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Returning Faulty Goods – Your consumer rights

How the Sales of Goods Act can save you money

If you have recently purchased a faulty product and are unsure about your rights then you are not alone - in fact many consumers are on uncertain ground when it comes to faulty goods, and many companies take advantage of this to evade refunds or replacements.

But no matter what lengths the company may go to escape it, the law is on the consumer's side, and the seller of the product is liable to put right any situation resulting from the sale of a defective product. It is the Sales of Goods Act which marks out your rights as a consumer when dealing with faulty products, and it is very valuable to have some familiarity with it as you can't expect shops to gleefully refund your purchase every time you express dissatisfaction.

Read on if you want to arm yourself with the legal knowledge to shield yourself from losses arising from shoddy products.

The Act is founded upon three statutory rights, two of which are relevant to the consumer - namely the right to satisfactory quality and the right to get what you were expecting. If a product was bought on the basis of a description or a sample of which the product does not conform to, the Act dictates that a customer has the right to reject the product, demand a full refund, or claim damages. Believe it or not, this still applies if the products were inspected or picked out before purchase.

Similarly, the customer is entitled to a full refund if the product is not of satisfactory quality. This is however not black and white and can provoke heated debate in the courtroom. But for the purposes of the Sales of Goods Act, the definition of satisfactory quality considers things such safety and durability and requires that goods are free from minor defects and of good appearance and finish.

Claiming that a product is not fit for purpose also falls within the right to satisfactory quality and will also give you the same entitlements. That is so long as you have actually been using the product as it was intended to be used.

If you fear that you have had the product for too long and therefore may not be able to claim a refund, don't worry. Even if that is the case, it's still your right to have the item replaced or repaired for free. If a clear fault with the item appears within 6 months of the purchase which is not the result of wear or misuse then the retailer is obliged to repair or replace the goods. Even after 6 months there is a chance of getting a repair or replacement, but you will need robust proof that the product was inherently faulty.

Getting Your Refund

It's all very well knowing that you are entitled to a refund, but you need to know how best to go about it.

In an ideal world you would secure a refund immediately after complaining to the retailer. The shop should do so as long as your product is genuinely defective and you have returned the item within a reasonable amount of time (usually around 2 weeks) after you bought it. The shop will demand some proof of purchase but this should not to be too difficult to find, as it doesn't necessarily have to be a receipt - credit cards, bank statements, a witness or anything else that serves as proof that you purchased the product will be sufficient.

The retailer may snub you but there is still the possibility that your faulty goods are covered by the manufacturer's guarantee - if this is the case, write to the manufacturer to supplicate a refund.

If both these attempts fail then you will have to make your complaint more formal, and somewhat more threatening. Write to the retailer for a second time, this time formally rejecting the goods under the Sales of Goods Act and threaten to take the matter to the Small Claims Court if your refund is not granted.

If even this approach is not successful then you may have to lower your expectations slightly and pursue a replacement or free repair instead. However, if you are hell-bent on getting a refund, then you will have to carry out your earlier threat and take the case to the Small Claims Court. For further advice, please refer to our free Small Claims Court guide.

One final recourse failing all this is Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Section 75 is a clause in the law whereby single expensive goods purchased using a credit card can be refunded by the credit card provider if found to be faulty. For further information on Section 75 consult our free Section 75 guide.

Second hand goods

Claiming refunds on second hand purchases can be a lot trickier. This is because the statutory rights conferred on you by the Sales of Goods Act, as mentioned earlier, only apply when the seller is 'acting in the course of a business'. This might apply to second-hand car dealers but if somebody is selling you something on a one-off basis in a non-business capacity then getting any compensation might be problematic.  

Furthermore, there is believed to be a tacit understanding that the lower price of second-hand goods is a recognition of the greater risk of product deterioration or malfunction. Nevertheless, depending on the minutiae of the individual case, you may have a reasonable chance of claiming a full refund, particularly if the fault is something that became apparent very shortly after the purchase, or was something you suspect the seller was aware of but tried to conceal.

Goods bought online

If you have bought goods online through a transaction during which you have not met the seller in person, then Distance Selling Regulations will cover you. Perhaps the most salient feature of distance selling regulations is the cooling off period, which lasts for 7 days, during which you are entitled to cancel and receive a full refund. If you issue a cancellation within this period then the supplier is compelled to reimburse you within 30 days, unless otherwise stated in pre-contractual information which should have been given to you before the purchase.

Tread with care however, as there are many types of goods that are not subject to the 7-day cooling off period. These include personalised items, gambling services and perishables such as food and flowers.

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