Returning Faulty or Defective Goods

When a consumer buys goods they have a number of important statutory rights which are set out in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. These are rights that are implied into the contract for sale between the consumer and the seller. To put it another way, the seller – usually a retailer – has statutory obligations towards the consumer when supplying goods.

This article considers the minimum statutory rights which a consumer has in relation to faulty or defective goods.

What are the seller’s obligations?

The seller is required to sell goods that are fit for purpose, as described, of satisfactory quality and should match a sample shown to the consumer. ‘Fit for purpose’ has a fairly wide meaning. It must be fit for the usual, normal and reasonable purpose of such an item but, importantly, it must be fit for the intended purpose which the buyer made known to the seller before the sale.

Furthermore, the seller is bound by any pre-contractual representations made, or information supplied to the consumer on which the consumer relied when deciding to proceed with the purchase. Such representations and information will be treated in law as ‘implied terms’ of the contract.

A faulty item is not of satisfactory quality and may not be fit for purpose. It may, for instance, be damaged, it may not work, or it does not fit where it was supposed to fit. A defective item could be without any inherent fault, but still be defective because, eg. the instructions are unclear or missing.

In what circumstances can the goods be returned?

If the item is faulty or defective, you have the right to reject or return the items and obtain a refund, or replacement. However, you should exercise your right to reject the item within 30 days to secure a refund. That said, in some cases 30 days will not be a reasonable time in which to return it. For example, a Christmas turkey (or other perishables) that turns out to be ‘off’ should reasonably be returned within a couple of days; but 30 days made not be a reasonable time period in the case of a microwave or hairdryer that stops working within a few weeks of use.

Therefore, it is important to understand that under the 2015 Act, 30 days will usually be a reasonable period of time, so if you do not notify the retailer within 30 days – your rights may be significantly reduced.

Can a retailer restrict my rights?

No, these are minimum consumer legal rights which a retailer cannot exclude or restrict. Any attempt to reduce your rights will be unenforceable, even if you expressly agree or sign a sales agreement limiting your rights.

However, if the item is clearly marked as faulty and sold as such, you will not be entitled to return it after the sale (unless you find a different fault with it)

What remedies am I entitled to?

The retailer who sold you the faulty or defective item is directly liable to you. It pass the buck and argue that you should be taking it up with the manufacturer. Your contract is with the seller and not the manufacturer, which means that only the seller is liable for the breach of contract (selling faulty or defective goods). The retailer can, if it so wishes, complain to the manufacturer in due course.

Your rights are exercised when you tell the retailer that you are rejecting or returning the goods and treating the contract as at an end. If the item is faulty or defective, you are entitled to:

  • a refund, or repair or replacement if you reject the item within 30 days. The seller is to bear the costs of return, and of the repair or replacement (unless that would be disproportionate), or
  • if a repair (or a single replacement) also fails, a full refund within six months of that repair/replacement, or
  • a price reduction or the right to reject and receive a refund outside the 30 days. However, the seller is not obliged to make a deduction from the refund for any use you have had of it if no repair or replacement is not possible or acceptable within the 30-day period

If you are unsure how to exercise your consumer rights, take specialist legal advice.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.