Consumer rights

We all occasionally blow our pay cheques on that thing we really 'had to have', only to discover it wasn't all that great after all. Luckily, you are protected by the consumer rights act with everything you buy.

Learn about consumer rights and how they protect you when buying goods

What are your consumer rights?

You have the right to expect certain standards in the goods you buy. The law says that goods must be:

Of satisfactory quality

    • – This covers, for example, the appearance and finish of goods, their safety and durability. Goods must be free from defects, usually even minor ones, except when they have been brought to your attention by the seller, for example if the goods are said to be shop-soiled or you examined them and should have noticed the defect.

Fit for purpose – including any particular purpose mentioned by you to the seller – if you tell the seller that you want boots fit for mountain climbing, that is what you should get.

As described – on the package or display sign, or by the seller. If you are told that a jumper is 100% cotton it should be just that.

These are your statutory rights. All goods bought or hired from a trader – from a shop, street market, catalogue or doorstep seller – are covered by these rights. This includes goods bought in sales.

It’s worth noting that consumer rights were strengthened in 2015 by The Consumer Rights Act, which replaced The Sales of Goods Act and gives you, the consumer, even more protection. Among some other additions that aren’t worth going into detail here, the Alternative Dispute Resolution is now available to all businesses to help when a dispute with a consumer cannot be settled directly.

The law also gives consumers a clear right to the repair or replacement of faulty digital content, such as online films and games, music downloads and ebooks. This is all along the same lines as the kind of consumer rights UK citizens have with physical products.

If things go wrong

If there is something wrong with any goods you have purchased, tell the seller as soon as you can. If you cannot get back to the shop quickly, telephone to explain the problem.

If you promptly tell the seller that the goods are faulty and you don’t want them, you should be able to get your money back. You may be offered a replacement, free repair or credit note but you do not have to accept.

If you do accept a credit note and cannot find anything else you want, you are unlikely to be able to exchange it for cash later on. If you take goods back straight away and the seller tries to repair them and fails, you still have the same right to reject that you had when you agreed to the repair.

Do not delay in examining what you have bought or in telling the seller about a fault. You are entitled to a reasonable time to examine goods before you are considered in law to have accepted them.

What is reasonable depends on the circumstances, but normally you can at least take your purchase home and try it out. If you sign an acceptance note when you receive goods, you still have a reasonable time to examine them afterwards.

Always complain, always explain

If you do not complain promptly, you may not be able to reject (that is, refuse to accept) the goods, and you may lose your right to a full refund. The trader may offer to have the goods repaired or to pay for them to be repaired. If the goods cannot be repaired you are entitled to damages, which may be the cost of a replacement.

If you receive goods as a present and they turn out to be faulty, it is up to the person who bought them to return the goods to the seller. The buyer has the contract with the seller. Many shops, however, will deal with your complaint providing you have some proof of purchase.

You are not legally obliged to return faulty goods to the seller at your own expense. If an item would be difficult or expensive to return because, for example, it is bulky, ask the seller to collect it. This does not apply if you have had the goods for some time, or you got them as a present.

You may be able to claim compensation if you suffer loss because of faulty goods. For example, if clothes are damaged by a faulty iron.

You do not need a receipt to complain about faulty goods, although it is useful evidence of when and where the purchase was made.

You are not entitled to anything if you:

  • examined the goods when you bought them and should have seen the fault
  • were told about the fault
  • simply change your mind
  • made a mistake when you bought the goods
  • did the damage yourself

But even in these circumstances, many shops will help out anyway – good customer service and all that.

Situations when your UK consumer rights are slightly different:

Buying on credit gives you extra rights if, for example, goods are faulty. If a trader has a deal with a finance or credit card company to allow you to pay by credit, you have extra protection. This applies if the goods cost more than £100, even if you only pay a deposit. The credit company is equally liable for any claim you have against the trader. For example, if goods are not delivered or are not what you ordered, or are faulty, you may be able to claim from the credit card or finance company. It’s probably best to approach the trader first, but you don’t have to.

When you buy secondhand from a trader you have the same rights as when you buy new goods, but you must bear in mind that secondhand quality is unlikely to be the same as new. You can, however, still claim your money back or the cost of repair if the goods are faulty (unless the fault is a matter of the wear and tear to be expected with secondhand goods, or it was obvious, or pointed out to you before you paid).

If you pay a deposit and then cancel your order, the seller may be able to keep your deposit and claim damages. Do not pay anything in advance unless you really have to. If the company goes out of business you will probably lose all the money you have paid. Check whether a deposit is returnable and, if so, in what circumstances. Avoid paying up front to a firm you know little or nothing about, particularly if the address is just a box number and postcode.

Still on the lookout for more information about money and your consumer rights?

For (almost) all things money related, check out The Mix’s tips and information about money management, or chat about this subject on our message boards.

Elsewhere, the Money Advice Service offers free, unbiased and independent advice about all financial matters. Call them on 0800 138 7777.

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Next Steps

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money rights

By Holly Turner

Updated on 27-Jun-2021