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.  

If you make a mistake, perhaps about the size or colour of an item of clothing, a shopkeeper does not have to offer you a refund or change it, but may offer a credit note allowing you to buy something else of the same value from the same shop.

Once you have accepted a credit note you cannot change your mind and insist on a refund. Check any conditions that apply to the credit note.


A faulty dishwasher

Your new dishwasher worked for six weeks and then floods the kitchen ruining a new floor. In this case, you are entitled to have faulty item fixed and to compensation for any damage directly resulting from the fault. Here, it is the ruined floor. You may have the option of taking action against the supplier, who is liable for the faulty dishwasher, and the manufacturer, who is liable for the flood damage, if the cost of repairing the damage exceeds £275. If you bought the machine by credit card or with a loan, the credit card or finance company also has some legal responsibility. You may have more success pursuing your claim through them then through the trader or manufacturer.  

Take photographs of the harm caused. Gather as much documentation as you can about the floor (quotations and invoices for work) and any written statement about the cause of the damage.  Talk to the manager of the company that sold you the dishwasher to say that you are aware of your rights and to ask for both a replacement dishwasher and a compensation for replacing the floor. If both the manufacturer and the shop dispute your claim for the cost of repairing your floor, contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau or trading standards office. 

A case of a late complaint

You bought a new hedge trimmer but did not use for several months, and when you did, you discovered that it does not work properly. You will be happy to note that it is still not too late to complain. The Sale of Goods Act 1979 does says that you should check your purchases and report faults to the seller  within a reasonable time, so you may have left it too late to reject the hedge trimmer and ask for a refund. But you are entitled to compensation for up to six years if the goods were faulty when you bought them. In this case you can claim for loss of value that is a repair or an amount equivalent to the cost of a repair.

In addition, if a product develops a fault within six months you are entitled to a replacement or a free repair, unless the retailer can show that the merchandise was not faulty when you bought it or could not be expected to last that long. After six months it is up to you to show that the product was faulty when you bought it or should have functioned for longer. If the shop refuses a refund or repair, consult your local Citizens Advice Bureau or trading standards office about pursuing your claim.