Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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If things go wrong

If things go wrong

If things go wrong

If something goes wrong when buying something on the internet from a company in the UK, you have the same rights as when buying by telephone, mail order or any other method of distance shopping.

This means that goods must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for their purpose
  • As described

As a consumer, you are entitled to purchase goods that conform to the standards listed above as set by the law. If, for some reason, the goods you purchase do not conform to these standards, you can refuse to accept them and seek a refund.

For more information, see Introduction to your legal rights.

First steps

You need to establish exactly what the problem is with your purchase, whether it's services or goods. Once you've done that, you can work out what your rights would be. You should also stop using the goods and find your proof of purchase. If you or anyone else has been injured as a result of the purchase, or you think there might have been some kind of criminal activity, contact you can complain to a Citizens Advice Bureau or the Trading Standards Institute or Consumerline in Northern Ireland.

If goods are faulty

If you've ordered goods online and they're faulty, you could ask for a replacement or repair. If you would prefer to reject the goods and seek a refund, you are also entitled to do that.


You are entitled to a repair of the goods if they are faulty, as an alternative to a refund or a replacement. The repair must:

  • be done within a reasonable period of time
  • restore the goods to a satisfactory condition
  • not cause you any significant inconvenience

If your goods go wrong after 6 months, you can still ask the seller to repair or replace them, but you may have to prove that they were faulty when you bought them. You can ask for a repair or replacement at any time up to 6 years after you bought the goods, as long as it is reasonable for them to have lasted this long. If the goods go wrong after 6 years, you no longer have the right to ask for a repair or replacement. In Scotland the law is slightly different; here the period in which you are entitled to repairs is 5 years rather than 6 years.

If the goods can't be repaired economically, you're also entitled to a refund or replacement.


You're entitled to a replacement of the goods if they are faulty and can't be repaired economically. If a replacement is not possible (for example, if the goods you require are no longer in stock), you are still entitled to a refund for faulty goods.

Compensation for additional expense

You may be entitled to compensation over and above the price of the goods if:

  • the contract has been broken (breach of contract), for example the goods don't match their description or are not of satisfactory quality or fit for their purpose; or
  • you have incurred additional expenses or inconvenience because of breach of contract or negligence, for example, there is an electrical fault on a toaster you buy over the internet and this starts a fire, damaging other property; or
  • someone has been injured because the goods were unsafe. In such circumstances you should contact a Citizen's advice Bureau or your local Trading Standards Institute or Consumerline in Northern Ireland before returning the goods to the seller. Always take legal advice before deciding whether to accept an offer of compensation for personal injury; or
  • the seller made a false statement about the goods to persuade you to buy; or
  • you've accepted a repair which has turned out to be unsatisfactory.

If the seller denies liability

The law says it's up to the seller to deal with complaints about defective goods or other failures to comply with your statutory rights. Don't accept an excuse stating that it's the manufacturer's fault, although you might also have additional rights against the manufacturer under a guarantee.

Think twice before you buy from a seller who displays a 'no refunds' notice. It is against the law, unless it also tells you that this does not affect your statutory rights.

Problems with delivery

Goods not delivered on time

The seller must deliver your goods by the agreed date. If no date was agreed, the seller must deliver within 30 days of the order being placed and paid i.e. when the contract is made.

The seller should let you know if the goods can't be delivered on time. If you don't want to give the seller more time, you should be given a full refund, including any delivery costs, without any delay.

If the date for delivery has passed and you haven't received anything, you can regard the contract to be at an end. You'll be entitled to a full refund, including any delivery costs, which must be paid without any delay.

Goods damaged during delivery

If the goods are damaged, you're entitled to reject the goods under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and claim a refund of the purchase price because the goods are not of satisfactory quality and defective or damaged.

The buyer also has a right to reject the goods and claim a refund under the Mail Order Traders' Association's Code of Practice. Most mail order companies are members of this association.

