Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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Introduction to your legal rights

Introduction to your legal rights

Contents

Note that any reference to 'digital content' in this article is for contracts made on or after 1 October 2015.

A business must provide goods or digital content that are:

  • of satisfactory quality;
  • fit for their purpose; and
  • as described
  • installed correctly (goods only)
  • match a sample or model (goods only).

Satisfactory quality

This is the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory.

It takes into account any description of the goods (including information in any advertisement), its price, its appearance and finish, safety (when used properly) and durability.

Goods or digital content must be free from defects, even minor ones, except where the defects were brought to your attention by the seller, like goods sold as 'shop-soiled' or where you examined the goods and the defect was not obvious.

Fit for their purpose

This includes any particular purpose you mention to the seller (such as requiring software to be compatible with a PC).

As described

The goods or digital content must be as described on the package or a display sign, or as described by the seller. For example, if you're told that a shirt is 100% cotton, it shouldn't turn out to be cotton and polyester.

Installed correctly

Goods bought after 1 October 2015 must be installed properly where the installation was agreed as part of the contract.

Match a sample or model

This applies to goods bought after 1 October 2015.

Where a seller sells goods by reference to a sample or model that you have seen or examined before you bought them, then the goods must match that sample or model. If there are any differences from the sample or model then the seller must tell you about these before you buy the goods.

What is digital content?

Digital content can include:

  • Mobile phone apps
  • Films
  • Music
  • Books
  • Computer software
  • Software used to operate goods, such as a washing machine

Consumer protections

The laws that protect consumers' rights differ depending on whether the contract was made before or after 1 October 2015.

Contracts made before October 2015

The main laws that protect consumers' rights in England and Wales are the following:

  • Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977
  • Sale of Goods Act 1979
  • Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982
  • Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999
  • Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (for trade descriptions)
  • Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (for misleading or aggressive trade practices)

Similar legal protection is provided under Scottish law.

Contracts made after October 2015

  • The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (which applies to the whole of the UK)
  • Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (for trade descriptions)
  • Consumer Protection (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (for misleading or aggressive trade practices)

The Consumer Rights Act includes the consumer rights contained in the Sale of Goods Act, Supply of Goods and Services Act and, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.

What a business must not do

When selling goods, a business must not:

  • sell dangerous or unsafe goods or digital content;
  • make a false description about the goods or digital content;
  • try to charge for goods or digital content sent that you didn't order;
  • give a misleading price, either in writing or verbally
  • short sell you when describing measurement or weight;
  • make a written statement that you don't have legal rights when buying goods or digital content; or
  • sell you goods, digital content or services using misleading or aggressive sales practices.

If a seller does any of the above, you should contact the Citizens Advice Bureau or speak to a legal adviser.

Misleading actions and omissions

A seller might be guilty of a criminal offence if they mislead you into making a different decision about whether or not to buy something. For example, a seller might tell you that your washing machine can't be repaired and you need a new one, when that is untrue.

A seller might also be guilty of a criminal offence if they fail to give you important information that affects whether or not you buy something - for example, advertising mobile phones for sale without mentioning that they're reconditioned.

You have a right to claim back the money you paid to a seller if you bought the goods because the seller used misleading or aggressive sales tactics. For more information see the government guide on misleading and aggressive commercial practices.

If things go wrong

The legislation governing your rights as a consumer changed on 1 October 2015. What you are entitled to will depend on whether you purchased the service before 1 October 2015, or on or after that date.

There are slightly different rules for digital content as well.

If the goods or digital content you buy from a business aren't of satisfactory quality, aren't fit for purpose, don't match their description or (for goods bought after 1 October 2015) aren't installed properly, the seller will have to put things right. It's the seller who is responsible for this, not the manufacturer. If you're told that the manufacturer is responsible or that you have to claim on a manufacturer's guarantee, you shouldn't accept this.

Depending on the circumstances, you may have one or more of the following rights:

  • Get compensation
  • Have the goods or digital content repaired or replaced
  • Receive some or all of your money back

If digital content is provided for free you will not have any of the rights mentioned above unless:

  • it is supplied with goods, services or other digital content you have paid for; and
  • the free digital content can be bought separately or it can come free with other goods, services or digital content.

Getting a full refund for goods - contracts made before October 2015

If things go wrong with goods you've bought, you have the right to return them and get all your money back (a full refund). However, this right only lasts for a very short time after you buy the goods. You will have a 'reasonable time' to claim a refund, but the law doesn't specify how long this may be. You're allowed a short time to examine the goods and try them out, but you must tell the seller about the fault as soon as you discover it. It'll be up to you to prove that there is something wrong with the goods if the seller doesn't accept this.

