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Buying goods - your rights

When you buy goods from a trader you enter into a contract which is controlled by many laws including the Sale of Goods Act 1979. The law gives you certain - sometimes referred to as statutory - rights under this contract.

In the guide
Your rights
When are you not entitled to anything?
What are you entitled to ask for?
Proving the fault
Who can you claim against for faulty goods?
How long have I got to make a claim?
Delivery
Guarantees
Returns policies
Consumer Protection
Some problem areas when buying goods
How to resolve your complaint

Your rights
The Sale of Goods Act 1979 states that goods should be:

Of satisfactory quality – this means that goods should meet a standard which a reasonable person would regard as being satisfactory, taking account of any description applied to them, the price (if relevant) and all other relevant circumstances. Satisfactory quality also includes the appearance and finish of the goods, their safety and durability and whether they are free from minor faults.

Public statements made by the trader, manufacturer or their representative that relate to specific characteristics of the goods, particularly in advertising or on labelling, must be accurate and are taken into account when deciding if goods are of satisfactory quality.

Fit for the purpose made known to the trader - Goods must be fit for their general purpose and any particular purpose that a consumer informs a trader about at the time of purchase . For example if you buy a sleeping bag it must work as a sleeping bag. If you make it clear before you buy it that you need it for -40 degree conditions and the trader states it will be suitable then it should be suitable.

As described - Goods should correspond with any description applied to them.

When are you not entitled to anything?

  • if the trader made you aware that the goods were faulty before you bought them
  • if the fault was obvious and you ought to have noticed it on examination before buying the goods
  • if you caused any damage yourself
  • if you have changed your mind about the goods for example they are the wrong size or you don't like the colour.

You may have additional rights where:

What are you entitled to?
If the goods do not conform to the contract, in other words are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described, you are legally entitled to one of the following remedies:

A FULL REFUND
You are legally entitled to a full refund if you have not yet 'accepted' the goods.  Acceptance takes place when:

  • you inform the trader that you have accepted the goods
  • you use the goods in a way which is 'inconsistent with the trader's ownership'. For example, if you have altered the goods in any way or customised them then you may have accepted them.  For example taking up the hem on a pair of trousers
  • You keep the goods for longer than a reasonable time without telling the trader that you have rejected them. You are entitled to a reasonable opportunity to examine the goods and this should take place within a reasonable time. The law does not give an explanation of what is 'reasonable time' and ultimately a court would make a decision based on the facts of each case. You should, therefore, contact the trader as soon as you find the fault as a delay may mean you lose your right to a refund.

If acceptance has taken place, the following remedies are available:

REPAIR OR REPLACEMENT
You are entitled to ask the trader to repair or replace the goods at their expense. The trader can refuse to do so if the repair or replacement is impossible or disproportionate (too costly) when compared to other remedies.

The repair or replacement must be carried out within a reasonable time and without causing you significant inconvenience.

Note:

  • Even if you have not accepted the goods, you are still entitled to opt for repair or replacement of the goods if that is what you prefer. If these remedies take an unreasonable length of time or cause you significant inconvenience or do not resolve the problem, you are still entitled to a refund.
  • The remedies of repair or replacement, reduction in the purchase price or rescission (cancelling) of the contract do not apply to hire purchase contracts as other laws apply. Contactthe Citizens Advice consumer service for further advice.

RESCISSION (cancelling) OR REDUCTION IN PRICE
If repair or replacement takes an unreasonable length of time, causes you significant inconvenience or if they are not possible, then you are entitled to keep the goods and claim a reduction in price for the fault or to rescind (cancel) the contract and claim a partial refund based on your usage of the goods whilst you have had them.

DAMAGES
You are entitled to claim damages from the trader to cover your losses if they were caused as a direct result of the goods being faulty . This is called consequential loss. For example, if your washing machine developed a fault and clothing was torn, you could claim for the cost of the clothing as well as seeking repair, replacement, full or partial refund from the trader.

Proving the fault
If you intend to reject the goods for a full refund because you have not accepted them, it is YOU, the consumer, who needs to prove that there has been a breach of contract in that the goods are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described at the time of purchase. If you have accepted the goods and are seeking repair or replacement within the first six months after purchase, it is for THE TRADER to prove that the goods conformed to the contract (were not faulty) at the time they were sold to you.  If you are claiming repair or replacement more than six months after purchase, the burden of proof is back to YOU, the consumer.

If you are in dispute with the trader, you may need to obtain an expert opinion to establish what the problem is, how it was caused, what it will take to sort out the problem and who is to blame. Please see our  'Getting Evidence to Prove Your Claim' leaflet for more information

Who can you claim against for faulty goods?
Your claim could be against:

  • the trader under the Sale of Goods Act 1979
  • the trader or the manufacturer under the terms of a guarantee if you have one. For more information, check out the 'Guarantees or warranties' leaflet
  • a finance provider if you signed a credit agreement or if you paid by credit card.  For more information, check out the 'Your rights when buying on credit' leaflet.

How long have I got to make a claim?
The law states that a trader's legal responsibility for faulty goods lasts for six years from the date of the contract.  This does not mean the goods have to last this length of time, but this is the time limit that the law gives you to take legal action.

