Know your rights

Published by Rachel Lacey on 02 December 2015.
Last updated on 02 December 2015

Angry man insisting on his rights

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 – what’s changed?

On 1st October this year, the Consumer Rights Act 2015 was introduced, replacing the Sale of Goods Act, the Supply of Goods and Services Act and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations. As well as bringing these three different pieces of legislation together, the new act provides additional protection for consumers. This includes protection for digital content  and a 30-day right to a refund if goods you buy are faulty. Additionally, the new rules will make it harder for service providers to bury charges and fees in the small print. Key terms can only be assessed for fairness if they are displayed prominently or are transparent.

You’ve changed your mind

How many times have you spent more than you wanted on a new pair of shoes, or got home and found that that new lamp doesn’t work quite as well in that space as you’d hoped? Unfortunately, simply changing your mind is not in itself justification for a refund. Although many shops will offer you a refund if the item is unused and you have proof of purchase such as a receipt, they are not legally obliged to. Some may refuse a refund altogether; others will offer an exchange or credit note. You have more rights if you buy online or by mail order.

As you haven’t had the chance to physically inspect the goods before you buy them, these retailers have to give you 14 days once you’ve received them to decide whether or not you keep them. If you return the goods, the retailer must also refund basic delivery charges but you may have to pay for postage to return the item. Whether you buy in store or online, different retailers have different returns policies so always check first. For example, SportsDirect.com offers the minimum 14 days required for online sales, while John Lewis offers a more generous 90 days however you purchased the item. Clothes retailer Boden takes it a step further and offers shoppers 365 days to return goods they are not happy with, even if items have been worn.

Your new appliance doesn’t work

Shoppers now have more rights than ever when returning faulty goods following the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 on 1st October. As a result, consumers now have up to 30 days to return faulty items and get a full refund, previously goods needed to be returned within a ‘reasonable’ time period which offered no clarity to customers and retailers alike. Your rights don’t stop after 30 days, however.

After this point, you can ask the shop to either replace the item or repair it. If the problem persists, you can then claim a refund or get a price reduction if you still want to keep the item. Any fault that is discovered within the first six months is considered to have been there since delivery, and it is the retailer’s job to prove otherwise.

After six months, that responsibility shifts to the consumer so if you do have any problems with an item it is important to make your complaint as soon as you can.

You’re not happy with your eBay bargain

With items available for sale and on auction from private sellers and businesses, eBay can be a minefield for consumer rights. If you buy goods at auction from a private seller, your rights are limited – it really is a case of buyer beware, so if you have concerns it makes sense to enquire about the condition of an item before you bid. You only have consumer rights if they actually lie about the product they are selling, or if it is not theirs to sell.

Your rights are strengthened if you buy from a business seller. Whether that’s by auction or ‘buy it now’, you have the same rights as you would if you had purchased it in a shop, plus the additional 14-day cooling-off period offered for distance sales (because you weren’t able to physically inspect the item before you bought it). If you aren’t sure what type of seller you are buying from, take a look at their profile to find out if they are registered as a business seller.

Ebay does provide additional protection itself through its Money-back Guarantee for all buyers that pay with PayPal. It will refund your costs if your item doesn’t turn up or isn’t as it was described in the listing. First, you need to contact the seller within 30 days of delivery (or anticipated delivery for goods that haven’t arrived) and if the problem isn’t resolved Ebay will pick up the issue and arrange a refund through PayPal within 48 hours.

Your accommodation isn’t as described

You spent hours researching that hotel for that long weekend, only to discover the room was more antique than boutique or that your
week in the sun would be spent overlooking a building site, rather than the sparkling Mediterranean. How you deal with accommodation that doesn’t meet your expectations depends on how you booked it.

If it’s a package holiday – where you booked travel and accommodation together – then you are protected by the Package Travel Regulations.

Under this legislation, companies must not provide misleading information about your accommodation and must stick to the terms of the contract. They also cannot change your booking – for example, giving you a one-bedroom villa when you’d booked two or a shared pool when you’d selected private. Should your holiday company fall foul of the rules, you may be entitled to compensation. It’s important not to wait until you get home to tackle the problem: failure to give the holiday company the chance to rectify it while you’re away may limit your ability to claim compensation on your return.

If you booked your accommodation independently, you are protected by consumer law and need to take any complaints direct to the hotel or accommodation provider.

Again, it is important to raise your concerns as soon as possible and give them the opportunity to make amends. If you aren’t happy with their response, you can pick up the complaint on your return. Not liking the room isn’t enough to warrant compensation but you can if the room was not as described online or in the brochure or services that were advertised are not provided – for example, a kids’ club.

Your claim can refer to loss of value (so the difference between the holiday you got and the one you booked), out-of-pocket expenses, loss of enjoyment and physical discomfort. You still need to complain direct to the hotel if you booked through a travel agent or hotel search website as your contract is with them.

