Faulty Goods

Your consumer rights under the Sale of Goods Act

When it comes to faulty goods many consumers are unaware of the protection and statutory rights they are legally entitled to. Shops often exploit their customers' uncertainty and violate shoppers' statutory rights by shirking their legal responsibility to remedy situations by offering refunds, repairs or replacements.

Under the Sale of Goods Act of 1979, traders are legally responsible to sell goods which are

  • ‘as described’, meaning the the actual product must match any description(s) given to the customer before purchase by which the goods are identified
  • of satisfactory quality, that is they are of a standard that would reasonably be expected taking into consideration the price paid and description. In appropriate circumstances the quality of the goods will include freedom from minor defects, durability, safety, and  appearance and finish.
  • fit for all purposes made known to the seller at the time of purchase

The act states that if goods turn out to not fulfill any of these criteria you have the right to demand a refund from the seller unless you have accepted the goods. The act provides that goods have been ‘accepted’ by the buyer where:
  • you tell the seller you have accepted them
  • you do something to or with them which prevents you from giving the goods back in their original state, such as alter, consume or damage them
  • you keep the goods for a reasonable period of time without rejecting them

What is considered a reasonable amount of time will vary according the nature of the goods purchased, in many cases the period of time may only last a matter of weeks. Sound advice is to report the problem to the seller as soon as you become aware of the fault. If you do wish to reject the goods you must give clear notice of this to the seller. If you do let too much time elapse for you to get a refund then you are entitled to get the item repaired or replaced for free instead.

Faulty goods are also often covered by the manufacturer's guarantee or warranty, but this is in addition to your automatic rights and does not represent a get-out-of-jail-free card for the retailer. Your rights may also extend beyond the manufacturer's guarantee once it has expired.

How to obtain refunds for faulty goods

If a fault develops soon after you purchased an item, or if it was faulty straight away, meaning the goods are not of satisfactory quality, then you are entitled to a full refund from the retailer.

The legal term to use here is the right to reject under the Sales of Goods Act as the item was not of satisfactory quality. You must give the seller clear notice that the item is rejected within a ‘reasonable’ amount of time for a refund to be given; this is usually a few weeks so you should seek a refund as soon as possible after discovering the fault.

To obtain a refund:

1. Contact the retailer. Tell them you want to reject the item and would like a full refund. If the item is genuinely faulty and the retailer feels a "reasonable" time has not elapsed, you should get a refund.

You will probably need to provide proof of purchase but remember this doesn't always have to be a receipt. It can be a credit card or bank statement, a witness, a cheque stub or any other evidence that proves you bought the product from that retailer.

2. If the retailer rejects your claim then check to see if the faulty goods are covered by the manufacturer's guarantee. If they are then tell the manufacturer about the fault and ask for a refund.

3. If neither the retailer nor manufacturer offers a refund then write to the retailer again formally rejecting the faulty goods under the Sales of Goods Act. Explain that you will take the matter to the small claims court unless a full refund is offered.

4. If the retailer still does not offer a refund then after this then you may want to consider getting the item replaced or repaired instead. If, however, you are adamant that you want a refund then consult visit our section covering the small claims court.

Note: If you paid for the faulty goods with a credit card and they cost between £100 and £30,000, the creditor card company will be jointly liable with the seller if the goods are not of satisfactory quality and you are entitled to a refund from either the seller or your credit card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. You can also use this method if the retailer goes out of business after you buy the faulty goods.

How to get faulty goods repaired or replaced

Under the Sales of Goods Act, your consumer rights may allow you to get faulty goods repaired or replaced for free up to six years after purchase, although the longer you have had the goods the progressively more difficult it will be to show the defect arose as a result of the state of the goods at time of purchase.

If the fault arises within six months of the purchase, and it's not because of fair wear and tear, accidental damage or misuse, then the retailer must repair or replace the faulty goods. If the retailer objects, he must prove that the item wasn't faulty to begin with or that it wasn't expected to last very long.

If six months have passed and something goes wrong, you might still get a repair or replacement but you will have to prove that the goods were inherently faulty, i.e. show that there is no other cause, such as accidental damage, for the fault. To help you prove this, you may wish to obtain and independent expert’s report to back up your claim, although these can be expensive.

To get faulty goods repaired or replaced:

1. Contact the retailer, tell them about the problem and ask for the goods to be either repaired or be replaced. You can specify which you'd prefer but it is ultimately a question of what is more economical from the perspective of the retailer.

You will probably need to provide proof of purchase but remember this doesn't always have to be a receipt. It can be a credit card or bank statement, a witness, a cheque stub or any other evidence that proves you bought the product from that retailer.

2. Alternatively, if the faulty goods are still covered by their guarantee, contact the manufacturer, tell them about the problem and ask for the goods to be repaired or replaced.

3. If the retailer or manufacturer do not help, write to the retailer and make a more formal request. Say that you are exercising your rights under the Sales of Goods Act as the item is not of "satisfactory quality" and you would like to have it repaired or replaced.

In your letter, warn the retailer that if it fails to accept to your demands you will start proceedings in the small claims  track of the County Court.

5. If your retailer still refuses to cooperate then consult our guide to taking a dispute to the County Court and consider taking that route. Bear in mind that you cannot take a case to court if you purchased the faulty goods more than six years ago.

Second-hand goods and sale items

The Sale of Goods Act does cover goods bought second-hand goods, but it may be difficult to claim a refund, repair or replacement on the grounds of unsatisfactory quality, as less is naturally expected of second-hand items. One would normally expect something bought second-hand to already show some signs of wear and for its durability to be more limited, for example.

Likewise the Act applies to goods bought at a discount price in a sale.

However the requirement that goods be of satisfactory quality does not apply to a particular defect where:

  • that particular defect has been pointed out to you before you agreed to buy the goods, and/or
  • you inspect the goods before agreeing to buy them and the particular defect is one that you should really have spotted

The Consumer Protection Act

An additional form of consumer protection is contained in the Consumer Protection Act, which relates to the physical protection of the consumer and his/her property from the effects of faulty or defective products. A product is defective under the 1987 Act if it is not as safe as the average person would be entitled to expect.

Whether you buy or hire goods, they have to be safe. If you are injured by them in any way as a result of their hazardous nature, then the manufacturer and the importer (if it has come from outside the EU) are strictly liable for any damage or loss caused to you or those that used the product.

“Strict liability” means that you do not have to prove that they were at fault. What you will have to prove is that the product was defective, and that it was this defect that caused the injury, or in tragic cases, even death. Therefore, if you are injured when your car (whether it is your own, hired or being bought on HP) crashes due to a defect in say the steering system, then you could sue the manufacturer for your injury and losses. However the Act only applies to damage caused to goods other than those that are defective, it does not allow you to claim for the cost of the defective goods themselves only the damage or injury caused to other goods or people by the defect.

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