether or not they are prepared to use the ADR provider to deal with the dispute.


These came into force in October 2014 and gives you the right to get your money back if you are misled or intimidated when buying – or signing a contract for – goods or services.

If you are a victim of a misled or aggressive sales practice, then you can demand either:

  • A full refund if you act within 90 days; or
  • A discount on the price

These Regs fill the gap in consumer protection left by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which made it a criminal offence for traders to misled or intimidate consumers, but did not give consumers any civil rights of redress. You now have that right of redress.


Under these Regulations traders are under a legal duty to respond to any complaints as quickly as possible, and to use their best efforts to resolve any complaints. This means that companies must respond to your emails and any written letters of complaint that you may send. They must also return any phone calls. If any complaint appears to be valid, then the company should deal with the complaint and try and put things right as quickly as they can. If your complaint is disputed then they should give you a clear explanation of their reasons. If the company should not respond you should report them to your local Trading Standards department.


These came into force on the 6th April 2013 and from this date you no longer have to pay excessive fees, for example when paying for goods using a credit card. You should pay no more than what it costs the business to process the cost of using the card.

CONSUMER CONTRACTS (Information, Cancelation and Additional Charges) REGULATIONS 2013

These regulations – referred to as the Consumer Contracts Regulations – took effect on 13th June 2014 and replaced the Distance Selling Regulations and Doorstep Selling Regulations.

These regulations apply to most consumer contracts (save for most financial services, food, and package holidays) and set out what information a trader must give a consumer when a contract is entered into at a distance (by phone, fax or the internet), how it should be given, any cancellation rights for distance and off-premises contracts, the time for delivery and the passing of risk and put a stop to any additional payments that appear as a default option.

Before the contract can be binding, the trader must give the consumer prescribed information such as the main characteristics of the products, the details of the trader, the total price of the goods and the arrangement for delivery and performance.  The trader must also set out whether a right to cancel exists (which is 14 days) and how to cancel the contract.  This will also apply to those contracts signed away from a trader’s usual business premises (i.e. at your home or at work).

The Regulations also apply to services including water, gas, electricity and district heating.

The right to cancel will not mean that you can cancel all contracts entered into under the Regulations, for example if you have goods made to order, public auctions, services for urgent repairs, where the price is dependent on fluctuations in the financial market, accommodation, transport services, or leisure activities that have been booked for a specific date or period of performance.

For services the 14 day cancellation period ends 14 days after the date the contract was entered into.

For goods the 14 day cancellation period ends 14 days after the date on which you took delivery of the goods.

If the cancellation rights are to be enforced the consumer must inform the trader by making any clear statement to that effect to the trader, and must return the goods to the trader within 14 days of the cancellation.  The trader must then make a refund within 14 days of receiving the goods back, or 14 days from receiving proof that the goods were sent back.

Even if the contract is cancelled and the goods returned, the trader can charge the consumer an amount if the goods have been diminished in any way (for example, if they have been used).

In the case of services, if the consumer cancels the contract after the services have begun, the trader may charge an amount for the work completed, but only if that was made clear to the consumer and the consumer was provided with all of the information required by the Regulations.

If a consumer cancels a distance or off-premises contract then any ancillary contracts (such as a finance agreement) are automatically cancelled.

The Regulations also make it very clear that where consumers are sent unsolicited goods then the consumer does not have to pay for them, nor do they have to contact the seller, and the consumer may treat the goods as if they were a gift.

The Regulations further clarify that the risk in goods (who they belong to) remains with the retailer until they come into the physical possession of the consumer, or someone that the consumer has stated can take possession of the goods in their absence.

The provision of digital content (eg music downloads) is now treated as a new type of supply which is different from the supply of goods and/or services and provided the relevant information has been given to the consumer there will be no cancellation rights once a download has started.


Where you pay for goods or services with a connected credit agreement or credit card, the finance company is jointly and severally liable for any breach of contract or misrepresentation (for goods purchased under a hire purchase agreement, a claim will be made under the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms Act) 1973 and different rules apply).


This Act abolished the £25,000 limit, so that consumer credit agreements of any value are now covered. The Act also introduced an improved system of licensing for credit agencies and generally introduced greater protection for consumers with the provision of new information requirements and notices to debtors after the agreement is made and when the consumer is in default. It also made provision for a consumer to refer a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.


If you enter into a contract on the basis of information given to you that induced you into the contract and turned out not to be true then you can bring the contract to an end and/or claim damages.

UNFAIR TERMS IN CONSUMER CONTRACTS REGULATIONS 1999 (for all contracts before 1st October 2015)

Standard terms in consumer contracts need to be fair and not give the trader an unfair advantage

From 1 October 2015 the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 will replace the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and will deal with unfair contract terms and consumer notices as well as the use of unfair terms in consumer contracts, between traders and consumers. A key provision of the new Consumer Rights Act is that both the subject matter and price of a contract will now have to be “transparent and prominent”.


This states that that if the holiday organiser significantly changes any part of the holiday, you may be able to withdraw from the contract and may also be able to claim compensation.

Also, if the holiday is cancelled, you can ask for a substitute holiday of equivalent or superior quality, at no extra cost or you may be able to claim a refund, and compensation in some circumstances.

If there are any aspects of the holiday that are not provided, you may also be able to claim compensation.

It should be noted that the organiser under these Regulations will also be liable for any flight delays but their terms and conditions can limit the amount of compensation to be paid in accordance with European Conventions.


These set out the obligations of airlines and the compensation that can be claimed in respect of flight delays, cancellations and if luggage is delayed or lost.