Some travel websites will have their own complaints process. If you aren’t happy with accommodation booked through Airbnb for example (which helps hosts with accommodation to spare find paying guests) you may be able to claim under its ‘Guest Refund Policy’ however you do need to attempt to rectify the problem with the host first.

You want to cancel your gym membership

Joining a gym is a great way to get fit and lose weight – but if the novelty fades and you don’t make the most of all those cross-trainers and running machines, it can quickly become an expensive waste of money.

But cancelling your gym membership may not be as straightforward as you expect because when you sign up to join, you’re actually signing a contract which you will have to pay to cancel after an initial 14-day cooling- off period. So if you sign up to a 12-month contract and want to leave after eight, you’ll still have to pay for the remaining four. There are some exceptions, which may permit you to break the contract early.

These include serious illness or injury, which prevent you going to the gym (if you have medical evidence), or if a change of circumstances mean you are no longer able to afford payments (for example, you have lost your job or got into serious debt).

It’s also important to be aware of any terms in the contract that are unfair, and as a result, not legally binding. This might include terms that allow your contract to renew automatically and without your permission, have a minimum term of more than one year, allow prices to change significantly mid-contract or allow the facilities to change significantly.

You aren’t happy with a tradesman’s work

Whether you’re getting a bathroom tiled or an extension built, under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you can expect your tradesperson to use reasonable care and skill, take reasonable time and charge a reasonable price. Materials should be of suitable quality and be fit for purpose. So if you aren’t happy with the work that has been done, you must first discuss it with the trader that arranged the work (even if they sub- contracted it out to someone else).

You are legally entitled to ask them to either fix the problem or stop carrying out any further work and give you a refund. Legislation states that work needs to be fixed within a ‘reasonable’ time and refunds should be paid within 14 days.

If no agreement can be reached, you will need to write a letter of complaint and if that doesn’t fix things, discuss the matter with any trade association they belong to (such as the Federation of Master Builders) and find out about their alternative dispute resolution (ADR) services. ADR attempts to rectify problems on a more informal basis and without going to court.

Parking fines

Whether you get a ticket on your windscreen or get a letter in the post, few things have the power to anger us like parking fines, particularly if there were mitigating circumstances or you think you have been treated unfairly.

Thankfully, you do have the right to appeal. If it was a ticket issued to use reasonable care and skill, take reasonable time and charge a reasonable price. Materials should be of suitable quality and be fit for purpose.

So if you aren’t happy with the work that has been done, you must first discuss it with the trader that arranged the work (even if they sub- contracted it out to someone else).

You are legally entitled to ask them to either fix the problem or stop carrying out any further work and give you a refund. Legislation states that work needs to be fixed within a ‘reasonable’ time and refunds should be paid within 14 days.

If no agreement can be reached, you will need to write a letter of complaint and if that doesn’t fix things, discuss the matter with any trade association they belong to (such as the Federation of Master Builders) and find out about by your local council, write an appeal to them in the first instance explaining why you think the ticket was unfair (a form will be included if you received your fine in the post). Include any photographs, witness statements or evidence of mitigating circumstances that may strengthen your case.

Make your argument compelling as the council does have the right to use discretion. If this route fails, you will need to make a formal appeal through the Traffic Penalty Tribunal (in England and Wales) or the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service (London) or the Scottish Parking Appeals Service.

The waters are a lot muddier if you were parking on private land – for example, a supermarket, retail estate, or hospital. Here, you have the right to appeal direct to the car park operator and if that fails you can go through the independent appeals service Popla (however, in using this service you will lose the right to pay the fine at a discounted rate). Anecdotal evidence suggests you may have more luck contacting the shop or business you were visiting at the time – in some cases, they will step in and get the charge waived for you.

Complicating matters further, there is a large body of opinion that suggests these fines are not legal and that if you simply ignore the charge, following a few threatening letters, the matter will be forgotten. But some companies have taken motorists to court for doing this, so it’s not a strategy that works every time.

Following another law change on 1st October, private car park operators now have to offer a 10- minute grace period before they are able to fine you. This can be added on to the end of a period of free parking or paid for parking and levels the playing field with council parks where this rule already applied.


Six tips on how to make a complaint

  • Always stay calm and polite. If a decision-maker has the power to use discretion, they are much more likely to exercise it if you’re courteous.
  • Gather any evidence that will help your case including photographs and keep a record of all correspondence.
  • When making telephone calls, always record the time and date of call and the name of the person you spoke to.
  • However you are complaining, make sure you explain that you understand your rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
  • Use template letters if necessary – Citizens Advice has a range available for popular complaints on its website (Citizensadvice.org.uk).
  • Before making your complaint, decide what you want the outcome to be – a refund, a repair or alternative solution?

 

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