Getting a full refund for goods - contracts made on or after October 2015

You will have an automatic right to a refund if no more than 30 days have passed from the date of the contract. If you want to claim an automatic refund, you must reject the goods and claim a refund from the seller. The contract is usually made when you pay for the goods or when they have been delivered. If the goods and digital content are supplied together then you will have this right. This includes, for example, buying a DVD, washing machine or a car, as they all contain digital content.

It doesn't apply if you:

  • Just bought digital content on its own (e.g. an app).
  • Purchased perishable goods (like food).
  • If the only issue is that the goods were not installed correctly.

It'll be up to you to prove there is something wrong with the goods if the seller doesn't accept this.

A refund must be given within 14 days of the seller agreeing that you are entitled to it.

If, within the 30-day period, you request the seller to repair or replace the item, then the 30-day time limit will be paused. Once the item(s) have been repaired or replaced, you will then have the remainder of the 30-day period or 7 days (depending on which one is longer) to check if the repair or replacement has been successful and decide whether to accept or reject it.

If you think you're entitled to a full refund, but the seller offers you only a partial refund, or a repair or replacement instead, you don't have to accept it.

If you aren't entitled to a full refund, you may be entitled to a repair or replacement or to get some of your money back instead.

Getting your goods or digital content repaired or replaced

If there's something wrong with your goods or digital content, and you no longer qualify for refund (or an automatic refund for goods bought on or after 1 October 2015), or if you just bought digital content or you don't want a full refund, you can ask the seller to either repair or replace the goods for free instead.

If you return it within 6 months

If you return faulty goods or digital content within 6 months of buying them, the seller must accept that they were faulty at the time of sale and offer to repair or replace them. If the seller doesn't accept that the goods were faulty, they'll have to prove that they weren't.

If you return it after 6 months

If you've had your goods or digital content for more than 6 months when they go wrong, 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 if the seller doesn't agree. You can ask for a repair or replacement for up to 6 years after you bought the goods or digital content (5 years in Scotland), as long as it's reasonable for them to last that long. If the goods or digital content go wrong after 6 years (5 years in Scotland), you no longer have the right to ask for a refund, repair or replacement.

If the digital content is modified, by software upgrades for example, then the time limit outlined above will still start on the date you bought the item and not the date it was modified.

Repair or replacement?

If the seller agrees to carry out a repair or provide a replacement, they must do this within a reasonable period of time and without causing you any significant inconvenience. If you ask the seller for a repair, but this turns out to be impractical or too expensive, the seller doesn't have to repair your goods, but can give you a replacement instead.

Similarly, if you've asked the seller to replace your goods, but this turns out to be impractical or too expensive, the seller doesn't have to replace them, but can repair them instead.

Price reduction or refund

These rules differ depending on whether you bought goods or digital content.

If you bought goods or digital content and neither repair nor replacement are practical, you can ask to get some or all of your money back.

You can also ask for this if:

  • the seller didn't replace or repair the goods or digital content within a reasonable period of time;
  • replacing or repairing the goods or digital content would be impractical or too expensive; or
  • the seller wasn't able to repair or replace the goods without causing you significant inconvenience.

For contracts made before October 2015, if you've had little or no use out of the goods, and/or the repairs have been unsuccessful, then you'll probably be able to give back the goods and get all of your money back. If the goods have been used, you may be required to accept less than you paid for them.

For goods bought after October 2015 you will either be entitled to a price reduction or you can reject the goods, depending on whether you choose to keep them. If you choose to keep them you can claim a reduction in price, which must be an amount appropriate to your circumstances and could be the whole price.

If you reject the goods then you should get a full or partial refund, depending on whether the seller will take your use of the item into account. Note that this right is not available if you buy a motor vehicle.

For digital content bought after October 2015, you will only be entitled to a price reduction.

Credit card protection

A credit card company is jointly liable with the seller if an item bought is faulty. However, the item bought must cost between £100 and £30,000.

Credit notes

When you complain about goods, the seller may offer you a credit note. A credit note allows you to return the goods and buy something else from the seller for the same value.

If you have the right to a refund, repair, replacement or compensation, you don't have to accept a credit note instead, but you can choose to do so. You can also choose to accept a credit note where you don't have any of these rights, but you can't insist on having a credit note if the seller doesn't want to give you one.

If you accept a credit note, you can't change your mind later and get a refund or compensation, even if you were entitled to it.

If you're thinking of accepting a credit note, check the conditions on it, especially any time limits. Make sure that the seller has goods that you want to buy.

