Common excuses consumers face - and how to deal with them

Helen Dewdney
9 August 2018

Unhappy with something you’ve bought or a service you’ve received? Then don’t be shy about complaining. Make sure you know your rights so that companies can’t dismiss your gripes with a host of excuses.

It’s normal to have a positive experience when shopping for goods and services. But when something does go wrong, some companies will try to fob off those who complain.

Forewarned is forearmed, so here’s how to prevent and challenge some common tricks that retailers and service providers use, and ensure you benefit from your consumer rights and are not left out of pocket.

1 “You don’t have the receipt”

The law says you only need ‘proof of purchase’, so a bank statement, for example, would suffice.

2 “You caused the fault”

If an item develops a fault within six months of purchase, the onus is on the retailer to prove that you caused the fault. After six months, you may have to prove that the fault was apparent at the point of purchase.

3 “Contact the courier”

The steady increase of internet shopping has led to a rise in lost parcels and returns.

Your contract is with the trader you paid, not the courier, so you should contact the retailer if you have ordered goods that don’t arrive or arrive damaged. Be clear that your contract is with the retailer and you expect it to spend the time resolving the matter, not you.

While on the subject of online retailing, remember that if the item is faulty, not as described, not fit for purpose or not of satisfactory quality, the retailer must pay for the return postage. If you just change your mind – and that includes an item not fitting as envisaged – then you may have to pay return costs, although most large firms won’t charge.

4 “Contact the manufacturer”

If the item you bought is faulty – say your hairdryer stops working after two months – you don’t have to return it to the manufacturer, just to the retailer.

Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you are entitled to goods that last a reasonable length of time. Two months is not reasonable. However, note that it is after 30 days since purchase, so the retailer can offer you a repair or replacement rather than a refund, but at no cost to you.

5 “You ate the food you were served, so there is no discount”

If you ate some food and then found that it was cold, or some of your party were served a long time after you were, you are entitled to a partial refund.

If you ate a mouthful and returned the rest of your meal without eating anything more, you don’t have to pay anything. And if the table service you received was poor, you don’t have to pay for that element. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 covers restaurants and other services.

6 “We don’t take items back that were in the sale”

If the sale item had a fault that was pointed out when you purchased it, such as a mark on a jumper, and that’s why it was reduced, then you can’t return it. But if a kettle stopped working a week after purchase, you most certainly can take it back for a refund, even if it was in the sale.

7 “It’s in our terms and conditions”

If it is an unfair term, you can break the contract. A term is deemed unfair if it tilts the rights and responsibilities between the consumer and the trader too much in favour of the trader.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (amended in 2014) also prohibits contracts that are likely to harm the economic interests of the average consumer, and covers various practices, including misleading omissions and aggressive sales tactics.

8 “It must be returned in the original packaging”

If the item is faulty, you do not need the tags or the box.

9 “We are a second-hand shop, so we aren’t covered by consumer law”

Whatever you buy, and wherever you bought it, you are still covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, so you can return an item if it doesn’t work, for example. However, the price and age will be taken into consideration, too.

“Go to the chief executive if your matter is very serious”

10 “You should have paid for an extended warranty”

I have yet to see any warranty that provides more than your existing statutory rights, unless it is also providing insurance that covers something extra, such as accidental damage.

Let’s say you bought a fridge and it broke down after two years. One would expect a fridge to last for longer than that. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, you can claim for a repair or replacement regardless of whether you took out the extended warranty – although you are unlikely to get a full refund, and if you did, it would be the replacement cost minus something for the use.

Top tips for complaining

  • Always put your complaint in writing. Get the names of anyone you speak to if you do have to use the phone, following up in writing. This gives you the evidence you need should you have to take the matter further.
  • Be assertive and factual, but polite – and that includes saying “please” and “thank you”! That way, the company is likely to help you more readily. Don’t apologise for complaining, though. If you are legally in the right, there is no need to apologise.
  • Be clear about what you want – is it an apology, a repair, a partial or full refund? Set a deadline for when you expect a reply and inform the company of actions you will take if you don’t receive an acceptable response – for example, sharing reviews on relevant forums or going to the small claims court – and you should mention the relevant ombudsman or alternative dispute resolution scheme.
    In regulated sectors, companies must have an arbitration scheme. These include the Financial Ombudsman Service for banks, insurance providers and lenders; Ombudsman Services: Energy for energy suppliers; and Ombudsman Services: Communications or CISAS (Communications & Internet Services Adjudication Scheme ) for telecoms. In non-regulated fields, traders don’t have to be part of a scheme, but many are, such as the Furniture Ombudsman for furniture and flooring.
  • Go to the chief executive if you believe your matter is very serious or customer services hasn’t resolved the problem, Get the contact details from The CEO is unlikely to respond personally (some do), but your complaint will be seen by the ‘executive’ team, or similar, which often has the power and authority to resolve complaints.

HELEN DEWDNEY is a print, TV and radio journalist and the author of the consumer-rights website The Complaining Cow

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I bought some radiators together with installation. The radiators arrived but I had to get another electrician to install them at further cost to me. What recourse is there if the supplier can no longer be contacted?

In reply to by Farokh Dubash (not verified)

First point of contact always the trader who sold you the goods and service. Write to them. Breach of Consumer Rights Act 2015. If you are saying that the supplier has gone into administration there is little you can do, you become one of the creditors. Similar if gone out of business but you can still try and pursue a claim through the Small Claims Court.

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