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 (as amended). The law gives you certain (sometimes referred to as statutory) rights under this contract.
In the guide
Of satisfactory quality - Goods are of satisfactory quality if they 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 state and condition of the goods, their fitness for the purpose for which they were supplied, appearance and finish, their safety and durability and whether they are free from minor defects.
Public statements made by the trader, manufacturer or their representative relating to specific characteristics of the goods, particularly in advertising or on labelling must be accurate and are a factor in determining whether 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 makes known to the trader 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?
You may have additional rights where:
What are you entitled to?
A FULL 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.
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 claim a reduction in the purchase price or to rescind (cancel) the contract and claim a partial refund based on your usage of the goods whilst you have had them.
If you have been sold faulty goods, you are entitled to claim from the trader any direct expenses which you have incurred. 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 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. For more information, check out the 'Getting Evidence to Prove Your Claim' leaflet.
Who can you claim against for faulty goods?
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:
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 (as amended) 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.
You have the same rights under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) 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.
You do not always have the same rights when you buy at auction as you would have if you bought from a retailer.
Some goods sold at auction can are excluded from the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) (subject to a reasonableness test) in relation to satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and description. Notices can be displayed removing these rights, any exclusions must be subject to a reasonableness test. 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
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. 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 (as amended). For more information, check out the 'Your Rights When Buying on Credit' leaflet.
If you have bought goods by distance means check out the 'Shopping from Home' 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.
The OFT's Know your consumer rights webpage may also be of interest
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 08454 04 05 06.
Last reviewed/updated: November 2012
Northumberland County Council, Trading Standards Service, Loansdean,
Morpeth, Northumberland NE61
2AP Copyright © Northumberland County Council Trading Standards
Copyright © Northumberland County Council Trading Standards Service 2006