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Common Consumer Issues and Your Right to Complain

Consumer regulations cover all the main issues you are likely to encounter with goods you have bought. Learn your rights today.

Buying and selling goods is something that people do every day, so it should come as no surprise that these transactions are of particular interest to the law. If you are not satisfied with a product you paid for, there are a number of regulations in place which allow you to take action.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 is an Act of Parliament which sets out most of the rules relating to consumer rights which are in place today. It established the standards that products must meet and the action you can take if they do not fulfil these requirements.

In general, when goods turn out not to meet the standards expected by the law, you are entitled to one or more of the following:

  • a refund – generally this means getting your money back, though in some circumstances you may instead be given vouchers or store credit
  • a repair – the seller must arrange for the goods to be restored to a working condition, generally for free
  • a replacement – a new version of the same product in exchange for an unsatisfactory one

The following describes what you have a right to expect when purchasing goods. It should be noted that these regulations only apply when buying goods from a business seller, such as a shop or a trader. If you are buying from a private seller, for example through an online auction site or at a car boot sale, you do not have most of these rights – see Buying from a private seller at the bottom of this page.

Goods must be fit for purpose

Perhaps the most important point regarding goods is that they have to be suited to the purpose for which you bought them. If you buy an oven that doesn’t heat food properly or a dishwasher that doesn’t wash dishes, the goods are clearly not fit for purpose.

A product is also considered not to be fit for purpose if the seller promises you that it will work for a specific purpose and it turns out to be incapable of doing so. You should be able to rely on what the seller tells you about a product.

This applies even in situations where the product you are buying is not usually used for the purpose for which you need it. For example, nail polish remover is sometimes used for removing superglue, although that is not its intended purpose. However, if you bought a certain type of nail polish remover on the advice of a seller who knew you planned on using it to remove superglue and told you that it would work for that purpose, it will likely be viewed as not being fit for purpose if it does not work on superglue.

You should only rely on the advice of a seller if it is reasonable for you to do so. For example, if you buy a computer part from a specialist shop and are told by a staff member that it is suitable for your needs, it is reasonable to depend on this advice. However, if you are buying the part from a supermarket and ask the cashier about it, it might be viewed as unreasonable if you make the purchase based entirely on their opinion.

When you plan to purchase a product based on the strength of a seller’s view that it is suited to a particular purpose, you should let them know this. It is also a good idea to note down their name in case their advice turns out to be wrong.

If you purchase a product which is not fit for purpose, you should be able to get a refund, or a repair or replacement if you would prefer.

Goods must be of satisfactory quality

When you purchase a product, it is fair to expect it to be of “satisfactory quality” – this means it is in a condition and of a standard that a reasonable person would consider acceptable.

There are a number of areas in which goods can be regarded as being unsatisfactory. One of the most important of these is when goods are not fit for purpose (see the section above).

Another vital requirement is that goods must be safe to use; if they are unsafe, this means they are not of satisfactory quality. If you buy goods which turn out to be unsafe, you should report the seller to your local Trading Standards office, as this is a crime.

Goods must also be of an acceptable “appearance and finish”. This simply refers to how the product looks. If you buy a new laptop which has a huge scratch on the casing, for example, this means it is not of satisfactory quality, even if the damage does not affect how well it works.

As well as this, products you purchase should be free from minor defects, regardless of whether those defects could be fixed. Minor defects may be small flaws in the appearance of a product or problems with the way it works which do not stop you from using it; however these would still cause the goods to be classed as unsatisfactory.

Finally, goods are expected to be durable. This means that they should last a reasonable amount of time in decent condition. What is reasonable will vary depending on the nature of the item and the kind of quality you would expect based on the price; for example, you would not necessarily expect a cheap disposable camera to last for years, but a high-end digital camera should.

The idea of a product being durable is that you should be able to get a fair amount of use out of it before it begins to show signs of deterioration. If you buy something which breaks after a few weeks of use, you will probably be able to argue that it was never of satisfactory quality in the first place.

If you purchase goods which are not of satisfactory quality due to any of these issues, this will likely be grounds for you to demand a refund, or ask for a repair or replacement if you would prefer.

It is important to note that if you are purchasing second-hand goods then the definition of reasonable expectations will likely be lowered. The goods should still be fit for purpose and safe to use, but expecting a second-hand item to look new and be free of minor defects may be unreasonable. It should still be durable enough for you to get a satisfactory amount of use out of it, but you should consider that its lifespan will likely be shorter than that of a new product.

Goods must match their description

Goods should match the description given to you before you buy them. This description may be what it says on the label, what the seller tells you about a product, or the wording on the website where you buy it from. It could even be as simple as a photograph in a catalogue. Regardless, the goods themselves must match what you are told about them.

If you purchase something based on a sample, then the full product needs to match up to the sample and be made of the same material, be the same colour, and so on. Should any goods you have purchased not match their description, you can return them to the seller and claim a refund, or a repair or replacement if you would prefer. You should try to keep a copy of any description you based your decision on at the time of purchase, so if the product fails to live up to it, you have something to reference when attempting to take it back.

Exceptions to your consumer rights

There are some exceptions to your consumer rights, meaning that there are some situations in which the seller is not responsible for providing a refund or for repairing or replacing the goods.

If something you’ve bought is damaged in an accident or because you didn’t look after it properly, the seller doesn’t have to put things right. For example, if you drop your new phone or use it in conditions which could obviously damage it, this is not the responsibility of the seller. The same applies if you use it for a purpose for which it was not intended and damage or break it by doing so.

The seller also does not have to do anything about faults which occur through normal ‘wear and tear’. All products deteriorate over time, so if an item has lasted a long time and eventually breaks, this does not make the item unsatisfactory.

Sometimes items may be sold more cheaply on the basis that they are imperfect. These items may have developed faults during manufacturing, or been damaged afterwards. The former type of goods is sometimes referred to as ‘seconds’. In these cases, any flaws in the product should be pointed out before you buy them. If it is clearly pointed out to you why a product is imperfect, you can’t return it because of that particular issue. However, if you discover more problems with the item which you weren’t told about, you still have your consumer rights with regard to those.

Buying from a private seller

If you purchase goods from a private seller (i.e. an individual, rather than a business seller who makes a living from selling items), very few of these rights apply. Essentially, the only requirements for a sale between two individuals are that the seller has the right to sell the item (that is, they own it or have been given permission by the owner to sell) and that the item matches its description (see “Goods must match their description” above).

Essentially, items purchased from private sellers are generally “sold as seen” which means that it is your responsibility to examine the goods and make sure that you want to purchase them before agreeing to the sale.