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Protecting Your Consumer Rights

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 4 Nov 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Consumer Rights Law Goods Services

The rules and laws on consumer rights vary depending on a number of factors. These include:

  • The type of transaction;
  • Where the transaction takes place;
  • The parties involved in the transaction;
  • The nature of the goods or services.
Here are some the basic rules that all consumers should be aware of before spending on the high street or signing on the dotted line.

Shopping On The High Street

The law governing this area is chiefly contained in the Sale of Goods Act 1979.

All goods sold must:

  • Be fit for their intended purpose;
  • Be of satisfactory quality; and,
  • Comply with the description given by the retailer.
If goods turn out to be faulty or otherwise not to satisfy the above criteria the purchaser may be able to return the goods and get a refund. Alternatively a purchaser could request that the goods be replaced or repaired.

The purchaser must act promptly. If a fault is discovered the item should not be left in the back of a cupboard for months before taking it back to the shop. If this happens, the retailer could argue that the purchaser has “accepted the fault” and is no longer entitled to a refund or replacement.

Most retailers now offer some kind of refund or exchange scheme: if goods are brought back within a set period a refund may be given. However, there is no legal or statutory right to return an item simply because the purchaser changes their mind or decides that they no longer want it.

If faulty goods cost more than £100 and were purchased with a credit card the purchaser may also be able to claim a refund from the credit card company.

Private Sales

The Sales of Goods Act is intended to protect consumers when they buy products from businesses. Part of the purpose of the Act is to redress the balance of power between a business and an individual. It must be remembered, therefore, that the protection does not apply to private sales between two individuals.

For example, if an item is purchased from a private seller in response to a newspaper advertisement the purchaser will have very little protection if the item proves to be faulty. In these circumstances the purchaser is expected to protect their own interests by taking due care before purchasing an item.

Shopping On The Internet

Different rules apply to goods bought on the Internet or by mail order. These sales are governed by the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations.

The law on this type of transaction states that, in most cases, a purchaser will have 7 days to change their minds and return goods or cancel the order. However, it should be noted that this rule does not apply to all goods. For example, if an item is perishable or personalised it may not automatically be returned because it will not have a resale value.

The Sales of Goods Act also applies to goods bought online therefore they must also be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose. However, if the seller is a private individual there will be no protection under the Act.

Consumer Rights And Services

The main law governing the provision of services is the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. This states that services provided by a business must be:
  • Carried out with reasonable skill and care and in accordance with the contract agreed between the supplier and the consumer; and,
  • The work must also be completed within a reasonable time and for a reasonable price, (subject to anything agreed in advance).
If services do not comply with the requirements the purchaser is entitled to have the situation rectified. The customer will usually be entitled to ask the supplier to remedy the fault or pay compensation. The supplier is also likely to be liable if he has fitted or provided faulty goods.

Loans And Finance

All loans, hire purchase agreements and leasing schemes with a value of up to £25,000 are covered by the Consumer Credit Act 1974. This law offers further protection to consumers purchasing goods or services from a business. The Consumer Credit Act also covers purchases made with a credit card.

If a consumer enters into an agreement covered by the Consumer Credit Act they must be provided with a copy of the agreement which includes all the terms and conditions and clearly shows the total amount that has to be paid under the agreement. If the agreement was entered into away from the business’s premises – for example in the consumer’s home – the consumer may cancel the agreement within five days if they change their mind.

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