Non-professional dealings

Have you bought something from a non-professional trader? 

For non-professional and private sales generally, the principle caveat emptor (‘let the buyer beware’) holds. When you buy something from a non-professional trader, you are not protected by the stipulations of the law that goods sold must be of satisfactory quality and fit for the purpose intended.

Be aware of

When buying from car-boot sales, the small advertisements in newspapers or someone in the pub, you are not protected by the Sale of Goods Act 1979, so inspect goods carefully before you commit yourself to buy. Here is some handy expert advice.

  • First of all, never buy from an advertiser whom you can contact only through a mobile phone number, or who wants to meet in public place or at your home or workplace. Further, if you have already bought an item make sure that you get a receipt that includes the seller’s name and address. 

  • Beware of goods that could be hazardous, such as electrical devices, car seats and furnishings that could give off toxic fumes in a fire, children’s toys that could injure or choke, and children’s clothing that might not be flameproof.

  • Look out of stolen goods. Popular items include power tools, garden ornaments and mountain bikes. If you suspect that something you bought may have been stolen, contact the police.

  • Be also wary of pirated goods. Often, these are cheap, poor-quality video and audio tapes and CDs. However, they could also be labelled perfumes, watches, clothes and cosmetics. Alcohol, DIY tools and computer software are also amongst the pirated top list.

Buying from private individuals

Regular sellers of new items at markets and car-boot sales are probably professional traders masquerading as private sellers. Rogue traders often masquerade as private sellers in order to avoid their obligations under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, leaving you without protection against malfunctioning, shoddy or dangerous goods.

Rules to protect consumers may not apply or may be ignored. You are at a risk of misleading prices, poor food hygiene, unfair trading and price-marking practices, breaches of the Traders Description Act and of safety standards applying to goods such as children’s toys, pushchairs and prams, and heating appliances.

Good can also be imported illegally. If something goes wrong, it can be difficult to track down the seller, and even more difficult to claim compensation.

Certain items are stolen. Even if you did not know this when you bought them, you cannot keep the goods in order to claim a refund from the seller – you must hand them to the police, then find the seller and claim a refund.

Protecting your interests 

Indemnity Fee

Some sellers offer to let you pay an ‘indemnity fee’, which entitles you to reject goods within one month of purchase. This is a wise precaution, especially if the seller excludes liability.

Paying by credit card

If you pay with a credit card, you have extra protection if things go wrong. If you make any purchase of over £100 (and up to £30, 000) on a credit card, you have a contract with the trader and with the credit card company, and the consumer credit act 1974 makes them jointly liable for any problems that arise with the goods or service.

You can complain to the seller or the credit card company (or both), if goods are faulty or unsuitable, or if they are not delivered. This can be very useful if the trader is unhelpful. Further, you have a right to take action against the card company for the full value of the transaction if the trader goes out of business or cannot be traced.

For faulty goods purchased abroad and paid for by credit card, always copy any letters of complains to the credit card company.

Your rights if the goods are faulty 

When you buy goods from a private individual, for example, by answering an advert in the local paper or at a car-boot sale, the law says the goods must match their description. This means they must be as described by the seller which includes any description on the label.

Refund

You probably will not be able to return (reject) faulty goods and get your money back because goods brought from private sellers do not have to be free of faults. 

Guarantees

If a guarantee is given with goods bought from a private seller or in a private sale, it is unlikely that you can use it because guarantees can only usually be used by the person who first buys the goods.  

Compensation

You may be entitled to compensation if the contract has been broken. An example of this is if the seller had described the goods as being in good working order and they turned out to be faulty. However, in practice, it may be difficult to prove that the seller said this, unless it is in a written advert or there was a witness.

The amount of compensation you would get would depend upon the seriousness of the problem or injury. You should always take legal advice before deciding whether to accept an offer of compensation for personal injury.  

Dealing with disputes

Decide what your rights are and then contact the seller. Stop using the item and find the proof of purchase for it. A receipt, credit card voucher or cheque stub will do; contact the seller and explain your problem calmly but firmly and ask for what you want. If the seller makes you a proposal, you can either accept or prolong to bargain. Be practical in what you will accept. You might not get a viable offer by going to court. 

If the matter is still not resolved, write to the seller repeating your complaint and give them fourteen days to solve the problem after which you will consider taking legal action. Keep copies of all your letters and a note of any phone conversations you have in connection with the problem.

If the seller refuses to do anything, or makes a final offer you are unwilling to accept, your only other choice is to go to court. Before starting the court action, you need to re-consider whether you have ample data as proof. Remember going to court should be your last resort.