It’s not only fictional characters like Pinocchio who have a tendency not to be completely honest – traders can be guilty of that too.
As a consumer advice service helping UK consumers in dispute with traders elsewhere in the EU, we sometimes hear that traders have been telling some pretty tall tales when customers complain.
When you’re buying goods or services anywhere in the European Union, you have certain rights if things go wrong. But having those rights, and making them work for you can be two different things. In some cases, consumers may be given inaccurate or confusing information about their entitlements for redress from a trader after lodging a complaint.
Of course, not all of these traders are trying to pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes on purpose. It can sometimes be a genuine mistake or a misunderstanding of their obligations under consumer rights law.
So here we look at the top five untruths that consumers are told when they have a problem. We concentrate on the consumer rights facts, not fiction.
Sonia Payne, legal executive at the UK ECC, said: “Although it’s incumbent upon traders to ensure that consumers are provided with accurate information both online and offline, we encourage all consumers to swot up on their rights so that they are empowered to dispute false information and pursue a complaint.”
1. ‘Your warranty is out of date so you’re not entitled to a repair or replacement’
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion out there about guarantees/warranties, and it’s not just consumers who are confused, a lot of traders (or staff) are too. The main thing to remember is that any guarantee/warranty provided by the seller/manufacturer is in addition to your statutory rights, not instead of them.
So, just because a guarantee/warranty might have an expiration date (for example, 12 months) it doesn’t mean that as soon as that’s out-of-date you suddenly don’t have rights.
Under EU consumer legislation you are entitled to first request a repair or replacement when goods are not in conformity (i.e. faulty, not as described, not fit for purpose) with the contract. If that is not possible or cannot be completed without significant inconvenience for you, then you can ask for a refund. These remedies are enforceable against the seller for, at least, up to two years EU-wide and in the UK the limitation period is six years (with five years in Scotland). However, if a fault occurs after six months from delivery, the consumer will bear the burden of demonstrating that the product is inherently faulty. You can find out more about this at UK ECC buying goods and UK ECC buying a service.
2. ‘The 14-day cooling off period starts from the day of purchase’
You have strong rights when buying online from a trader based in the EU, in particular, you have the right to change your mind (for most online purchases – exceptions apply) without having to give a reason. However, there seems to be some confusion out there in relation to when this right of withdrawal, otherwise known as the 14-day cooling off period, actually begins.
We’ve seen terms and conditions with incorrect information, and heard reports from consumers who have been turned away by a trader falsely claiming this right was being exercised too late. If you’re told that you can use this right 14 days from the day of purchase, this is not correct.
Under EU legislation, you have 14 days FROM THE DAY OF DELIVERY of the product (i.e. when you, or a person nominated by you, gains possession of the item) to inform the trader that you wish to withdraw from the contract. Then, you have 14 days to return the item to the trader and get a refund of everything you’ve paid.
There is sometimes confusion over returns and delivery costs – while the trader should refund the original standard delivery cost (i.e. what you paid to receive the goods once you did not opt for expediated delivery at additional cost) there is no obligation to provide you with free returns when you simply change your mind. You should therefore check the terms and conditions to see if you will have to bear the cost of returning the item.
Find out more about shopping online.
3. ‘You must buy our excess insurance cover to rent the car’
This little gem comes up again and again when consumers report car rental complaints. Unfortunately, some consumers have not read the terms and conditions enough, or even at all, before they arrive at the rental desk and so are unprepared and baffled when the car rental representative informs them that the vehicle cannot be taken unless their additional insurance is purchased.
Although there have been reports of aggressive or sharp practices used by some car rental companies to pressurise consumers into buying extra insurance, it is important to remember that this is OPTIONAL and you cannot be compelled to purchase additional insurance once you comply with other terms and conditions of the rental.
The Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) excess is the amount that you remain liable for should something happen to the vehicle during the rental period. The optional insurance offered at the desk can reduce this, sometimes to as low as zero. This insurance is also available from third-party suppliers (for example, brokers), often at significantly lower cost than at the rental desk.
Consumers frequently report that this insurance is not recognised by the car rental provider and they feel compelled to purchase further (duplicate) insurance which they do not require in order to rent the vehicle booked.
While the car rental company is not obliged to recognise this third-party insurance product, you remain entitled to leave a deposit equal to the CDW excess and are not required to buy any additional insurance at the rental desk if you don’t want to. The deposit is generally in the form of an amount withheld on a credit card in the name of the lead driver so make sure you have the funds, and correct card, to cover this.
Remember, don’t let yourself be pressurised into buying additional insurance at the rental desk if you do not want or require it. Leave the required deposit and make sure to read over the rental agreement before signing to ensure that it doesn’t include additional insurance or other unauthorised extra charges.
For more car rental advice check out the following:
- UK ECC’s car rental tips
4. ‘We’re not responsible for losing your item. Talk to the courier’
There are a lot of benefits to shopping online but there are also a few negatives – one of the biggest being your product going missing during delivery. To rub salt into the wound there have been instances where consumers are confused about who to complain to as neither the trader nor the delivery company accepts responsibility.
The problem can be bounced back and forth, with the consumer often left feeling fobbed off and at a loss as to how they can get what they deserve.
For this situation the Consumer Contracts (Information & Cancellation) Regulations 2014 provides helpful clarity. If the trader offered a particular courier/delivery service (as is generally the case in ecommerce contracts) and this was not organised by you, then it is the trader who has responsibility for the goods until they are physically in your possession.
However, if you organised your own courier/delivery service, or nominated someone else to receive the goods (e.g. a neighbour), then the trader’s responsibility ends the moment the goods are passed over to this third-party.
Once you’ve figured out who is responsible then lodge your complaint (either with the trader or the third-party). If you encounter further problems then you can complain to the UK ECC (for cross-border) and we can either help or point you in the right direction.
For more information check out the following:
- UK ECC’s page on shopping online rights
5. ‘Talk to the manufacturer. It’s not our problem’
Under the UK’s Consumer Rights Act, a consumer’s rights are with the trader, not the manufacturer. This attempt by the retailer to tell consumers to talk to the manufacturer is the trader’s attempt at avoiding their responsibility. The law says that consumers can expect goods to be of satisfactory quality, free from defects and durable (i.e. fit for purpose for a reasonable time).
It is under the Consumer Sales Directive that, if goods do not conform to contract, you may be entitled to a repair or replacement and in some circumstances a full or partial refund. For the first six months after purchase, it will be for the retailer to prove that the goods did conform to contract (were not inherently faulty). After the first six months, the consumer must prove the goods were faulty.
You bought the goods from the trader, not the manufacturer, so the trader is nearly always liable for any breaches of contract.