When you have no legal rights

You won't have these rights if:

  • You've damaged the goods or digital content yourself
  • The problem is the result of normal wear and tear
  • The goods or digital content have lasted for as long as could reasonably be expected
  • The seller pointed out the defect that you now want to complain about
  • There is nothing wrong with the goods or digital content – you've just changed your mind about them (unless bought under the distance selling regulations)
  • You examined the goods or digital content when you were buying them, and the fault you want to complain about was so obvious that you should have noticed it
  • You used the goods or digital content for a purpose they were not obviously intended for or for which you failed to let the seller know about

When you have limited legal rights

In some situations, you only have limited rights when things go wrong with your goods or digital content.

. These include situations where:

  • You were given the goods or digital content
  • You bought the goods or digital content at an auction
  • You bought the goods or digital content from a private individual

Other rights when you buy goods or digital content

When you buy something, the seller might give you other rights on top of those that the law usually allows. For example, some shops let you return items during a short period after you bought them, even if there is nothing wrong with them.

Sometimes you'll agree on a particular requirement that you've negotiated with the seller on an individual basis, such as a specific delivery date. You have a right to expect the seller to meet that requirement. If they don't, you may be able to ask for your money back, an exchange or replacement, or a discount in the selling price.

Unfair contract terms

'Standard' terms are those that the seller has drawn up in advance and not ones negotiated individually with you. An 'unfair' contract term is a standard term in a contract of sale that makes the contract unfair to the customer.

Examples of unfair terms include contracts written in such a way that you can't understand them, or terms that try to take away your rights to claim from the seller for faulty goods or digital content.

Usually, if there is any doubt about the meaning of a contract term, it should be decided by a court in favour of the customer.

Discrimination when buying goods or digital content

It's against the law to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sex, sexuality, religion, race or disability when providing goods or digital content. Sex discrimination includes discrimination against transsexual people and discrimination against women because of pregnancy or maternity.

In Northern Ireland, it's also against the law to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their political opinion. For example, refusing to sell goods to a homosexual customer is discriminatory and is therefore unlawful.

Dangerous goods

If you have bought dangerous or faulty goods (or digital content), or if you know that a seller is selling them, or if a manufacturer has an unsafe product on the market, you should complain to the Trading Standards Institute and get advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau consumer service.

You can claim compensation for unsafe products that have caused damage or personal injury. If you bought them yourself, you can claim compensation from either the seller or the manufacturer. If you didn't buy them yourself, you can only claim compensation from the manufacturer. You may have to go to court to get compensation.

If you want to claim compensation for personal injury or damage to property, you should get specialist advice from a solicitor or the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Goods or digital content bought because of misleading or aggressive sales practice

If you have bought goods, digital content or services from a seller because of their misleading or aggressive sales practices, you can:

  • return goods or reject a service and recover the full price or a percentage of the amount you paid for it. You must ask for this (preferably in writing) within 90 days of goods or digital content being delivered or the service starting. This will result in the contract being cancelled; or
  • keep the goods or service and claim a discount, if the 90-day period has passed, the goods have been consumed or the service has been completed. If you paid £5,000 or less, the amount of the discount will depend on how serious the misleading or aggressive practice is.

In addition, you can start a court claim for compensation for any additional financial losses, alarm, distress, physical inconvenience and/or discomfort that you've suffered

If you make a claim either to recover your money or for a discount, you won't need to prove to the seller that you suffered any loss or that it acted dishonestly, recklessly or dishonestly.

For more information see the government guide on misleading and aggressive commercial practices.

When can you cancel

You can cancel a contract in any of the following situations:

  • If you sign a timeshare agreement in the UK, you have 14 days to cancel.
  • If there is a term in your agreement with the seller that gives you a right to cancel.
  • If you buy goods or digital content for more than £42 from a doorstep seller then you have 14 calendar days to cancel.
  • If you have been the victim of misleading or aggressive sales practices and have asked for a full refund within 90 days from the date they were delivered.
  • If you buy goods or digital content on credit and the agreement is signed at home then you have 5 days from the date you receive the second copy of the agreement to cancel.
  • If you make a contract to buy goods or digital content over the telephone, by email or over the internet, you have 14 calendar days in which to cancel, from the date the goods are delivered.

How to cancel

Don't rely on phone calls - you have no proof of what was said in any conversation.

Send the seller a written notice, such as an email or letter by recorded delivery post, within the time limit, stating that you wish to cancel.

Remember to keep a copy of that notice. You'll normally have to return all goods.

For more information, see Right to cancel a consumer agreement.

If you're dissatisfied with goods

Go back to the seller as soon as possible. Explain your problem, identify the faults, tell the seller what you want to be done and set a deadline. If you don't get a good enough response, write to the seller and detail the problems. If the business is part of a chain, write to the head office address as well. Address these letters to the customer services manager or the chairperson.

If you're unable to resolve the situation with the seller, it may be necessary to go to court to resolve it. If you choose this route, you may have to pay an independent expert to examine the goods and compile a report.