Do you love a bargain? Me too!

The cost-of-living crisis has forced us all to be a bit more savvy though when we shop. In fact, all the indications are that we’re seeking out more offers, discount deals and longer-lasting goods when buying everything from essentials to gifts and treats.

However, as we spend more cash online, it’s not so easy to know if things we are purchasing are any good or not. In addition, there are a ton of fake firms – or just ones selling rubbish quality items – on social media sites. It’s dead easy to create a fake or glossy looking retail website, but that doesn’t mean the shop is any good.

So knowing your rights when the goods or services you purchase turn out to be not as advertised is vital. The good news is we’ve got some amazing laws that protect us if what you’ve paid for isn’t working or has been misrepresented. I’ve summerised the main points in this article. If a retailer isn’t playing ball when you make a complaint, send ‘em this feature! That way they’ll know you mean business…

Two laws – loads of rights

Let’s take a look at those two laws that give us a considerable rights if things go wrong with a retailer.

Some shops rather conviniently misunderstand these laws or blatantly fail to follow the rules. This is outrageous, frankly. So knowing how the laws work can give you the ammunition you need to fight back.

The two laws are:

The Consumer Rights Act, which came in to force in October 2015, gives you the majority of your shopping rights. Before the Consumer Rights Act, the Sale of Goods Act (1979) offered similar protections.

The act covers goods and services (including digital goods) and whether they are of ‘satisfactory quality, as described or fit for purpose’. If the goods you buy don’t fit in to these categories you can seek a refund, replacement or repair depending on when things go wrong.

The Consumer Contract Regulations came in to force in (2013) and give you the right to cancel contracts when you buy online within 14 days (some exceptions apply). The law also covers digital (virtual) goods that you purchase. The Consumer Contract Regulations also spell out what a ‘fair’ contract between you and a business is.

As with all laws, there are exceptions to the rules, caveats and a few quirks. So while most of the things you purchase will be covered, some things are excepted.

What if I buy goods or services and they are faulty?

I’ve seen some spectacularly useless products over the last decade that people have received. Some are outright cons. On one of my features on Rip Off Britain we investigated a machine that fired balls for dogs to chase. When it turned up it was a tennis ball in a plastic bag. It didn’t even bounce. I’ve seen hideous wedding dresses made out of the cheapest fabric imaginable. I’ve gasped at expensive furniture that turned out to be dolls house furniture. In fact, the list of dodgy products received by unwitting shoppers is bonkers.

And it’s not just physical goods that are poor quality or don’t work. You might pay for a service that a business fails to provide. Alternatively, you may have ordered something online but the retailer looks like it’s going to go bust while you’re waiting for a delivery.

Under these circumstances, you are able to get a refund, thanks to the Consumer Rights Act, though if a firm is going in to liquidation, you’ll need to call your card provider and ask them to ‘charge back’ the money urgently.

What does the law say about quality of goods?

This bit is a little wordy, but knowing the ‘official’ terms can help you know if you’ve been treated badly or not. Goods or services that you purchase must be:

  • Of satisfactory quality: This can be a bit subjective, but in general terms, the retailer must not misrepresent how well the goods have been made, should provide the full scope of the service they are offering or ensure that the goods do what they said they would do effectively.
  • As described: The item or service should be as the retailer said it would be. So if you buy a brown leather sofa, it should match the colour, fabric and description given by the retailer.
  • Fit for purpose: You should be able to use the goods or services for the purpose they were supplied for. So if you’ve bought a hard drive that’s designed to work with Apple laptops, then it should do precisely that.

The law also says that they must last ‘a reasonable amount of time’ (more on that later).

Timescales and your rights

  • There are a number of timescales for complaining and returning goods that you need to bear in mind.
  • When you buy most goods or services online, then you usually have a 14 day ‘right to cancel’ period if you change your mind. There are exceptions though, like items made to order, letting contracts and most things related to holidays and travel.
  • No matter where you bought the goods or services, you are entitled to a full refund if what you have purchased online or in store is damaged, wonky, not as advertised or not fit for purpose within 30 days of purchase. This only applies for companies based in the UK (e.g. not charging you in foreign currency or with addresses or websites abroad).
  • If you go over the 30 days and the item stops doing what it’s supposed to do don’t worry! You have six months from the date you bought the item to return it for the same reasons. You must give the retailer one attempt at repairing or replacing the item, then they must give you a full refund.
  • Even over the six months, goods must last ‘a reasonable amount of time’ so you can still ask for a full or partial refund, or repairs and replacements, though the responsibility switches to you to prove that you haven’t broken the goods. You might need to compromise though unless you feel strongly enough to take the retailer to court. Have a think about what you might accept as a partial refund or alternative replacement.

Returns and costs

If items are misrepresented or don’t work the retailer must cover the costs for returning the item. Once it’s back, they have 14 days to refund you from the point they receive the goods (or when you tell them you don’t want them if the goods are virtual/digital). That includes delivery costs for returning the item (but they only have to pay the cheapest option available, so you might end up covering the difference).

What if I just don’t like the item?

If you have buyer’s remorse, don’t like the purchase when it arrives or it’s a gift and you have a receipt, then you are bound by the retailer’s returns policy. These vary enormously, but have got much stingier in recent years.

Retailers will generally allow you to have a credit note to spend in store or may allow a refund if the item hasn’t been damaged or taken out of its packaging. It pays to check the returns policies online before you contact the shop though, so you are fully briefed on the returns policy for items that you don’t want.

However, if an item doesn’t fit, like a dress that’s labelled 14 but is clearly too big or small, you can argue that the item has been misrepresented.

The laws need updating though…

Laws are great for setting our rights in stone. But they take a long time to draft, agree and hit the statute books. This means that they can often go out of date quickly.

While our shopping laws are strong, they don’t always fit the way we live and shop today. For example, even though the Consumer Rights Act is only eight years old, it doesn’t fully cover using a third-party business when making purchases. This might seem a bit niche, but think about when you buy something using a business that does not provide the underlying goods or services, like an online travel firm. Or you use an e-payments system like PayPal to make a purchase. In theory, using these third parties could affect your refund rights. So make sure you read the T&Cs before using these firms.

Featured in Mirror – Martyn James

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