Buying Goods in the UK
The Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides consumers with a level of protection when making purchases from a business in the UK.
Here, we aim to equip consumers with the knowledge of what they can expect when purchasing goods and the obligations of a business, if things aren't up to scratch.
Are Your Goods Faulty?
When determining whether goods are faulty, the Act considers three main standards that must be met:
1. Goods must be 'As Described'
This might be something obvious, like if the product is described as blue but is actually red; but also applies to other details, like materials used and any other specifications. Basically, any goods supplied must match the description provided by the trader at the time of purchase. This includes any sample products shown before purchase.
2. Goods must be 'Fit for Purpose'
If the product is not suitable for the purpose it is usually used, i.e. if a bike falls apart when ridden normally, then this is normally deemed to be faulty. This is pretty straightforward. However, this can also apply to any other specific purpose for which the product was intended if you made it clear to the retailer before the agreement to purchase was made. For example, a mobile phone purchased with the intention of taking pictures on its camera could be deemed unfit for purpose if it did not have a camera feature, if you communicated this to the seller before the transaction, particularly where the product was recommended as suitable by the seller.
3. Goods must be 'Of Satisfactory Quality'
This means that the product should be free from defects and of a quality that a reasonable person would expect. This is harder to define legally, but to establish whether goods conform to the required standards, the law may take into account various factors, such as the price paid, description and other relevant factors, such as the expected durability of such items. For example, an expensive pair of hiking boots may reasonably be expected to last longer and be of a higher quality than some cheap everyday pumps. Ultimately, if a decision cannot be reached about whether a product is of satisfactory quality, it may be for a judge in court to decide.
Who Needs to Prove Faults?
Within the First Six Months
If a defect arises within the first six months, it will be assumed that the fault was probably already within the product, even if it seemed fine at first. This means there is no need for the consumer to prove the product was faulty unless the retailer can prove otherwise. (Note: This does not apply to the short-term right to reject)
After Six Months
If a defect appears after this length of time, the legal position shifts to say that the consumer must prove that the product was defective when purchased.
If an agreement cannot be reached about whether the product is faulty, the consumer may need to obtain ‘expert’ advice on the condition of the product. For example, a piece of jewellery that breaks after 8 months may be taken to an independent jeweller to inspect whether the breakage is due to a flaw in the product or it has been damaged in the course of its use. There may be costs associated with obtaining such proof, which the consumer may need to bear however, if goods are found not to conform with the required standards, it may be possible to reclaim these costs.
If an agreement cannot be reached over whether or not a product is faulty, it may be something that needs to be decided by a judge in court.
What Remedies Are Available?
If you are able to establish that the product is faulty, there are a number of remedies offered within the Act.
Within the First 30 Days?
Right to Reject - If goods display a defect within the first 30 days, the Consumer Rights Act introduces a right for the consumer to reject the goods and return the product for a full refund. The business would also be liable to refund any reasonable costs incurred in returning the goods. If you exercise this right to reject, the company should provide a refund within 14 days of the rejection of goods. You may be asked to prove that the product was faulty when using the 30-day right to reject to get a refund.
After 30 Days?
Repair or Replacement - If goods do not conform to the required standards, the retailer must first be given an opportunity to provide a repair or replacement. The company can normally decide which option is the most viable. Note: The consumer can also opt for a repair or replacement within the first 30 days if this is preferable to a refund.
Refund or Price Reduction - After a failed repair or replacement, or if this is not done within a reasonable amount of time, the consumer can insist on a returning the goods for a refund. The company may also offer this in the first instance, if it decides that it a repair or replacement would not be possible or economically viable, or if it would cause significant inconvenience to the consumer. The business may also offer for you to keep the product and get a reduction on the price. This offer would be subject to your acceptance. This may be a more practical solution for all parties where the defect is fairly minor.
Useful Tips and Information
- Your legal rights, known as the legal guarantee, always lie with the company you have purchased from. This is different from commercial warranties, often provided by manufacturers.
- There is no obligation on manufacturers to provide a product warranty, but where one is provided, it is legally binding. This may provide another option for redress but it's always worth going back to the trader you purchased from first.
- A company can sometimes offer additional rights, or extend time periods within their own terms and conditions, so it’s always worth checking these! Where a business provides additional rights within their terms, this then forms part of the sales contract and becomes legally binding.
- "This does not affect your statutory rights" - You may have seen this term but not know what it means. Basically, companies cannot lower your legal (or statutory) rights or their obligations by writing sneaky terms and conditions so your rights remain unaffected.
- In the UK, if someone ‘acts like a seller’, for example, crafters that sell their products on social media platforms, they can usually be classed as a business for legal purposes, even where they are not registered as such. Though it is important to note that this is not the case in all countries.
Directive 1999/44/EC on the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees, commonly referred to as the Consumer Sales Directive, establishes a minimum level of protection for consumers purchasing goods across the EU. All countries in the European Union, plus Iceland and Norway are required to implement this into their domestic law. This is implemented into UK law by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which makes the directive applicable in the UK. The Consumer Rights Act also provides further rights and protections for consumers in the UK. This means that we can still benefit from these rights now that the UK has left the European Union and the transitition period has ended.
Note: The Consumer Rights Act applies from the 1st October 2015. This guide focuses on your rights for goods purchased AFTER 1 Oct 2015. For any transactions before this, the previous law will apply.