Delivery
The trader must deliver the goods to you within a reasonable time. If delivery takes too long, write to the trader giving a reasonable deadline for delivery otherwise you will cancel your order and claim a refund. If you were given a definite date for delivery or if you asked for a particular delivery date and this was part of the agreement, then you are entitled to expect that delivery takes place on that date. If the goods are not delivered, you can either claim back costs you incurred or cancel the order and claim a refund. You are entitled to a reasonable time to examine the goods after delivery - signing a delivery note does not mean you are accepting that the goods conform to the contract. There are rules which apply to delivery when you buy goods by distance means. For more information, check out the 'Buying by internet, phone and mail order - 'distance' contracts explained' leaflet

Guarantees
The Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002 states that if a guarantee provider , which may be the trader or the manufacturer, offers a guarantee on goods sold or supplied to consumers, they are contractually obliged to honour the terms of the guarantee. For example, if the guarantee provider refuses to repair goods as set out under the terms of the guarantee, you can take legal action against the provider of the guarantee for breach of contract. This could be claiming back the cost of repairs if you have had them carried out elsewhere. A guarantee is in addition to your legal rights and cannot take away any rights you have. Please see our  ' Guarantees and warranties' leaflet for more information

Returns policies
Before you buy goods, ask the trader if they have a returns policy and make sure you read it. It may give you rights to return goods in addition to the rights you have in law. The returns policy cannot restrict or remove your legal rights - the statement 'this does not affect your statutory rights' is often included. The trader is entitled to ask you to prove that you bought the goods from them or that you have the right to return them - keep your receipt/gift receipt or any other proof of purchase.

Consumer Protection
A trader may commit a criminal offence if they:

  • sell goods which are unsafe
  • advertise a misleading price
  • display a sign which states 'no refunds'
  • engage in other 'unfair commercial practices' such as making false or misleading claims, failing to disclose relevant information to you or engaging in an aggressive selling practice

If you feel that any of the above could apply, you should complain to the Citizens Advice consumer service. Details can be passed to trading standards for investigation.  If goods you have bought cause injury, you should seek immediate advice from a solicitor and report the matter to the Citizens Advice consumer service . Details can be passed to trading standards for investigation. 

Some problem areas when buying goods:
PRIVATE SALES
When you buy goods from a private individual, you don't have the same rights as when buying from a trader. The legal principle of caveat emptor, or 'buyer beware', operates. You have no right to expect that goods are of satisfactory quality or fit for their purpose but there is a requirement that they should be as described. You should check goods thoroughly before you buy them.

SECOND HAND GOODS
You have the same rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979  when you buy second-hand goods as you do when you buy new. However, your expectations relating to satisfactory quality ought to be realistic when buying second-hand goods.

SALE GOODS
You have the same rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979  when you buy sale goods as you do when you buy them at full price. However, if the goods were reduced in price because of a fault that was either brought to your attention at the time, or if you examined the goods and the defect would have been obvious to you, you would not be able to claim a refund later for that particular fault.

AUCTIONS
You do not always have the same rights when you buy at auction.  Check any notices that appear in the auction room or any online terms for details of the rights you have.

Some goods sold at auction can are excluded from the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (subject to a reasonableness test) in relation to satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and description. This is covered by the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977.

The rights of consumers when buying new goods cannot be excluded in any auction. The rights of consumers when buying second-hand goods can (subject to a reasonableness test) be excluded or restricted. However, they can only be excluded or restricted where consumers have the opportunity of attending the auction in person.

Consumers will therefore have full rights when purchasing from an internet or other auction which they do not have the opportunity to attend in person.

How to resolve your complaint
Most traders will accept responsibility if they have sold you faulty goods but in the event of a dispute, you may want to follow the steps below:

If you intend to reject the goods, stop using them and inform the trader straight away.

Keep your proof of purchase, which ideally should be your receipt or email confirmation of order. If you did not keep your receipt or have deleted the emails then you could produce your bank/credit card statement as proof of purchase.

If the goods have caused injury or if you believe a criminal offence has been committed, report this to the Citizens Advice consumer service before complaining to the seller. In the case of personal injury you should seek legal advice from a solicitor.

Legally, you are only required to inform the trader that you are rejecting the goods but practically, depending on the type of goods you want to reject you could return them to the trader, along with your proof of purchase. Explain the problem to a senior staff member and make it clear which remedy you are seeking - repair, replacement or refund. If necessary put your complaint in writing, keep a copy of your letter (obtain proof of postage) or email and give the trader a reasonable time in which to respond. Check out the 'Writing an effective letter of complaint' leaflet for further advice and template letters.

If you paid for the goods on finance arranged by the trader on using your credit card, you should complain to the finance provider as well as the trader as you may have additional rights under the Consumer Credit Act 1974. For more information, check out the 'Your Rights When Buying on Credit' leaflet.

If you have bought goods by distance means check out the 'Buying by internet, phone and mail order - 'distance' contracts explained' leaflet.

Find out if the trader is a member of a trade association. Some trade associations provide a dispute resolution scheme as part of their service so if you have a complaint against one of their members, they can assist in resolving the problem. In some cases they will be able to provide experts to examine work/products if the nature of the problem is in dispute. Check out the 'Trade Associations and Regulatory Bodies' leaflet.  

If the trader does not accept any of the evidence you have presented in support of your claim and you remain in dispute, you may need to obtain an expert opinion. For more information, check out the 'Getting Evidence to Prove Your Claim' leaflet.

If the trader makes an alternative offer, you can either accept it or continue to negotiate. If you reach deadlock, carefully consider the offer (if any) on the table as you may find that taking action in court does not actually produce a better offer.

Consider all options open to you to resolve the dispute - court should be a last resort. You could use mediation through the courts as an alternative dispute resolution process but if you decide to sue, try to find out if the trader has the funds to pay you. Often, even if you obtain judgement, the trader does not pay and you will have to enforce the judgement. Most claims up to £10,000 can be settled using the small claims procedure in the county court and you can obtain further information from your local county court or online

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

Key legislation
Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977
Sale of Goods Act 1979
Sale and Supply of Goods Act 1994
Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002
Consumer Credit Act 1974

Last reviewed/updated: March 2014

 

 

 

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This page was last edited on 21/07/14