Most online auctions will have their own returns policy covering damage. You should always make sure you read these, but remember that these can't affect your statutory rights which will be available anyway.

How to complain

Contact the seller with details of your complaint, and give them a chance to put the matter right. Put your complaint in writing and make sure you include this information:

  • Date of advert and website where it appeared
  • Date of your order
  • Details of goods or service ordered
  • Amount paid and the method of payment
  • Any reference e.g. order number or customer reference number
  • The reason for your complaint
  • Anything else you think is relevant
  • How you would like your claim resolved

Keep copies of letters and emails along with a diary of events and a note of any telephone calls, in particular, who you spoke to.

Consider withholding any further money until the problem has been sorted out, but check the small print of any contract you have signed. You should be especially careful about withholding payments if you have taken out a credit agreement.

Taking it further without going to court

If you do not want to take your complaint to court, you can try and solve the problem by:

  • Conciliation and mediation - a third party helps you and the seller to come to an agreement
  • Arbitration - an independent expert (an arbitrator) makes a decision after hearing both sides of the argument

Some trade associations have these schemes - they are usually informal and inexpensive.

If you are not happy with the result of conciliation, you can still go to arbitration or to court. But if you do not like an arbitrator's decision, you can't then go to court (except in special circumstances).

Before going to arbitration or to court, you should get advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor. Some solicitors work in law centres or advice agencies that offer free advice.

Extra protection when you pay by credit or charge card

Many card networks, including credit cards and charge cards, operate chargeback arrangements. This means that, in some circumstances, you may be able to get a payment reversed. Check with your credit or charge card provider whether they operate chargeback arrangements.

A Visa debit card is covered by Visa's debit card chargeback scheme which allows you to claim money back if goods do not arrive, arrive damaged or are not as described. There isn't a similar scheme covering Maestro debit cards, but you can apply for a chargeback if goods ordered from overseas do not arrive.

Chargeback time limits can be tight and the schemes may not cover all types of claim. However, where they do operate, they will apply to payments made to overseas as well as UK sellers.

Credit card protection

Under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, a credit card company is jointly liable with a supplier if an article purchased is faulty. However, the article purchased must cost between £100 and £30,000. It is advisable, however, to pursue the supplier in the first instance under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which states the goods must be of satisfactory quality and fit for their intended purpose.

Section 75 is a good option to consider if the company in question has gone out of business.

For more information see our 'Other ways to resolve a dispute' section.

Taking it further by going to court

Sometimes, just telling a seller who is being unhelpful that you may go to court is enough to get your complaint sorted out.

But if you do decide to go to court, there is a special, low-cost way of suing for small amounts by using the small claims procedures in the county court (sheriff court in Scotland). The small claims procedure is meant for people to use on their own, without a solicitor representing them. Leaflets explaining the procedure are available from your county court office and the Citizens Advice Bureau, who can also help you fill in the forms.

For more information, see Going to court.

What to do if fraud is involved

If you suspect that fraud is involved, in England, Wales and Scotland, you should report it to online at Citizens Advice or your local Trading Standards Institute.

You can also report fraud to the police. Contact your local police force for more details. In Northern Ireland, you should report fraud to Consumerline.

Look out especially for:

  • Sellers who invite you to trade outside the internet site by offering to sell you something for the same or a lower price
  • Fake payment protection schemes which fail to pass your money on to the seller
  • Someone who contacts you when you are the losing bidder at an online auction, offering to sell you a similar product. This is likely to be a fraudster. They will insist on payment through an online payment scheme and then fail to deliver the goods.
  • Items which cost a lot more than you think they're worth. Sellers can get people they know to put in false bids for items so that they can get a higher price.

You should also report suspected fraud to the internet auction site. There are a number of ways in which they can penalise someone who is acting outside the rules of the site, including suspending their account.

If you suspect that a seller is a business seller pretending to be a private individual, you should complain to a Citizens Advice Bureau or the Trading Standards Institute or Consumerline in Northern Ireland.

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