What remedies are available to buyers in a contract for the sale of goods?

What are ‘remedies’?

A remedy for breach of contract is a way of putting right something that has gone wrong in the performance of that contract which has caused loss or damage to one of the parties.

A consumer who enters into a contract for the sale of goods of services can claim remedies if the other party to the contract (ie. the seller) fails to fulfil its part of the contract. In the event of such a breach, a business is liable to the consumer for appropriate remedies. This could be, for instance, compensation or termination the contract.

What constitutes a breach of contract?

A seller’s duty under a contract for the sale of goods or services includes to deliver the goods in accordance with the terms of the contract. They must also be fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality. Examples of breaches include:

  • the provision of faulty goods;
  • a restaurant meal of poor quality;
  • the dangerous installation of services;
  • failure to deliver goods on time;
  • the goods do not comply with the terms of the contract.

The law provides a range of remedies to consumers in these situations.

Which law applies?

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 came into force in 2015 and provides a wider range of remedies for consumers than ever before. In the case of goods that are supplied in breach of contract, a consumer has:

  • An early right to reject the goods within 30 days and to obtain a full refund. It is for the business to collect the goods at its own cost – the consumer does not have to pay to return the goods;
  • The right to one repair or replacement within 30 days, at cost to the business (including postage, labour and materials, unless this is disproportionate to the cost of other remedies available);
  • Thereafter, the right to a price reduction or the right to reject and receive a refund outside the 30 days (with a deduction for any use by the consumer) if no acceptable (or possible) repair or replacement takes place within 30 days.

In the case of services which are supplied to consumer but not within a reasonable time, at a reasonable charge, or to a reasonable standard, consumers have the options of:

  • The right to have the services repeated;
  • The right to a price reduction.

Businesses cannot exclude their liability for breach of the requirements for goods and services to be of satisfactory quality, or fit for purpose; that they match a sample or model shown; or for correct installation of goods. Any businesses attempting to avoid their liability cannot do so in law.

Remedies in relation to digital content

Digital content is data which are produced and supplied in digital form. The CRA requires digital content to be of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose, and it must match its description. In the event of a breach by a business in its provision of digital content, consumers have the following remedies available to them:

  • the right to a repair or replacement (at cost to the businesses unless this is disproportionate to the cost of other remedies available);
  • the right to a price reduction;
  • the right to a refund.

Note that there is no right to reject digital content, and there is no way in which to return digital content.

What if the data damages your device?

Sometimes, digital data can damage a device such as a tablet or laptop. Damage caused by a virus is a typical example. In such cases, the business is legally required to pay for the cost of replacing the damaged device or digital content. Please note that providers of the internet service used for the delivering of digital content are not caught by the CRA. This means internet service providers or mobile phone providers cannot be held liable.

How do I enforce my rights?

If the business that sold you the goods or services will not agree to provide remedies in accordance with the CRA, you may have to ask the court to enforce your rights. Various public bodies can also enforce consumer law using their enforcement powers, including Trading Standards and the Competition Markets Authority. However, the CRA makes a business’s obligations to traders so clear that the need to go to court should arise on very few occasions.

If you need to take action following a business’s breach of contract in the supply of goods and services, seek specialist advice from expert consumer law solicitors as soon as possible.