Consumer rights – What to do if things go wrong

Have you bought something and are not happy with it? 

If you buy something and things go wrong – the item does not work, does not match what you ordered, leaks, breaks down, falls apart, causes damage or shrinks – you need to act quickly.  You need to collect the evidence, decide what you want, assess your options and take appropriate action.

Gather the facts

You need to act promptly as you may loose rights if you delay. Stop using the flawed item. Do not endeavor to repair yourself. If possible, replace the item in its original packaging and return it to the shop, or tell the trader that it is available for collection.

Meanwhile keep all related paperwork such as advertising material, order forms, receipts, credit card slips, invoices, delivery notes, instructions, and guarantee forms.

Finally keep a log of what happened. For example, the date you bought or ordered the item, what the salesperson said, any special requirements you specified when you bought the item, when you first became aware of a problem (give dates, if possible), what problem has occurred with the item and anything you have done about the problem.

Decide what you want

This could be the delivery of goods that have not arrived, replacement of a wrong item by the one that you ordered, to set a firm delivery date, to cancel an order, to return goods for a full refund, to have an item repaired, to return an item and have it replaced with a new one, a credit note, some money back to compensate for a fault, to claim under a guarantee or a warranty, to complain about the trader or a compensation for damage or injury caused by faulty goods.  

Take action

Depending on what you want, you need to take immediate action. Establish what your legal rights are and take the item back to the shop, or write, phone or email the company as appropriate. Try and negotiate an arrangement. Write a letter to the company. Keep copies of all your letters and get a free certificate of postage as proof of posting. Be persistent. If you do not immediately get what you want, talk to the manager, write again, or write to the company’s head office. If you paid with a credit card, notify the card company. Make a note of everything that has been agreed and keep copies of all correspondence.

Report the trader to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or other appropriate organisation. Take advice in complex cases. Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or trading standards office.

Important things to consider

When the seller is not liable

A seller is not liable for normal wear and tear or for damage caused by the buyer. A seller’s liability for something that develops faults after you bought it depends on the time since purchase, how long it is expected to last, and how it has been treated. If, for example, you spill tea in your DVD player, leave it in high temperatures or treated it roughly, the seller may not be liable for subsequent faults.

When to accept a credit note

If you buy goods that turn out to be faulty, unsuitable for their purpose or very inaccurately described, the law allows you to claim a full or a partial refund, a free replacement or a repair. A retailer cannot deny you these legal rights, so cannot impose a ‘no refunds’ policy and offer you a credit note instead.

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For more information on:

  • Examples
  • A faulty dishwasher
  • A case of a late complaint