Five-minute guide to consumer rights

The economic downturn is fueling our desire to get a good deal or bargain, but it’s also prompting more people to complain if they don’t think the goods they have bought are up to scratch.

New research shows that 58% of consumers have complained to a shop or asked for a refund as many as three times since the onset of the credit crunch, while around 25% would be prepared to complain. The survey, commissioned by the Department for Business, also found that women are more likely to complain about goods than men.

“Robust protections are in place to support consumers - but we want to see a dramatic improvement in awareness of those protections and rights,” says consumer minister Kevin Brennan. “Knowledgeable, confident consumers are much more likely to get a fair deal, save money and get the right result when things go wrong. This is especially important during the current economic climate, when every penny is even more precious than usual.”

The Department for Business is working with Trading Standards Institute, Consumer Direct, the Office of Fair Trading and Consumer Focus to highlight a new consumer rights campaign, which will run until 2010.

Your rights in brief

The Sales of Goods Act is one of the best weapons you have as a consumer in the fight against being ripped-off. In short, this legal principle ensures that goods are accurately described, of satisfactory quality and fit or suitable for purpose.

If you buy something and it does not comply with this, then you have the right to take the item back and get a refund or exchange if you’d prefer. The law allows you to make a claim for up to six years in England and Wales (or five years in Scotland) after the purchase of your goods, for a refund, repair or replacement.

However, bear in mind that if you wait too long to return the item you may only be offered a partial refund or an exchange. In addition, if you buy something and change your mind then you won’t be automatically entitled to a refund. The same goes for buying something in the wrong size or colour.

If an item is faulty, then the retailer is responsible not the manufacturer. The trader cannot tell you to go back to the manufacturer.

Vivienne Dews, executive director at the Office of Fair Trading, says: “When people are aware of their rights and businesses respect their obligations, consumers can shop with confidence, which is good for them and good for business.”

When returning goods, it’s always best to have proof of purchase – this can be a receipt, or even a statement from your credit card or bank account.

If an item has a minor fault – such as a tear in fabric – then the retailer may offer to repair it. Consumer Direct says this is fair, but adds that you can still claim a replacement or refund if the repair turns out to be unsatisfactory.

Remember, if you buy an item for more than £100 on a credit card, then the card provider is jointly responsible with the retailer to refund you should something go wrong.

If you buy over the internet, mail order or over the telephone from a UK retailer then you are covered under the Distance Selling Regulations. This gives you a seven-day cooling off period during which time you are entitled to cancel the order and receive a full refund.

This does not, however, apply to goods such as flights, tickets to a concert or any other time-sensitive purchases. Food or other perishables are also not covered.

If you miss this seven-day deadline then you can still claim a refund under the Sale of Goods Act.

If you buy something remotely and it is faulty or not as it was described, then you are advised to send it back via recorded delivery and request a refund. You should also be able to request reimbursement for the postage costs. The retailer then has 30 days to refund you in full.

If you need help getting a refund then you can contact Consumer Direct for advice on 08454 04 05 06.


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