Faulty goods cost consumers £5,000

5 March 2010

Faulty goods cost consumers nearly £5,000 because many people don’t know their rights when it comes to refunds.

Government research found that just under 50% of people have at least one faulty item at home, with almost a third possessing up to five items.

However, this failure to take items back for refund, replacement or exchange is costing consumer dearly – an estimated £4,950 per person during their lifetime.

Male shoppers are losing the most money, as they hoard £89 worth of faulty goods on average. In comparison, women lose around £71 a year.

What’s holding you back?

According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, fear is the main reason people fail to return faulty goods.

More than a third of those surveyed admit to feeling nervous when they try to return an unwanted item while 21% feel embarrassed and 19% intimidated.

Londoners are the most anxious about returning items, while those in the North West are the most confident.

Consumer minister Kevin Brennan says: “We want to do all we can to encourage people not to lose out financially because they don’t know their rights.

“Now is the time to brush up on your consumer rights so you can return any faulty or unwanted goods with added confidence.”

What are your rights?

Under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, items must be:

* As described
* Fit for purpose
* Of satisfactory quality (i.e. not inherently faulty at the time of sale)

Therefore if an item is faulty, or wrongly described, you may have the right to a refund, replacement or repair.

When you buy goods, your contract is with the retailer not the manufacturer and you should always go back to the retailer in the first instance to request an exchange or refund.

If you have a manufacturer’s warranty you can contact them as well as the retailer – consumer groups such as Which? recommend that you go to the retailer first, as most manufacturers will offer to repair or replace the item rather than give you a refund.

To receive a refund, you should reject an item "within a reasonable time". This is normally considered to be one month but, depending on circumstances, you might be too late to have all your money back after this time if you’ve simply changed your mind.  

Many people think they need a receipt before they can complain, but in fact this isn’t true. However, shops often want some proof of purchase – a cheque stub, bank statement, or credit card slip should be sufficient.

Retailers will often have different time limits in place for refunds, so check before you buy.

In addition, although you do not have the legal right to take back goods just because you’ve changed your mind, many stores do offer a ‘no questions asked’ refund or exchange policy. Check the store policy before you buy.

It is, however, reasonable for shops to offer you a credit note on items if you’ve simply changed your mind.

However, if the goods are faulty, incorrectly described or not fit for purpose, then you are entitled to your money back (provided you act quickly) and do not have to take a credit note. In fact, retailers are potentially liable for faulty items for up to six years (or five years in Scotland) after purchase.

Bear in mind that this is the time limit for bringing a court case. The law states that an item only needs to last as long as it is reasonable to expect it to. For example, an oil filter would usually not last longer than a year but that would not mean it was unsatisfactory.

The Small Claims Court procedure provides the means to bring a claim, for up to £5,000 without the need for a solicitor. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau can advise on how to make a claim.

For the first six months after purchase, the consumer does not have to provide any evidence that a product is inherently faulty at the time of sale – the burden of proof is on the retailer. After this time, however, the burden of proof falls on the consumer.

The Sale of Goods Act applies to sale items – but whether or not you are able to get a refund depends on the circumstances.

For example, if you knew about a fault before purchase (such as a missing button on a coat) or the fault should have been obvious to you then you are not entitled to a refund.

Also, most retailers won’t offer refunds on sale items if you simply change your mind.

Online shoppers receive the same rights as those shopping on the high street. In addition, you have the right to a seven-day ‘cooling off’ period from the date you receive the goods, with the right to a full refund regardless of the reason for return.

Remember though that this doesn’t apply if the goods were personalised for you, or are not in the same condition as when they were delivered.

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